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 deterge