Building a Re-Configurable Climbing Wall

When my kids were little I decided to surprise them one Christmas with an indoor, re-configurable climbing wall for their playroom. The process itself wasn’t terribly difficult and required only a few tools. If you’re interested in building your own, read on!

Tools

  • Drill - corded or cordless, doesn’t matter

  • Drill bits - 1/8” and 7/16” (a 8mm hex driver bit is useful too!)

  • Chalk line

  • Measuring tape

Materials

For the paint, I recognized that my kids ability to destroy almost anything could have a detrimental effect on the wall so I decided to paint it with truck bed coating. It gave the surface a grippy finish and has survived wonderfully. Note that this stuff is CRAZY TOUGH so be sure to paint AFTER you drill the holes!

Directions

  1. First things first, sand down the plywood. In my case I put it on the saw horses and gave both sides and the edges a once over and smoothed down the sharp edges to help prevent splintering.

  2. Next, you need to figure out the hole pattern you want. In my case I did a pattern with 12 rows, each having 6 columns. Odd rows were offset half way from even rows, making a diamond pattern. I REALLY didn’t need that many holes though. 9-10 rows with 5 per row would have been fine and what I’d recommend. Use your measuring tape to measure out lines on each edge of the plywood.

  3. Once you you have those marks in place use your chalk line to snap the lines onto the wood. If you’ve never used a chalk line before you just pull the line out of the reel, stretch it taught over the wood and then pull it back and snap it onto the wood - it’ll leave a line of chalk. Once you do this for all of your lines you’ll have a pretty chalk grid showing you where you want to drill your holes.

  4. So, get drilling! In my case I moved the plywood down onto the ground on top of some scrap wood so I could just crawl over it while drilling my holes. If possible you’ll want to both drill a pilot hole with the 1/8” bit, and make both the pilot and final hole with a piece of wood behind the hole. Both techniques work to prevent splintering around the holes.

  5. Once the holes are all drilled it’s time for paint. Be sure to clean out any excess paint that gets into the holes. The truck bed coating only took one coating but it seriously stunk and required me to wear a respirator while using it, even while working outside. Another option would be to use a standard paint, but mix in a bit of sand to give it some texture.

  6. When the paint has dried flip the plywood on its side and start installing the T-nuts. You can technically hammer these in, but don’t bother. It’s hard and very error prone. The best way to install these is with a 8mm hex bit for your drill and a scrap piece of wood. Drill a hole in the scrap wood just big enough for one of your bolts. Then, one at a time slip a T-nut into a hole on the back of your plywood and then, from the front, run a bolt through your scrap wood and into the T-nut. Now, using your drill, tighten down the bolt. It will pull the T-nut into the wood in a nice, even, and controlled manner. Once the T-nut is fully pulled into the wood just reverse your drill and move on to the next T-nut.

  7. At this point you’re almost ready for install. You’re going to want to anchor the climbing wall so that it’s centered on two studs in your house. Once you find the studs in your wall mark off where you want the top of the wall to go and draw a clear mark at the top and bottom of each stud.

  8. Now, attach the 2”x3” studs to your climbing wall by screwing them in from the front using drywall screws. You’ll want two on the edge of the plywood. Then center the other two so that they’re the same distance apart as your studs. With your studs all screwed on, snap another two chalk lines on the front of your climbing wall down the center of each of the middle studs. Now drill 6x 1/8” pilot holes evenly spaced down each of those lines.

  9. To mount the climbing wall lift it into place and prop it up at the correct height and position. Then proceed to bolt it to the wall using the HeadLok fasteners through the pilot holes you drilled through the center studs.

  10. Finally, use the allen wrench and bolts to attach some grips onto the wall. Be sure to give it a quick test to make sure everything feels nice and solid before letting kids loose on it. Have fun and good luck!

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