Updated: Mar 4, 2022
*Note from the Author: This post is now out of date. When I built the wall we built when Skyhook first opened, I was copying the building process of another local gym that opened ages ago. I didnt know enough at the time, and the design I built back by copying them was out of date when I did it, and is now about 20 years past modern "Best Practices". I will add some notes to these blog posts, talking about what has since changed since these posts were originally published in 2016. Hopefully soon I will also write a post on what the industry is currently doing! *
If you are curious how commercial climbing gym facilities build and design Climbing and Bouldering walls, look no further! So as tradition dictates, here is the final product first! This is the bouldering wall set up for a ninja competition we hosted here at Skyhook in February.
So let me start off by asking you a question. Have you ever wanted to create something? Not just build a bed or cool piece of art, but build something that will change peoples lives? If you ever wanted to make a difference in the world, then this story is for you. If you have never felt that way, feel free to skip this paragraph and keep looking through the rest of the build album.
I am posting this because it has been one year since Skyhook Ninja Fitness opened, and I was looking back through all of the pictures of where it started and decided to share a part of the journey that brought me to where we are now. I never knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, other then the fact that I knew I wanted to change the world. I have been a personal trainer for the last 5 and a half years, and did that to help pay for school. I went to school for premed, switched to pre-physical therapy, and then changed my major a couple more times. I started going to school for engineering, but all the while I was training people and opened a personal training studio out of my house. At the same time, I wanted to train for American Ninja Warrior, and finding no gyms in Oregon. I decided to start building my own obstacles. As my homemade obstacles slowly expanded, my clients interest in wanting to use them, one thing led to another, and Skyhook Ninja fitness was born.
I used my engineering knowledge and connection to design and fabricate the entire gym. My mission was to build a community dedicated to physical and emotional growth through fun, functional fitness. My goal is to start with one gym, then slowly spread across the nation until we have changed the world.
So here is where our journey starts, a design in Solidworks! I know there are better programs out there for this, but I had learned Solidworks in school, and most importantly, knew a PE (professional Engineer) who used solidworks and could check my work and then stamp it for me. I consulted with many experts in the field and industry before I settled on this design. The idea behind having very few angle changes means that it would be easier to build and I could rely on climbing volumes in order to keep the wall interesting.
Looking back I would have changed a couple things about this design, such as the sections that had 90 degree angle changes. They are boring for our routesetters to set and they feel similar to climb on. We are fixing the problem by making some custom climbing volumes, but simply changing the design in the first place would have been better.
Next I needed a cut list and materials list! The steel yard I ordered from could not cut the angles for me, but they were able to cut the steel to length, and then we cut the angles into it. Figuring out how to do that was some very fun and tricky math!
Next up are the tools needed for the job. This little handy angle finding tool was amazing for this project. It was so handy I bought them as gifts for some of the people who helped with this project since they all wanted one after using it.
You will also need an industrial welder, and a scissor lift. The scissor lift was crucial to lifting the heavy steel bars into place. We borrowed the welder and I bought the scissor lift off craigslist. It has had its share of issues but I have to say for what we paid for it it has been great to us. We named her Big Bertha.
You will also want one of these. I started off with a regular hand held drill to try to drill the holes for the anchors, but quickly realized the futility of that endeavor. I went and bought this bad boy, as well as some fantastic drill bits that chew through concrete and rebar!
I bought this drill for this project to attach the plywood to the outer steel frame, but quickly discovered it was not quite up to the job. That being said, this is still a phenomenal tool, and still came in use for our other projects.
This is the tool I ended up using to attach the plywood to the frame. it is a Hilti black-powder actuated nail gun. It shoots nails into steel so quickly they weld themselves to the steel. More on this tool later.
This handy dandy attachment for my drill helped immensely with drilling the holes for the T-Nuts. It makes sure that the drill bit is perfectly perpendicular to the wood. I purchased this tool on Amazon.
Call me a square.
Here you can see me cutting the footings for the climbing wall on a CNC plasma. Before you say, " Oh man, he has so many tools, I could never do something like this!", I went to the local community college and learned how to use it. I also learned how to weld there, and by paying for a one credit a term shop class was able to do things like this. Sometimes, your community can be a great resource!
Floor anchors. These bad boys were very important, I had to create a free standing wall design due to the lease restricting having structures attached to the wall. These were crucial in securing the large steel beams into the concrete floor.
I had to grind down the footings and prep them so that I could get a nice clean weld.
AND THEN THE BUILD STARTED!
To start, we took our main upright columns, and prepped them to get footings welded on.
Our work space up to this point. Later, we tore down that wall to put our ninja obstacle rig. You can see some of the obstacle rig on the left. If people are curious how I built that, let me know and I might be able to make a post about it.
Our climbing wall was delivered, some assembly required! Each beam had to be cleaned with simple green to wipe off all the grease and allow for me to weld footings on.
Cutting the angles! You can see another tool I forgot to mention, the Master Fabricator I hired to help with this project brought it. The blade was phenomenal, it could cut through steel and wood!
Pictured here is a little bit of the markings we drew out on the floor. Before we started doing anything else we laid out the plans on the floor and drew lines were everything was supposed to go. This picture shows that I drilled the holes and started to install the wedge anchors.
Testing the fitment of the footplates. An important note about wedge anchors. You are required to drill the floor out, then blow the dust out of the holes with a high PSI air compressor to make sure there is no dust left. You also need to have special inspectors from the city in the building watching you install them to make sure you did it correctly.
Next note about installing anchors; Don't pound them in without the nut left a little above the marks on the top of the anchor. Otherwise the top will deform and inspectors can't confirm that the proper anchors were used.
I bought welding magnets from home depot to help hold the footplate where its supposed to go, this was really handy in keeping the column and the footplate together so you can tack it into place.
All welded up and ready to be placed!
At this point, all the groundwork was laid for us to build the bouldering wall. If you want to see how it actually came together, click here for part two!