A home rock climbing wall is a great way to focus on your strength training and climbing skills. A few years ago we built a new shed and we had the idea of building a climbing wall on 2 sides in lieu of siding. We were on a budget and wanted to keep it under a $200. We also wanted a wall that we could use, find challenging, and our 1 year old would find challenging as he grew.
1. Plan it out. You’ll want to think about your goals and if you’re building an inside rock wall or outdoor one. Think about the sizes of holds & wall, spacing, and shapes of holds you’d like. We went to REI to view holds, then researched various hold pro/cons on the web, realize brand name holds from climbing stores will be expensive. We found a few mom and pop type operations on EBay that create their own holds, we got some graph paper and plotted out the position of each hold, including plans for moving holds and adding more later. Based on budget and needs we decided on a 14 foot wide and 10 foot wall on one side of our shed with a 3 foot by 10 foot wall around the corner that would allow us to practice different techniques. You don’t have to use an existing structure to build your rock wall, the advantage of using an existing structure is a savings in space and reduced cost on framing material. The disadvantage is extra steps to ensure proper waterproofing. One reason we choose a shed was that if we didn't do a great job at waterproofing, it wouldn't be our house and fairly economical to correct. I've also seen people build rock walls up to tree houses and garages, in bedrooms, or attach to the outside of the siding on houses.
2. Gather materials. The holds are going to be the most expensive items, the second largest material cost are going to be the plywood to connect the holds to. We reduced this cost by using 2 sides of our Shed as the climbing wall, the main consideration of using a building is to make sure it’s water proof since the rock wall would also substitute for siding.
3. Framing. You’ll want to make sure the plywood on your wall will support a decent amount of weight and forces from different directions, minimum of 5/8” thick but recommend 3/4” if possible. Normal building standards in the USA call for attaching plywood to framing with nails. Using wood screws will be much stronger; we also used L brackets on the inside to anchor the plywood to 2X4 frames on the inside. If you are building a free standing wall make sure you have enough anchoring at bottom, sides, and top to prevent it from tipping.
4. Caulk the seams of the plywood, the goal is to prevent any water from getting into your structure, we also filled in any holes in the plywood including uneven spots for aesthetics.
5. Paint and Weatherproof. Start with a single coat, on the second coat mix the sand into the paint. Apply a 3rd and 4th coat as needed.
6. Install the holds. Drill holes into the plywood, the best way to do this is to refer to your map on paper and position a hold on the plywood where you want it and poke through the holes in the holds with a pencil or maker to make a mark. Once you have your marks on the wall drill a few holes and completely install a hold to make sure it works (your hole is not too small or big) before drilling all your other holes. Be creative, install some holds on angles.
After drilling position a hold by lining up the holes and place a screw in each hole. To tighten one person has to hold the screw in place with a screw driver while another slides the washer and nut around it from the inside then tightens the washer. After all was said and done, we still had about 20 holds left over. We use the extras on occasion to swap out with others when we get tired of the same ones.
7. Added wood screw bolt so we could use a rope, to practice belying and for younger children as our wall is about 10 feet tall.
8. Lastly we added 6 bags of recycled shredded tires to provide a soft base for climbers jumping off or small falls. I did this cause I once saw a friend fracture an ankle from a 2 foot fall on a rock climb.
It’s been about 2 years and I use our rock wall at least once a week. We find that it’s great to get some strength training on after a run or when watching our son playing in the yard. Our son is now 3 and still doesn't have the gumption to climb to the top yet (even roped up) but does climb up a few holds. One thing we noticed is he's getting more comfortable and his balance is improving when hanging in a rope.
Although at the playground he's an expert on the 5 foot rock wall. Quite a few of our guests jump on it while visiting. We've also used it for rope training like prusiking.