Building a Home Wall

Invest in Your Climbing: Build a Woodie!

Building a home wall is perhaps the best investment you can make for improving your climbing ability. Short of moving to a year-round climbing mecca like Bishop or Boulder, constructing a “Woodie” (as they are often called) is the next best thing for facilitating a climbing workout any time, any day. Joining a commercial climbing gym is an excellent alternative; unless you live within a few miles of the gym, however, metropolitan traffic and the complexities of work and family life might make it difficult to get there on a regular basis.

So, what’s the investment needed for a modest home wall? A basic bare-bones, 8-by-10-foot (high), 45-degree overhanging wall could cost you as little as $400 or $500 (cost of wood and a few dozen handholds). Of course, you could easily spend $1500 or more if you build a more lavish set up with a few different wall angles and a few hundred holds. Let’s look at the basics of adding a home wall to your training-for-climbing toolbox.

Designing and Building the Wall
Designing a home gym has to begin with an analysis of possible locations for building the wall. While it’s possible to construct a small free-standing wall in a dorm room or apartment living room (it’s been done many times), the most popular site for building a wall is a garage or basement. Garages provide the advantage of a higher ceiling whereas the basement offers a site with more stable temperatures. Given you have both options, weigh the pros and cons of each location recognizing the temperatures you’ll face in winter and summer if you build the wall in the garage. I’m fortunate to have a basement with a high ceiling (over 8 feet), so the decision to build the wall inside was an easy one.

As for the wall design, you should first consider building the standard 45-degree overhanging wall. Recognize that it will be difficult to train vertical wall technique or stamina on a small home wall, so the primary goal is to train lock-off and grip strength, power, and muscular endurance—nothing beats a “45” for this. For starters, consider building an eight-foot wide 45-degree wall that begins 16 inches off the floor. This way, you will have an eight-foot wide, sixteen-inch high “kicker board” along the base of your wall onto which you’ll mount some small footholds. Depending on ceiling height, the 45-degree wall–actually I prefer and suggest you build 50-degrees past vert–will run eight to ten feet (the hypotenuse of the right triangle profile) to intersect the existing ceiling beams. The frame should be built with 2-by-8s on 16-inch center. Make sure the frame is anchored in a bombproof way to existing wall and ceiling structure via lag bolts, galvanized truss plates, and concrete anchors. The climbing surface is three-quarter-inch plywood attached to the frame with many drywall screws.


Simple 50-degree overhanging wall in garage.

The hand and foot holds anchor to the plywood with special “t-nuts” available from any handhold company as well as most hardware or fastener stores. I suggest you purchase and install a minimum of three t-nuts per square foot of wall surface. So, the basic 8-by-10-foot wall described above would require 240 t-nuts as well as a couple dozen more for the kickboard. While you may never fill all the t-nuts with holds at one time, the large number of t-nut holes affords you a large variance of hold placement when moving holds around the wall to create new problems (important to keep things fresh).

You’ll want to purchase the same types of modular holds that you are familiar with from your local commercial gym. Several companies make specialized training holds that are affordable and ideal for a home wall. Expect to pay anywhere from $1 for a tiny foot hold up to $10 or more for a large roof hold or mega-jug. Since your wall is steep, favor medium-sized shapes which typical cost $3 to $5 each. Select holds with what appear to be usable features and avoid any holds with sharp edges (skin shredders) or abrasive texture. Purchase a variety of holds that will train different grip positions such as crimp, two-finger pockets, pinch, slopers and such. As a guideline, select hold sizes as follows: 10 percent tiny foot chips, 20 percent small crimp edges, 20 percent pockets, 20 percent medium-sized edges, 20 percent slopers and pinches, and 10 percent large buckets. Now mount the holds and start climbing!

Many people start small and then add on wall space as time and resources allow. Should you decide to add more climbing surface it’s best to add a four-foot wide panel that overhangs about 30 degrees past vertical, another four-foot wide panel overhanging about 60 degrees (position the 30- and 60-degree walls on either side of the 45), as well as an eight or ten-foot section of horizontal “roof” surface. Be creative and have fun with your design. Finally, if you have kids between the age of two to six (or if you want to practice traversing on tiny holds) consider building a section of vertical wall for them to play around on while you are training on the 45-degree wall. This will make for a joyous and rewarding time for mom, dad, and kids alike. (Note: vertical panels of a home wall are the least practical and beneficial, so never build a vertical panel at the expense of an overhanging panel; only construct the vert section as an add-on where an overhanging panel isn’t possible).


Basement wall with 30-, 50-, and 65-degree panels.

Home Wall Construction Tips

1. Search the Internet and talk to other climbers for home wall ideas. Enlist a friend with a background in construction if you are uncomfortable with framing and the use of power tools.

2. Sketch out the proposed design and determine all the beam lengths down to the inch based on the wall angles you choose (time to revisit your trigonometry from high school). Make a list of all the supplies you need, before making tracks for Home Depot.

3. Don’t skimp on wood. Buy 2-by-8s for framing and use only three-quarter-inch, mid- or high-grade plywood for the climbing surface.

4. When framing, error on the side of overkill in terms of anchoring the support beams to existing ceiling and walls.

5. Drill the t-nut holes and hammer in the t-nuts before mounting the plywood sheets. Be sure to drill from the “good” side of the plywood, but then flip the panel and hammer in the T-nuts on the splintered backside of the holes. Install about 100 T-nuts per 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood. Attach the plywood to the framing with two-and-a-half inch drywall screws placed every six inches.

Copyright 2007 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.