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Mad Science: the Making of Modular Climbing Holds


Submitted by j_ung on 2007-02-13 | Last Modified on 2008-10-27

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 11 | Comments: 33 | Views: 27153

by J. Young


There aren’t many pieces of climbing gear the average climber can make him or herself. Sure, you hear every once in a while about packs, crashpads, chalkbags… none of these are rocket science like cams and biners. And, another piece of DIY climbing gear you hear of from time to time is the hold. Home woodies abound, it seems, and homemade hold techniques run the gamut from drilled river rocks to shaped wood.

Living in rural West Virginia, a home wall probably looms large in my future. This brings up questions: do I want to make my own holds? If so, how?

Well, how do actual hold companies do it? I wanted to see it first hand, so I visited friends who own an up and coming hold company in Charlotte, NC, called Project Holds. Turns out they employ a vastly different process (duh) than most home hold makers.

Hold making is a carnival of mad science. But it’s also in large part artistry and craftsmanship. The process begins with shaping, which is exactly like it sounds. The hold maker puts tool to foam and literally sculpts – by hand – what will eventually be the final shape.

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Foam shapes, sculpted by hand and ready to help make molds.
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A few of Project Holds' suprisingly low-tech tools of the trade.

Step two is to form a mold, into which the hold maker will pour the liquid plastic that will become a hold. I was surprised at how involved this step can become. More so for large holds. Yet more so for large, hollow-backed holds.

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Smaller holds fit all into one large block of soft silicon, whereas a large hold might require a couple layers of molding – a soft inner layer surrounded by a harder outer layer for support. .
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Ever wonder how they get the washer in there?

Once the mold is complete, the real science begins. Hold plastic consists of two parts, a pre-polymer and an activator. The process of mixing begins by adding dye to the pre-polymer. After mixing in the dye, Project Holds adds the activator in a roughly even ratio. The effects of the resulting chemical reaction are apparent almost immediately as the mix begins to heat up. Charles, one of Project Hold’s two owners points out that this can actually be a problem. “The first time we poured a hangboard, we were like, ‘Ooooookaaaayyyy…’ It heated up the whole room.”

Hold makers have only a short window in which to pour the mixture into molds. The hardening process is over surprisingly quickly. If they’re making a hold with more than one color layer, waiting too long to pour the second layer will result in the two not bonding correctly.

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Pre-polymer plus dye equals a bright orange hold in the making.
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Adding a blue layer to an orange. There’s only a short window of opportunity to pour layers. If that window is missed, the two won’t bond correctly.
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It isssss aliiiive! The hardening process for something this size is remarkably quick. This one took approximately twenty minutes before Project Holds was able to remove it from the mold.

All in all, it’s probably – okay… definitely – more involved than I want in a home-wall project. In regard to sharing every last one of their trade secrets for this article Timothy of Project Holds agrees. “Anybody wants to go through everything we do… more power to ‘em!”

J. Young

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33 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

 camerona91
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 2007-02-13
4 out of 5 stars Very interesting article. Nice to know how it is done. Do any companies sell a kit for making your own holds?
 erikuas
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 2007-02-13
es muy bueno el articulo.. espewro pudieras mandarme mas informacion
 robbovius
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 2007-02-14
hey!!! so THAT's where my last white-handled sppon went! give that BACK!
 j_ung
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 2007-02-14
Not that I know of, camerona91, but damn... what a fun idea. I'll relay that on to the Project Hold fellas. Erikuas, I don't have more info to send, but check their website at the link in the article. Rob, no. ;)
 sidepull
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 2007-02-14
one word to describe the hangboard - sweet!!!!!

it's about time somebody made a hangboard with character - the sloper/font action looks sweet.

that said, it's all a bit too pricey for me.
 automated
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 2007-02-15
used to do that stuff for pusher, back in the day.
one word of wisdom: wear protection:

goggles, gloves, chemical-proof coverage over arms, etc...
and don't forget a good mask to filter the fumes and proper ventilation.

very nasty stuff... at least in the old days.
fun as hell to make custom pours for comps though.
 dbrayack
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 2007-02-15
5 out of 5 stars I've lost a good bit of brain cells doing that...every wonder why I have that nervous tick and my expression goes blank every now and then? Yah too much time with the Fiberglass...
 keinangst
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 2007-02-15
Great little article. Makes $5 per hold seem pretty cheap compared to making them yourself....economies of scale at work!
 projectholds
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 2007-02-15
Timothy from Project Here...I'll get you your last white spoon back someday, robbovius, I promise!
 projectholds
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 2007-02-15
hey sidepull, thanks for the props on the longboard! we just recently dropped the price from $149 to $119 - and we're in the process of developing two more hangboards (small and medium), which will obviously be lower priced.
 ddt
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 2007-02-15
5 out of 5 stars Great article Jay... and thanks to the good folks at Projectholds for letting us get a peek behind the scenes.
 overlord
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 2007-02-18
5 out of 5 stars nice article. though i already knew how holds are made :P
 j_ung
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 2007-02-19
Thanks for the compliments, guys. I'll try to get you more like it for various types of climbing gear. Hi Timothy! Glad to see you on the site!
 projectholds
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 2007-02-19
howdy, jay! great job on the article!
 projectholds
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 2007-02-19
glad to help, Daniel!
 sportlead
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 2007-02-21
I would be willing to buy a hangboard that looks like that!
 falingore
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 2007-02-24
Fascinating article and yes, definitely a complicated process. I also would be interested in a hangboard like that. Well met sportlead.
 andrebeast66
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 2007-03-03
5 out of 5 stars hey projectholds, I'm in afganastan on a year long deployment, will you ship to apo? I look at these amazing mountains all day and will never get to climb them.
 climbryn
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 2007-03-07
A company called Alumilite makes a kit for created climbing holds including instructions, the resin is non toxic and can be used in your kitchen, I have also seen the resin availible on ebay.

Here's a link to Alumilite's web page

http://72.29.89.127/index.php?page=show_how&id=54
 climbingelmo
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 2007-03-13
Great write up! But I have an easy recipe. All it is is Silica Sand and Fibreglass resin. (Color if you care..) Its alot of fun! Don't forget the respirator.
CLIMB ON!!
 zenofclimbing
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 2007-03-13
I am a hold desginer for Nicros and I can tell you that shaping is not as easy as this article makes it sound. The technical parts on well made but there is a huge process that goes into the artistry that we aim for @ Nicros and if only you could see the rejects I come up with in my studio!! I look for inspiration in every type of rock and getting it into the foam is no easy job. But us climber folk are cunning...so we make damn good holds! Peace:)
 j_ung
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 2007-03-14
Hi zenofclimbing. I'm loving your Sentinel at my local gym. Good work.
 carlonasisse
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 2007-03-14
i make my own holds using clay molds and hydrocal
 ccowan
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 2007-03-16
5 out of 5 stars Great write-up! I love to see the 'behind-the-scenes' stuff like this!
 janjaf
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 2007-03-19
5 out of 5 stars Truly great article - how about a follow up on that designing/shaping processes? Since some designers are on rc.com it shouldn't be impossible
 j_ung
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 2007-03-19
A follow up would be nice, but it's not going to come from me, I'm afraid. My next one will likely be about pull testing.
 element159
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 2007-04-05
What type of foam do they use to design the holds?
 element159
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 2007-04-05
What type of foam do they use to design the holds?
 shiningpath
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 2007-04-13
These guys use the kindest of materials is my understanding, soy based cheese products or something. Nah, just kidding but the boys at Project Holds look to have a great thing going. Your mix is green friendly, no? That fingerboard is the coolest I've seen, without a doubt. Keep on keepin' on guys!
 dougw
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 2007-04-28
Another good hold company is Woody's Holds. They do custom holds. You sculpt it, they pour it for you. Only local to Charleston, SC but they say they are going to offer it on their website soon.

http://www.woodysholds.com
 epffrox
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 2007-08-02
you made your climbing holds very nice.. me, here in philippines making also climbing holds.. i'm interested to work at your company.. can i apply in your company?you can contact at this e-mail address, jeffrypagasian@yahoo.com
 bigjonnyc
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 2010-04-23
Can you fix the photo links for this article? It's kind of ruined the way it's linked right now.
 R-Bray
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 2012-07-13
I have actually manufactured many holds this same way, and yes, it's a very labor intensive process. We used simple floral foam to shape the holds as it gives a grippy final surface, and is easily sculpted. You can buy it in large, or small blocks. as far as the home made "DIY" climbing holds are concerned, we started out using Floral Foam shaped like a hold we wanted, drill a hole for the bolt, and washer, remove both, cover the mold in silicone caulk. It takes a few days to fully cure the mold, then peel out the foam, place a washer over the silicone shaft, and pour in your Bondo. It will set quick, but will remain soft for a bit, so we would wait a day before removal. Using Silicone caulk, the molds weren't nearly as tough as what the professional mold guys use, but it'll put out a small quantity of holds of the same type.

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