Gyms now offer walls where you can pay to climb, and it may be much more convenient and cost-effective to have a climbing wall in your home or backyard. By coming up with an effective design and making the wall, you can easily train and get a great workout at home!
Chances are if you have kids at home, you flipped through our June issue and stopped in awe at one particularly out-of-this-world playroom. In a San Francisco home designed by Regan Baker, the children have run the basement, which features a craft room, plush, kids-sized sofas, and, perhaps most impressively, a rope and rock-climbing wall. So how exactly, you might wonder, does one install such an incredible source of amusement in the home? Well, that’s where Brita Bookser and Adam Griggs come in. The two avid climbers started Crawl/Stand/Walk, a design studio that devises creative climbing walls for kids and adults alike.
Different Ways to Build Climbing Wall
Freestanding Indoor Rock Climbing Wall
These are the materials I used. While I’m no engineer, I feel comfortable that they can withstand any load my roommates or I can exert. I didn’t use the same materials as the first plan I saw and unless you build the same exact wall, you probably shouldn’t either.
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- (1) Case of beer (You may want more, I can’t say that it will aid in construction, but it’ll sure make it more interesting. For instance while hanging the joists we dropped one of the sides and nearly took out our TV)
- (2) Sheets of 3/4″ Plywood (3/4 RTD SHTG) @ $17.97 = $35.94
- (1) Additional 1′ by 8′ strip of plywood for the top portion (salvaged from scrap bin) – $4.01
- (12) 2’x4’x104-5/8″ Studs @ $3.12 = $37.44
- (1) Box of 2″ Drywall Screws – $6.47
- (1) Box of 1.25″ Drywall Screws – $6.47
- (1) Box of 3″ Drywall Screws – Leftover from another project
- (40) Climbing Holds with Hardware (ideally you would have around 32 per sheet of plywood) I bought mine here as I’ve bought some holds from him in the past and have been very satisfied with both the price and quality – http://rockymountainclimbinggear.com/id71.html – $40.00
- Extra T-Nuts (typically home walls have at-nut density of 2.25 per square foot) The holds came with just enough hardware for them so if you want more configuration options you’ll need to buy about 100 more t-nuts
- (12) Plate Connectors @ $0.76 = $9.12
- (4) 90 Degree Connectors (3″ Angle) @ $1.23 = $4.92
- (8) 2×4 Joist Hangers @ $0.75 = $6.00
Total Materials Cost = $150.37
- Electric Drill
- Phillips Head Bit
- 7/16″ Wood Boring Bit
- 3/8″ Hex Wrench
- Tape Measure
- Protractor (or other angle making aid)
- Saw (preferably a power saw, hand saws are only cool for about 10 minutes)
2: Cut It Up
You’ll want to start by cutting all your lumber to size. Note that you’ll also want to cut it at the right angles, so all joints of your triangle sit flush.
I knew that I wanted my wall to be 4′ deep so I could add sides later on by cutting a sheet of plywood in half diagonally. I also knew that it couldn’t be taller than 8′ (7’11” to be safe) so I decided on roughly a 60-degree overhang so that I would still have about a foot of vertical space on the top so I could mount a hang board.
I also knew that we would be using two 4′ wide sheets of plywood for the surface of the wall so I cut 6 of the studs to a tad longer than 8′ to make sure I had room in case anything was off.
3: Assemble Sides
Next, you’ll want to assemble the sides of your wall. I made sure both the front and back would be resting directly on the ground so there would be less strain on the joint. This is where you’ll want to use your plate connectors.
-First pound the connectors the joints
-Second secure with 4 of the 1.25″ screws on each plate.
-Repeat first and second step for the other sides of the joints
-Lastly, you may want to secure the top joint with two additional 3″ screws.
You may want to add cross-bracing on the inside of the triangles, especially if you want the surface of the wall to wrap around the sides. I chose to leave them unbraced and uncovered for now to save on cost. After using it for a while, I don’t feel that extra cross bracing is necessary.
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Hang Horizontal Joists
For this step, you’ll most likely want one or two helpers to keep everything square as you hang the joists on the back of the wall. This is an important step because if you do it wrong, your wall will most likely collapse. Pardon the lack of pictures while actually hanging the joists, but we simply did not have enough hands.
-Fist position the 2×4 where you wanted it to go and secure it with 2 two of the 3″ screws going straight through the side and into the 2×4 horizontally.
-Once the stud is in place, install the joist hangers by first hammering in the stops and then securing it with 1.25″ screws into the side and then with 3″ screws into the 2×4. Check the pictures for more detail.
For the top two joists simply screw the connector into the side then up into the 2×4. I also used two of the 3″ screws going horizontally through the side and into the joists.
I chose to use four horizontal joists for the overhang and two joists on top which the plywood sheeting would then be screwed into.
Drill Bolt Holes
Before you mount your plywood, you’ll want to drill holes for the holds to bolt into (note: if you are using a screw-on holds this isn’t necessary). You’ll also want to be careful that the joists won’t block your holes. I messed up and didn’t check this, and now I can’t use some of the holes. You’ll also want to determine which side of the plywood will be the front and drill from the front to the back so that it looks pretty and doesn’t give you splinters.
Hang the Plywood
Once you have all of your joists hung on the back and the holes drilled in the plywood, you can hang the plywood on the wall. It’s also nice to have a helper for this step.
-First, push the bottom of the plywood as far back as it will go against the bottom joists.
-Next, have your helper (or a large set of clamps) hold the sheet of plywood so that it presses on the top joist.
-Then make sure the sheet of plywood is pressed firmly against the side of the wall
-Finally, make sure all parts of the plywood are flush against the joists, secure the panel with at least 5 of your 2″ screws per joist.
-Repeat for the second sheet of plywood
-Hang top strip of plywood in similar fashion
This was a momentous occasion for us as the pictures clearly show.
Install T-Nuts and Holds
Install holds by pounding the t-nuts into the back of the plywood then threading the bolt through the bolt and into the t-nut.
Now put on your climbing shoes and chalk up, you’re done!
Build an Outdoor Freestanding Rock Climbing Wall in Your Garden
Tools You Will Need:
Posts: according to the size you want for your climbing wall, e.g. 6″ by 6″ and 4″ by 4″ posts.
- Plywood sheets
- A primer
- Carriage bolts
- Exterior paint
- Bolts and T-nuts
- Some 2″ by 4″ s, 2″ by 8 “s and 2″ by 6” s (these are the dimensions used in this blog, yours may be different).
Before you start, it is important to plan. You probably want to build this structure only once, so taking some time to think of the design you want properly is beneficial.
How to Set up the Posts and Basic Supports
An important consideration is a good location in your garden. Pick an area that is separated from where you have your normal activities. After finding the right spot, dig holes. The depth depends on the posts you’re using.
For 6″ by 6″ posts dig holes that have a depth of 4′, and for the 4″ by 4″ posts have a depth of 3′. It may be quite challenging to get the 6″ by 6″ posts into the holes, therefore, using a sawhorse as a fulcrum, drop an 8′ 2″ by 4″ into the hole. Butt the end of the 6″ by 6″ posts against the 2″ by 4″ with the centre over the sawhorse.
Afterwards, raise the other end such that the front end slides down the 2″ by 4″ and directly into the hole.
Nail the 2″ by 4″ into stakes and use this to arrange the posts in a vertical position. Press some clay firmly into the dug hole to offer more support to the posts. You can also use concrete for the bigger posts to make them more solid. As you build your freestanding rock climbing wall, you can get your kids to help out, to make the process fun.
Once your posts are set up, it’s time to start framing.
Procedure for Framing
After setting up the three posts and the 2″ by 8″ cross braces for the major wall, the remaining framing work is really straightforward. You can start with one of the overhangs (left one). Use some metal hangers to join the 2″ by 6″ to the 2″ by 8″ supports that are laid horizontally.
You can saw them down to length and chop out a 30° angle to correspond with the 2″ by 4″ supports on the front part. It can be tasking to cut the notched end of the 2″ by 4″ so that it stays put on the 2″ by 8″ cross piece that’s underneath.
Try to get the front part arranged in a way that all the 3 supports completely level with the plywood beam. You can tack some 2″ by 4 “s across the fronts of the three long-angled panels to make the job easier. After the 2″ by 4” s are set, it will be easy to add extra bracing.
After you’re through with screwing everything into place, go back and strengthen the major joints using carriage bolts. If the frame was wobbly before due to the flex of the elongated vertical posts, the bolts will make it more rigid. The panels are also important in adding rigidity to the structure.
Now, it’s time to deal with the surface panels.
Procedure for Installing the Surface Panels
There a lot of different ways in which the surface panels can be treated. You can use some regular exterior paint and mix it with some sand until you acquire the texture you want. Layout all the plywood panels you need and paint them with primer and the paint you’ve made, on both sides. The treatment is important for weatherproofing the panels.
Once you’re done with painting, drill holes to host the T-nuts. You can use T-nuts made out of zinc, stainless steel or any other material. It is better to choose a material that is durable. Get a spade bit drill that is compatible with your T-nuts and bolts.
Place three painted plywood sheets on 2″ by 4″ s on the ground. Draw an 8″ squares’ grid using some chalk, and then drill holes at every corner using your spade bit drill. Don’t drill directly on the grid intersections, rather offset every hole some distance from the point to make several pseudo-random shapes.
Cut the plywood sheets on the ground (the cuts are for the posts) and prop up some 2″ by 4″ s using a skill saw. Once you’ve cut the spaces for the posts, paint the cut edges prior to screwing the plywood sheets to the wall to waterproof them. You can now pound in the T-nuts into the drilled holes that are not too near to the cut edges.
Once you’re through with the surface panels, you can finish up.
Screw the T-nuts that you pounded onto the panels, to your wall. You may start with the bottom and work your way up. If some T-nuts line up with your braces, you can choose to either remove them or plan beforehand by holding the plywood in place prior to pounding in the T-nuts.
You can also leave them there, or hang the plywood and utilize the drill to drill through the T-nuts, leaving room for the bolts.
BUILD A HOME CLIMBING WALL
Designing Your Own Wall
If you don’t have much experience climbing on indoor walls, try to visit as many different climbing gyms and home walls as you can before designing your own wall. Try to record some basic measurements from the walls you like. The more experience you have on other walls, the easier it will be to design your own.
Evaluate Your Space
Look at the space you have available to build your wall and decide how to use it most efficiently. Make sure you consider what else space may need to be used for. If it’s a garage, do you need to leave room to park the car? Is it also a storage area? You can design and position the angles of your wall to fit over and around a parked car, or you can build shelves into the backside of your wall for storage. If the wall is indoors, you’ll want to maintain access to electrical outlets and to the back of the wall to make any necessary repairs to the T-nuts once it is finished. Make sure you consider lighting, ventilation, and access at this point. If you have to cover up windows or doors to build your wall, you’ll need to find alternate lighting, ventilation and access sources.
When choosing your space, remember that falling is noisy and chalk gets everywhere. If it’s indoors, try to isolate it as much as possible from your living space, especially if you share your dwelling with non-climbers. If you’re considering an outdoor wall, remember that you’ll have to weatherproof it somehow, and no matter what you do, the holds won’t last as long as they would inside.
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Lay It Out
Transfer your model’s dimensions to a drawing, then use string and tacks, or tape, to mark the positions of all the design elements, full-size, in your actual space. Hang a plumb line from the ceiling to mark the border of each wall. Allow for the width of the anchoring structure, thickness of the wall studs and thickness of plywood sheathing. Verify that everything fits. Double-check that all potential falls or swings will be clear, and make sure that any necessary doors, windows, light fixtures, and electrical outlets are accessible. Revisit the earlier questions and make sure you get the same answers: Will there be adequate ventilation and light? Will chalk dust affect your living space? What about other uses for the area? Does the car still fit in the garage? Will your shelving work?
Make sure you have enough area to assemble the pieces separately, fasten them together, and stand them up. Try to allow about twice as much working space as the wall will require when finished. This, of course, will vary based on the degree of overhang and height. Make sure you have enough clearance to stand the wall up without getting it wedged against the ceiling before it is in place.
You can roughly estimate the material cost (not including holds or paint) of your wall by multiplying twice the number of full sheets of plywood in your design by the cost per sheet. For example, 3/4″ ACX plywood might cost $42 a sheet. If your design uses four sheets, your cost estimate will be (2 x 4) 42 = $336. If the budget still looks okay, it’s time to use your dimensional drawing to assemble a comprehensive materials list.
Before you make your list, you must determine the necessary sizes and types of materials and how each type of material will attach to the others. Use 3/4″ ACX plywood for the sheeting. This is high-grade, exterior plywood. Lower grades of plywood have more voids in the inner layers, so it is quite possible to rip T-nuts right through the sheeting while climbing. Nothing thinner than 3/4″ is strong enough, and all U.S. hold manufacturers base bolt and T-nut lengths on 3/4″ sheeting.
Framing studs will run vertically every 16 inches behind each wall, as well as at the top and bottom, to form the framework. An eight-foot-wide wall will require nine studs (seven vertical studs spaced 16 inches apart as well as a top plate and bottom plate). Optionally, the vertical studs can be spaced 24 inches apart rather than 16, which will allow for more T-nut placements, but wider studs must be used, and the plywood sheeting will be prone to flexing.
While short, vertical walls can be framed with 2″x 4″ studs, overhanging walls must use wider, stronger framing materials. The required size of framing materials is determined by both their span and the load they must bear. Slightly overhanging walls should use 2″x 6″ or 2″x 8″ studs, and steeper walls or those taller than 8 feet must use 2″x 8″ or 2″x 10″ studs. When you buy framing studs, sort through the stack and pick the straightest ones with the fewest knots.
Assemble your wall with self-drilling decking screws, which hold better and, in case you make a mistake, are easier to disassemble than nails. Use #14 x 3-1/2″ (or 4-1/2″ if screwing through drywall) screws to anchor header joists or plates to your support structure, #12 x 3″ screws to join framing members, and #8 x 2″ screws to attach the plywood to the framework.
Don’t use drywall screws or hardened screws which are brittle and prone to failure in this application. You should also have a pound or two of 16d nails for temporarily tacking framing members and for spots that you can’t access with the screw gun. Depending upon your support structure and configuration, you might need a variety of other materials. The list below will provide a few ideas.
- Plywood: 3/4″ ACX, 4’x 8′ sheets
- Wood framing-studs: 2″x 4″, 2″x 6″, 2″x 8″, 2″x 10″
- Self-drilling decking screws: #14 x 3-1/2″ (or 4-1/2″), #12 x 3″, #8 x 2″
- Nails: 16d vinyl-coated, sinker
- T-nuts: 3/8″, 4-prong, steel
- Concrete expansion anchors
- Joist hangers
- Framing connectors
- Tape measure
- Level, 4′
- Combination or framing square
- Chalk line
- Stud finder
- Claw hammer
- Wood chisel
- Circular saw
- Miter saw
- Power drill
- Drill bits, incl. 1/2″ spade or Forstner
- Cordless drill or screw gun
- Screwdriver bits, #2 Phillips head or square drive (Get a lot of these; they wear out fast!)
- Extension cords
- Pry bar
- Safety glasses
- Step ladder and/or extension ladder
- Various clamps, incl. 6″ C-clamps and 12″ bar clamps
- Hex wrenches: 5/16″ and 7/32″
Construction of the Wall
We’ll describe the construction method for a common scenario here, but most of the following information will apply to any home bouldering wall configuration.
You should frame each of your walls separately. Build one framework section and attach it to the support structure before building the next piece of the framework. Begin with the largest or most important wall and progress to the smallest or least important. This will allow you to make any necessary adjustments that space may require with minimal trauma. Once the framework is in place for the primary walls, you will connect them with additional framing members to create the secondary walls.
If you’re not familiar with framing terminology, don’t be confused by the terms “stud” and “joist.” For our purposes, they are essentially the same. Technically, studs run vertically in a house’s walls while joists run horizontally in the floor or ceiling. Few bouldering walls are purely vertical or horizontal, so we vary the term depending upon the situation. You may also hear these framework members referred to as “stringers.”
Walls that aren’t too steep (say, up to 20° overhanging) can be framed flat on the ground then hoisted into place as a unit, much like the walls of a house. Lay the top and bottom plates and the two outer studs on the floor. Measure diagonally from opposite corners, and compare the length of both diagonals to ensure that the frame is square. Adjust the frame until the diagonals are equal, and secure the four corners with screws.
Measure along the top and bottom plates and mark the locations for the inner studs every 16 inches. Make your measurements from the same side of the frame at the top and the bottom. Measure from the outside of the outer stud to the centre of the first inner stud, then centre-to-centre for the rest of the studs. If your wall is wider than a sheet of plywood, make sure that the sheet will end in the middle of a stud, so the next sheet will have room to attach to the same stud. If you use 16″ or 24″ spacing and measure correctly, this will happen automatically.
If you’re framing a vertical wall or horizontal roof, the ends of the studs or joists will be cut straight across or perpendicular to their length. However, if you are framing an overhanging wall, you’ll need to cut the studs at an angle, so the top and bottom plates will sit flat on the ground (or flat to the wall) and flat to the ceiling. Use a T-bevel to mark the correct angle and cut one stud. Check it for fit, then use it as a template to cut all the other studs identically. Because you’ve cut the end of the stud off at an angle, it will now be wider than the plate where it attaches. If the wall sits flat on the ground, align the front (or climbing side) of the stud with the front of the plate, then make a second cut on the backside of the stud, so it is flush with the plate.
Lumber is rarely straight, so sight down each stud to see which way it curves. Assemble the framework with the high side of the curve (the crown) facing toward the backside of your wall. Set the studs in place using a framing square to make sure each stud is square to the top and bottom plates. Recheck that the outer framework is square, and screw everything together.
If you’ve framed the wall on the ground as described above, simply tilt it up into position, recheck it for square, and screw through the top and bottom plates directly into every ceiling and floor joist along their spans, using two #14 screws per joist. Exposed framing will make this task easier. However, fire codes require wallboard on all interior walls and ceilings, so you will probably need to use a stud finder to locate the framing members. Your house’s wall studs are usually spaced on 16″ centres (i.e., the distance from one stud’s centre point to the next), and floor or ceiling joists are usually on 24″ centres, so once you find the first stud or joist, it should be easy to find the rest.
Since you’ll be screwing through the drywall, you won’t be able to visually verify the quality of the attachment. Make sure that the screws go in solidly and there is resistance all the way in. Plates can be attached to concrete walls or floors with concrete expansion anchors.
If your wall runs parallel, or at any angle other than perpendicular, to the ceiling joists, run sleepers perpendicular to the joists, spaced on 24″ centres, picking up at least three joists with each sleeper. Then attach your wall’s top plate (or header joist) to the sleepers.
Overhanging walls transfer their loads to the support structure in a different manner than near-vertical walls. They are more akin to residential floors than walls. Frame steep walls by first attaching header joists (the equivalent of top and bottom plates) to your house’s ceiling joists and wall studs. Screw each header joist into every stud or joist along its span using at least two #14 screws per stud or joist, just as described earlier in the top and bottom plate method.
Make sure your header joists are level and square to each other, so your wall framework and plywood sheeting will fit correctly. It’s rare for residential walls, floors or ceilings to be perfectly square and level, so don’t base your positioning on the existing structure. Verify the relative position of the header joists with a level and tape measure.
Then run joists (the equivalent of studs) between the headers every 16 inches, again, facing the crown of each joist up (or back). Attach the joists with joist hangers. Cut a short flat section at the end of each joist to bear against the hanger.
Before the plywood is attached to the framework, you need to install the T-nuts. Stack 3 to 6 panels on saw horses and clamp them together. The ACX plywood sheets have an “A” side and a “C” side, meaning one side is a higher grade of laminate and has fewer voids or blemishes. Face the “A” sides up. These will face out to make the climbing surface when the panels are in place.
Mark the locations where the joists will be when the panel is in place (each end and every 16 inches). Usually, it’s easier to position the panels horizontally on the framework, but if they will fit your wall configuration better in the vertical orientation, take note of it now and mark the joist locations accordingly. You can lay out a grid pattern or drill holes randomly. Either way, don’t put any holes where the joists will be. You’ll want 100 to 250 T-nuts per sheet, the more, the better. Sheets that will go at the bottom of the wall will take mostly footholds so you can install fewer T-nuts and use screw-on holds liberally.
Use a 1/2″ Forstner or spade-style drill bit to drill the T-nut holes. It is critical that you drill the holes straight. Inexpensive drill press attachments are available for your hand drill that will ensure straight holes.
If your design calls for anything other than full 4’x 8′ sheets, cut the necessary panels to size now. Make sure you cut the panels and check their fit before installing the T-nuts.
Turn the panels over and knock off any splinters from the drilling. Install the T-nuts on the “C” side (the opposite side that you drilled from). Tap the T-nuts into the holes with a hammer. Make sure you set the T-nuts straight. A little extra time and care now will save an enormous amount of headache later.
Now that the panels are cut to size and the T-nuts are installed, it’s time to put the panels in place on the framework. Screw a couple of jug holds on panels to help maneuver them into place. Attach the panels with #8 x 2″ self-drive screws spaced about 6 inches apart all the way around the perimeter and along each joist or stud. Make sure the screws are going into the centre of the stud (i.e. 3/4″ from the edge of the panel except where panels meet, in which case, 3/8″ from the edge.) The 2″x 4″ blocking between the joists should be right where the panels meet so you will have a solid attachment and a tight joint between panels.
Bare plywood is fine for indoor walls, but a coat of paint is crucial for protection if the wall is outdoors or in a humid environment. Any exterior-grade paint will work. Plug your T-nuts with golf tees during the process to keep paint out of the threads.
The area underneath and around your wall must be made safe for falling. Ensure that this area is free of any objects that you could hit or land on in a fall. Never boulder over unpadded concrete, asphalt, wood, or any other hard surface. Falls directly onto an unprotected surface can result in serious head injury or even death. Even grass and turf will lose its ability to absorb the shock of a fall through wear and weather. Your fall zone must extend far enough to protect you from swinging falls or dynos. If your wall is steep, this could mean that you will need to extend your fall zone several yards past the edges of the wall.
There are several options for padding your fall zone, including commercially available bouldering pads, old mattresses, or several layers of carpet padding. However you choose to prepare your fall zone, you must take the responsibility of making it safe very seriously. Artificial climbing holds regularly spin or break, resulting in violent, out-of-control falls. You must never put yourself or others in a position that could result in injury in the case of an unexpected fall.
The selection of climbing holds the single most important element of a good home bouldering wall. Holds will probably be the most expensive budget item for your wall, so you’ll want to make sure you spend your money wisely. When you’re outfitting a new wall, having enough holds and enough variety are the most important considerations. Later on, as you add to your existing selection, other criteria will become more important, but for now, focus on maximizing your hold buying dollars to get the biggest variety you can. Metolius offers large sets of holds with many different sizes and styles. These packages offer the best value for setting up a new wall. When you’re shopping around, remember to compare the size of hold you are getting as well as the number of holds. One manufacturer might offer a 50-hold set for the same price as another manufacturer’s 40 hold set, but the 50 hold set might be full of smaller holds. Hold prices are almost entirely dictated by the amount of material in the hold, so make sure you’re considering like-sized holds when comparing prices.
When you’re starting out, you can get by with 15 to 20 holds per sheet, but the more holds you have, the more fun and interesting your wall will be. Many home walls end up with over 100 holds per sheet of plywood.
For now, don’t worry too much about the specific hold shapes, just make sure you have the right mix of hold types. The bulk of your selection (about 60%) should be medium-sized bolt-on holds of every possible style (edges, pockets, pinches, slopers, etc.). About 20% of your selection should be footholds. These can be small bolt-on holds or screw-on. Screw-on is ideal for plywood walls. They’re a great value; they will go places where bolt-on holds won’t, like in front of framing members or in corners, and they can be made thinner than bolt-ons, so they make climbing on plastic more technical and realistic. The only downside is that screw-ons are somewhat less durable than bolt-ons.
About 10% of your selection should be small handholds. These will be very similar to the footholds, but slightly larger and more positive. Again, maximize the value and variety that screw-ons can offer. Much of your small hold selection will work as either hand or footholds, so don’t get too hung up on the difference between the two styles. Just try to make sure that about 30% of your total selection consists of a good variety of small holds. Depending upon the angle of your wall and your ability level, 10 to 20% of your selection should be jug holds. Metolius offers a wide variety of mini jugs. These are great for home walls because they take up less space than full-size jugs and they are substantially less expensive. Finally, be sure to get some specialty shapes as corner holds, low-profile plates and rails, big slopers, etc. to keep things interesting.
Most commercially available climbing holds attach with 3/8″ socket head cap screws. There are three different styles of heads that are commonly used. Each different style works with a different shape of a bolt hole in the hold. It is very important to use the correct style of the bolt. The most common style is the standard socket head. This is the strongest, but it also has the highest-profile. These bolts require a 5/16″ hex wrench. Low-profile holds require the use of bolts with flat heads or button heads.
Flatheads have a flat top and tapered sides, which match a tapered countersink in the hold. Button head bolts are often used on thin holds that have no countersink. Usually, you can substitute a standard socket head bolt for a button head, but it will stick out farther and may interfere with the intended use of the hold. Flatheads and button heads use a 7/32″ hex wrench. Never substitute a socket head or button head in a hold that was designed for a flat head. It will weaken and possibly break the hold.
Different holds require different bolt lengths. It is critical to use the correct length bolt for your safety. On a home wall that uses 3/4″ plywood, the bolt must stick out from the back of the hold at least 3/4″ in order to fully engage the T-nut threads. It is okay to use a longer bolt as long as there is enough space behind the wall to allow you to fully tighten it. Longer bolts usually have a shoulder or unthreaded portion behind the head. Make sure that the shoulder doesn’t extend past the back of the hold or you won’t be able to fully tighten it.
Most manufacturers include the correct bolt with their holds, so there is no excuse for using incorrect hardware.
Screw-on holds ideal for home walls. These holds attach to wooden walls with self-drive screws. Because many screw-on holds are quite thin, they can be relatively fragile. It’s best to attach thin screw-ons once and not move them. They are so low-profile that usually, they won’t interfere with other holds, so there is little disadvantage to installing them permanently. If you are using a power drill or screw gun to install your screw-ons, set the clutch to the lightest setting. Try not to drive the screws all the way in with the drill. Finish tightening them by hand so you won’t break as many holds. It is a good idea to use construction adhesive or epoxy in addition to the screws. This will vastly increase the life span of tiny screw-on holds.
Now it’s time to put your holds up. Get a couple of good T-handle hex wrenches to make this task easier. The bottom panels of your wall should contain mostly footholds. If you’re using screw-on footholds, make sure you attach them far enough from existing T-nut holes that they won’t interfere with attaching bolt-on holds later. Fill the bottom panels with as many different footholds as possible, but save a few holes for starting jugs. Home bouldering walls will have plenty of problems with sit starts, so you’ll need some jugs low down. It’s good to use a lot of underlings and side-pulls for starting jugs, so they don’t end up as enormous footholds once you’ve climbed past them. You’ll also want to put a few jugs at the top of your wall for finishing jugs.
You’ll also want to put a few jugs at the top of your wall for finishing jugs. Obviously, the top panel or two won’t need any footholds, so use any remaining footholds on the bottom half of the wall. Now fill the rest of your wall with the remaining holds. If your wall has multiple angles, you’ll want to put most of the bigger or more positive holds on the steeper areas and vice versa, but try to mix it up and keep the variety as high as possible. Remember that any given hold can be oriented to pull straight down, sideways, as an undercling, or anything in between.
Making boulder problems can be as simple as picking a few holds at random and pull between them, but the more thought you put into designing your problems, the more fun they will be. Try to employ the widest variety of moves that you can; don’t be afraid to include sideways or even downward movements in your problems. Think of every different hold as a potential side-pull or undercling (e.g. don’t fall into the common rut of only pulling downward on pockets.) Avoid using big footholds. They won’t help you improve your technique or develop good core strength. Experiment with footwork by designating problems as “open” (any hold on the wall can be used as a foothold), “tracking” (only the designated handholds on the problem can be used as footholds), “screw-ons only,” or designate specific footholds for each move.
You’ll want to develop a library of problems, so when you set a good one, mark it with coloured tape and record the start and finish holds, number of moves, the colour of tape, footwork restrictions, etc. in a book.
The most common maintenance procedure you will need to perform on your bouldering wall is tightening and inspecting the holds. Remove any damaged or cracked holds immediately, even if the crack is very small. Holds will loosen with surprising speed and regularity, especially when your wall is new, after temperature changes, or in a humid environment. Spinning or breaking holds can result in very dangerous falls, so it is important to inspect
and tighten them frequently.
T-nuts will sometimes spin in the plywood or become cross-threaded or stripped. If a T-nut has spun or is severely cross-threaded and you cannot tighten or loosen the bolt, fit a pry bar under the edge of the hold and pry outwards. Then try to loosen the bolt under tension. If this doesn’t work, you’ll have to slip a hacksaw blade between the hold and the wall and cut the bolt. Tap a damaged T-nut out from the front of the wall using a bolt, then install a new one by threading it onto a bolt that is through a hold (use a strong, thick one) and drawing it into place by tightening the bolt. If the plywood is severely damaged, do not reuse the hole. If there is only minor damage, you can epoxy the new T-nut in place or anchor it from behind
with short wood-screws to keep it from spinning.
Periodically check bolts, screws, joints, and any other hardware on your wall for looseness, wear, or damage. Look for signs of stress like expanding joints or seams that may indicate that your wall requires reinforcement or repair.
With your wall finished and intoxicating visions of burning-off your climbing partners with your new-found power clouding your judgement, you’ll want to jump on that thing and start training like a circus monkey. Be careful! Home bouldering walls are so convenient, efficient and fun to use that it can be easy to develop overuse injuries. Always warm-up thoroughly and make sure you’re getting plenty of rest between sessions. Overuse injuries are often the result of muscular imbalance, so it is important to work your antagonistic muscles as well. (These are the muscles that are opposed to those used in climbing, mostly extensor muscles like triceps, pectorals, finger extensors, etc.) Perform some push-ups and dips for your chest and triceps and use a Metolius GripSaver Plus to balance the muscles of your hands, wrists and forearms. Follow this simple advice, and you’ll soon be on your way to the best climbing season you’ve ever had.
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