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Damnit, Jim, I'm a Climber Not a Carpenter

Submitted by mandryd on 2008-12-18 | Last Modified on 2008-12-22

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 6 | Comments: 9 | Views: 21143

by Long Ta


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Campus board at 12.5 degrees.
Long Ta
Campus board at 12.5 degrees.

Article and photos by Long Ta.

Congratulations, you are embarking on an amazing journey during which you progress more rapidly than you ever have before. Campus board training is easily measurable and gains made will be progressive and obvious.


Before long, your puny 1-2-3 campus will become a monstrous 1-5-9 and your tendons will be seething with pulsating power. New business acquaintances will feel their eyes pop out as you melt their hands with your death grip handshake. You will be able pick up girls at the bar by demonstrating how to crush walnuts with only your thumb and pointer. [insert maniacal laugh here....bwahahahahahahah]. You will wonder why you didn't start this before. Above all you will have fun and your climbing will reach new levels of greatness.


Ok I will step off my stool now.


I recently built my campus board and found the information regarding this journey to be less than adequate. There are several sources of guidance (the Metolius campus board guide is one []), but I found that they often call upon carpentry skills (which people may or may not have) and don't discuss certain things in enough depth.


The goal of this article is to provide enough food for thought about the different variables you will encounter while building a campus board so that you can confidently go out and build one yourself and not feel like success in this endeavor hinges on luck.


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3/4" rung with my hand for reference
Long Ta
3/4" rung with my hand for reference.

Miscellaneous Facts:

1.      2”x4” studs are not really 2”x4”—they’re actually 1.5” x 4”, so keep that in mind when adding up total lengths/widths. Same thing for 2" (W) x 48" (L) craft board (used for the rungs)--these are also 1.5" wide even though they are marked 2" wide.

2.      Plywood sheet comes in 48” x 96” stock sizes, hence the standard 4 foot width of most campus boards. Height is limited to the amount of space you have available.

3.      Having power tools is a MUST. The bare minimum you will need is a circular saw (can't imagine cutting all this with a hacksaw, but it can be done), a power drill (if you do this all with a screwdriver, you will be able to climb 5.16 with your dominant hand only and don't need a campus board), and a sander (I almost made a karate kid reference here, but I held back).

4.      I used poplar wood for the slats. Make sure you bring a ruler or use a tape measure from the store to measure the widths because, like the studs, 2 inches does not necessarily mean 2 inches because, as someone told me, wood is measured when cut wet and then will shrink as it dries.

5.      Measure and plan out EVERYTHING otherwise your board will be shabby and wobbly. As the expression goes, measure twice, cut once.

6.      Building the board is the easy part. Mounting the board in a stable, level position is the hard part. Attention to detail is key.

7.      This will cost you less than $150 dollars if you have tools and if you don't mess up.

a.      2x4 studs (8 foot length) are only $2 each. There are longer lengths, so use your judgment when buying these to minimize waste. You'll need approximately 6-10.

b.      3/4" plywood is about $25 a sheet (most expensive part of the board). You need two of these if your board is any longer than a 4 foot x 4 foot square.

c.      Wood screws run about $6 a box. You'll need one box of 3.5" or 4" length and two boxes of 2.5" or 3" (to attach the plywood to the studs and to screw in your rungs).

d.      Rungs cost approx $5 for enough wood for three.

e.      three cans of optional spray paint at $3 a can.


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Simplified back view sketch.
Long Ta
Simplified back view sketch.

Building the frame:

For 4 foot wide boards, 2”x4” stud wood is perfectly strong enough. You may need 2x6" if you go wider than 4 feet.

1.      Cut two 48” pieces to serve as the top and bottom of your board.

2.      Determine the angle you want the board at. I chose 12.5 degrees. Supposedly the smaller angles work your finger and contact strength more. You’ll have to make your own judgment on this. Just so you know, 12.5 degrees is more slope than you think.

3.      If you extend the imaginary line of the top of the campus board all the way to the floor, the board will be height * tan(angle) away from the wall for any particular height (remember SOH CAH TOA??)

a.      12. 5 degrees at 100” height = [100 * tan(12.5)] = 22.2” away from the wall.

b.      15 degrees at 100” height = [100 * tan (15)] = 26”.

c.      20 degrees at 100” height = [100 * tan(20)] = a whopping 36” from the wall (more than 1/3 of the total height!).

4.      Determine the total campus board length you want (ie the part of the board with the rungs on it versus the entire length of the hypotenuse). For me I had a total of 108” of ceiling height and I wanted the board to start at approximately 40” (most places say start at 4 feet, but I’m only 5’6” tall so the 40” is fine.

5.      It doesn’t hurt to have extra bottom length. The top part of your board is fixed. If you have extra campus board length, it will just start lower. THUS, if you accidentally make your board too long, you will just have some unusable length at the bottom. Having too much board is much better than building everything out and then having the board too short.

6.      Your campus board length will be ([vertical height] – [bottom of board height]) / cos([angle of board]). Remember the hypotenuse is longer :).

a.      A 12.5 degree board at 100” high starting at 40” height = (100-40)/cos(12.5) = 60/0.976 = 61.45” of campus board length

b.      A 20 degree board at 100” high starting at 40” height = 60/cos(20) = 63.85” of campus board length

7.      For the box of your campus board (part with the rungs on it), the length of your vertical studs will be your campus board length minus 4 inches (don’t forget to subtract the width of the top and bottom 2x4” studs. Keeping in mind that 2x4s are actually 1.5” thick—not 2” thick, if you subtract 4" then there will be 1" of plywood overhang which makes a nice finishing jug. You will need four vertical studs—two for the sides and two frame supports spaced every 16” inches in the box.

8.      I recommend two ¾” plywood sheets for the surface—supposedly if you use only one, you run the risk of your rungs popping out while you campus. Cut both of these to your campus board length using your circular saw.

9.      Line up your 2x4s. To make sure your frame is square, measure from corner to corner. If they’re square, then the two diagonal lengths will be the same. You could also just lay your studs on top of your plywood sheet to square them too. Remember to measure, measure, measure.

10.   Using 3.5" to 4” wood screws, screw your frame together. You will find that for screwing the studs together, drilling pilot holes with a small drill bit will make this part much easier.

11.   Using 2.5” wood screws, screw directly through your plywood sheet into your frame. Drawing a couple of guide lines on the plywood sheet where your frame is running underneath will make this part much easier and less hit and miss. I spaced the screws about 6” apart. I’m not sure what is truly necessary here, but it feels extremely sturdy at 6”. You will not need to drill pilot holes through the plywood as the plywood sheet is pretty easy to put screws though.

12.   Sand the face of the plywood sheet and ALL edges/corners. You don't want to hit anything sharp when you campus around, nor do you want to get any splinters.

13.   Paint your board if you want. I painted mine a cool blue. I think it’ll look cool once chalk builds up on it. Just remember, you have to paint it before you start putting slats on because you don’t want to have paint on your rungs. It’ll take you about 2-3 cans of spray paint to get a decent finish.


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Simplified diagrams to help visualize
Long Ta
Simplified diagrams to help visualize.

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Example of my upper mount
Long Ta
Example of my upper mount.

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Bottom mount. More support wood was later added.
Long Ta
Bottom mount. I later added more support wood.

Mounting your frame: This is the hardest and most important part of the whole operation. If you don’t mount your frame solidly and on level, then your campus board experience will be less than stellar. Inspire confidence in your campus board sessions by taking the time to do this part as well as you can. Mount your frame before you put the rungs on!

1.      You want as much space behind the board as you can for your legs to swing around. This becomes a much bigger factor the lower you mount your board to the ground. Ie, if your bottom rung is less high than you are tall, your legs will have to poke out somewhere. At least 2 feet is a good length to shoot for, but you’ll have to make due with your own space considerations.

2.      You’ll need a couple friends to get your (very heavy) campus board into position. Use your savvy and your climbing gear to make this as easy as possible. I screwed in a 2x4 stud on the back of the campus board and tied my rope to this. I then threw a sling over one of my ceiling rafters then used a gri-gri to raise and support the weight of the board while I was getting everything in position—much easier on the back than trying to have two people hold the board’s weight (probably in excess of 100 pounds of bulky weight).

3.      Mounting the campus board, unfortunately, is a very variable affair. Each situation will be different and it would be impossible to overview all of these here. The Metolius pdf file on campus boards has a couple good examples of this.

4.      In my situation, I had exposed ceiling rafters running parallel to my board. I bolted thick gauge (green edges) L-brackets to these rafters. I then drilled 3/8" holes at a 12.5" angle in the upper sides of my board. Using my climbing gear I lifted my campus board up and then bolted the L-brackets to campus board using 2.5" long, 3/8" bolts with washers on each side. Then I supported the bottom with a 2x4 stud that spans the width of my closet. On both sides of the bottom support i have a 2x4 mounted horizontally to hold up the supporting stud. See the pictures for a better idea. My solution is very sturdy and I'm very happy with how it turned out.

5.      [if anyone has some tips to mount the frame, let me know and I will include them here]


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1/2" rung.
Long Ta
1/2" rung.

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Diagram of the screw spacing
Diagram of the screw spacing.

Making your rungs:

1.      Decide on what rung depth you want. This is largely dependent on your current skill as a climber. Metolius makes rungs that are ¾”, 1”, and 1 ¼”, but these are quite expensive at $30+ for a set of 5. To be fair, making the rungs is a pretty time consuming effort, but it is not too difficult for a layman to make some nice rungs for cheap on their own.

a.      I am currently climbing technical mid 12s and consider myself to have pretty good crimp strength for this range of technical skill (ie I can crimp better than people who like to exclusively climb pumpy 12s with bigger holds). I can hang on ½” rungs with a 12.5 angle and ladder up on the ¾” rungs. THUS, for my board I chose ½”, ¾” rungs. Since this board is meant purely for me and not at a climbing gym, I can put sizes that are in my range and not have to worry about the larger sizes. And, since my range is currently in the ½” and ¾” slat range, I’m going to leave one row blank for now and I can fill that in later for now. I’m thinking that a 1 ¼” row of slats might be good to work on my overall power without worrying about my finger strength.

b.      For the standard 5.9 – 5.11 climber, ¾”, 1”, and 1 ¼” rungs are probably a good choice/starting point.

2.      Metolius uses birch for their rungs. I couldn’t find birch in convenient sizes to emulate this. I could only really find poplar/oak/pine in the hobby/craft wood sizes. All of the smaller pieces of wood will generally be found in the craft wood area. I chose poplar, and I’m very happy with my choice of woods.

3.      It will take a lot of long, tedious work to make your rungs, but in the end, this is what you’re climbing on, so take your time and make them nice.

4.      I found pieces of wood with my preferred depth in 2" (W) x 48" (L). I think the 2” width is a perfect size (*NOTE, this 2” width will, in actuality, be 1.5” wide [yes i know it makes no sense]). 48” length lets you make 3 rungs out of each piece of wood with zero waste.

5.      Using a power hand sander, I sanded the two top edges of the length of each rung to a rounded, smooth shape. Do this before you cut them to size and it’ll be easier, although it doesn’t really matter. Sand off enough for it to be comfortable. My rungs aren't quite as rounded as the Metolius rungs, but how rounded off you make your rungs is completely up to you. Just keep in mind that the more you round it off, the less deep your rung becomes. Using a power hand sander does pretty quick work of this.

6.      I recommend against creating an incut. Let your rungs be square to your campus board and it’ll help you with confidence in slopers and force you to work more open handed, which is better in the long run. I also sanded and rounded the ends and corners (metolius doesn’t do this). It doesn’t really matter, but I figured while I’m sanding everything nice, might as well make it really nice.

7.      Do NOT paint your rungs. Bare wood is a nice comfortable material that does a good job of absorbing sweat and providing enough friction for you to hold on.

8.      For a 16” rung that’s 1.5” wide I recommend the following mounting.

a.      5 screw holes. 7/16” height at 1”, 8”, 15” length and 17/16” height at 4” and 12”. This will make a staggered pattern that’ll hold the top and bottom of your rung down securely (see the picture).

b.      Drill pilot holes with a small drill bit. Then drill a small depression about 1/16” deep on top of your pilot hole with a 5/16” drill bit so that the head of the wood screw will not stick out of your rungs (ouch). With the thicker rungs you can make this depression deeper without worrying about it. As you start pushing ½” rungs then you’ll obviously have to be more cognizant of the depth of this depression.

9.      I recommend waiting until your campus board is mounted before you put your rungs on. Yes, it is easier to do this while your campus board is lying on the floor, but if you wait until your campus board is hanging, then you’ll be able to compensate for any slight in accuracies (nobody’s perfect) that you have while hanging the board.

10.   How many rungs?

a.      The smaller the rungs, the smaller the spacing you’ll want between rungs. However, spacing is arbitrary. You just want to have enough rungs so that you can vary the campus distance.

b.      For my 70” campus board, I used 12 rungs for the smaller size and 9 rungs for the larger size. You can do whatever you want though. And plus, saying that you can do a 1-6-12 sounds even cooler than the immortal 1-5-9! In the end, for my ½” rungs I had [(70-4-2)/11] = 5.8" rungs spacing with 4" slap space on top. For the ¾” rungs, I used 8" spacing with 4" slap space on top.

11.   Calculate the spacing

a.      You want around 4 inches above your last rung (slap space). You could probably push this to 2” or 3” if you were scrounging for extra campus board height.

b.      So, to calculate your spacing take your ([total board length] – [slap space] – [rung width]) / [# of rungs - 1]. Yes this is correct, take my word for it.

12.   Mount your rungs

a.      Take out your tape measure and starting from the bottom, mark of increments of your calculated rung spacing. Your markings will designate the BOTTOM of where your rung will be mounted.

b.      Use 2.5” or longer screws depending on your rung depth. Remember you had 2 x ¾” plywood, plus your rung depth. So for a 1” rung depth, you’ll need at least 2.5” wood screw. If you have a 1 ¼” rung depth, you’ll need a 3” wood screw. Just get enough so that it goes through all the plywood and you’ll be fine

c.      Your first rung will be mounted flush with the bottom of the board (but don't forget to level this one too).

d.      Align the bottom of the rung to your space marker and screw in the middle screw of each rung tight enough so that the rung doesn’t wiggle around too much. Then, using a level, make that rung perfectly level. Then screw in the outside holes and finally the inside holes.


Padding and Fall Zone:

1.      It is not a question of IF you will pop off while campusing, but how often. Ie, I just busted my butt on the ground a few minutes ago.

2.      Thus, keep this in mind and take cues from your local climbing wall about padding the floor and keeping obstacles out of the fall zone.


Congratulations! You've just read a ton of information. Go take a break and imagine yourself destroying all those climbs that used to make you squeal like a little choirboy.

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9 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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2x4 studs are not 1.5"x 4" either, they are 1.5"x3.5" if yours are different, they are not real 2x4', on the whole, a great guide, i have a few more suggestions to make it a little easier:
1. If using wood screws, you don't have to predrill countersinking holes, the screws will naturally sink below the surface of the wood.
2. many home improvement stores have moulding which are pre sanded and have various cross sections to eliminate the need to own a power sander.
3. before you start, make sure you have a sturdy ass wall to attach to!
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carpenter nOOb

Not bad though :)
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5 out of 5 stars heh. like i said, i'm a climber not a carpenter :).
Any points you real carpenters out there make will probably end up helping someone out in the long run, so keep them coming.
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Some helpful tips: Find deck screws at your home improvement store- If you are lucky, they will have a self drilling point and a square or star drive and the correct driver bit, phillips bits tend to spin out and can easily strip out, if you must use phillips drive screws, pre drill. n00b.
You can get "furring strips" in the 1x3 (.75"x2.5") size real cheap from any place that has lumber they are already rounded off, just cut them to length and sand. to increase the depth, pad them out with some 1/2" plywood strips or another length of furring strip (double them up) cut to size.
Find a carpenter to help you if you are clueless about attaching the structure to a wall. Cabinet shops can whip out some quality rungs made to order, chances are someone you climb with is or knows a carp that can be easily bribed with adult beverages or lettuce!

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I promise I did not register this name just to reply here.

The article says you may need 2x6's if you go wider than 4'. Not true. Thickness of the board is determined by the Length of the span (ie, if you go longer than 8' tall). Keep your studs spaced at 16" and 2x4's are peachy regardless of width.

Instead of buying an extra $25 sheet of plywood, You can screw 2x4's flat behind the plywood where the rungs would be. Extra sheet is faster, 2x4's are cheaper.
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Fairly Good Advice, I am incorporating my campus board into a training wall so I built mine straight off the ground at a 22.5 angle, Some of the smaller bouldering gyms i've been to build their walls with 2x6 and a single sheet of plywood.

Also the important part that i felt was missing was that spacing has its standards, mainly that its normally 1' top to top on the rungs that are labeled with numbers... meaning 1-5-9 is a 10' move, so spacing is important but intermediate spacing can also be valuable for speed and reflex training...
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fyi: In the photo of your campus board, the 2x4 used to add support on the bottom of the campus board is mounted with the 4" side down. However, the strength in a 2x4 is most effective when it mounted with the 2" side down; not the 4" side. So, if you're not wanting the "supportive" 2x4 to sag in the middle, I would turn it up on it's 2" edge (1.5") not the 4" (3.5") edge. Just a bit of constructive criticism!
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5 out of 5 stars thanks for the comments everyone. Good points by everyone.
Devil: cool. I didn't realize there was a standard to the rung distances. That's good to know when comparing your accomplishments to others. With regard to my non-arbitrary distances, I'm just happy to improve my numbers and once I get close to 1-5-9 on my board (which is already a ridiculously huge move) I'll worry about comparing to the rock gods' true 1-5-9.
Yeah, Matt, I added some more support under the the board after the pic was taken. My original idea was to camber the support (it's bowed from cambering, not weight sag) to add some "push" upwards, but my architect friend later pointed out that you can not camber wood as it just ends up warping.

I'll update the guide soon a credit will be given where due (thanks!).
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thanks for taking the time to post this up. There isn't a whole lotta info out there on this subject.

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