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Building a Home Bouldering Wall

In the training chapter of Bouldering Essentials I wrote “If you have some space in your house it’s relatively straightforward to build a board”. So having some space in my garage I followed my own advice and this week I build myself a board.

Even though I studied (computer) engineer I’m not particularly DIY inclined. My only wall building experience was helping out with building a small freestanding board over a decade ago. And while the phrase “relatively straightforward ” might underestimate the task slightly (relative to building a house it’s probably accurate) I’m writing this having finished my board and am very happy with how it turned out.

However, I’m not under the illusion that I’m now an expert on climbing wall construction, so I won’t be writing a detailed step-by-step guide to building your own board. Though I will offer some words of advice from one layman to another.

My board

Plan

You need a plan, if you just starting drilling and cutting you are guaranteed to do a shonky job. It doesn’t matter whether you could design a 3D model in SketchUp or draw it out on paper, once you have a plan.

My garage roof consists of rather old, weak looking 4×2 (NOTE: it’s 4×2 not 2×4) so I was advised to build a strong framework rather than rely on the rafters, this created a lot more work but meant that I ended up with a rock solid wall.

My plan

Height wise I think you need at least 7 foot high and angle wise somewhere in the region of 35-45 degrees is best, if you are climbing above Font 7a go for 45, otherwise 35 is plenty.

Materials

Once you have your design you need to draw up a list of materials. Not matter how good a job you do of creating this list you will forget stuff, I ended up going to the DIY shop a total of six times. Don’t forget tools – a circular saw is very handy and a drill/screwdriver is essential. Don’t forget to get plenty of screwdriver heads as they wear out fast. And a spirit level and measuring tape and a one of those lovely fat pencils to mark the wood.

Building

Allow double the time you think you will need. It should be possible to build a modest board in a weekend. Don’t rush, rushing = fuckups.

Always drill pilot holes for screws.

Use screws not nails.

Get help, ideally from someone who knows what they are doing. Sheets of plywood are heavy, you will need two others to hold them in place while they are screwed on.

T-nutting

T-nuts are hammered in to the back of the plywood sheeting so that holds can be attached using removable bolts. They should be laid out in a regular grid, make sure that you take into account where the support boards will be when planning the grid (I didn’t and as a result manyof the holes are un-usable). Drill the holes from the front to keep climbing surface neat and splinter free.

Holds

There is a massive variety of holds on the market, some are designed specifically for training, this means they have basic shapes and a smooth texture. Holds are expensive and could cost you more than the rest of the wall. Consider making holds from scraps of wood. They can be as simple or as complex as you like but make sure they are smooth so you don’t get splinters. The advantage of wood is that it’s very skin friendly and low-friction so won’t wear your skin.

A very small foot hold

Place lots of small foot holds, the smaller the better to work your core and body tension.

Consider some sort of systems board setup. A system board is a board on which the various hold types – pinch, edge, sloper, pocket, undercut, sidepull – are laid out in a repeating, symmetrical pattern. This allows
very specific movements, hold types and orientations to be targeted and trained. System boards make good use of limited space and the basic principle can easily be applied on a small training board.

Matting

On a steep board a lot of the falls will be onto your arse rather than your feet so you will need something pretty soft to absorb the falls. Bouldering pads tend to be a little hard. An old mattress is an idea, if grubby, solution. Remember to pad out any vertical supports or edges as well.

Other Training Tools

Consider installing a pull up bar, fingerboard, gymnastic rings (so hot right now) or campus board now while you are in building mode. The fingerboard can be as simple as a few different thicknesses of wooden rungs screwed to some plywood.

My very basic fingerboard

Using the board

Once you have built your board you will be keen to use it at every opportunity and seeing as it’s in your house, you run the risk of overdoing it and getting injured. Unless you are used to bouldering a few times a week you will need to slowly and gradually build up the volume. There is no point spending time and effort building a great board only to have it sitting their gathering dust for months because you wrecked your fingers in the first month.

Resources

I found the following two downloadable PDFs helpful:

Moon Climbing – Building a Moon Board Instructions for building a standardised board that allows problems to be shared via the internet.

Metolius Climbing – How to Build a Home Bouldering Wall Excellent, detailed advice.