Friday, August 5, 2016

If You Build It, They Will Climb

They f@#%ing better...

I would say, and I think a few others may agree (my wife included), that I'm an "idea guy".  Now, I would certainly not say (and my wife would adamantly agree) that I am a "good idea guy".  I just have a tendency to get "wild ideas" every now and again, typically pertaining to some sort of endeavor I or our family should embark on; like travel the world for a year or move to Canada^.  Thankfully, for the sake of my marriage and the safety of my family, only a small percentage of my "wild ideas" ever come to fruition - usually the craziest ones.  My wife has perfected a process of taking a deep breath and waiting a few contemplative minutes before responding to any statement I make that begins, "Hey, I've got an idea!"

One of my most recent "wild ideas" recently came to fruition, after much talk and relatively little planning, a few weeks ago.  I alluded to it in my last post as something that would hopefully provide our kids with some backyard entertainment this summer.  At some point over the last year, I became convinced that I was going to build my kids a climbing wall on the outside of our garage.  Apparently this idea was one of the lucky ones that survived the R&D stage and was fast-tracked for approval and completion.  Okay, maybe not fast-tracked per se. 

As with most of my life, there are a few odd layers of irony that went along with the project.  To start, I'm not really much of a climber.  Sure, I've climbed on a few indoor climbing walls, but it's definitely not something I would consider a hobby.  I'm also, and some of you may have gathered from previous posts, the self-proclaimed antithesis of handy.  I don't do projects that require elements of construction* nor do I tend to derive much pleasure from trying to attempt projects of that nature.  Thus it made perfect sense for me to try and build something where my kids could climb to heights that would surely break bones if they fell off.

Part of the impetus to build the climbing wall came from watching Isla, our oldest, absolutely take to one at a playground we stopped at during our road-trip to our Florida adventure (which I would like to point out, was my wife's idea).  The other thought that pushed the idea along was looking at the back of our garage one day, and realizing that it was a big empty space, a blank canvas if you will.  Why not put a climbing wall there.  I figured if it was to be something that could be utilized this summer by the kids, I should probably propose the idea to my boss (wife) and make it a top priority if approved.  As fate would have it, I learned that our local Menard's, where I would be purchasing a bulk of my supplies, was currently offering an 11% rebate on all purchases.  It's like I was destined to "save big money".

Now, if I attempted to claim that I came up with the plans for this project all on my own, I would be lying through my teeth.  I had the idea of building a climbing wall for my kids, but I had no idea how to actually build a climbing wall for my kids.  Luckily, someone who is considerably more adept when it comes to building things was a few years ahead of me, and posted a step by step tutorial on her DIY Blog, even down to the quantity and types of screws I would need.  My objective was to replicate exactly what she built, or at least something that somewhat resembled her wall and would stay attached to the exterior of our garage.  I even took the easy way out and ordered my climbing holds from the exact same company that she used.  To try and be different, I did opt for the bolt-on holds as opposed to the screw on holds.                   

I'd also be making a fraudulent statement if I said that I built the wall myself - with my own two bare hands.  We all know I'm not "manly", but luckily I have some neighbors who fit the much more commonly used definition of masculine.  While I certainly took the lead on the planning and execution of the project, they did provide me with some very worthwhile feedback and assistance with some of the heavy-lifting.  They also let me use some of their heavy duty power tools, which was key in supplementing my meager supply of "utensils".  I possibly could have built the wall without their physical help, but I really doubt I could have done it without their tools.  It also helps, apparently, when trying to build something 8 feet tall using your 6 foot frame, to have this very complex device called a ladder.  Fortunately they did.

In all I was pleasant surprised with how relatively smooth the entire process went, especially given my lack of technical aptitude in the carpentry trade.  I made a healthy amount of mistakes that I learned from for the next time I construct a climbing wall - which will most certainly be never again.  While not attempting to gloat, what I was most impressed with was my unwillingness (could also be categorized as stubbornness or foolish stupidity) to be deterred from actually building it.  Especially given the fact that on my first trip to Menards to purchase materials for the wall, the only thing I came home with were tomato cages.  I made no fewer than six additional trips to various home improvement stores (I had a rule about not visiting the same store twice in one day) throughout the construction process.

But it's done, an 8ft tall by 20ft wide climbing wall has been constructed and we can again park our vehicles in our garage.  Well, it's pretty much done.  It's usable (mostly).  I still plan to paint it this fall - I've been informed by those who know (my manly neighbors) that you are supposed to let pressure treated plywood dry out before applying any paint or sealant to it.  We are taking submissions for mural ideas for the wall.  Thinking some kind of "mountain-esque theme" to really complement the climbing experience for the kids, but also abstract and modern so it has a hip feel to it.  If your submission is selected, we would of course grant you the privilege of painting it.  I suppose we could spring for the paint and supplies, and maybe even throw a small "artist's reception" once it is complete.

We also figure we should probably try to find some mattresses or crash pads to put underneath the wall when the kids are climbing - you know, safety first I guess.  The wall ends up being just over 8ft tall, so they certainly aren't attempting to summit K2, but if they fell off and fell wrong, there would mostly certainly be tears and maybe a compound fracture or two.  At this point, we haven't put the holds all of the way to the top of the wall until we find a good solution to satisfy the safety committee.  My initial thought that the wall would be another good way to keep my kids occupied has also proved somewhat ill fated as we made the rule that "no climbing can happen without an adult watching".  It's a smart rule (I kind of have to agree with it since I came up with it), but it means that when they climb, I have to be present, ready to catch them when they start to make panicked, whiny noises.  It also means that I'm probably going to spend a fair amount of time transitioning from watching the older kids on the wall to sprinting across the yard to grab Gus before he ambles into the street.  I haven't yet looked into rope-belay systems for the wall, but I'm guessing it's probably comparable to the cost of an invisible fence/dog collar (see previous post for reference).  Given the total cost of the materials for the wall, and cases of beer purchased for my helpful neighbors, neither are in the budget at this point.

I am pretty certain I do not have a future in building these for a fee for other interested parties.  It's not that complicated of a project, and if you have some technical know-how, and the appropriate tools, it shouldn't take you that long.  Beyond purchasing the materials and a little front end prep work for the wall, the actual construction of the wall took me a weekend.  For someone who knows what they are doing, I'm guessing it could be done in a day, starting around mid-morning, taking a leisurely two hour lunch, and stopping every couple of hours for a union 15 coffee break.  Below are some chronological photos and descriptions of the project.  Please note this is not intended to be a step-by-step guide for anyone looking to build something similar - far from it.  This is so you can laugh at me and hopefully avoid the same mistakes that I did.

Training for American Ninja Warrior
After you decide on where you are going to put your wall, you obviously need to purchase the materials - 2x4s, plywood, and appropriate screws.  Make sure you look at your plywood to find sheets that are in good condition.  My wife and I made a late night run to Menards after the kids went to bed to purchase our wood and screws.  We had to pick out our own plywood in a dimly lit lumber yard with a thunderstorm quickly approaching.  We probably didn't pick the best quality of wood - something that became much more apparent in the daylight.  Also, 4x8 sheets of plywood are heavy.  I thought I would somehow be able to purchase and load 5 of them, as well as a dozen 2x4s in our van by myself with Gus as my own assistance.  Hence the reason I only got tomato cages on that first trip.

Back of the garage, pre-climbing wall

Our garage has vinyl siding, which some contractor (who was trying to sell us new siding) told me was essentially just plastic.  I thought it would be much easier to try to build the wall on a flat surface instead of the beveled edges of the siding, so I decided I was going to remove the siding where the wall was going to go.  What I didn't realize, until one of my construction savvy neighbors inquired about how I was going to keep water from rotting the plywood and studs that hold up our garage, that that plastic siding serves more than just a cosmetic purpose (which is debatable itself according to my wife).  The finished product might look a little nicer, but taking the siding off added a few extra hours of work, at least another $50 to the cost of the project, and numerous additional expletives.  I also caulked all of the seams between the trim and the 2x4s and between the plywood, or anywhere I thought water could penetrate and compromise the integrity of the garage once the entire wall was up.  If the garage falls down, I highly doubt I'd be approved for a repeat of the project by upper management.

Siding Removed
Once the siding was off and the sides were trimmed out to help keep the rain out and make it look aesthetically pleasing enough for my wife, the 2x4 furring strips went up so the plywood sheets could be attached.  One benefit of removing the siding was the location of the studs on the inside of the garage were marked.  I do have a stud finder beside my wife (ouch), but I view its accuracy with a healthy dose of suspicion.

2x4s attached to studs of the garage
  A ladder certainly comes in very handy for installing the 2x4s and the plywood.  It may want to be climbed by curious onlookers though.

Gus distracting the ladies so dad can get some work done.
Once the plywood was up, we had a neighborhood "climbing hold screwing-in party" - it sounds worse than it is.  I got 100 holds for the 5 sheets of plywood.  Since I opted for the bolt-on holds, I pre-drilled 300 holes (60 per sheet) and hammed in t-nuts into each hole on the backside of the plywood.  This had to be done before the plywood was attached to the 2x4s.  Now we can move the holds with relative ease by taking out the bolt and attaching at another hold location.  The climbing hold company had a great schematic of how many hold locations to make on each sheet of plywood.  I modified mine slightly because I'm cheap and lazy.  

Attaching the holds - many hands makes quick work.

And they're climbing.... no broken bones yet!

^For the record, I have long expressed an interest in moving to Canada, and my motive has in no way been dictated by any previous or future presidential election results.

*Destruction is another story.