Having a bouldering wall at home these days means being able to keep on climbing and having an area where you can relax and unwind. Building a home wall is no easy task, especially for what concerns the design of the structure and the calculation of how much stress it can hold. Here you will find some tips we collected from Metolius Climbing’s extremely detailed article, which we recommend reading.
Besides providing loads of useful information, it is also packed with pictures and plans showing each building stage. We warmly recommend reading the article before starting to build your wall and showing your project to an engineer or a climbing wall expert to make sure your structure will be truly bombproof.
First of all, you have to choose where to build your wall. A garage is usually the preferred option, as it provides enough height and space as opposed to converting a room into your training area. On the other hand, garages might not be heated meaning you wouldn’t be able to use your wall in winter unless you plan an alternative heating system, adding for example an electric heater. Warming the area up in winter or keeping it fresh in summer won’t be an issue if you’re planning to build your wall in one of your rooms, but make sure you take into account doors and windows positions. If you build an overhanging wall without considering the door swing radius, you might end up taking the door down (still better than taking the wall down though!).
At this point you have to choose the type of structure: will it be freestanding or anchored to an existing wall? The first option is perfect if you don’t want to drill the walls, but it will be very important to consult a professional to make sure the structure will be able to hold the load without collapsing. The weight of the structure and the climber are not the only factors to be taken into account: in fact, climbers might exert a higher load compared to their weight. Considering the complexity of building such a structure, we will carry on and talk about the second option in greater detail. It is best to consult an expert if you’re planning to build a freestanding structure.
Anchoring a structure to an existing wall will be easier (but still, let’s try not to improvise). the first planning phase will be purely visual, as you will choose how you would like your wall to be, deciding its inclination and the panel disposition within the selected area. Ideally, an inclination between 20 and 40 degrees would be a good starting point, considering that you can always spice it up later with volumes. Once you have your project, try to share your ideas with experienced climbing wall builders, to make sure your structure will hold up. Don’t give anything for granted.
How to design your climbing wall
To develop the actual design of your wall, you have to choose whether you will be using pre-cut or custom panels. If using pre-cuts, you will need to divide the available space according to the width of the panels. Those will be your main panels. You will then need to measure the remaining spaces in order to fit your secondary panels, complete your wall, and fill any empty space.
After designing your project, draft a scale drawing, create a scale model, and double-check everything with an expert. Don’t forget to take into account the space needed to protect your falls, the volume of the structure itself, and the likelihood of bumping into another climber if the walls are too close to each other. Make sure you examine your design several times and consider setting up a storage area to keep your tools, such as a drill and bolts, if you don’t have one already.
At this point, start building the framework, fixing it to the floor, the walls, and the ceiling with some wooden studs. Their widths will depend on the expected final result, but we recommend investing in some quality sturdy wood. To begin 12x12 cm studs will surely do. You will likely need as many studs as the number of horizontal and vertical junctures between panels. Always ask for professional advice when designing these aspects of your project. Mind that the studs of an overhanging structure will need to be cut to an angle to be fixed. You can set up the framework with some joist hangers or wall bolts but remember: each wall has its shape and dimensions. These are generic instructions, do consider them as generic guidelines and adapt them to the specif features of your project.
Once the structure is set up, it’s time to fix the plywood panels. Choose some good quality panels, so the drill and the T-nuts won’t damage them. Generally speaking, the panels should be around 18-19 mm wide, but, once again, these are only general guidelines. Make some tests before fixing the framework, starting from the main panels. Remember to drill in the holes and insert the T-nuts before setting up the structure. The number of holes you can drill and the distance between them depends on the number of studs laying behind each panel: this is another factor to consider when designing the main structure. The more studs, the fewer holds you will be able to fix. Usually, each hole lies 20 cm apart from the next on parallel lines. Drill the first hole of the first line at a distance of 10 cm and the first hole of the second line at a distance of 20 cm, forming a grid: this will prevent having empty spaces or too many holds.
After checking whether the dimensions of each panel are correct, make the holes with an 11 mm wood drill bit, and insert 10 mm T-nuts or weld nuts from the back of the panel. T-nuts have three spikes that pierce the wood while weld nuts must be fastened with two or three wood screws. The latest option is more durable but also time-consuming and more expensive.
Fixing the panels
To fix the panels onto the framework, screw them to the studs and connect them with some flat joist hangers. If you have access to the back of your wall, you can always fix each panel individually and then connect them later. Otherwise, start installing the lowest panels first, fixing the lower half of the joist hangers, and then proceed upwards making sure the panels are safely secured.
After setting up the main panels, double-check if all is going according to plan and continue with the secondary ones. Finally, express your creativity and paint your wall! You can use simple wood water-based paint. Then, it’s time to bolt in the holds. If you’re looking for good value for money, you can get a set packed with all sorts of holds in different shapes and sizes. Otherwise, you can opt for smaller sets of holds of your choice, ranging from crimps to slopers and jugs, which should never be missing for good warm-ups!
Disclaimer: The suggestions listed in all climbing articles are not to be considered exhaustive. The intent is uniquely informative, therefore they do not account for professional advice. Despite our thorough research, the information provided might be incomplete or partial. Always read the technical instructions before beginning your setup.
Cover image: David Pisnoy - Unsplash