Climbing Wall Design


Transition your model's dimensions to a drawing. Start the drawing as a simple sketch. The purpose of the sketch is to define dimensions. You can either use a computer aided design software or draw it by hand. If you can define all dimensions mathematically you may not need to make a computerized scale drawing. Some angles and shapes may be too difficult to calculate, so you may need to draw portions of the wall at an accurate scale and take the dimensions directly form the climbing wall's design drawing. 

Label how far each joint or edge is from the last joint or edge. Reference distances to an existing structure, like a wall, ceiling or floor. Establish all distances, angles, and dimensions. Allow for the width of the anchoring structure, thickness of the wall studs and thickness of plywood sheathing. 


Nominal Size and Actual Size.

The designated size of US lumber is not the same size as its actual thickness. US lumber is designated by its nominal value, or the size of the lumber before finishing. Remember that the actual size and nominal size are different dimensions. Be sure to account for the difference in finished size while you are defining your dimensions. 


The nominal size is the unfinished size. Wood is first cut into the nominal size. In the US, lumber is planed and sanded after it is cut at the mill. This takes off a quarter inch to a half-inch. 

The actual size is the size of the lumber as it is sold. For example, using the table above, a 2x4 measures 1½" by 3½" actual size. Plywood nominal size and actual thickness are the same. 


Joist Span for Climbing Wall Design Considerations.


For overhanging sections, the allowable joist span length depends on the spacing and size of the joist. According to the table below, using 2x6 construction you can safely span an 8' length with either 16" or 24" OC. For greater span lengths you will need to use a larger joists. 

Use this table as a guide. This does not take the place of an engineering assessment. There are many other factors such as type of anchor, reinforcement of joints, strength of wood. An engineer or someone familiar with structural design who you trust should determine specifications for a design that must support an overhanging wall. 


Support Structures for Climbing Wall Designs.


Climbing walls are very heavy. The structure that supports the wall must be strong enough to support the dead loads (the weight of the wall itself) and live loads (the climbers). The dead loads alone will come to several hundred pounds. Live loads vary not only by the weight of the climber, but also by the momentary weight forces caused by the climbing moves. These forces can be several times the weight of the climber. The support system must be capable of supporting the maximum combined stresses. If you are using an existing structure to support your wall, make sure the existing structure can also support these loads. A vertical or near vertical wall will transfer most of the weight to the floor, however will still exert an angular force away from the wall due to the climber(s). Steeply overhung and roof sections must be capable of supporting the combined weights of the wall, climbers and weights from the momentary forces caused by a climbers movement. Again, get advice from experts and industry specialists. 
The size of joists, studs, anchors are determined by the load the wall must bear. Determine how each end of each type of material will attach to another piece. Determine that the existing structure is strong enough to hold itself up and can withstand the stress from climbers. Be sure to get advice from someone knowledgeable in structural design. This is very important if your wall has overhanging sections. A vertical or near vertical wall will have a lot of vertical strength from the plywood. Make sure you have supports to withstand shear, torque and live load stresses. You must take responsibility to ensure engineering considerations are done correctly. Consult with experts and get advice. 

Finally, develop the bill of materials based on the specifications in your design. Go back over your drawing item by item and write them down. Determine specific quantities of each type of material. 

Common Materials for Homemade Climbing Wall Designs.


  • 3/4" plywood
  • 2x4, 2x6, 2x8
  • 3" and 4" self tapping screws
  • lag bolts, washers, nuts
  • 1/2"x6" and 1/2'x7" carriage bolts
  • joist hangers
  • t-nuts
  • work table and/or 2 saw horses
  • texture supplies: paint, sand, drop cloth, roller, roller frame, 5 gal bucket / roller screen, brushes, sand for texture


Recommendations for Designing a Climbing Wall:

Use a licensed engineer to design the structure for your climbing wall Verify that the building can support the additional loads transferred to it by the climbing wall Use an experienced climbing wall designer