How to Paint a Climbing Wall
There are two main categories that climbing wall panels fit into. There are the commercial panels you see in commercial climbing gyms, and then there are the DIY panels. This How-To is meant for the DIYer.
Commercial climbing wall panels are painted with expensive epoxy paints. It cures very hard, and many of the vendors are coating each panel up to 6 times. You get the best results when you do multiple thin layers like they are doing. So buying panels from most of these vendors gets you are a very durable product. They are a challenge to buy in turn-around time and shipping and are quite expensive for the home climbing wall.
Since most of us don't live in La La Land, where money grows on trees, the following is the most durable, cost-effective way to paint a climbing wall panel. This article assumes local options that you have near your homes, such as Home Depot and Lowes hardware stores.
To Texture or Not to Texture
If you have the option to texture paint your panels, we recommend you do so. The main reason is that it discourages a climbing hold from spinning.
If you can find paint that you like that also offers texture in it, great! It's already done for you. Floor paint is the best option as it is formulated to handle foot traffic or, in our case, climbing shoes. If you use wall paint, a flat or satin sheen is best.
For texture, we do not recommend using sand. As soon as you mix it into your paint, it settles to the bottom of your tray. It isn't easy to get an even texture. The best additives are made out of lightweight products like crushed walnut shells and glass microspheres. Here you can find Anti-Skid Floor Additives.
Now let's dive into the painting. But wait! You might have the question, do I drill out my t-nuts before this? The answer is no. We want a smooth flat surface to paint as well, as we want our t-nuts to be free of anything, especially paint.
Step #1: Prime
While the paint is supposed to deliver color, the primer’s job is to best prepare the surface for painting. Priming helps solve a wide range of problems, including a very porous surface (like new plywood), stains, unwanted odors, uneven surfaces, texture differences, and adhesion problems (paint having difficulty sticking to the surface) are the most common issues.
If not properly sealed, porous surfaces like plywood can soak up a lot of paint, costing you valuable time, money — and paint.
Step #2 Paint with texture (100% Acrylic)
Wall texture is a water-based paint with some inert material added to it. Sand, rubber, dicaperl (microbeads), and several others are all used. The heavier the material, the quicker it will settle in your paint tray. Sand is the heaviest and settles within minutes, and Shark grip is the lightest, which stays mixed reasonably well in the paint try. There will be some exceptions to this, and many of the other products on the market are worthy; however, for the do-it-yourselfer, I would go for the Home Depot or Lowes route. They carry a product called Shark Grip. They can mix it into any color of paint. Some brands already have it in it. All the floor paint finds a product called Floortex. All of these products are tennis courts or anti-skid paint. When rolling these paints out, it is helpful to have a painting helper who spreads out the grit with a 4-inch brush in various directions. Otherwise, you will see roller marks on the panel.
Here you can find Anti-Skid Floor Additives.
How to paint your climbing wall panel
Once your panel is clean, prepped, and primed, apply the Porch & Patio Floor Paint. Stir the paint before applying. Apply a thin, even coat using a 3/8" nap roller, nylon-polyester brush, or airless sprayer.
TIP: The spread rate will vary depending on the porosity and texture of the surface. Use the appropriate spread rate per gallon and use when air and surface temperatures are between 50-90 degrees F.
Do not thin paint if using a roller and brush,
TIP: If you are using more than one can, you can ensure color uniformity by intermixing all cans.
Let the coating dry. The layer will dry to touch in 1 hour, but allow at least 4-6 hours before your second and third coats. Professionally painted climbing wall panels are sprayed with up to 6 coats to get texture uniformity.
TIP: Certain colors may need more than one coat to achieve complete hide and coverage.
Make sure that the surface cures before use. Allow 72 hours for everyday use.
TIP: Premature heavy traffic will cause paint failure, which will require spot re-coating.
Step #3 Seal with Satin Varathane Floor Finish Water-Based
Almost every paint that is used for climbing walls will remain tacky for days, even weeks. The Epoxy paint that many commercial gyms and panels use is the exception. That's bad because the pressure of the climbing hold to the wall can make the hold stick. When we say "stick," we really mean adhere. To avoid this problem, use Varathane Clear Satin Water-Based Floor Polyurethane High Traffic Formula.
To apply, stir thoroughly before and during use. To prevent bubbles in the finish, DO NOT SHAKE. Apply using a good quality, synthetic bristle brush or a low-nap roller. Allow the finish to dry a minimum of 2 hours and then re-coat.
Varathane recommends a minimum of 3 coats of water-based polyurethane as it coats in thinner but harder layers than an oil-based poly. Water-based polyurethane dries very quickly, and up to 4 coats can be applied in one day.
Step #4 Expert Tips For Outdoor Climbing Wall Panels
Wood absorbs water. So on any outdoor climbing wall, keeping rain and snow off of it is best. If you can build a roof over the climbing wall, this is your best option. And yes, we get it; who has money to build a roof on top of an already expensive climbing wall?
These tips are for the exposed panel.
1. Prime front, back, and sides of the panel. Painting all sides helps too.
2. Once you have painted all the panels and sealed them with a floor finish, it's time to drill out the t-nuts. Once all of your t-nut holes are drilled, you can take the time to seal all the holes with the floor finish. We roll the floor finish sealer and then take a small brush and seal the holes.