Planks are finally on. It took a lot of planing and sanding, but they are on.
After getting the planks on I was anxious to start climbing. I looked around my garage and realized: I don’t own any climbing holds. I could have mooched and borrowed holds but I thought it would be faster to just start screwing whatever crap I had laying around my garage to the wall. Morgan also volunteered some scrap wood to the effort.
Here is a gif of my first, low speed test. And yes I realize my choice of climbing pants is around 15 years behind the times. Or you can see the full video in all its glory. Most of the noise in the video is from a crane across the street, not the wall.
My initial thoughts are that the whole thing runs pretty well and feels solid. It squeaks a bit but a little more wax in the tracks will fix that. (I need to find some bee’s wax. It, apparently, is a better lubricant for wood.) The chain isn’t spaced perfectly on some of the planks which leads to thumping noises as they go over the drive sprockets. So I will be pulling off those planks to adjust their fit.
I do wish the whole thing was about 6″ taller just to lend a little more buffer when you are climbing, 12″ would be even better. I don’t think you would be able to make a wall any shorter than my 9′-2″ ceilings usable, unless you made it permanently overhanging. If I were to start from scratch I would knock a hole in the ceiling and have the top poke into the attic.
Running at ~30° overhang would let you fit the track portion of this wall under an 8′ ceiling, which would still be usable. So there are options for this to work with a lower ceiling.
After all the trouble it took to make the planks I would consider laminating 2 layers of 3/4″ plywood together to make the planks or trying 1″ plywood. This would eliminate the issues I had with twisted boards, bowed boards, and varying thickness. So it would remove labour from modifying boards while adding some by requiring gluing them together. I suspect it would lead to a better end product though. You would be able to use cheap plywood for the back layer and better stuff for the outside and it will make it easy to countersink the t-nuts so you can used the standard bolt for a given climbing hold. AND you could ensure that all the planks would fit snugly in the guide channels so they wouldn’t feel wobbly without any sanding.
Additionally, in the future, I would try including a track on the return side of the wall as well as the climbing side. This would keep the planks running vertically, and prevent the chain from rubbing on the crossmembers in the wall regardless of chain tension and wall angle. It could be a looser fitting track to keep friction down. I think this addition would make it easier to control chain tension and make the unit easier to use. I might try to add this feature to this wall just to try it out.
Next step will be electrical design. First, I think I will just purchase a prefab stepper driver, power supply, arduino etc and get this wall running as a stand-alone unit. Later I think I will design a custom board with everything on a PCB, maybe add some whizzy features like wifi so you can control it from your phone.
Lastly, I want to mention how impressed I am with my Bosch cordless rotary hammer (this one if your curious). I had only intended to use it for putting up routes, but my corded drill wasn’t suitable and I ended up using my hammer drill for everything on the planks. So it drilled around 150 t-nut holes (1/2″ x 1.5″ deep) and sunk around 150 1.5″ decking screws on about half a charge.
If you are shopping for a drill for route development this one is light enough for drilling on lead at 6.25 lbs and will punch more than a dozen 3/8″ x 3″ holes in moderately hard limestone per charge. However, if you only plan to bolt on rappel I would consider finding a heavier drill with a bigger battery (more Ah) to get a few more holes per charge. I am considering buying a bigger battery for this one; bosch makes compatible batteries with almost 3x the capacity.