"I love my cats because I love my home, and little by little they become its visible soul." Jean Couteau

Sunday, July 7, 2013

a present for dodger

At the top of the stairs on our main level, we have this weird little nook. We often stick boxes there when we get packages and are too lazy to put things away. When we do that, our cat, Dodger, likes to sit on them. So I decided to make him a little cat tree/perch to go there. Also, I decided to make it tall enough that Oliver can't jump up on it. Since he's super small, he can't jump as high as Dodger, so this will give Dodger one spot that's all his where his little brother can't come nudge him out.

For Christmas, my dad built us a cat tree for our living room. I thought they would like to have a cat tree there, but we didn't want a big carpeted monstrosity that is your standard cat tree or pay thousands of dollars for a fancy, non-ugly cat tree. So we found a few that we liked online (in the non-ugly, thousands of dollars or not available in the U.S.A. category) and asked my dad if he could make something like them. He said sure and quoted us out a couple hundred dollars for materials, which was totally acceptable to us given the alternatives. The one he modeled it after is only available in Japan and quite a bit smaller (I guess Japanese cats are smaller than American cats). Anyway, this is what we ended up with, and it's awesome:

So when I decided to make my mini tree, I wanted it to look similar to the big tree my dad had made. I used the dadand blog to get an idea of the basic materials (minus the sisal rope and carpet), mainly 2x4s, 2-inch wood screws, and plywood. I already had some plywood left over from other projects, and it was enough, so that was a win. I got an 8-ft 2x4, which I cut into four 24-in posts. 

I measured the weird nook space and cut my plywood. After I cut the first piece, I took it upstairs to test it out, to make sure I got it right. It fit perfectly at the 24-in height, but not at the base, as I hadn't taken into account the extra wall depth due to the baseboard. Luckily, I could easily adjust the piece I had to make it fit correctly. I brought up the 2x4 posts and stood them all up to make sure it all fit and looked good.

After cutting the plywood and 2x4, I primed all the pieces using some Kilz Original that I had left over from other projects. The paint I had gotten (Behr Interior Semi-gloss in Tilled Soil to match the big cat tree) claims to be self-priming, but I never really believe that. However, I didn't worry about doing multiple coats of primer, which was good since I had just enough for one coat of everything.

Next I had to get some moulding for the edges of the perches. I had looked when I had been at Home Depot getting the 2x4, but hadn't seen anything that looked like the picture on my phone of the big cat tree. So I called my dad, who said he had used door stop moulding. I looked it up online and found some that looked similar, so back to Home Depot I went. I picked one that I thought looked close and got 14 feet since I had measured that I would need 12 feet, and I wanted to have some extra for when we screwed up cutting it. Then I headed over to my friend's house to borrow his miter saw and nail gun. I didn't take any pictures, but it was an adventure. 

First, when we held up the moulding to the plywood, the moulding seemed a little too tall. I hadn't paid much attention to size, just sort of guessing at what looked right, and it turned out I had gotten 1 1/-in moulding, while the plywood was a 1/2-in thick, and we figured the carpet I'd be putting in would be about a 1/2-in thick also. This left the moulding 1/4-in too tall. This turned out to not be a big deal. We used the table saw to rip 1/4 in off the bottom of the moulding so it would fit perfectly.

Next, I'd never used a miter saw, but it's a little complicated having to figure out which direction your angle needs to go, and depending on which side of the jig you're cutting on, you have to account for the blade width so your pieces aren't too short. My friend tended to err on the side of cutting the pieces too long and then trimming super small amounts off until they fit right, which I think was a reasonable strategy. We ended up not having a lot of moulding left over, so getting some extra was also a good strategy. Then we used the nail gun to quickly put finishing nails in to attach the moulding to the plywood. Not quite two hours after we started our miter cutting, we had all the moulding nailed on and the perches were starting to look like, well, perches.

I took the pieces home and started painting. The moulding came already painted a somewhat glossy white, so I scuffed it up with sandpaper to enable the brown paint to stick better.

At this point, I realized that I had forgotten to get carpet tape when I had been at Home Depot earlier. I was kicking myself for having to make ANOTHER trip there, when I took a look at the carpet I had left over from the big cat tree and realized that it wouldn't be enough for the perches. So I was going to have to go back to Home Depot anyway, so forgetting the carpet tape wasn't that big of a deal. But by this point it was almost 5pm, and I decided that trip would wait until another day.

In my infinite wisdom, I got the same paint that my dad had used on the cat tree he had made for us. It sounds like a good idea, since I wanted it to match, but my dad had complained A LOT about how bad that paint was, and how it never seemed to really dry. So, of course, I ran into this as well. I decided to put a coat of polyacrylic on, to see if that would help seal in the tackiness. I did it just on the moulding, as a sort of trial, and it really did seem to help, so I put it everywhere else too. I actually had to do another coat of paint on the bottom of the perches before putting on the polyacrylic because the tacky paint had picked up so much dust that I couldn't adequately clean off! But then everything seemed dry and good-looking, so I moved on to assembly!

First, I attached the posts to the base with #8 2-inch wood screws. First I drilled big holes about half-way through the bottom of the plywood, then a smaller hole all the way through the board in the center of the big holes. This allows the screw to be counter-sunk, that is to sit down in the board instead of having the head stick out; that way everything stays nice and flush with the floor. Then I measured in on the 2x4 posts and drilled one hole in each of those and screwed them to the base. Once the posts were firmly attached with one screw, I drilled through the second hole that was already in the base and into the posts. This way, I didn't have to worry about my tendency to not measure super precisely and getting the holes misaligned.

After I had the posts attached to the base, I cut and attached the carpet for the base. I cut out areas around the posts, so the carpet would cover the whole base and used double-sided carpet tape to attach the carpet to the plywood. 

Now it was time to attach the top perch. At this point, I brought everything upstairs and put it in position. I had to evict Dodger from his box, but he stuck around to watch the rest of the assembly, which was surprising, since he usually runs away at loud noises like drills.

I wanted to put everything in position to make sure I got the top lined up correctly. I set the top on the posts and used the small drill bit to drill all the way through both the plywood and posts. Then I went back with the larger drill bit to counter-sink the screws. I screwed the top to the posts and cut and attached the carpet.

Dodger was a little uncertain at first, but after initially coaxing him up with treats, he decided this could be an acceptable replacement for his box. Oliver also thinks it could be a nice play to hang out.

I have to say, of all my projects so far, I think I'm most proud of this one. I think because my other projects involving building things out of wood have felt kind of hacked together. As I mentioned earlier, I tend to not be super precise in my measurements, and in sewing it's generally not a big deal if you're off by 1/16 of an inch, but in building structures that can really matter. So having this actually come out looking really good makes me pretty happy. And that Dodger seems to enjoy sitting on it makes it even better.


  1. Hello! My name is Katy and I am the social media coordinator for KILZ brand products. Your cat tower turned out great and we would love for you to share your experience with our products by writing a review. Simply click on this link, select the product used and write/submit a review: http://bit.ly/WpAXp6

    We appreciate the feedback! If you ever have any questions on our products or on your next painting project, please contact us directly at ask@kilz.com. Thanks!

  2. Oh your kitties look like they love it! Great idea and I love the results. P.s. You have word verification turned on which leads to fewer comments. Not sure if you know or not. I turned mine off and didn't see any increase in spam.

    1. No, I didn't know there was word verification for comments. Thanks for the tip!