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Home Wall Primer: Part 1—Planning and Construction

A home wall is a lot of work and money, but TOTALLY worth it, especially for busy parents or climbers who don’t live near the rock gym—or who have a specific training agenda that’s hard to meet at the gym. In part one of our three-part series, we give a rundown of the hows and whys for taking the plunge into the world of the woodie. 

• For advice on buying holds, check out Part 2: Choosing Holds. 

• For route-setting tips, see Part 3: Route Setting.

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be a comprehensive how-to guide. It is simply what one climber learned after he was rained out too many days and decided to explore the world of woodys.

The Dream

The thought of building a woody has floated through most climbers’ minds. When we’re forced inside, climbing at the gym, we like to either complain about or praise the routesetters. “I could set something better” or “How they hell did they think of that movement?” often leads to “Maybe I could set my own five-star problems.”

The Reality

A home wall is a lot of work, money, and maintenance, but TOTALLY worth it. Here is a rundown of the hows and whys for taking the plunge into the world of the woodie to help you keep the psyche high.

Space/Concept

A woody, or home climbing wall, requires space.

How much space? Well, that’s up for debate. One reason home walls become dusty relics is that they seem cool until you realize you’re making three moves on a single plane over and over. It’s a far cry from the 18-foot-high topout feature at your local gym. Routesetting becomes uninspired. Without new routes, your psyche will dwindle. I would recommend an absolute minimum of 10′ x 10′ x 10′. Or, if you’re serious about putting in a light-up systems wall (Moon, Kilter, Tension, Grasshopper, etc.), at least an 8′ x 12′.

Usage

Home walls are often associated with finger-strength work and training specific movements. It’s all about symmetrical, tendon-friendly repetition to get strong and send your project. There is one big problem with the solo training formula: Blasting EDM in your headphones and crushing an hour-long system board session becomes monotonous. It’s not for everyone. The most frequented home walls allow for the solo crush session but also create an entertaining space for the casual V2 session with your buddies. It’s vital to find a design that balances your needs. Will your toddler want to learn how to climb here? Do you live in Kansas and want to crush V10 on your next trip to Hueco? Or are you from rain-soaked Oregon and want to make your woodie the weekly hangout for you and your crew? Don’t underestimate the psyche a route-setting night with your best friends can add. When in doubt, make your space one that allows for all types of climbing fun, not just 45° system-board training.

Design

• Angles: The most common angle for training is 45°. It is simple to measure and build; it will get you strong quickly. But the reality is that 45° walls don’t always use the existing space in an efficient manner. Don’t be afraid to make your wall 30° or even 50° overhanging. The biggest thing to remember is that abrupt angle changes can make setting smooth movement more difficult. Subtle shifts in angle also make for a lot more measuring and cutting, so it’s a balance of the two. Think of your space in either 8′ or 4′ pieces. Standard plywood comes in 4′ x 8′ sheets—using full boards will make the construction fly by and reduce the chance of human error.

• T-Nuts: Allow for a four-inch grid on the majority of the climbing space—it makes for easier setting. You can cut down cost by drilling fewer holes for areas that get less traffic, like 90-degree corners or places you may utilize screw-on holds like a foot kicker at the bottom of your wall. You will not regret having too many T-nuts to choose from when setting. Broken T-nuts or spinners will occur; it’s crucial to have extra options until you can get around to fixing them.

• Lighting: This is often overlooked in design. Think about when you will be using your woodie. Likely, you’ll be throwing down late-night sessions, and the lighting can really affect the mood of the space or visibility of route-setting tape. You want to create a space that you’re eager to spend time in. That is the secret to staying motivated on home training.

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The route-setting and hold-maintenance tools of the trade for your home wall. (Photo: Rich Crowder)

Accessories

There are many embellishments that can make your woodie more appealing to spend time in. Here are a few to consider:

  • Speakers—Sometimes the iPhone speaker isn’t enough to really bump.
  • Seating—For lounging between burns.
  • Hold bins—Where will you store your extra holds when they aren’t on the wall?
  • Fan/Heater—Consider mounting a permanent one.
  • Humidifier—Useful if you live in a dry climate.
  • Setter’s wrench—5/16″ and 7/32″ wrenches are commonplace. Consider drill bits as well for quick stripping.

Materials

• Plywood: Besides holds, plywood will be your largest expense. I personally elected for cabinet-grade ¾” plywood. I’ve had dozens of friends over the years who work and set at climbing gyms. The common curse of the dreaded spinning T-nut—which occurs more commonly in thinner/cheaper plywood—is something you should avoid at all costs.

• T-nuts: Buy the good ones. The last thing you want is to fix a spinner every re-set because you bought the three-prong option. Amazon Prime will have four-prong T-nuts to you in two days at a very cheap price. It will be one-fifth the price of Home Depot t-nuts.

• Framing: If you are building from the Moonboard plans or the holy grail of home wall instruction from Metolius, you may have an exact materials list. Keep in mind, Home depot has a great return policy. If you are not an engineer with CAD blueprints, then buy a plethora of strong ties, screws of multiple sizes, nails, and lumber. You won’t regret it. You can always return the extras.

• Flooring: One of the more tricky decisions for your woodie will be flooring. While commercial gym-style foam is ideal, it can cost thousands even for a modest space. If you have the budget, Asana has some great options with their modular system. Avoid old mattresses, which can be dangerous and disgusting. But, if a mixture of padding is your only option, consider a topper to eliminate ankle busting gaps. An Asana Pro Spotter pad or two can do the trick, and be put to use outdoors as well.

Money

Some climbers get the idea that they can throw a bunch of scrap wood together, steal some particle board from the nearest construction site, and have a home wall. Home walls aren’t cheap. There are many ways to cut corners, but if you want to do it right, be resourceful or save your pennies. Final costs will be all over the map based on size. Your average garage woodie can run you between $1,500 and $5,000.

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The author’s home wall, The Barrel. (Photo: Rich Crowder)

Here is a general breakdown of my woody, The Barrel (pictured), and what it cost to build*:

  • The hardest ¾” plywood Home Depot sells: 14 sheets x $39 = $546
  • 1,250, four-prong, ⅜” zinc-plated t-nuts: $130
  • Random lumber, mostly 2’x4’s and 2’x6’s: $80
  • Flooring: $0-$2,000. The flooring pictured was free from my local gym.
  • Carpet: Free from a friend’s home renovation.
  • Holds: Endless $$$, but I recommend $1,000 to start (see the second installment in this series for recommendations)
  • Accessories: $200–400
  • Tools: You may have everything you need, but likely you’ll to need to fill in some gaps in your tool quiver.

Total: $2,000+

  • Note: Prices reflect construction at the time of original publication, in 2017.

Perspective

Spend the appropriate time researching what will and will not work for you. There are many resources out there on how to build both freestanding home walls  and walls in existing structures. Wrapping your head around the engineering involved can take time. Befriend a carpenter or engineer. Talk to your climbing partners, consult your local route-setters, join social media home-wall groups, and ask questions. A woodie won’t be an excuse to quit your gym membership, but it can be a great addition for the busy professional or stay-at-home parent.

Resources:

Check out the rest of our Home Wall Primer series: