At some point in the hopefully not too distant future Husband and I will be moving house. This will mean dismantling the home climbing wall that’s kept me sane during lockdown and enhanced my training since full-scale climbing walls opened up again. Thankfully the house we’re moving to has a big enough garden to house half of the wall so 50 percent of my overhanging friend will have the chance to live again.
It’s safe to say the plywood panels of the wall are not looking great after a year of outdoor life in the wet north-west of England. This moment of dismantling, therefore, seems like an ideal time to replace these panels. The old ones will be perfect fuel for the annual Christmas bonfire and replacing them now will mean transporting fewer massive bits of wood down to our new house.
So, this week I attempted to learn from my past experiences and produce some better plywood panels for the wall. Admittedly these panels will only have to survive Cambridge weather, which is generally less aggressive than Cumbrian weather, but I still wanted to give them a fighting chance of lasting longer than the originals.
Step one in this endeavour was selecting the appropriate plywood.
The original panels were hardwood ply. My father-in-law informed me that the best place to start with creating some sturdier panels was with top-notch plywood. Specifically, marine plywood. Apparently, the layers of marine plywood are held together with some super fancy special glue that prevents water getting trapped between the layers and damaging the wood.
Ideal for the job at hand.
As well as buying fancier plywood, I used a different treatment for the back of the panels. I painted the front of the panels with the same paint I used on the originals but covered the back and edges of the panels with yacht varnish. As the name suggests, this varnish was originally developed to withstand the rough conditions out at sea. It should, therefore, have no problem holding up against the weather in the south of England.
Possibly the most inconvenient example of my shoddy workmanship on the original panels was the holes that the t-nuts sit in the and holds screw into. I drilled all 360 of these holes with a bog-standard handheld drill on the floor of my in-laws' stable building and almost none of them ended up at anything like the right angle. Rather than charting a course through the 18mm plywood at a perfect 90-degree angle the holes followed a somewhat jauntier path.
This meant that a lot of wood got in the way when the t-nuts were hammered into the back and the bolts were first screwed in from the front to attach the holds. Each time a hole was used for the first time I had to wiggle a screwdriver around in the hole to clear the path for the bolt and it was quite a wrestling match to form a straight and true path for the bolt to follow.
I was keen not to go through the same thing with the new panels.
So, I hopped onto the old Google machine and searched for “drill straight hole tool”. I assumed the device I was searching for existed and had a name but had no idea what it was.
Enter the JML drill guide!
Anyone who has ever been to a Wilko or B & Q has probable seen a stand featuring a bizarre and obscure product by JML. Atop the tower of consumerist delight, you will always find a TV playing a video demonstration of the product’s uses voiced by the most cliched advertising voice you’ve ever heard explaining how the product in question will improve every aspect of your life. JML make vegetable dicers, dog grooming mitts, karaoke machines, and foot massages.
I got this odd collection of metal and plastic for £3 (plus postage) second-hand on Facebook Marketplace and it was money extremely well spent. Not only does it make drilling delightfully straight holes an absolute doddle, it also leaves a very satisfying grid of sawdust circles in its wake.
Once the holes were drilled, I covered the inside of the holes with a coat of varnish in one last bid to make the panels as waterproof as possible. This was a very tedious job and I found myself repeatedly thanking my lucky stars that the new garden only has room to resurrect half the climbing wall, making the tedium last only half as long.
The next stage was hammering the t-nuts into the holes on the back sides of the panels. Some of these are brand new t-nuts I had left over from building the wall the first time round. The others will eventually be removed from the old panels and transplanted into the new ones.
Unsurprisingly, the ones that are currently in the wall are very rusty after a year or so exposed to the great Cumbrian outdoors. It’s probably completely unnecessary but I’d like to remove the rust before whacking them into their new homes.
This desire stems from my never-ending urge to make things shiny and aesthetically pleasing. It’s also significantly influenced by the many videos I have watched on the My Mechanics YouTube channel. In each video, a very talented man in Switzerland takes rusty old items (mostly kitchen utensils and hand tools) and restores them so pristinely that you’d never believe the battered and bedraggled state they were in at the start of the process.
Having watched this niche internet sensation scrub, sandblast, and soak away rust from everything from a knackered looking coffee grinder to clearly kaput ratchet screwdriver, I fancied giving it a go myself.
I sadly don't own a sandblaster (yet!) so I ordered some Evaporust rust remover, tested it out on one of the old t-nuts, and produced possibly the least fascinating Instagram story series ever. The rust removal extravaganza didn’t draw in any new social media followers but, more importantly, it made me extraordinarily happy and removed almost all of the rust from the t-nut.
The climbing wall in its current form is still very much in use so I haven’t removed and de-rusted the t-nuts yet. However, I am anticipating a joyful 24 hours of watching dozens of rusty t-nuts soak in Evaporust and gradually become prettier and more pristine. I’m certain it will be absolutely delightful.
The other thing I will do when taking apart the wall ready for transportation is to repaint the dark blue planks. They’ve held up a lot better than the panels and I’ve repainted the sides of the planks that I could easily reach while the wall was in its whole form. Like replacing the panels, giving the planks a fresh coat of paint before these chunks of wood once again become greater than the sum of their parts just seems like the sensible thing to do.
I sincerely hope the steps I have taken/will soon take will make the wall last longer and fare better. I also hope my new neighbours don’t object to living next door to a power screaming boulderer for the foreseeable future. Only time will tell on both these counts. Rest assured I’ll keep you updated as events unfold!