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March 29, 2012

How to Make a Cat Climbing Tree Without Buying Any New Plastic Materials

 

Several months ago, blogger EcoCatLady left a comment on this blog about how she had avoided buying new plastic when her kitties needed a climbing tree by figuring out how to build one herself with all secondhand materials. She wrote:

My most recent success was that I wanted to get my kids (meaning kids of the feline variety) a scratching/climbing kitty tree for Christmas. I initially was going to buy one, and I found them online pretty cheap… but the more I researched, the more I discovered that anything which cost under $400 was made from plastic PVC pipe. So instead of bringing more plastic crap into the world, I made a kitty tree from scrap lumber I had in my garage and some carpet scraps that I got on FreeCycle. I know in the broad scheme of things it’s not much, but it’s something… and something I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about before reading Beth’s blog.

Being the mom of a couple of fun-deprived kitty cats myself, I asked her to share with us her instructions for building the cat climber and how she made the decisions she did about what materials to use.  Here is the “short” answer. The longer and funnier answer is on her own blog.  My favorite part of the instructions below are reading how Cat analyzes all her choices to make the best one she can.  We might not all come to the same conclusion, but the point is to think about the full life cycle and impact of the materials and products we choose, right?

How I built my Plastic-free Kitty Tree

(well… I suppose technically the carpet might be considered plastic… but those less cheap than I am could spring for wool)

The design of my kitty tree was pretty much dictated by the corner space where it was to go, and by the supplies that I had on hand. I didn’t really come up with a solid “plan” before I began, but I did do a bunch of research as to what was commercially available. I took inspiration from several models including these:

I wanted something that would allow enough playing, climbing and jumping opportunities to satisfy my rambunctious 2 year old boys, but also something that would be accessible for the less agile members of my feline family. I also didn’t want to work that hard, so I melded the design to the pieces of wood that I had on hand rather than the other way around. Stability was also a factor since I knew one certain romper catwould be launching his little body from every conceivable direction.

So here’s what I ended up with as the basic framework. Please excuse the diagram… I have no clue how you really are supposed to make those sorts of drawings…

The first thing I did was to cut all the 1×2 supports for the bottom and for the 4 main shelves. It’s 20 inches from the back 2×2 out to the side 2×4’s, but I had to screw the supports together in right angles so I cut half of them to 21 inches and the other half to 19 inches so that when attached they would end up equal… hard to explain, easier to visualize…

I then attached them every 15 inches to the upright supports:

And then put the shelves in place – the shelves were mostly already cut for me… it helps to have a house that was formerly owned by a woodworker who left a nice stash of scraps in the garage!

The tippy top perch is narrower, so I cut two 15 inch 2×2’s for side supports (use a miter saw or you’ll never get the ends at perfectly right angles, which was sort of essential). The 2×2’s are screwed into the tippy top perch and the shelf below. I made 1×2 supports like I described above to hold them all in place and make it more steady, but they, of course are about 5 inches shorter than the ones for the shelves below.

And a photo at about this stage… (in this photo the top shelf still isn’t screwed in place and there were no 1×2 supports for it yet.)

That was my original plan, but the rectangular shelves seemed to be a bit unstable, so I added metal L-brackets under the far edges to give them more support.

So, I was gonna leave it at that, but I decided that it really looked more like an off kilter bookshelf than a kitty tree, plus it really needed something to make it more climbable. So I added another 2×4 in the front with a perch on top… we call it the “diving board.” It was a tad bit unstable though, so I cut another chunk of 2×4 to fit between it and the shelf above. It was sort of difficult do diagram, but I did my best:

Then came the step of carpeting it and adding some sisal rope for scratching. I got the carpet scraps from FreeCycle, and… like the crazy kitty mom that I am, I actually washed all of the carpet before using it. All of the scraps but one were new, but thankfully they had been sitting in someone’s garage for a few years so they didn’t have any new carpet smell, but I was concerned about flame retardants and whatever else might be on them, so I scrubbed them good with soap (which I’ve read does a better job of removing bromine flame retardants than does detergent) and then hung them on the line outside and gave them a good rinse with the hose. Note: it might have been better to do this part when it was above freezing outside!

I thought about gluing the carpet, and even bought some carpet glue that was advertized as non-toxic and no VOC’s – but I took one whiff of it and nearly passed out… and then when I read the warnings about first aid for accidental inhalation, I promptly took it back to the store. I ended up using a combination of my staple gun, some poultry staples (they’re like U shaped nails that are sharp on both end and you tack them in with a hammer) and the easiest & best for the vertical pieces: 1 inch roofing nails!

The staple gun worked OK for places that wouldn’t have much stress on the carpet… like the underside of the shelves. Still… I had to pull back the pile to expose the backing in order to get the staples to seat properly and securely so they wouldn’t come out and injure a cat. The poultry staples worked wonderfully, but they were hard to get started without smashing a thumb, and I had a difficult time getting them to go in straight. The roofing nails were great for the vertical pieces which needed to be really secure so the carpet wouldn’t come down when the kitties scratched on them… plus I put the nails in the back side so they don’t show.

I may use the hot glue gun to stick down some of the carpet edges if they start to look like they’re gonna fray. String can be deadly to cats if they eat it, so it’s important to be sure there aren’t any frayed bits of carpet string that they could ingest. (I know, I know… glue gun glue is probably plastic too… but anybody got a better idea how to deal with fraying edges should they appear?)

And… a few pieces of advice: Carpet is much easier to cut with a utility knife than with any sort of scissors or shears (cut it from the back side). And, for the geometrically challenged like me, if you want to fold the corners under, just cut straight across the corner and that will leave your edges with the perfect corners for folding under.

I removed the shelves to carpet them, but the vertical pieces were all carpeted (or wound with sisal) in place. It required some gymnastics, but it was easier to do it that way because all of the support pieces needed to be screwed directly into the vertical beams, so it just made more sense to do it that way than to try to figure out where to leave gaps for the supports to attach.

I ended up using about 350 feet of ¼ inch sisal, which cost me $35 (the only money I spent on the whole project after returning the carpet glue). For securing the sisal, I found the best thing was to nail the end in with a poultry staple. I didn’t take any pictures of that part, and since the sucker is now attached to the wall, and the staples are on the back side, I can’t take any now… but this is sort of what it looks like:

And in terms of sisal… make sure you get actual sisal, not manila rope (which is coated with some sort of oil) wind it really tight, and be sure to wear gloves! And when I wound the sisal around the parts where there were irregular edges because of the metal L-brackets, I used some carpet scraps underneath so it wouldn’t slip.

When the whole thing was done, I screwed it into a wall stud so it won’t fall over!

OK! And here’s the end result – acrobat kitty and all!



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18 comments
francishepherd
francishepherd

I am totally into this whole make your own cat tree! I have 2 teenager cats that really need something like this. Right now they depend on me 100% for their entertainment and honestly I think 2 hours a day (one hour in the AM and one hour in the PM) play time is enough but they (the cats) beg to differ. I stand and applaud the recycling choice. Thank you!

Amy
Amy

Hi.  I admire your cat tree design but don't have time to construct one myself.  I liked the cat tree in the middle of the three you took inspiration from (cat-climber-02).  Can you tell me where you found that one?  Thanks, Amy

wire rubber
wire rubber

Thanks for for sharing this amazing creation. I have tried this with my own modification and it looks awesome..

Lara Sumi
Lara Sumi

we need more kitty photos!! ;)

Jen
Jen

We built our plastic-free cat trees by purchasing large, cardboard concrete molds and attaching jute rope to them.

EcoCatLady
EcoCatLady

Jane - Thanks for the info. I actually think there are some hunks of an old cherry tree that have been hanging out in the rafters of the garage since I bought the house 17 years ago... cherry being a hardwood and the fellow who I bought the house from being a woodworker, I think his plan was to use them for some woodworker project. Anyhow, I'm sure they are nicely cured by now, so if I get crazy enough to attempt yet another kitty climbing device, I may see if I can cobble something together with them. And to the rest of y'all... I'm so glad if anything I do might serve as inspiration... I may have failed to mention the cursing, and the part about the smashed thumb though... And Greg - I have actually attempted to make vinegar once... but I put it in the closet and sort of forgot about it for about 6 months... until there was this terrible smell throughout the entire house... When I finally remembered my vinegar experiment it had a layer of mold and furry god-knows-what about 3 inches thick growing on top of it. I believe I had to wear a surgical mask as I took it outside to dump it. So clearly, I don't have anything helpful to say on that topic!

SoopaJane
SoopaJane

EcoCatLady: I talked to my friend, and he said that rather than treating it, he just let it dry out in his shed for a few months. He considered treating it in several ways, but all of them were very chemically and not something they really wanted in their living room. He said they had one bug hatching incident after a few months, but some reactionary bug slaughter took care of it, and they've had no problems since (about 5 years now). Some flakes of bark sometimes get kicked or scratched off on to the floor or furniture, but it's nothing a quick vacuum can't handle. You can read about him putting it up here (he has a really great blog): http://letterfromjoshua.blogspot.com/2010/03/cat-tree.html

Mary Katherine
Mary Katherine

Wow this is awesome! Your kitties are really cute too. :) I'm actually thinking of building a cat tree for my kitties now. @Greg: I don't know if you have a Whole Foods around you, but they sell white vinegar in a glass bottle. It has a plastic cap but its better than a plastic jug. Baking soda is good for cleaning too.

greg
greg

Wow, what a great job, I really admire people who can build things so well. Does anyone know how to make white vinegar I use it to clean with but it comes in a plastic jug, which of course I hate to buy. Thx greg

Nicole
Nicole

I love how easy it is to tell in the last picture which kitty is your acrobat. (: My husband wants a cat tree for our babies, and I love your design. Maybe we will try this at home. Thanks for the inspiration!

EcoCatLady
EcoCatLady

Jane - that is such a fabulous idea... use a real tree! I actually contemplated the idea... even thought about using untreated cedar, but finally decided that I didn't know enough about it to decide if it was a good idea or not. Would there be bugs? What treatments are safe? Is cedar safe... what about VOC's etc, etc, etc... I'd LOVE to hear more about how your friends treated the branches! :) Cat

SoopaJane
SoopaJane

I love this post! I'm very interested in building my own bookshelves and things so they're both to my design and sturdier than the particle board stuff, so I loved reading your process on building this awesome thing. Especially considering that my guy has two cats and we'll soon be moving in together! I have some friends who also have feline kiddies (see what I did there? :-p), and they have the Best. Cat Tree. Ever. During Hurricane Katrina, when loads of trees (among other things...) were knocked down in our neck of the woods, my friends (luckily enough) only lost a couple of tree branches in/near their yard, and really only one full tree. Well, one of the tree branches was still pretty sturdy and had a great shape, so he salvaged it, treated it some kind of way, put a base on it, and put it up in their living room! Boom - cat tree! So. Awesome.

EcoCatLady
EcoCatLady

Hi Everybody, Sorry to be so tardy in responding to your comments. I've been dealing with a dishwasher disaster. The fun just never ends, does it? Tracey - I can't believe you actually read the whole thing and you don't even have cats! Now that's dedication! Marie - The totally LOVE it... especially the rambunct-o-boys. I don't think all of the store-bought ones are plastic, but the ones in my price range certainly were! I also wanted a particular size/shape since that corner was really the only place to put it. Two Eat for Ten - It actually wasn't that hard... and it would have been MUCH easier if I hadn't had the drill set on reverse the entire time! Face to palm... oh well... we live and learn. Hillary - You got a heckuva deal! I don't think you could even purchase the materials to build one for that price! I was totally shocked to see that most of the trees I looked at were made from PVC, and they were all made in China too - maybe it's a new thing, or maybe I just didn't know where to shop for cheap cat furniture! Anyhow, congratulations on your deal! Joan - Ha! You are so generous... "elaborate" is not the word I would have chosen... "haphazard" perhaps? Anyhow, they totally LOVE it. Smoky (the gray one) spends hour upon hour at the tippy top... his favorite thing is to chase his tail up there. And they'll actually jump from the "diving board" clear into the middle of the living room! Definitely the best kitty Christmas present ever!

Joan
Joan

Great job! My husband has made two freestanding cat-stands for 2 sets of cats--all out of scrap wood and carpet, bolts, and nails--no $$. They are very sturdy and the cats have loved them. I like your elaborate design and wish we had room to do something like it. Do your cats enjoy their jungle gym-scratching post?

Hillary
Hillary

I'm surprised at the author's assertion that any under $400 were made of PVC. I've actually never seen a single cat tree made out of plastic. The one we have is made out of wood, with particle board platforms and a corrugated cardboard tube (more durable than it sounds), covered in carpeting and sisal. It was about $125 at our local pet supply place. As the sisal wears out, we replace it with new, bought at Home Depot.

Two Eat For Ten
Two Eat For Ten

Wow, this is awesome!! I have a kitty who would just love a tree like that. My focus these days is more on eating frugally than anything else, but there is no way I'm buying a $400 cat tree. I always wondered how hard it would be to make my own. Yours looks even better than the "real" thing! Way to go.

Marie
Marie

I love your kitties, they look so happy on their new tree. Good job making it yourself....I hope they appreciate all your hard work. My husband and I made one for our new kitties last year and they love it. I hadn't realised that the store bought ones were made of plastic. I just didn't like the poor quality of them and I wanted a particular size.....and of course we're cheap(frugal) all we had to buy was the sisal. Marie

Tracey TieF
Tracey TieF

I have no cats, but still read your post all the way through. Kudos! You made an awesome thing!

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  1. [...] Random Cat Stuff … I found a great post with instructions on how to build your own cat climbing tree. I would love to attempt this because our cats have decimated our little tree. And hampers. And [...]

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