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The Home Wall: designing and building an affordable, small, free-standing bouldering wall

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

Spring 2020 has been an unpredictable and unsteady time for many. For me, moving to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for a new job amidst a global pandemic and extended #StayAtHome orders from the state of Arizona, created a sudden lack of access to climbing and climbing training, which are my main sources of exercise. Being able to boulder and hangboard regularly are two of the best ways to stay in shape for the objectives I truly enjoy - desert towers, sandstone walls, and remote, technical buttes in the Grand Canyon. I knew I had to do something about the lack of climbing in my North Rim situation before life got too chaotic to commit the time to designing and building a training space.

A couple of years ago I built a free-standing training wall in my little backyard on the South Rim. The build has been instrumental in my day-to-day workouts, but, at the soonest, I won't have access to that wall until Fall 2020 again. The original version of the build had a lot to improve upon, but I had even more limitations to my training set-up this time around - a small, low-ceiling garage; cold, unpredictable, and wet weather; and, a temporary job dictating a low-impact, affordable, and portable build.

The South Rim outside home wall

Based on a couple of years of training on the original build I knew v2 would need the following characteristics in addition to overcoming the hurdles listed above. I strived to design something steeper; have more space for boulder problems instead of campus rungs; require a simpler build with less cutting and sawing; and, have a place or two to mount a hangboard off to the side.

Measuring the future site of the wall, a one-car garage

Based on these constraints, I designed a fairly simple build with the following specs:

  • 90" total inches tall

  • 108" inches wide

  • Approximately 120" long with side support rails

  • 125 degrees overhanging

  • 16" on center framing

  • Incorporate two uncut 4'x8' sheets of plywood for the main surface

  • Utilize a 1' tall "kick-board" at the bottom

  • Feature places to mount a hangboard on each side

A simple carpenter's trigonometry tool such as the one found on Carbine Depot's website can help anyone figure out the specifications of a personal build based on their own space limitations.

Some simple trigonometry to get the dimensions of the wall

This process is meant to serve as a rough guideline for how to go about building a similar, free-standing wall. The general process for constructing the wall consisted of the following phases.

  • Construct an 8'x8' main wall with high-quality 2"x6"s and 2 sheets of high-quality plywood. Once framed, install a lot of T-nuts in the plywood. I recommend a grid for the T-nuts similar to a system wall or Moon Board.

  • Construct a 9' wide x 1' tall kick-box utilizing 2"x12"s. Refrain from mounting the 8' wide x 1' tall plywood with T-nuts onto this box until the main wall is completely mounted and braced. When centering and mounting the kick board, you may need to trim a little off of the plywood to make it fit snugly.

  • Cut two extra beams that match the dimensions/angles of the beams used to frame the main wall. These are used to sandwich the support braces on the upper end of the wall.

  • Cut two, long support braces out of 2"x6"s.

  • Cut two long 2"x6"s to which to secure the support braces. These ultimately lay flat on the ground and get secured perpendicularly to the kick-box with tie plates.

  • Mount the main wall to the kick-box with 4 - 4.5"x3/8" bolts with washers and nuts. It helps to have four people for this task. The wall will be heavy.

  • Stabilize the main wall with the support braces and extra beams by sandwiching the upper end of the support braces between the main wall and the extra two beams. The upper end is sandwiched together with approximately 6" bolts.

  • The lower end of the support braces get secured to the 2"x6"s lying flat on the ground with screws and L-brackets.

  • Mount the 1'x8' plywood "face" to the kick-board box.

  • Stiffen the wall by mounting a vertical 2"x6" between each support brace and the 2"x6"s on the floor.

The following supplies are needed to build a wall to these specs:

  • 17 - 2"x6"x10ft lumber

  • 3 - 2"x12"x10ft lumber

  • 3 - 4x8' ACX Plywood

  • 8 - 90degree "corner connector" for base framing

  • 2 - tie plates

  • 4 - 4.5"x3/8" bolts with lock washers and nuts

  • 6 - 6"x3/8" bolts with lock washers and nuts

  • 200 - #8 1.5-2" torx decking screws

  • 200 - #10 2.5" torx decking screws

  • Box - #9 1.5" strong tie, connector hex flang head screws

  • 200-400 - Metolius T-Nuts

  • 1 gallon - Premium Latex Primer

  • 1 gallon - Flat Latex Exterior Paint

The Freestanding Wall showing the supports

These are the tools that are generally required to construct the wall:

  • 4' Level

  • Chalk line

  • Drill bits

  • Framing square

  • Tape measure

  • Pencils

  • Maul

  • Gloves

  • Step ladder

  • Screwdriver bits

  • Miter saw

  • Circular saw

  • Drill(s)

  • Sander

  • Paintbrush

  • Roller

  • Paint tray

Once your wall is built, you will need a vast assortment of holds to mount on the board utilizing stainless steel bolts. Over time, I have come to prefer hold sets such as those from Egrips (2Tex Crimps and Pockets...), Menagerie (Corrosion Limetone, Octo Sandstone Slopers...), Habit Climbing (Red Rocks, Simple Slopers...), Atomik (System Holds...), and Metolius (Assorted Grips).

My primary hangboard is made by Trango as you can adjust the width of the two blocks to your body size and I generally find the grips to be comfortable - with the exception of the tiny, straight edge, which tends to cause skin damage.

Side-mounted hangboard with counterbalance

It is far beyond the scope of this post to talk about training protocols, however, I have consistently followed the advice found in the books, blogs, and websites of Climb Strong, Power Company Climbing, Training Beta, and the Rock Climber's Training Manual.

With the addition of dumbbells and/or KBs up to 55#, a yoga mat, an ab wheel, long exercise bands, grippers, a bouldering pad, some shoes, and chalk, infinite possibilities exist for creative training protocols!

Hope this post helps you come up with a creative solution to bouldering at home.

Click on the video below to see a timelapse produced by Cliffcolor Studio of the build process!

Note: Cliffcolor Studio accepts no responsibility for your safety. Climbing and construction are inherently dangerous.

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