Planning a freestanding garage bouldering wall

Since moving to North Wales and finding ourselves tantalized by all the climbing on offer, Charlie and I committed to a brand new hobby, the art of bouldering. For those of you not in the know here is a quick quote from Wikipedia

“Bouldering is a form of rock climbing that is performed on small rock formations or artificial rock walls, known as boulders, without the use of ropes or harnesses."

Basically, it's the joy of climbing without the need for expensive equipment, grueling courses and the risk of the death (We do want to start doing that as well, but that's an article or the future). It is an easy hobby to get into as most cities have a bouldering gym. Following a brief introductory lesson, you can rent shoes and a chalk bag and get climbing. The walls at most bouldering centers top out at around 4 meters ( 13 feet) and as you always climb over thick crash mats, you're pretty safe from any severe injuries.

Unfortunately, with winter approaching rapidly, and the infamous Welsh rain set in for the Christmas season, we're stuck doing our training and learning inside. Luckily for us, the inspiring Indefatigable Climbing Wall (or Indy for short) is just shy of an hours drive for us, perfect for a visit once a week. But anyone who knows me will know that when I throw myself into a hobby, I hit it hard. I have been watching constant climbing competition replays for the past few years and I want to CLIMB MORE.

With this comes the point of this article, how to plan an indoor, freestanding climbing wall with all the constraints this brief gives. So why freestanding? Well currently we're renting our house and so we're reticent to drill into studs and beams to put up a wall (plus it seems like there's a little less that can go wrong in terms of construction).

I also want to have an led wired below every hold on the wall and have some sort of software solution to design, store, and recall routes as Charlie and I get to grip with our new training tool. This is very much inspired by the Moonboard, an amazing climbing wall that I couldn’t get to fit in the space we have.

I'm going to break my process down into a step-by-step, but please do bear in mind, I'm new to this so my method and design may not suit your needs!!

Planning a freestanding garage bouldering wall
Planning a freestanding garage bouldering wall

The Brief

Design and build an indoor, freestanding climbing wall to fit in our garage. Should give maximum climb length within the space constraints and be computer controlled to design, store and recall routes.

Step One - Research

Any time I hit a new project, I overwhelm myself with research. I Google, Youtube, Pinterest, and read everything I can about what I'm doing until I feel like I can't learn anymore. With planning this climbing wall I needed to understand how to build it, the angles and sizes required, and how to choose and install holds. It's also really great at this stage to look at a LOT of photos from other people doing the same thing.

Step Two - Scoping the space

With any physical build, you can design on pen and paper (or SketchUp 3d modeling software) all day, but it won't be clear in your mind until you understand the physical space it will live in. Sadly for me and Charlie, this involved cleaning out the garage before getting the tape measure out and getting to grips with the area. For us, the climbing wall will be going into a single British garage giving a maximum height and width of 2.4 meters 7.8 feet) and a total length of 2-2.5 meters to give us space in the garage to climb and fall safely.

Step Three - The design

This is my favorite step because I am a huge geek and I get to play with 3d modeling software. I use the fantastic SketchUp which is free and extremely intuitive to use. At this point in the process, I started by modeling the garage based on measurements Charlie and I took earlier in the day.

I then built out the climbing wall. I decided to go a design that gave a total climb distance of just over 3 meters along a 40-degree inclined wall. I took advantage of the standard plywood size and went for a width of 2.4 meters. which was matched with a height of 2.4m for the uprights. Making these decisions early in the design process will save you a lot of time and potential mistakes in the actual build process.

Here's a few links I read whilst learning about this process...

Freestanding climbing wall on Instructable

Building a Moonboard

Building a home climbing wall with REI

Step 4 - Rejigging

I'd love to pretend that the process was as smooth as that, but it's not quite how I work. Instead, I bounce around a lot around the first three steps. I played with designing a 45-degree wall as that gave a little more climb length and would have enabled us to loosely follow the spec of the MOONBOARD design, but we didn't have enough depth in the garage to allow this.

We also spent a good ten minutes with a tape measure and some long pieces of wood out in the garage to get our head around the choices we were making. Again, it's important that you know your space, and know how the decisions you make now will affect that during the build process.

Step 5 - The software

I'm going to be honest, this will be a project for me over the dark winter months. I'm not 100% sure how I'm going to achieve this yet, but it'll probably be with an Arduino linked to some sort of Raspberry Pi system in the garage. There will be another article following as I get to grips with this!

The Design

Finally, the bit I'm sure a lot of you will have come to this post for.. the design and cutting lists...

Garage Climbing Wall

Garage Climbing Wall

As you can see, the design came out pretty well. The wall fits nicely in the garage and gives us plenty of room behind for storage (there is a backdoor into the garage for access. It's going to be built using construction 2x4 and 3/4 inch plywood and I've costed it out at about £210 for the wood. I've asked my family to exclusively buy me holds for Christmas which should cover that expense. Finally, we will need to purchase some safety mats and the T-nuts for attaching the holds to the wall. Overall, I'm expecting to come in under £300 for the project which is much cheaper than expected!

For the actual construction, I plan to use various plates and joist hangers to ensure nice and strong connections with the timber. I'll go into more detail on that when we commence the build early next year!

Below is my preliminary cut list. Bear in mind that there may be changes as I continue thinking about and designing the wall, but this will give you everything you need to build the wall pictured above.

Planning a freestanding garage bouldering wall

Have you made or climbed on a homemade bouldering wall before? Any tips or guidance? Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!

How to build your own bouldering wall