How to Build a Rock Climbing Wall for Kids in the Garage

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My wife and I decided to build a rock climbing wall for the kids (technically a bouldering wall). It was a fun project that I thought was worth sharing even though it has nothing to do with marketing. Hey, having fun is important too.

Background

Our twin girls, who are six years old, love to climb. We have been to the local rock climbing gym, Coral Cliffs, many times over the past year.  They have scaled anywhere from a starter 5.6 to 5.8, and sometimes a 5.9 can be achieved, but the holds are sometimes too far apart for them to reach. Our 3-year-old son is starting to show an interest too. Now is the time to strike and build a wall at home to continue the interest.

The Wall

Here is our story of The Wall.  I don’t think it will be as high, or as cold as the one in Game of Thrones.  Hopefully, there will be much less death.

A large ice wall with structures known as Castle Black at its base and an elevator system on the right stands tall. Text reads "The Wall and Castle Black." Trees and buildings are visible in the snow, reminding one of how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage.

Overcoming Objections on Why to Build the Wall

To get the wall built, I must first consult the local zoning and planning board . . . my wife. The kids are “in” as soon as you mention the idea of building something to climb, but the planning board will ask questions about cost, location, injuries, time, and how does this affect the resale value of the home. If you have answers for all of these questions you will get approval. If not, you will suffer the same fate as many people in GoT.

  1. Costs – I have seen articles on building a simple 8 foot x 8 foot wall as low as $100 ($50 for plywood, $10 for screws and odd items, $40 for holds, nuts and bolts). If you have a lot of equipment already, you could probably build a board for this amount, but that is an unfinished board, typically of rough quality and not something I want to be a permanent fixture to my home.  As with all construction, just note that you will probably go over budget. I budgeted $500 and ended up at $700 total. Luckily, we sold two hutches that were not in use anymore and just taking up room, which covered just about all of the costs for the wall.
  2. Location – Pick a location that you will have easy access to, not have to clean up to use (i.e. move things out of the way), and is a safe area. If you are attaching this to your home, make sure it will either look good or be able to easily be removed.
  3. Injuries – Potential injuries should probably be number one on the list. Make sure you plan for crash pads and how kids could possibly hurt themselves.  Make sure it is a safe environment and that no other equipment, walls, or sharp objects are around the climbing zone.
  4. Time – Do you have time to build? It will take a few days of planning and building. While not a hard project, it does take time.
  5. Resale – Don’t put this in an area that could affect resale of your home. In the garage or outside seem most logical.

Our Helper

A young boy stands in a cluttered room holding an orange power drill. Behind him, a cardboard box with scribbles on it and an easel with a partially painted picture are visible—a scene reminiscent of a "How to Build a Rock Climbing Wall for Kids in the Garage" tutorial come to life.

Where to Locate

In the North of course!  Oh wait…

The first part of building the climbing wall was picking our spot. We were lucky and had several spots to choose from in our house.  We could choose from the downstairs kids playroom, upstairs office/bonus room, garage, or build it outside next to the existing gym equipment.

Option 1 – Kids Playroom

We have a downstairs kids playroom with a gabled ceiling that goes up to about 15 to 20 feet.  This would be an awesome wall.  However, it is in the middle of the house and would look a bit odd if not perfectly built. It could also potentially impact future resale value as a rock climbing wall in a main room of your house is . . . let’s just say, not normal.  Since this is my first construction project and there is a good chance of screwing up something, we opted out of this choice.

Option 2 – Upstairs Office / Bonus Room

We have a nice room upstairs that I use as an office.  It is a big space and could hold a 20-foot long wall.  The downside is that it is upstairs and for some reason the ceilings are lower, about 7 and a half feet. So, the wall would not be very tall. Plus, I would have to transport everything upstairs to build and potentially ruin a nice office. We want to eventually turn this into a game room, so the rock wall would need to go elsewhere.

Option 3 – Outside

A solid option is always building the wall outside, but we live in Florida. It is hot . .  . a lot. While the wood and screws would probably be safe for awhile, the weather would eventually take its toll on the equipment. We would also have to buy upgraded t-nuts, bolts, etc, so it adds to the overall expense. Plus, we would seriously sweat half of the year when climbing. We could always build this in the future, but for now we opted for the most logical option – the garage.

Option 4 – The Garage (our most logical option)

We did not want to kill property value or destroy the home, so the garage was the best choice. If I should make a mistake, we can just patch and move on – or just leave the mistake alone. It is a garage and everyone is used to minor blemishes that would otherwise be an eyesore inside. The garage is easy to build in as all my tools are a few steps away. Transporting the materials into the garage is easy and would not scratch up walls internally. The ceilings are actually nine feet high.  Because the wall is under the stairs, we have cool nooks that have interesting angles to upgrade the wall vertically in the future.

A beige couch with multiple cushions is placed against a wall in a room with unfinished drywall, reminiscent of those DIY spaces where you might learn how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage. A window on the right side lets in natural light.
Our Costs

What will this cost?  Our wall is four sections and cost about $700 in total.  With those funds we bought all the plywood, 2x4s, screws, Tapcons for concrete mounting (ugh), drill bits, primer paint, chalkboard paint, t-nuts, bolts, and holds. Our top costs were the plywood, holds, and Tapcons.

We could have saved $70 if we used cheaper A/C plywood. If I spaced my holds further apart or bought less holds, I could have probably saved $50 to $100 more. Anyways, you can definitely get the costs lower.

Below is a breakdown of my costs (all figures are rounded):

  • Wood
    • 7 pieces of Plywood at $35 a piece – $245 (we ended up buying AA rated plywood because all of the B/C rated plywood sucked and there was no A/C plywood that we could find). So we spent about $10 more than normal ($70 extra)
    • 8 pieces of 2×4’s – $20 – These are cheap at $2.50 each.
  • Screws & Drill bits
    • 4” Tapcon Screws for Concrete (I love/hate these things) – $64
    • 7/16 Drill bit for cutting t-nut holes – $9
    • 5/32 Drill bit for cutting Tapcon holes (5 pack) – $9
    • 2” Wood Screws (100 total) – $5 (I can take back a box probably and save some money.
    • Loctite Epoxy Glue – $5
  • Climbing Stuff
    • T-Nuts (300) from ThreeBallClimbing – $37
    • T-Nuts (200) from Amazon – $26
    • 40 Tenderfoot Holds from ThreeBallClimbing – $136
    • 10 Turtle Holds from ThreeBallClimbing – $56
    • 6 Mini Jugs (Cosmetic Seconds) from ThreeBallClimbing – $23
    • 6 Crimps (Cosmetic Seconds) from ThreeBallClimbing – $12
    • Shipping – $44
    • Tax – $8
  • Paint Kit (two extra foam roller pads, a roller, paintbrush, and pan so the kids can help) – $9
  • What I can use later on (so not really counted in budget):
    • Saw horses – $24
    • Chalk line – $9
  • I had this in my garage. If you do not have, then you will need.
    • Drill and drill bits for normal screwing
    • Hammer
    • Paint trays
    • Rollers
    • Primer paint
    • Chalkboard paint
    • ….time on your hands and patience.

If you have a wood frame house and a smaller area, your costs will be a lot less.  We built the following sections to climb with our budget and have extra wood for new sections and volume pieces later on.

Main Sections

  • Section 1: 7 feet high by 6 feet wide  (installed now)
  • Section 2: 9 feet high by 6 feet wide (installed now)
  • Section 3: 9 feet high by 4 feet wide  (we may make this into a slight overhang)
  • Section 4: 9 feet high by 4 feet wide (we may make this into a slight overhang)

Optional Sections (to be constructed later)

We have a ton of plywood and 2×4 wood leftover. We plan to make upgrades soon once the kids have conquered the basic wall and seem to be getting bored.

  • Ninja Warrior Extra – We plan to use our overhang area by adding two ropes, a pull up bar and holds where the kids (and me) have to shimmy across Ninja Warrior
  • Angled, Back, & Ceiling Overhang Extra – This area is under our stairs and has a nice incline we can attach holds to and the ceiling.
  • Volume pieces to add on to the wall – We have extra wood, so I will probably create some volume boxes to attach to the wall once the kids are bored of the normal routes.

Tips I Would Pass Along

  1. Read as much as you can online.  You will get ideas to improve.
  2. Measure Twice Four Times. Cut Once.  When making important cuts measure a bunch of times.
  3. Have Home Depot cut everything for you. It may take awhile, but they will make cuts for you. With our local store, they were able to cut seven plywood boards (2 cuts each) and eight 2x4s with several cuts each. It took about 30 minutes for about 25 cuts, but well worth the time and price. They charge 50 cents a cut, but you end up with nice straight cuts.  This would have been impossible for us at our house given the limited circular saw that we had.
  4. Tapcons – I have a love/hate relationship with these things. They are used to mount anything to concrete, which is awesome. I love that they exist and are holding up a lot of sheering and pullout force from our concrete wall. I hate drilling them, especially when you have to drill above your head. If you are drilling them, get a hammer drill. I did not have one and it made things a lot harder.
  5. Get the Kids Involved. The project is for them, so get them involved. Mine loved to paint, help glue the t-nuts, hold tools, and generally be around to help. I would suggest that they not help with the drilling or cutting – or you will increase your costs via the hospital charges.

Mistakes to Avoid

I made some mistakes on this project.  Read carefully and void the following:

  1. Drilling – Drilling the Tapcon holes without putting up the plywood first. This is a duh moment, but I drilled nine Tapcon holds that took probably 45 minutes. I then realized that I would not have a way to line up the holes I just put into the wall with 2×4 that I needed to secure. So I had to repeat all the holes again, another 30 minutes down (I got faster).
  2. Drilling #2 – Get a freakin’ hammer drill when drilling into concrete. I got a canister air blower on the second day from work and that cleaned out the holes great – that is a must.
  3. Drilling #3 – Drill bits get hot. Don’t touch or drop onto your leg, it tends to burn quickly.
  4. Paint – Always shake the can a lot and stir. At the very end of the chalkboard paint, we had a large glob left of latex chalkboard paint.  That means the paint was not as thick in the initial application.  We added water to the glob and ran over all boards again for a second coat.
  5. T-Nut Holes – Take your time with these and make sure they are completely smooth. Some of the holes I drilled have rough edges and I had to sand them down.
  6. 2x4s Coverage – Make sure your T-nut holes will not be covered up by a 2×4. I had to drill out a few holes and/or use smaller bolts that do not reach into the 2×4.
  7. Good Drill Bit – I bought a nice Bosch 10x faster wood drill. It was was more expensive, but works 10x faster.  I believe it was faster than my normal wood drill, but it left a lot of extra rough edges and shards on the front-side (don’t care about the back).  I used my normal drill bit a few times after cutting 300 holes and the old drill bit holes were A LOT smoother. It made putting in the t-nuts easier.  Anyways, get a good drill bit.  In the end, the speed saved on drilling was lost on sanding and fitting t-nuts.

How We Built

The team consisted of myself, my dad, my wife, and the kids. Each person helped out in different stages either in planning, approval, lifting, cutting, painting, or hanging.

  • Initial Measurements
    Timeline: 2 hours over two different nights.
    I split up my measuring and planning over two nights so that I could sleep on the idea and also make sure all measurements were exact. I planned out on paper what pieces of wood I needed, the dimensions, and the total number needed to be bought. I knew exactly what I needed when I eventually visited Home Depot.  I made a specific list of wood sizes, number of cuts, supplies needed, etc.  Do not go to Home Depot unless you know exactly what you need, or you will end up going back . . . a lot.
  • Framing to Wall
    Timeline: 4 hours over two nights.
    I thought this would be easy. All of the articles online are written by people who obviously live in non-hurricane states where houses are made entirely of wood. In Florida, we tend to get violent storms, so we build most house walls out of concrete. Sometimes there is a wood frame against that shell, other times it is simply small wood strips attached to the drywall. I did not think drywall and small wood strips would support the weight of climbing, so I wanted to go into the concrete structure. We had to tap into our concrete to make this secure and that is a major pain. It takes at least five minutes to drill each concrete hole. Sometimes you make mistakes. Sometimes you hit a stud. Sometimes, you hit rebar. Sometimes the concrete does not want to give at all for no reason. Sometimes you are at an odd angle. It is just tiring work drilling 30+ concrete holes and getting the 2×4’s into the wall. With Tapcons this means I am going through the new 2×4 frame (1.5 inches), the drywall (3/4 of an inch), the wood strip (3/4 inch), and then into the wall at least 1 inch (recommended by Tapcon). So we needed 4 inch Tapcon screws. With a wood frame house, you probably could do this in an hour or less. With concrete frame, plan more time.
  • T-Nut Holes
    Timeline: 1 hour over one night
    Drilling the T-Nut holes is easy. It is quick and fun. I drilled all 5 boards that we are using in less than an hour, including the time to chalk line. To save time, I stacked two boards at a time. Before drilling plan whether you want a square, diamond or random pattern. Here is an article on the subject. Also run some mental math first to see how far apart you can space the holes. My first chalk line I had to do twice as the pattern did not look right.  For the most part, we went with six inch spread with three inches from the side. You can go with seven, eight, or nine-inch hold spreads.  The higher the spread, the less T-Nuts you have to use.  I wish I went four-inch top and bottom gap near the 2x4s, as I have to drill out some of the 2×4 to get the hold bolts to fit now. We also went with a diamond pattern, which takes more time to calculate, but worth it in the long run.  Looks great.
  • Hammering T-Nuts
    Timeline: 1.5 hours over two nights
    I thought I would hate this part as I had to hammer 300 T-Nuts (even more now). Actually it was also easy, of course, anything is easy after drilling into concrete.  With my daughters help, we got an assembly line going where she would glue the t-nut and I would place and hammer.  Each board only of about 70 t-nuts only took about 15 minutes to finalize.  Note that there was some discussion on how to “professionally” hang T-nuts using the wrench method to pull the t-nut to the board.  They indicated that T-nuts tend to pop-out if you hammer them.  I can say that after 300 hammers, not a single T-Nut popped out.  I don’t know if that is because we used a nice epoxy glue that helped hold it on the wall or if our plywood was of better quality, but hammering took about one to two whacks and they were in the board tight.
  • Painting
    Timeline: 2 hours over 2 nights.
    Painting is easy and fun with the kids. We did a primer coat first as the chalkboard paint likes to bond to another paint first.  We did make a mistake of using oil base primer as our base coat.  The garage stunk for 36 hours. We had the oil base paint on hand, so I did not want to spend another $10 on more paint.  We hemmed and hawed over what to paint on the wall.  The kids just wanted a simple color. My wife wanted mountains.  I wanted Batman or other super heroes climbing (probably not this one though). Instead, we decided on chalkboard paint. It is black, which looks good. We can put whatever we want on the wall. We can change it at any time. The kids can also draw on it and stop drawing on our floors in the garage.  Chalkboard paint that we also had on hand and that saved $10 to $20 too. We did two coats of chalkboard paint and it looks great.
  • Hanging the Plywood
    Timeline: About 30 to 45 minutes over one night as each board goes up within 5 minutes with some simple screws.
    Ahh . . . we are finally here. All complete and it looks good.  We put in about 10 screws per board.
  • Route Planning & Crash Pads
    Timeline: 1 to 2 hours depending on number of holds.
    This is a fun part though as we do it with the kids and see how far they can reach. Finally, we need to get crash pads. We are using an old mattress for now and pillows for smaller areas.

Final Complete Photos

A black indoor climbing wall with various colorful holds is mounted in a room with gray walls and floor, reminiscent of a guide on how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage. A beige couch is placed near the climbing wall.

How we got to this stage

A beige couch with pillows sits in a room with partially finished drywall and a window on the right, letting in natural light. A fluorescent light fixture is on the ceiling, perfect for illuminating your next DIY project, like learning how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage.A small, unfinished room with gray walls featuring white vertical seams and a bare floor. There's a metal chair partially visible in the corner, making it seem like an ideal space for those wondering how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage.A room under renovation with exposed wall studs, a beige couch, cushions, two sawhorses, a wooden chair, and scattered lumber awaits transformation. An arched window with a tree visible outside is on the right—ideal conditions if you're learning how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage.A young boy stands in a cluttered room holding an orange power drill. Behind him, a cardboard box with scribbles on it and an easel with a partially painted picture are visible—a scene reminiscent of a "How to Build a Rock Climbing Wall for Kids in the Garage" tutorial come to life.A partially constructed or renovated wall with wooden beams hints at the beginning steps in how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage, an orange ladder rests against it, accompanied by an electric drill and a brown chair visible in the room.Bags of colorful rock climbing holds, metal hardware, and black screws are spread out on a white table, ready for the next step in learning how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage.A wooden board with evenly spaced metal nuts embedded in it, displayed flat on a surface, is essential for learning how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage.A home renovation scene with a partly demolished wall, plywood sheets, a stepladder, a folded ladder, and a sofa—bringing to mind ideas like how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage.A room under renovation with plywood sheets, saw horses, a ladder, and a sofa with cushions. The wall is partially stripped, exposing studs—perfect for those considering how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage.A partially constructed indoor climbing wall with five visible handholds stands in a room with unfinished walls and gray flooring, offering the first steps in understanding how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage.An indoor climbing wall with colorful handholds, resembling those found in guides on how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage, is installed on a black wall in a room with an unfinished ceiling. A beige sofa is positioned to the right of the climbing wall.A home climbing wall under construction with black panels attached to the wall, some with handholds. A wooden frame is seen above, with a ladder and a brown sofa nearby. It's an excellent start if you're wondering how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage.An indoor climbing wall with multi-colored holds is set against a black wall in a room with gray and beige walls, offering inspiration on how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage.A LEGO figurine dressed as a construction worker is placed on a red climbing hold mounted on a black wall, demonstrating how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage.A Lego figurine is placed on top of a blue rock climbing hold with a bolt in the center, showcasing an example of how to build a rock climbing wall for kids in the garage. The hold is securely attached to a sturdy black climbing wall.


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