I assume you want to know how to build a climbing wall in your garden or you are thinking about building one in your garden. A couple years ago my wife and I decided to build a climbing wall in our garden as a birthday present for our son. The aim was to build a wall that the whole family could use and not break the bank in process. We managed to achieve the build requirements and have a wall in the garden to train on. Our wall has been up for over two years and has weathered the elements well.
The aim of this article is to take you through the process we went through to show you how we build our climbing wall for less than £300. I hope you will gain some good knowledge and ideas on how to build a climbing wall of your own.
The design of the wall is the most important aspect of the whole project. The design you choose influences almost every aspect of the build, in particular safety and cost. We spent a lot time on the design, coming up with a number of designs to try and minimise costs. I was surprised to see how much the overall cost changed per design. The designs I thought would be more cost effective often weren’t when we calculated the cost to build.
A good place to start is to get some ideas and information from what other people have done. The internet is great place to see what other people have done, feeding your creative mind. We had a location for the wall in mind before starting the process. By looking at what other people had done we suddenly had a number of potential areas to build a wall that we had previously discounted as a potential location for a climbing wall. It is easy to get carried away by what other people have done and come up with an elaborate wall that will never become a reality because it is too difficult or costly to begin. So focus on ideas that are achievable.
To gain more knowledge I purchased a book on building climbing walls at home and read as much as I could on the internet to get a good idea of what to consider when building a climbing wall.
The book I purchased was Home Climbing Gyms and I found it to be of great help. When researching books about building a home climbing wall, I found this book to be mentioned a lot and recommended as a good book. Below are a number of books available to help design and build a climbing wall at home.
Once you know what you think you can achieve in the potential locations you have for a wall you need to choose a location. We had two locations we could realistically choose from. One was to build an outside shed to house the wall and the other was to make use of the Garage wall. We did some quick cost calculations and discounted the shed or any other idea we had to build boulders in the garden due to cost or practical reasons regarding space and safety.
Measuring the area where the wall will be build is critical to making sure the build is successful. We spent a lot of time making sure the measurements were correct and we spent lots of time ensuring we knew what fixings we could use and the type of materials we could use. Apart from making sure you have the location measurements correct you need to make sure you know the measurements of the different materials available to you. For example an 8×4 foot ply wood sheet varies in size by 15 to 20 mm depending on supplier and grade of ply board. This variation could make a big difference is you decide to change grade of board or supplier making your build fail.
Draw the Design
Being an engineer this was a natural step. I used autocad and made a number of drawings for different designs showing all the details required for the build. If you don’t have autocad you can use Google Sketchup or draw the design on paper as accurately as you can. Some the initial ideas we had regarding how to build the wall had to be changed because the drawings I made showed you couldn’t build the wall how we had envisioned. I also found the drawing to help with the costing of the wall and helped my wife visualise the build plan.
The choice of materials you can choose from to build a climbing wall is vast, and each variation of each material can have a substantial variation in cost. We had a stash of ply board we got for nothing that we were planning to use. However the variation in size and thickness meant that we would have to purchase one less of new board to complete the build with free ply verses using all new ply. When looking at the thickness of board we need to match the free boards it landed up being cheaper to purchase thinner new ply board for the whole build.
If cost is not an issue then marine grade ply is probably the best ply to use. However the cost of marine ply is much greater than CDX ply for example. When we were building our wall we found that the cost to build a wall with a steep overhang was much more than the costs involved in building the wall we build. Our wall slopes enough to ensure you engage your core to be able to climb, but doesn’t slope so much that the grade of ply is crucial to safety. Hence we decided to use CDX and use paints / stains to protect the ply from the weather.
The more elaborate you design the more the framing will cost you. Due to our wall being outside the cost to use the pressure treaded wood to make the frame was prohibitive. Framing material looks cheap but when you work out how much you need it becomes a significant cost, and any joint results in an increase in fixings costs. The size of our wall meant that the amount framing materials wasn’t enough to warrant purchasing a bulk batch of framing wood. The reduction of cost for a bulk purchase didn’t pay off. Instead we went for 8 foot long 2 x 8 inch pressure treated boards that were cut in half and then feathered to create the frame and provide some overhang.
Fixings are expensive and vary greatly in cost depending of where they are suitable to be used. Our wall is outside in the elements hence our fixings cost more than those that would be required for an inside build. All our fixings were either EZP coated or Stainless to ensure they would handle the elements.
You will need many Tbolts. They basically come in two forms, ones that have a retaining screw and those that don’t. We went for the ones that don’t have the retaining screw, making sure that we used a good amount of glue and hammered them in correctly. We found them to be sold in Qtys of 500 or 1000pcs. Due to the size of our wall, 1000 was too many and 500 pcs weren’t enough to fill a complete board with T Bolts. So we purchased a box of 500 and only placed T bolts in the upper two thirds of each board. We only use small screw on holds for the feet so haven’t had an issue with a third of the board not having TBolts. Drilling the holes for the bolts is not easy and a time consuming process, so a reduction in TBolts reduces build time and costs without affecting the functionality of the wall.
Painting the wall adds cost, so I would only paint the wall if you need to protect the wall from the weather or you have used a lower grade ply like CDX indoors. In case we used CDX and the wall is outside so we had to paint the wall. We didn’t look very far for a product. Ronseal produces paints / stains used to protect fences and sheds at a reasonable cost. We did get a sample pot of each colour to test before buying the larger pots for the build. Make sure you shop around for the paint, we found ours in one store for 15% less than other stores. The great thing with this ronseal product is that is soaks into the ply without adding a layer to the surface of the ply. After two years the wall is in good condition and still being protected.
The choice of holds you can get is massive. Before buying holds new, ask your climbing centre if they have holds to sell. Lots of centres sell their used holds to customers very cheaply making it a good opportunity to reduce costs. The down side is that you are most likely not going to be able to get the range of holds you require make a decent set on your wall as the smaller holds usually break over time and hence the centre sells the jugs that are left. We purchased our holds from Holdz who provided a very good service and gave us some complementary extra holds. Be careful when choosing your holds. Holds are often sold as a set and size of hold. We found it quite difficult to choose the right size of hold and actually went to our local climbing centre who use the same holds to find out what size they had purchased to make sure we knew what we were buying. We also purchased a set competition feet screw on folds from holds for the harder routes we have on the wall. The remaining holds we purchased from amazon to fill the wall and to provide a range of grip surfaces. Click here to view a customised list of climbing holds at amazon.
Crash mats are key making a climbing wall safe. Some people use mattresses or make bespoke mats for their walls. If you go climbing outdoors you will most likely have a boulder mat or two. We use our boulder mats for our wall. I was building an indoors wall I would look to use outdoors boulder mats for the indoors wall. It doesn’t only make the wall safe, but also provides place to store the mats and an easy way to lift the mats should you need to use the floor. Click here to view the selection of crash mats at Craggear.com
How We Built Our £300 Climbing Wall
The wall we built is below. It took a couple days to complete and proved to be a fun project. We have had great fun using the wall. One of the questions we couldn’t answer when building the wall was how much we would use it, and hence were apprehensive re spending a lot of money. The answer post building the wall is that we don’t use it as much we would have liked. What we have found is that we use the good weather where you can use the wall to go climbing out doors. So I am glad we spent the least amount possible. Having said that the wall has been worth building. It is great fun resetting the wall and making new routes while having a family BBQ and it does provide and area to train when there isn’t enough time to go the centre to train. It appears to be weathering well so we will get our money’s worth by the time it needs to be taken down.
Creating the Feathered Boards
The 2 x 8 inch boards were cut in half at the lumber yard making them easy to transport and work with. I created the feathered boards by screwing a plywood jig to the 2 x 8 inch board that allowed me to guide the board through my table saw creating the feathered board. I then matched them up to create pairs. Each pair was then bolted together with three coach bolts.
I then measured the length of the narrow end of the feathered boards and then trimmed a section off a 3 x 2 board, leaving the board wider than the narrow section of the feathered board by the thickness of the plywood sheets to be used for the wall. We then used 150mm long rawl bolts to fasten the base board to the concrete floor.
Fixing Feathered Boards to the garage wall
The feathered boards are fastened to the wall with threaded bar that goes through the wall. To do this I placed the feathered board on the wall and measured where I needed to drill a hole for the threaded bar. Before drilling the hole through the boards I used a spade bit to create a recess for the nuts and washer. I used two nuts and once tightened against each other I bent the threads over to make sure they could come undone.
We used CDX 4 x 8 foot ply sheets for the wall. The wood used to make CDX ply sheets isn’t as dense as the wood used for marine ply, making it a softer ply than marine ply. Before you start drilling holes for T Bolts you need to make sure you select the side of the sheet you want to be the face of the wall. This is very important as it is almost impossible to avoid breakout while drilling the holes for the T Bolts. To try and avoid breakout we laid each sheet on the floor on top of a sacrificial sheet of ply and used the sharpest drill bit we could find and drilled at the fastest speed our drill could do. The trick is to drill the holes at 90 degrees to the surface of the ply wood. To do this to a level of accuracy that doesn’t affect the fitting of the T Bolts requires some skill. My wife wasn’t able to do it well enough so I had to drill all the holes. The holes need to be accurate so if you know you won’t be able to do it purchase a jig like this one to help.
Placing T Bolts
We used T Bolts that don’t have a retaining screw, so they have to be placed and then hammered in. This also requires a level of skill with a hammer. It is easy to hit the T Bolts in skew and if you don’t correct it quickly you could be left with a hole that doesn’t have enough material around it to hold a bold once replaced. Hence the need to avoid tear out as much as possible. Make sure you have a firm area to place the board when putting the T Bolts in. This is to reduce the amount the board jumps when hitting a bolt in, reducing the chance of displacing bolts that have already been place in the board.
Placing boards on the wall
We then held the boards against the feathered uprights and used EZP coated screws to fast the boards. To prevent the base of the board moving a strip of wood was fastened to the base bar in line with the feathered boards.
To finish the wall I placed a strengthening strip along the top of the wall to provide strength to the top and to provide a place to fasten the wood used to close the wall against the elements. We then painted the wall and sealed the open edges of the ply with epoxy resin.
Below are some pictures of the wall to show how much it has weather over the past two years.