Toes Woes

May 31st, 2013

When last we heard from James, he was fixing his broken bike wheel with carbon fiber. Today’s post is much more organic; a broken toe.

Yes, I made it through an IronMan getting only a blister. I also received two blisters and a wicked sunburn at another triathlon. I got a scrape while wrestling an alligator.

Apparently, my bedroom is more dangerous than all of these. I misjudged the location of a piece of furniture as it related to the location of my feet. Perhaps I misjudged the location of my feet as they related to the furniture. In either case, I kicked the corner, forcing my toe sideways. Wolfgang Pauli’s Exclusion Principle (Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time), was found to be intact. My toe, was left in a lesser state.
Human adults typically have 206 bones in their bodies. I suspect I’ve broken the middle toe on my left foot. Here’s why I think it’s broken:
It hurts!
It’s swollen.
It’s bruised.
Did I mention it hurts?

I suspect if I attempt to move it, it will cause nausea. Frankly, I’m not inclined to move it.

What to do?
Option A: Go to the doctor. This is a GOOD idea! This provides medical advice, and the least amount of physical risk. The downside is, it’s pricey, and I’m pretty sure what will happen. They will take an X-ray, exposing me to radiation. They’ll look at it and say one of two things; It’s broken, or it’s not broken. Either way, they will tape it to the taller toe next to it, and advise me to take it easy.

(NOTE: I am NOT qualified to dispense medical advice. This blog is anecdotal, not prescriptive. I recommend always seeking the advice of medical professionals. That said, here’s what I did:)

Option B: I have tape. I’m reasonably certain it’s broken. Let’s tape it!

Two days later, I took the tape off, and yep, it’s pretty broken. It’s VERY bruised, and it looks like there was some internal bleeding.

Here’s how I taped it:
I start with a strip of stretchy sports tape about as wide as my foot. I gently wrap the broken toe and it’s buddy together. Some people put a gauze pad between them. If this seems more comfortable, I say go for it. Don’t wrap too tightly; there needs to be plenty of blood flow to heal.



Keep an eye out for fevers (which can be a sign of infection; go to the doctor!)
Elevate it to decrease swelling.
Ice on the first day to reduce swelling, then you can apply heat on following days to help speed up the healing.


I skipped the ice and the heat, and helped my godfather move heavy machinery. I wore boots to protect my toes. I HIGHLY recommend thick comfy socks and shoes with a lot of toe room to help.

It’ll be a while before this heals. I may swim, maybe bike a little, but I don’t think I’ll be running. In the event that you break yourself, I hope you’ll seek medical advice, but if that’s not possible, this SHOULD keep your toe from falling off.

If your toe falls off from this advice, put it under your pillow, and the Toe-Fairy should be along shortly to exchange it for a treat.

Just kidding about the Toe-Fairy. Always seek professional advice, not just blogs!

Broken Spoken

May 20th, 2013

My bicycle wheel broke. It made me sad. It made me angry. I HAD to fix it. Or get a new one. Immediately, if not sooner. I CANNOT go about my life knowing that the rear wheel of my mountain bike has a crack in it.

And now I know why. I figured it out.
When I was 20, I was in college, and had a scholarship that, after tuition and books, left me just enough money to buy a Toy. It was the first time in my life I’d had significant discretionary income, so I banked a portion of it (mutual funds) and spent the rest frivolously. One semester, I bought a mountain bike. I realized that I didn’t own a bicycle, and that thought made me sad, so I purchased one. I got it at the bike shop, and it fit me, which Department store bikes did not. I then joined a fundraiser that rode from Orlando to Miami over three days. Not a great idea on a mountain bike, but I was hooked on to wheels.

Then I met Christine. She was the last of last-year’s model. She had been sitting for a year, and was lonely, and a little angry at life. The first time we went out together, she was so smooth, and handled so gracefully, I knew the future needed us to be together. My father helped me purchase her, and we made a pair.

She was not nice to me. We went off-roading a lot, and each time, I would come home with a new wound from where she would bite me. My scars have scars. Then I dressed her up nice. I got her a fancy pair of brakes that matched her paint job, then I bought her a carbon fiber wheel. My parents bought her the other as a birthday gift to me. These wheels were the bomb-diggidy in 1998. There were no wheels cooler than these three-spoke carbon fiber Spin wheels. I took Christine to Utah, and we rode down mountainsides at 38 miles an hour while jumping from rock to rock. She never bit me again (that I didn’t deserve).

Part of the awesomeness of these wheels was their indestructability. They never needed to be trued, and they had a lifetime warranty. Except, the company went out of business. Oh well, they were still indestructible.

Unlike the rest of life. Out in the world, life changed. I moved, taking Christine with me, but didn’t have time to ride. Children came along, making mountain biking a luxury. Christine became the Hauler of the Trailer with our children in it.

When I got a triathlon bike, I think it kind of broke her heart. I completed my triathlon, and then turned my eye on my neglected mountain bike. I washed her carefully, lubed the chain, and noticed the crack in my indestructible wheel. It ran near the rim, completely through the wheel. It shouldn’t have been possible. Those wheels were supposed to be forever.

I was dumbfounded. How could it break? I took care of it. I did what I was supposed to. I upheld my end of the Bargain. It WASN”T FAIR!!!

Just like my parents divorcing. Just like my sister moving away. Just like the selling of our family’s Old Home. It’s not fair. I kept my end of the bargain. Why can’t it just keep keeping on, like it was supposed to in my head. Like I thought it always would.

I priced new wheels; too expensive to replace with an exact duplicate. I could buy a cheapo-wheel, but it wouldn’t match, and then Christine would look silly. Every time I looked at her I would see an example of how life wasn’t fair. No can do.

There are people who professionally repair carbon fiber wheels. They are expensive (and worth it!) but out of my budget. There are toys to buy bills to pay. Expensive repairs are for cars that make money, not for Daddy’s toys.

So what’s a guy to do? Accept defeat? Grow world-weary and bitter because life hands you lemons, and it takes sugar and water to make lemonade? That’s not in me.

I went to Ebay, source of All Things. I bought carbon fiber and epoxy for $40. I spent a weekend in my garage repairing that wheel. I have carbon fiber barbs imbedded in my. They itch. A lot. I glued 3 fingers together. They are still sticky. The wheel will never look as good as it once did, and there is ALWAYS going to be the chance that it will break again.

But it’s not broken now. I fixed it.

Things break in life. Toys. Bones. Promises. Bargains. Dreams.

It’s not fair. What’s more IT NEVER WAS FAIR. Fair is a pleasing fable for children.


No hand controls my destiny but my own, and if I’m unhappy with the situation, then it’s mine to change. It’s a burden. I’d rather whine to the gods that they need to fix things and I want my dream-life back. But they are mockingly silent, and if I want my future, I know I must take it from them.

My wheel was broken, but I shall not be.

The lather contest

May 15th, 2013

The contest rules seemed pretty simple: Send in a picture (or pictures) of your best lather. Winner gets a bunch of cool shaving swag. First, I sent this:


A friend of mine was kind enough to loan me her legs for this operation, and the forum is pretty heavily weighted toward the masculine, so I thought this would be a shoe-in.

Then, they struck back, with creativity. I knew I had to win this; I lathered up a buddy’s legs! I couldn’t let that go unrewarded! So this was entry #2:
I’ve been looking at the pictures, and gentlemen, they have been inspiring. Power tools! Animals! Excellent products and technique. Natural human bristle brushes! Excellent work, and it got me thinking… which can lead to trouble.

I was ruminating about what I could possibly do. How to take it further, and my eyes lit on an old weed trimmer. “Hmmm… no one’s used a gas-powered engine yet, I’ll bet THAT would make a heck of a lather!”

But what to use as a brush? I love natural bristles, and I love the thought of re-purposing an animal into performing a useful task. We don’t have badgers where I live, and that would have been my first choice. I tried using my cat, but as soon as he saw the shaving cream, he disappeared. Once, my wife had asked me to shave her… you know… and at that time, I got confused. The cat has not trusted me since.
While I was in the garage, making my masterpiece FaceWacker 3000 brush, I saw that damn gopher. He lives under my air conditioner unit, and eats my cilantro. Drives me nuts. And then the light came on, and I saw a way to rid myself of a varmint, and apply a beautiful coat of lather.

After eyeballing him (while he ate my Basil plants; Dammit! That was for my dinner!) I made him a harness out of leather, and attached it to the FaceWacker 3000.
Relying on my keen hunting skills from Boy Scouts, I snuck up on him and used my blowgun to shoot a tranquilizer dart at him. I never thought I’d use Wildlife Capture merit badge, but sometimes, I’m surprised.
With Wally (the gopher) safely strapped into his little harness, I applied a bit of cream to him. I use a mixture of Burt’s Bees and Cremo cream, especially when shaving with wild animals. The rich lather smelled nice, and kind of earthy. I figgered when Wally wakes up, he’ll thank me.
I’m no dummy. I use protection. After seeing some of the other experiences, I realized that eye protection and a way to breath might be in order.
Wally must have been in a deep sleep, because it took 3 pulls to get the FaceWacker 3000 started, but it belched some smoke, started whining and spun the gopher.
Woo-hoo! If I was a smurf, and I fell into a barrel full of shaving cream and weasels, I imagine it would feel like this. Eventually, it was over. I was a wreck. The FaceWacker 3000 was destroyed, and Wally was sitting on the edge of his hole, smoking a cigarette and looking smug.
I sat up, staggered inside, and realized I had to finish the job, so between an antique Craftsman, and a Wade & Butcher, my face was shorn.

The lather, gentlemen and ladies, was exquisite.


I don’t anticipate repeating this. The Facewacker is beyond repair, and Wally and I have reached an understanding. My wife appreciates the smooth face, but the questions I have been asked by the local Animal Officers have led me to believe this is not a good way to continue.


The cat still doesn’t trust me.

OMA SteamPunk Ball

May 3rd, 2013

Hi Everyone!

Thanks so much for coming out and making this night a success. I know the weather was terrible, but inside, it was all sunshine and STEAM!

Please feel free to use these images for your own personal purposes. If you’re going to use them for a business purpose, please just let me know. (I like to keep track of these things).

If you enjoyed yourself, please feel free to join more Steampunk fun with the Central Florida Steampunk Association! They can be found at:

Please also check out the ethereal tones of The Cog Is Dead!

The Cog Is Dead

The Cog Is Dead

Also, please support the Orlando Museum of Art, First Thursdays!

First Thursdays at OMA

First Thursdays at OMA


Alex the Scammer

April 3rd, 2013

Nemesis is the greek goddess of Righteous Divine Retribution, usually for the sin of Hubris. When you anger the gods with your uppity-ness, Nemesis is the one that strikes you down.



A47…aaaaaaand Scene.
The End

Tough Mudder 2011

December 5th, 2011

Tough Mudder is aptly named. I think because Crazy Mother-#@&*er was already taken.
The event is billed as “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet”. With the possible exception of the Ironman and the Eco-Challenge, I think this is true.
Matt Greenwald and I did not go into this blind. We read the website, the reviews. We had done Warrior Dash in January, Muddy Buddy, and Matt did Spartan race. We’re both in pretty good shape, jogging regularly. I’ve been steadily training (if not strenuously training) for a while for an Ironman, so I’m no slouch.
In a word- Damn!
Matt got us a hotel room in Brooksville, a little north of Tampa. The hotel was ful of Mudders. You could tell from the look of them. Toned, confident…a little nervous, but with that energy that seasoned veterans of Endurance events have. They had their ritual coffee in the morning, wore their lucky compression tights, and didn’t complain about the 40 degree chill in the air.
We rolled to the event itself, in Dade City at the Little Everglades Ranch. Nice ranch! Too bad a zillion Mudders are here to jack it all up! After a half-mile walk from the car to registration (which we knew we would curse on the way back!) we got signed in and numbered. They write the numbers on your arm, and your forehead. I guess if your head’s not attached to the rest of you, it’s not so urgent to identify you quickly.
The event was very impressive. There were games, Tattoo artists and head-shavers, for those inclined. Lots of Porta-Potties (this is important!) A large stage for a live band, and many food options. Many participants came in costume. Some looked colder than others! We arrived early by about 3 hours, so we had plenty of time to wander. We felt pretty warmed up by the time our corral was called to the starting area. Everyone listened attentively as the Hype-man got us raging to surge into a maelstrom of adrenaline and testosterone-fueled awesomeness, then he had everyone take a knee and administered the Tough Mudder pledge:

I understand that Tough Mudder is not a Race, but a Challenge.
I put teamwork and Camaraderie before my course time
I do not whine- Kids whine.
I help my fellow Mudders complete the course.
I overcome all fears.

At the time, I though to myself, “Who’s got fear?” I would learn, and I would overcome.
The Star Spangled banner was sung, and she hit the high note. Then, it was upon us, and the crowd roared and surged forward through orange smoke, howling to break ranks on the first obstacle.
…which was ¾ of a mile away. A brisk jog brought us to two dumpsters full of orange and blue ice water… with the ice still floating in it. We climbed up one side, slipped in and blasphemed mightily at the frigid liquid. A barb-wire beam made sure we submerged fully in it, and we scrambled to the other side, where the more hypothermic Mudders were having a tough time getting back out again. We heaved them over the rim, and then tried to clamber out ourselves. With shivering, muttered curses, we all had the group thought, “These guys aren’t f#@king around!”
The next obstacle was a lake. The 65 degree water was so much warmer than what we had just endured, we laughed as we sank in, until we realized that we had to go UNDER a series of barrels floating on the surface. Now we were entirely soaked, head to toe. At this point, I realized the cotton T-shirt and BDU-pants were an error; Nylon is the fabric to wear.
We fell in with ‘Shree, a 51 year old military vet, whose teammates had left her. She cursed them energetically and fell in with us. I’m sure we would have continued jogging between obstacles, but Shree set a pace that neither Matt nor I would have. Neither of us was going to be the wuss to ask her to slow down for us. Four events later, she would complete the obstacle first, and leave us in the dust.

There were mud-holes. Yeah, you say, so what? I think they took a telephone-pole auger, and drilled 5-foot deep holes below the surface, because the bottom would drop out at random, and everyone would fall. This continued for some time throughout the course, whenever there was muddy water, you could count on losing your footing to a submerged pit.

Eight-foot walls met us. No problem! We climbed over those, and helped other people over, too. We climbed sandy clifts, covering our mud with a fine layer of grit. A wobbly balance beam gave us a chance to fall off into some cleaner water. Sewer pipes, led down into a pond, then half-submerged pipes led back out. Ever tried to climb up a plastic pipe while your soaked in mud? No traction. I had to inch-worm, using my toes. I hadn’t worked those muscles. They feel it, even now!

As we went below ground, so we would ascend to the sky! We climbed a sketchy ladder to a 15 foot high platform, then we were supposed to jump from this into a pool of water. I had visions of leaping grandly, decrying something inspiring. I had forgotten my fear of heights.
I’m not used to feeling afraid. I’m not a big guy, but I’m tall, and smart, and skilled. I can overcome most of the obstacles in my life, and I’m aware of this. I cannot take away the fear of heights.
Not with a bang, but a whimper, I fell off the platform with all the grace of falling feces, and slogged my way out of the water. I did experience something akin to joy as I realized that that would have to be the scariest thing I faced that day. I dug into my pocket for a mud-soaked package of Shot-bloks (food) and ate the muddy, gritty blocks on the run, thankful for the calories. We jumped haybales, dodged attractive women with tattoos (another dangerous obstacle!) and went deeper in mud that I can fathom (see what I did there?)

Twelve foot walls greeted us. I needed help to get over this. My upper body strength just can’t pull me over. But it can help someone else go over. With help, I made it to the top, and brought a couple other Mudders over, then moved on.
A lake appeared, and along with it, a line of Mudders, carrying heavy logs, walking into the lake, and back out again. I am amazed at the temperature variations that can occur so close together. The lake was cold! Of course, carrying a log does not help footing, and a few missteps threatened to submerge us in a bad way. A job to dry off brought us to a strange house of monkey bars, going up at a 15 degree angle for about 20 feet, then down again. Against all odds, I made it. My simian arms finally had their moment to shine.
Walls to traverse appeared, with a horizontal foot-board ¾” wide and a 2×4 at the top to hang onto. I laughed. Rock climbing skills to the rescue!

A large cargo net (I think King Kong last occupied it, by the smell) was challenging, but not tough. A 30-foot pile of haybales was structurally frightening to climb, and scary to descend, but done with alacrity and trepidation. Then came the nasties.

A 16-foot tall ¼ pipe was a challenge. You had to run as fast and as high as you could, and try to grab the outstretched hands of the people at the top. Some of them were able to reach the top by themselves. If you missed, you slid back down, and tried again. The crowd was frenzied. The finish line was in sight! We cheered each victory, and roared in frustration when victory was postponed. Eventually, it was overcome. At the top, was the battle line. People lay on their bellies and tried to catch the outstretched hands that would rocket up the ramp. I thought this might be a bad idea. I envisioned being pulled back down the ramp. On guy almost went over, but two of us grabbed his legs, and pulled him and his catch back to the top.

Then only one thing left: Electro-shock therapy. How much could one car battery hurt? The answer is: A LOT! They hit you with a water truck on the way into a pergola full of dangling strings. Some of them are electrified. I’ve played with Tesla coils and VanDerGraff generators. I’ve been zapped by 110 volt current before. This was painful and debilitating. I think I look like I’m smiling at the end of it, but the truth is, it might just be a rictus snarl from the spasming torment.
Then it was done! What trophy did we get? What medal was heaped upon us? What laurel decorated our brow? An orange sweat-band, with the words “Tough Mudder” written on it. That’s how it is at the Mudder.
Then they give you a Dos Equis beer, which was a wonderful reward. Matt and I hoisted them high, and toasted ourselves; the Toughest Mudders occupying that space.
Were we slow? Hell yeah! Did we cry? Naw, that ain’t me. Did we finish? Like a BOSS!
I’ve got to say that the camaraderie at this event was just as epic as the obstacles. I was as sore from this as from ½ Ironman. I would almost rate this as a similar difficulty. It far surpasses a ½ marathon. I couldn’t have done it without Matt. I’m a Tough Mudder on my own, but with my teammates, we’re unstoppable. Matt’s a hell of a Tough Mudder, too.

A shower, a massage, a beer and a pizza brought me back to life. Seeing the family again brought me back to reality. Here at the house, I’m the Dad and Hubby. Part repairman, part jungle gym. But deep down, I know when I need to be, I am one Tough Mudder.

Dear Oakley Sunglasses…

November 18th, 2011

Dear Oakley Sunglasses,
When I first bought my first pair of “nice” sunglasses, I knew I wanted Oakleys. Your products were advertised as withstanding abuse, and I loved my1990s Frogskins. Your excellent customer service earned my business ever since. My glasses got progressively more expensive, but I could justify it because of the excellent reputation and service.
Until these X-Metal XXs. I purchased these, and resolved to take excellent care of them. If they weren’t on my head, they were in a protected case, and to this day, the lenses are flawless. Eventually, the silly gaskets inside the frames popped out, and when I asked to have them put back in, I was informed that I could pay $65 to have them “serviced”. I grumbled, and since they didn’t need much work, I negotiated a discounted rate. Barely a year later, I open the case to pull them out and discover that the bolt holding the frame together has disappeared. When I call to order a replacement, I’m told that since the frame is discontinued, Oakley can’t just mail me a bolt, but if I want to pay $65 to have them “serviced, they would put a new one in. Sixty-five dollars for a bolt? Oakley, you can go “service” yourself!! I’m off to go buy some Ray Ban or Gargoyle shades. They don’t require nearly as frequent servicing as your delicate optics, and this might prove more suited t my lifestyle. I loved your products, but I miss your customer service focus even more.

Disgruntled and disillusioned,


P.S. I’ve put this on my social media outlets, to educate and influence my comrades. In fairness, I will also post any response you choose to make.

Three days later:
I just got a phone call from Juan at Oakley Customer service. He reviewed my comments and my records, and Oakley has graciously offered to send me the screw. They have cautioned against over-tightening and I have accepted any liability for damage to the frames. Most importantly, they handled my complaint graciously and courteously. I wish I had not needed to resort to extra-special measures to be heard, but ultimately, my glasses (which I love) will be restored, along with my faith in Oakley’s care for their customers. I guess I just needed to show them how much my Oakleys meant to me. Which is good, because I looked around for a pair of new shades, and the only things that I really liked were Frogskins. Thank you, Juan, and Oakley!

Pumpkins, November 1st

November 1st, 2011

My sister was a very empathetic girl. She felt so sad about the pumpkins being thrown out after Halloween, that we told her this story, about the Magical Big Green Truck. The Big Green Truck took all the pumpkins to the Pumpkin Party, so after Halloween was done, then all the pumpkins got to play with each other, rather than just having to sit on the porch. With that in mind, I offer the following:

Late in the year when the air turns cool
The kids have all gone back to school
The farm’s asleep in autumn dew
The Pumpkin King goes dancing

Where he comes from no one knows
All summer he sits and sits and grows
Until he’s done; then away he goes!
To call his friends to duty

“Wake up you silly lazy gourds!”
He calls them forth, the pumpkin horde
And piles them all in a beat-up Ford
To go for a little ride

They come in two’s and three’s and four’s
And sit there quietly at your doors
Then sit and sit and sit some more
Waiting for the kids

Then according to time and place
They metamorphose at a furious pace
Gaining a grimly grinning face
For the Hallow’s promenade

But what do they do when the day is done?
They get kind of saggy and wilt in the sun?
Where do they go to have some fun?
They go for a ride again

Before their saggy bottoms are stuck
When it seems like they are void of luck
He calls them forth on the big green truck!
To ride to the Pumpkin party!

As they dance at the pumpkin dancing grounds
Their saggy shapes turn firm and round
They sing with gourdy pumpkin sounds
The Pumpkin Party dance!

Then one by one they quietly creep
Back to the fields, to silently sleep
While winter snows bundle them soft and deep
To wait for the Pumpkin King’s call.

In Memorium Mousie

October 20th, 2011

There’s a Buddhist story about a monk who had a beautiful antique vase. A friend came to visit, with a young child, and sure enough, the vase was shattered. It was irreplaceable, and the friend was mortified. The monk was serene about the entire experience, saying he appreciated the vase as though it were already broken. The moral is to live life fully appreciating things as they are, for they will not remain so forever. The lesson is, children will destroy your prized possessions.
My kids discovered two little stuffed mousies I owned, Lewis and Clark. These were my traveling buddies. They were small, cloth, sand filled mousies, and they’ve traveled the world several times. They climbed Mt Fuji with me. The explored the Great Pyramid of Giza, and they’ve visited the quaint patisseries Paris is known for. I got tired of taking my picture in front of landmarks, so they stood in for me, gaily making an appearance instead of my young adult mug. It made me smile to watch my two-year-old daughter have conversations with them. I envisioned her exploring the world and the mousies showing her the sites they knew so well. Then one vanished. Morgan couldn’t say where it went, and we searched all over for it. Days passed. Weeks. Months. Her vocabulary improved. All the while, I kept hoping it would turn up. Tonight she told me she put the mousie in the big trash can, because it had germs. This happened months ago.
I feel so sad. I have lost something of sentimental value that cannot be replaced.(They came from a small shop in San Fran, 20 years ago). Blame is useless. I could have forbidden her from playing with them. What kind of parent would THAT make me? I could have checked the trash. Every trash can, every time. I should have done that. I think of his last adventure, and it makes me sad I wasn’t there for him, when he was always there for me.
And then I start trying to be practical. I can buy another toy. This is how the Velveteen Rabbit became real. I can MAKE a mousie, for crying out loud. It doesn’t stop me from being sad that Clark is all alone now.
I am extremely grateful for the things I have, and I appreciate my wonderful, imaginative children, who teach me so much about letting go, even (especially!) When I don’t want to learn.

There is another Buddhist story, of a young monk, well loved by everyone in the temple, who died abruptly, unexpectedly. At his funeral, the other novice monks were taken aback to see the Master weeping openly. “Master,” they said “Are we not to be happy for this man, who has moved on from this world of suffering, and will surely be rewarded? This is a good thing!”
“Yes, yes, yes,” said the Master. “But when else do I have occasion to cry?”

Tomorrow, I shall begin construction of new mousies; one for me, and one for each of the kids. Tonight, I’m thinking about Lewis, who has gone on to adventures unknown.

The Wall

October 8th, 2011

So my son needs a climbing wall. Of course he needs a climbing wall; the kid climbs the walls even without one, and he ought to have a special place to do it.

When our house was being constructed, we had the foresight/insanity to ask to ask the construction foreman to beef up the studs in the landing area upstairs. He was curious and asked why, so we told him we were thinking of putting in a rock climbing wall. He liked the idea, and added extra 2×4s so we could mount the wall to the studs. It’s been almost a year since we moved in, and it’s time to use those extra studs.

Of course I did research! Atomic (sp?) Climbing holds has a great instructional about how to build a wall. I purchased some climbing holds (the little things you grip onto) from Rocky Mountain Climbing Holds. They are en route now, hopefully to arrive soon. I drew designs, made some plans, and headed to home depot.

Plywood (3/4 inch thick) is the industry standard for climbing walls. Many people texture and paint it, but I didn’t like the look of that. I wanted my kids to be able to see wood when they play. (Yeah, I know, they could go climb a tree like REAL kids do, but it’s my world in here and I trick it out to my own manias!) I wanted them to appreciate natural beauty, and most of their toys are plastic, so I opted to stain and varnish the plywood, rather than paint it. You need to seal it so the kids don’t get splinters.

If you’re going to see the wood, it needs to be worth seeing. I had never purchased the NICE plywood before. It’s pretty! And pricey, too. A 4 x 8 sheet of ¾” oak plywood costs about $45. And it’s worth it! It was sanded smooth on one side, and it’s really pretty. I bought two. I also got a Minwax product that was stain and polyurethane sealer in one product (saves time?), some 3” wood screws 8-8’ 2×4s, and a couple 1×2s, just for good measure.

The plywood is extremely heavy and unwieldy. I got both sheets into the minivan, but it was ugly, and the wood and I rode home with the rear door open.

When I got home, I cut two of the 2×4s in half to match the width of the plywood. Then, I located the superstuds built into the wall. I marked them with masking tape, and screwed one of the short 2×4s onto the wall, into the studs, with a 2×4’s width of spacing from the ceiling. We might install some monkey bars above the wall later.
That done, I did the same thing on the adjoining wall, so there will be a climbing corner with 2 climbing walls.

I went downstairs and cut the height of the plywood from 96” to 92”. I used a saw guide and a circular saw with a plywood blade. I think the blade must be getting dull. The plywood is so dense (compared to pine) that I had to make the cut in several passes, cutting halfway through the first time, and then cutting the rest of the way on the next pass. It took some doing to line up the cuts the same, even with the guide clamped to the board. I had intended to cut both boards at once, but that popped the fuse on the extension cord.

As always, I heartily recommend safety goggles, gloves and hearing protection. These things will annoy you, and might just save you from an unpleasant experience!

After trimming the plywood to size, I used a router with ½” roundover bit to round off the edges on the good side. A sharp bit here made quick work and smooth cuts. I used my sander (not the belt sander, the wiggley one) to make the edges nice and smooth. One of the nice things about fancy plywood is they fill in the voids, so the edges look nice, too and aren’t full of splinters. Be sure not to sweat on the plywood, or it will leave a mark when you stain it!

After this was done for both pieces of ply, I realized I’d covered my neighbor’s car in sawdust. Oops! Out comes the air hose. He’ll never know!

Sawdust is gone from the car and all the boards, so it’s time to stain and varnish. I followed the instructions, and sure enough, it started to rain slightly just as I finished the second coat on the first board. It’s a sign that it’s time to quit for the evening.

The next day, it was looking a little chancy with the weather, so I worked on the indoor parts in the morning, fleshing out the furring strips (no, really- that’s what they’re called!). It’s the frame between the plywood and the wall. Why does one need this? Good question! Apparently, the bolts used to hold the climbing grips in place will go all the way through the board and the T-nut, and need room to come out the back of the board. The wall itself needs a bit of room behind it for the bolts to stick through. 2×4s make excellent furring strips and are pretty inexpensive and easy to work. I purchased eight, 8-foot 2×4s, and it worked out perfectly. You’ll see from the pictures. I cut another one in half, and screwed it, horizontally, to the wall down low, just above the floor trim. Then, I measured three, 2×4s to fit vertically between these and the ones I had screwed up near the ceiling. Make sure these are secure! These hold the board to the studs, and should be rock solid, with screws every 10 inches or so. I duplicated this on the adjacent wall. I found a 12v screw gun is not strong enough to drive 3” deck screws into the wood. Use a stronger drill, drill pilot holes if need be, and if the screw starts to strip out, don’t force it; get a new one before it breaks halfway in. That didn’t happen this time, but half a screw poking out of smooth wood is a definite cause of profanity and tool abuse.

I wrestled the stained and varnished board back on the sawhorses, and measured and marked it for 7/16” holes for the T-nuts to go in. I figured it would be much easier to make a bunch of holes now, and be able to change the climbing holds around than it would to try and do it again later. Time will tell. I used a heavy-duty drill and it made very nice holes in the board, with minimum tear-out. Use sharp bits! Measure well and you don’t stress too much if it’s not down to the millimeter. The grips themselves will cover the holes.

Time to haul the Wall upstairs. Did I mention this was upstairs? Fortunately, my wife is incredibly strong in addition to being beautiful and talented. We He-Man’d the Beaste around a corner and up the stairs. Ugh! Glad I won’t be doing THAT too often! Have a plan how you are going to get the LARGE piece of wood around any obstacles, and it will go smoother. As it was, we put a scuff on the ceiling. Oh well.
Once upstairs, we laid it, good side down, on the carpet. I found at a local store called Fastenal, the correct size T-nuts. These will be hammered into the back of the plywood, and provide metal-on-metal contact for the climbing grip bolts, preventing them from pulling out through the wood. Some climbing grips use screws to screw them to the wood. This, too is a viable option, and avoids having to drill a zillion holes in the board (66, but who’s counting?)

The T-nuts hammered in, I lined to tops of the boards to the level 2×4s near the ceiling, and screwed in a deck screw to stabilize it. The end that I had cut went on the bottom, where the uneven cuts won’t be noticed. I think I used 2” deck screws. I had a bunch of them lying around. I did drill pilot holes, just to avoid tearing. I ended up using one drill to drill the holes, and another one to screw the screws in. The plywood is EXTREMELY tough, and the cordless just wasn’t working. Again, if the screw starts to strip, remove it and use a different one. I put screws about every 10” or so. I decided not to go overboard measuring exactly the same distance, to keep it looking a little more organic. I do not regret this decision, and if I start to notice the differences and they drive me nuts, I’ll need to just relax a bit more. All we’re waiting on is the climbing holds.

Let’s talk about safety! Originally, I thought that anti-fatigue matting, covered by gym mats would work. After feeling the gym mats, I realized this wasn’t NEARLY enough. I found some “crash pads” online for about $125. These were 8-10” thick foam and about 4×5’. Shipping rates were pretty expensive, too, because of the size. I found Superior Upholstery online. They specialize in upholstering dental equipment. For $40, they gave me a car load of their scrap foam. If you buy shredded foam online, expect to pay about $1/lb, and then shipping on top of that. I think I got about 50lbs of scrap 4” thick foam. I planned on needing about 25 cubic feet of foam (length x width x height of the pad) and I think I ended up with about 40 cubic feet.foam
Lori and I bought 4.5 yards of naugahyde/pleather (fake leather) from Jo-Ann at half price, some mesh and upholstery thread. We headed home to sew!
We made a box, about 12” thick by 4 feet by 5 feet. Two of the sides are mesh. This lets the air escape faster, so when someone lands on the pad, it will be softer and absorb the impact, rather than bouncing them like a balloon. While Lori (the magnificent seamstress) sewed, I cut.
Using a breadknife (don’t tell Lori!), I cut the foam into 3”x3”x4” blocks. I filled a 30 gallon trash bin and three plastic bins full. This ended up filling half of the pad. I filled the trash bin two more times, and that did a pretty good job filling it up. I would also like to note that I wore a chainmaille glove on my left hand to keep from cutting the heck out of it with the breadknife. It felt really easy to do, as I spent about 3 hours cutting. We also used heavy-duty sewing scissors, and these worked pretty well, too.
Fluffed out, the pad is about 4 feet by 5 feet by 14” thick, and a large adult can fall on it full force and not be injured. I wouldn’t want to jump off a roof onto it, but it will serve its purpose. I still have foam left over, so now we’re figuring else what else we need to upholster!
We dragged it upstairs and took turns falling on it like little kids.
All we’re waiting on is these climbing holds. There are a million places to get these. Home depot sells them for about $25 for 5. They’re brightly colored and plastic and designed for kids. I found a company online called Rocky Mountain Climbing Holds that sells rock-colored holds for $40 for 40, including the bolts and T-nuts. I ordered them, and two weeks later, a big box of them arrived.
The holds look and feel like natural rock, and are made from 70% recycled materials. I think I was expecting recycled plastic materials. These have a stone-like texture and feel like real rocks. I like ‘em!holds2
There are other sites that tell you how you can make your own climbing holds for about $0.50 each. It looks pretty labor-intensive. I think for the price difference, and the relatively small number I’ll need, buying it better than making.

I used a ball-end allen socket attached to the cordless drill to drive the bolts through the climbing hold, through the wood, and into the T-nut on the other side. Several times, the T-nut wouldn’t accept the bolt, and once, it popped out of the back of the board with the bolt still stuck in it. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that. I think I’ll just end up cutting the bolt head off and letting the rest fall behind the wall.
Forty holds adequately covered two 4×8’ sheets of plywood. I spaced them randomly around the boards, and tried to think of several “routes” up to boards. I used a ratchet to tighten the bolts until the holds feel secure and tested each of them to make sure they hold my weight and wouldn’t turn.

Testing the holds

Testing the holds

Time for a kid! Morgan is two, and she made it a little of the way up on her own. She is new to climbing (I think this is her first time on a rock wall), so when she made it to the top, even assisted, I was pretty pleased. Rowan gets home in a couple hours, so we’ll see how an almost-six-year old does in it.testingmorgan