Sunday, March 04, 2012

How to Build a Cat Tree

**I originally posted this article over at PitelSpot in Feb '09 as a guest.  But I am reposting it here so that I can answer any questions people may have.  I have also edited a little.**

While in Oklahoma, Oscar had a small cat tree where he spent a large portion of his time. So much time in fact, that the structural integrity was destroyed by his constant jumping, bouncing, and swinging.
Our first attempt to replace the cat tree with a hardier, taller model proved to be out of our price range, with models starting at $250 going upwards of $500. So Nathan made me a deal. He would build a cat tree/condo when he got his workshop up and running and was able to buy a table saw. So 2 ½ years later, here’s the process:
The Design:
I started by browsing through websites that sell cat trees and condos. From these designs, we came up with several key elements that the tree should include:
  1. Height. An interior decorator had recently helped us finish off our family room. On the left side of the mantle she had place a 7 foot high silk plant. To maintain balance in the room, we decided to build a 7 foot cat tree on the right side of the mantle.  This created a triangle affect on the wall.  
  2. Tail Chasing. Oscar loves to chase his own tail by hanging off ledges. So several ledges needed to be included.
  3. Hiding. Like most cats, Oscar likes to fit into small places, where he feels safe and warm. When he is a little unsure of things, he likes to climb to a spot as high as possible, allowing him to keep an eye on things. Right now, that spot is the cabinets above the fridge. We would like to go back to that point of blissful ignorance when he doesn’t walk around on the kitchen counters.

After several trips to Menards for ideas, we came up with the following list of materials:
  • 12 inch concrete form
  • 3 2 foot x 6 foot 3/4inch plywood boards
  • 16 ½ feet of junk 2x4s (already had from previous homeowners)
  • 16 ½ feet of 8 inch PVC pipes
  • 4 packages of sisal rope
  • 60 feet of carpet (from remnant carpet section)
  • 5 Long lag bolts (with end cut off to make double ended screws)
  • 6 Lag bolts with large torx head
  • 1 foot of fabric for cat hammock
  • Lots of glue sticks and staples

The Build:
Nathan did most of this section.
  1. Columns: Nathan cut the PVC pipe into 4 sizes: 3 – 2 feet, 2 – 2.5 feet, 1 – 3.5 feet, 2 – 1 foot. He then fitted the 2×4 pieces inside the PVC pipes and screwed them in. Then he drilled holes for the bolts. I wrapped each pole with either carpet or sisal rope which was attached with high temperature glue.

2. Platforms: Nathan cut the platforms into several shapes. Base platform – 2 ftx2 ft. Level 1 – 2 ft x 2 ft with one corner cut off. Level 2 and Level 3 – 2 ft x 1 ft. Level 4 – 1 ft x 1ft. Level 4 was originally going to be a concrete form cut in half and placed on the side like a half moon shape but due to stability issues this top level was transformed into a platform. Nathan predrilled holes into the boards.

3. Concrete form: Nathan used a protractor to trace a circle on the outside of the form. He also traced and cut two more circles out of wood to wedge into the top and bottom of the form. The inside floor and the outside of the form were covered in carpet.

Finished Product:
Oscar LOVES his new cat tree. He spends a great deal of time chasing his tail on the ledges. He sleeps inside the concrete form and play with the toys hanging off the ledges.
ETA: It is now 3 years later and the cat tree is holding up well.   Oscar now has a buddy (Calvin Coolidge) and the  two of them can often be found batting at each other in play on the cat tree.  My son also likes to hide things in the little cubby hole.


Anonymous said...

On the parts list you have:
16 ½ feet of 8 inch PVC pipes

Are you sure those are 8 inch PVC pipes? They look much thinner (more like 3 or 4 inch PVC)... or your cat is huge ;o)


Anonymous said...

Roughly how much did this cost you?

Andrea Wilson said...

Do you have an estimate of cost & time?

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Anonymous said...

This is a great DIY project. I agree that the pipes are probably not 8". I would guess 4" as you will notice that each 2x4 has been chamfered to make it more rounded (octagonal) so it will fit into the pipes.

Anonymous said...

I see you used the Mennard's concrete form, we picked one up but my husband thought it wouldn't be thick enough to support the carpet etc........ did you have issues with this?

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Anonymous said...

Those really don’t look like 8” PVC pipes. Are they snug around the 2 x 4s? I’m wondering if the pipes move when the cats are climbing them.

Dennis Key said...

This is a work in progress for me. I am using 3/4" waferboard left over from a scaphold I built for puttin a Future Steel building together-then dismantled. I get a lot of lumber from my local used materials yard. I am using 4" PVC for the lower section then going to 3" for the upper part. I have two well-used kitty condos to incorporate in the build. The larger will go on the bottim with 1 2" clearance above it and the smaller on the second level with the same clearance. The upper two levels will be pretty much to the plan given.

Unknown said...

How much did all the materials cost roughly?

Unknown said...

How much did all the materials cost roughly?

Anonymous said...

Just finished mine. I used 2" PVC pipe with chamfered 2X2 inside (2X4 ripped in half). While that worked, it would probably be more stable with 3" pipe. I used 3/8 sisal rope and wrapped the front two bottom pipes completely (95' total rope).
Total cost, around $65 (my carpet was free from work).

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Dione Greywolfe said...

This is still a work in progress. I put the 2nd level at 42" to accommodate an existing 31" condo and the 3rd level is 35" above the 2nd level to accommodate a smaller existing condo. The 4th level is 12" above the 3rd making the total height (including platform thickness) 91 1/2". That leaves about 7" clearance to the ceiling so there won't be a 5th level.

Unknown said...

Trust me....DON'T !! I have above average handyman skills and tools. You're NEVER going to get the carpet to stick to the PVC. Carpet cement, liquid nails, double-sided carpet tape? Nope, Nope, and matter how many clamps you have. If you're hell-bent on forging ahead......try screwing the carpet to the pvc...use hundreds to avoid gaps and waves. And by the's not 8" pvc. I had lots of carpet scraps, so I'm only out the cost of the carpet cement, carpet tape and PVC.

Seth S. Smith said...

Hey, I had multiple cats. Can you suggest me a readymade cat tree for multiple cats?

Shirley B.Rodriguez said...

thanks for sharing, such a helpful post for those who loved to cats.

voyager said...

I overhaul cat trees for a local cat rescue. From the damage I found on them I now always seal the wood/cardboard tubes with a water based wood sealant, two coats. The tree base platform is usually carpeted, takes serious abuse. I remove the carpet, stain and seal the wood for easy care, less future maintenance.

I also use sisal rope on vertical posts cats scratch. A 1,200' box of 3/8" sisal rope costs about $120 on Amazon. Bottom 6-8" of the verticals is carpeted, saving rope.

All wood screws and bolts have a large washer under the head. This prevents the screw head from being pulled through the plywood/particle board/wafer board. Provides a better clamping action.

As some rescue trees are used in covered outdoor catteries, I buy the cheapest composite/plastic wood decking I can, cut it into 3/4" strips, screw them to the base platform. This prevents moisture from contacting the base wood piece, protects the sealant from being abraded away.

All about making the trees last as long as possible until the next overhaul.

Unknown said...

I used hot glue gun with gorilla glue sticks and carpet stuck on just fine and holding up many months later