Wednesday, July 11, 2012

DIY Climbing Wall

In our backyard we have a pretty nice playset that has been estimated to be at least ten years old and maybe even older.  As such, some parts of the playset are in need of repair or replacement.  Last year, we re-stained much of the structure (some of which looked like it hadn't been stained before) and tightened all the bolts.  This year we had our sights much higher.
The old ramp
The ramp into the playset was starting to fall apart.  Years of water and ant damage were starting to get us worried about the safety of the ramp.  Since I've always liked rock walls, we decided to replace the ramp with a rock wall entrance to the playset.  For our kids' birthdays (both in July), my mother-in-law ordered a rock wall from the original manufacturers of our playset.  It cost $600 and didn't quite fit our playset since it's so old.  We decided to return it (the installer took it back instead of installing it) and decided to build our own.  Along the way, I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do.  Hopefully, this helps some of you if you are ever in this situation.

I started with a basic design in mind.  I would have two 4x4 supporting posts and several boards to mount the climbing holds onto.  I bought:

  • 2 - 8' long 4x4 posts
  • 2 - 8' long 2x12 boards
  • 2 - 8" long carriage bolts w/washers, nuts and caps
  • a 1/2" drill bit (I didn't have one that big before)
  • sandpaper for my sander (I had run out)
  • a 4" paintbrush for staining
  • climbing wall hand holds

All of this stuff cost less than $150.  The other supplies I already had were:

  • a circular saw
  • a small sander
  • wood screws
  • a drill (with drill bits)
  • wood stain
  • a hammer
  • a small level

Day 1 - Sunday evening.  First, we went shopping and bought the wood.  When we got home, I started by measuring the opening that the old ramp was waking up and cutting the 2x12 boards to just under that width.  Next, I measured the height that I wanted the posts to be and I cut those out as well.  I started sanding the boards and posts, but ran out of daylight.

Day 2 - Monday evening.  We took my kids to get the bolts and handholds.  Getting the handholds was the hardest part.  First we went to REI because I know someone who built a climbing wall and they had gotten their holds there, but apparently REI recently stopped carrying them in there stores (sold online only).  After that we called: Fleet Farm, Gander Mountain, Home Depot and finally, Menards.  Generally, I'm not a big fan of Menards, but they did save us from having to order the holds online and having to wait to finish building the wall.  So, we bought the hand holds and bolts there and went home.  I finished sanding the boards and put a first coat of stain on the boards and posts.  The stain is very quick to dry, so I got to start assembling the wall.  I used wood glue and wood screws to put attach the boards to the posts.
The wall after the second coat of stain
Day 3 - Tuesday evening.  I started by putting a second coat of stain on the assembled wall.  After that coat dried, I removed the old ramp from the playset.  It was then that I discovered the colony of ants living in the base of the ramp.  After the ramp was out of the way, I dug out some of the rocks where the bottom of the wall would rest and put the wall in the opening.  I drilled the holes for the carriage bolts through the wall's posts and the posts on the playset.  After securing the bolts, my wife and I started deciding where the hand holds would go.  Attaching the handholds was very frustrating.  The screws that came with the holds were the worst quality that I'd ever worked with.  They would strip almost immediately if I put any more than the minimum amount of torque that my drill had.  If you have a choice, avoid climbing wall handholds made by PlayStar, Inc. out of Janesville, WI.  Or, use different screws as they ones provided are horrible.  Once the handholds were attached and secured, I tested each of them by briefly hanging some of my weight on them.  None of them budged, so I okayed a test climb for my daughter who was eagerly waiting to use the wall.  You can see the results, below.

Daughter, Kate, first time climbing wall
Overall, I'm very pleased with how this turned out and very satisfied to have saved $450 over the price of the manufacturer's climbing wall.  Plus, I always enjoy building things myself and getting to use my power tools is always fun.

Attached and awaiting hand holds

Attaching hand holds

After handholds attached

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