Hubby How To – DIY Mountain Climbing Wall
Do you have children who have lots of energy or love to climb!? We knew from the start that our little man was an adventurer….and found out quickly that he loved to climb anything and everything! So we decided to channel that and built a climbing wall in our basement for him! We loved how it turned out! Here’s the tools, materials, and how-to to build your own mountain climbing wall too!
Our toddler has loved to climb since the beginning, so we wanted to build something to channel that climbing need. Thus, we decided to DIY a climbing wall. But not just any climbing wall. We built a literal mountain climbing wall that functions as a fun play element, while also looking beautiful on our playroom wall.
So here’s a our How To on creating your own DIY Mountain Climbing Wall, including a FREE mountain cutting guide template if you want to create the exact one we made!
- Jig Saw (Preferred, but you can made do with other options)
- Socket Wrench or Impact Driver (Preferred) w/ Sockets
- Stud Finder
- Drill w/ Drill Bits
- Tape Measure
- (2) – 3/4″ thick 4’x8′ Sanded Plywood
- Preferred Stain or Paint
- We used Minwax Aged Barrel
- (1) – 2 1/2″ Construction Screws
- (3) – Playkid Rock Holds 12 pack small
- Rustoleum Satin Spray Paint (optional)
- Only need if you’re going to paint the climbing rocks
- White Paint for Mountain Caps
That’s it! Nothing too fancy is required here. All you need is something to cut wood, make holes, and drive a bolt to build this climbing wall.
I recommend a Jigsaw for its flexibility. However, a handheld circular saw, oscillating multi-tool, hand saw, table saw, etc would all still work. If you are new to DIY or don’t own a Jig Saw yet, then I’d recommend picking up a simple corded Jig Saw. It’ll come in handy for multiple projects, but I don’t typically use it often enough to justify buying top of the line. Black and Decker has one on Amazon for around $25 which will work great!
I also recommend using an impact driver here since we are going to be driving 72 bolts, but a regular socket wrench will work just fine. I went ahead and purchased a Dewalt Impact Driver when we had to drive multiple long lag screws into our roof Joists to mount our Solar Panels. Prior to that I’d never had a project big enough to justify the expense. You can find several brands on Amazon ranging from $50-$100.
A stud finder comes in handy for lots of projects. You can get by by tapping and listening to the difference, or using a stud finder app on your phone, but neither are very reliable in my experience. I end up drilling extra holes trying to find the right spot that then have to be filled later. So a simple stud finder works great.
And of course, a Drill! If you don’t already own a drill, do yourself a favor and buy a drill. Name brand Drills like Dewalt can run up to around $100, but if you shop around on Amazon you can find well reviewed 20v Cordless Drills for under $40 that will get the job done.
DIY Mountain Climbing Wall Cost Breakdown
Below is a list of the materials we purchased to build this climbing wall.
Look at that! $265.00* for a custom rock climbing wall that our son will use for years! Not to mention it looks great and it’s something we can be proud we made.
*Note the material prices will fluctuate based on where you’re located and what’s currently going on with the construction market. Prices came up a bit on plywood and screws due to the construction boom from Covid when we built our wall. The table above reflects updated prices to date, but I expect they’ll continue to change as time goes on.
We highly recommend you go with sanded plywood if you’re going to be staining it like we did. It turns out much nicer. If you are going to be painting it with a thick paint, you can go for a cheaper finish option, but make sure it’s around ¾” thick so that we get good engagement with the lag screws.
For the 2 ½” construction screws, we purchased Grip-Rite brand’s “gold” (Yellow Zinc) screws in a bulk container because 2 ½” is a great size for screwing 2x4s together as well which makes it very versatile. It also means that after we sink our screw in the ¾” plywood, through the ½” drywall, and into the stud we should have about 1 ¼” penetration into the stud. That doesn’t sound like much, but a few screws will safely hold several hundred pounds, and because we like to be conservative when it comes to safety, we are going to use A LOT of screws.
It’s also important to remember that there could be things running through your wall, like pipes or electrical cables. Those things typically run through the center of the 2×4 (really 1 ½” x 3 ½”) studs. So by only penetrating 1 ¼” we are reducing the odds that we may hit something.
HUBBY TIP: When screwing or drilling into you walls, go slowly. If your screw or drill bit hits metal, it will feel different than wood and you need to stop and pick a new place to drill. If you go too fast, you may not notice the different feeling and hit a pipe. Ask me how I know…
HUBBY TIP 2: Be extra careful when drilling/screwing into walls near outlets, light switches, or fuse boxes. By observing what’s around you, you can have a pretty good idea of where the cables are, but that doesn’t mean your builder didn’t do something stupid when they ran everything.
Other brands of screws will work well too. Deck Mate has proven itself reliable, but it cost a bit more because it’s exterior rated. The important things to look for though are the drive and the threads. I highly recommend getting screws with the Torx Star Drive over the typical Phillips head. The star pattern grips well and I haven’t had one strip out yet. The same can’t be said for Phillips heads. The other important thing is the threads. Screws like Grip-Rite and Deckmate have serrated threads that cut their way into the wood so you don’t have to pre-drill and hole and they are much less likely to split the wood as they go in as well. This saves you a lot of time and headache in the long run.
Alright! Time to dig into the details for this climbing wall!
Helpful Little Man
DIY Mountain Climbing Wall – Step by Step
- Assuming you’ve got all of your materials and tools, We’re going to start by cutting our mountain. So go ahead and find a big open space to layout your 4×8 Sheets of plywood side by side. I recommend your driveway (or garage if its cold) so that the saw dust can just blow away.
- Start by tracing the first half of your pattern onto the boards using the measurements provided below:
- Put some 2x4s under the boards along your cut line so your blade has room to cut through and not hit the ground, then cut along the dotted lines.
- Now we are going to take the leftover pieces and rearrange them as shown below. Note that #4 gets flipped over.
- Now measure out and trace the second half of your mountain using the following measurements.
- Cut out the remainder of the mountain by cutting along the dotted lines.
- Tada! You have a mountain! Now, we need to take some of the sandpaper and use it to smooth down the cut edges of our pieces in order to protect the little hands from splinters.
If you want a better look at how to set up your cuts to limit waste, then sign up below to download our FREE cutting guide for this mountain climbing wall.
Time to mount it on the wall! This can be the trickiest part, but you can do it!
We’ll Start by Finding our Studs
- Assuming you’ve already decided on where the mountain will go, we’ll need to start by finding all of the nearby studs. Starting at one end, use your stud finder to locate the first stud and make a mark on the wall with pencil. Every stud from then on in the wall will typically be 16 inches apart unless there is an unusual circumstance that caused the builder to have to shift their spacing. It’s also important to note that older homes weren’t held to the same building codes as today, so their studs could be anywhere from 12-24 inches apart. If you’re getting weird readings with your stud find, grab a small drill bit and drill into the wall where you think the stud should be. If you don’t hit wood you have a few options. You can either try again elsewhere, or you can fish in a piece of wire/metal coat hanger and feel to the left and right to see if you feel the stud. Don’t worry about having to make extra holes. You can easily fill those with some hole repair and paint over it, or just hide it behind the mountain.
- Lay some 2x4s on the floor until they stack to be just taller than your trim. This will support the weight of your mountain pieces as you mark your studs rather than having to try and hold them in place.
- Bring in your mountain pieces and lay them out. The most important piece for this layout will be the 12” piece that we labeled #3. Try to center that piece on a stud so that it doesn’t end up between two studs. Ours ended up between two studs because we had to make an access door for our kitchen drain clean out. (More on that later)
- Now make a mark that goes from the wall and onto Piece 1 so that you can quickly realign your pieces if they get shifted.
- Tie something with a little weight to a piece of string and hold it up to the wall so that the string aligns with your marking for the stud. Lightly trace this line onto your boards. Repeat this step for all of the studs
- Now we’re going to mark where we want to place our screws. We placed ours every 8” along each stud. That’s likely overkill, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- You’ll find Piece #4 may not be getting many screws into studs. We’ll solve that with drywall anchors later on along with drywall anchors for piece 3 if it fell between studs.
Alright! Now it’s time to attach the pieces to the wall!
- Go ahead and start at least a few screws into your pieces so that they are sticking into the board, but not sticking through. This will come in handy when you screw them into the wall so that you’re not fiddling with screws while trying to hold a heavy piece of wood in place.
- Hold that heavy piece of wood in place! It’ll help to have a partner in this step, but if you set your 2x4s at the right height in Step 9 (and your baseboard isn’t too thick) then those boards should support most of the weight as you get the first few screws in place. Start with Piece 1 so that you can ensure you line up with the marking from Step 11 and drive in the first few screws to secure the board.
- Repeat this process for Pieces 2, 3 (unless you need drywall screws for this one) and 5.
- Now drive in all of the other screws that you marked in Step 13. If you find that one of your screws doesn’t seem to hit the stud, try backing it out and then running it in at an angle to the left and right. It’s possible that your stud is a little bowed or that the string moved as you were tracing it.
Next up is the drywall anchors. This is a bit more complicated, but its nothing you can’t handle!
- For Piece 4 (and possibly 3) hold them to the wall and drill through the board and into the wall with a ⅛” drill bit. Your hole placement will vary depending on where you’re stud(s) aligned, but try to ensure you have at least 5 screws holding that board in place.
HUBBY TIP: Engineering Calculations
I want to climb on this wall too and I weigh 165 lbs.
We want it to be safe so we’re going to plan a safety factor of 2, meaning we’ll want to be able to hold 165×2=330 lbs.
Our Drywall Anchors are rated for 75 lbs each.
So we need 330/75= 4.4 Drywall Anchors.
That rounds up to 5 anchors minimum.
- Once you’ve drilled through Piece 4 with the drill bit, remove that piece from the wall and use the ⅛” holes in the drywall as pilot holes to install your drywall anchors. Put Piece 4 back up on the wall and run the screws that came with your anchors through the board and into your anchors. You should hear the anchors click as the screw gets installed to know that it is properly engaged.
- Lightly sand your boards to remove any pencil marks or rough edges from drilling.
- Stain or paint your mountain as you see fit! We went with a grey stain and then used watered down white acrylic paint to make the snow caps.
Ta dah! You’ve got a mountain!
Time to Rock!
- If you bought rocks in the color you like; Congrats! You get to skip this step! For everyone else who is too frugal when buying rocks, you’ll want to take some sandpaper to the rocks to rough up the molded surface so that the spray paint adheres better. Then paint them whatever color you’d like for your mountain.
- Layout your rocks and mark the center of the holes on your mountain.
- Place a piece of tape ⅝” from the tip of your 3/16” drill bit.
- Drill a 3/16” hole at each marking on the mountain, stopping when you hit the tape so that you are only drilling ⅝” deep.
- Using your socket wrench or impact driver, drive the lag bolts through each rock and into your pilot holes. Stop when it gets tight, taking care that you don’t strip the hole in your mountain.
That’s it! You did it! Your climbing wall is complete! Nice Work!
More DIY Projects
Check out some of our other DIY projects from homemade playdough to building your own hanging daybed! We even have a complied list of 15 DIY projects at home you can do!
Let us know how your mountain climbing wall turned out and share your tips in the comments! We love to hear from others and are always looking to improve!
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