Tired of ugly carpeted cat condos? Build your own DIY Cat Tree with these free printable plans and detailed photo/video tutorial!
This fall, I decided to enter the Instagram Builder’s Challenge for the very first time!
The Challenge works by sending out a set of woodworking plans to everyone who enters. Then the contestants build the plans, putting their own spin on it. Part of the fun is seeing all the different ways people can modify the same plans!
When I first got the plans, I actually wasn’t sure if I would participate. The plans were for a bar cart (you can see and download the challenge plans here.)
The thing is, I really don’t need a bar car. I don’t entertain often. I don’t drink coffee. The only alcohol in my house is cooking wine. Basically, I couldn’t think of a single thing I would do with a bar cart.
And since I am philosophically opposed to spending time and money on something that had no use to me, I questioned if I should participate.
But then I thought about the plans a little more, and remembered that I was in need of a cat tree! If I made cart taller, and added an extra tray, it would make a great cat tree!
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Planning the Project
I spent a significant amount of time editing the plans for the cat tree before starting the build. There were two main pieces I was unsure about: 1) the appropriate distance between the top and middle trays, and 2) the height of the hammock.
I pretty much guesstimated the distance between the top and middle shelves. There needed to be enough room between these two shelves for the hammock to hang and for the cat to move around.
Additionally, the shelves needed to be close enough together that the cat could jump from the middle shelf to the top shelf without issue.
The downloadable plans I provide contain the exact measurements I used. That said, if I could redo this project, I’d place the second shelf 4-5 inches higher. While there is plenty of room between the middle and top shelf, and my cat can jump to the top shelf, it’s not a natural jump.
I had to place some food up there to get her to jump up the first time, and every time she’s done it since, she stops and thinks about it a bit first. I’m not sure heavier/older cats could make the jump, which is why if you build this cat tree you should probably place the middle shelf a little higher.
The hammock height was another piece I was unsure about. I have a separate post on making the hammock, since it’s a multi-step sewing project, but I wanted to mention here that I’d change the dimensions on that as well.
I wanted the cat to be able to stand up in the hammock, which is why I made it 9 inches deep. But, because it’s so deep, the cat isn’t able to test her weight on it first, which makes her disinclined to enter the enclosure. If I could build it again, I’d make it 4-5 inches deep instead.
DIY Cat Tree: Materials
Cat Tree Structure
- (3) 1″ x 12″ x 8′
- (4) 1″ x 4″ x 8′
- (4) 1″ x 8″ x 6′
- (1) 1″ dowel rod
- Wood Glue
- 1 1/4″ Pocket Hole Screws
- Sisal Twine
- Upholstery Foam – This stuff is expensive, so check out my post on budget upholstery foam options.
- Spray Adhesive
- Fabric for Cushion – My cat loves my velvety blankets, so I tried to find similar fabric for the cushions. I settled on JoAnn’s Sew Lush fabric.
- Scrap Wood – For the base of the cushion. Pretty much anything large enough will work.
- (4) Screw Eyes
- Hammock – Post on making a DIY Cat Hammock coming soon!
- Corregated Cardboard Scratchers
- Miter Saw
- Circular Saw
- Table Saw – If you have a circular saw, you probably could get away without this, but it’d be a lot more slow going.
- Pocket Hole Jig
- Speed Square
- 1″ Spade Bit
- Staple Gun
Part 1: Building the DIY Cat Tree
Step 1: Cut, Sand, and Prep All Pieces
See the free downloadable plans for all dimensions and pocket hole placements!
The legs are a little trickier to cut than the other pieces, so I want to talk about them a bit here. The Builder’s Challenge bar car plans details one method of cutting the legs, however that method requires a router which I don’t have, so I used a circular saw instead.
To cut the legs, I drew them onto the 1 x 8 pieces. This requires knowing the angles of the leg polygon and measuring them out on the board using a speed square. If your geometry is a little rusty, I’ve included the angles in the downloadable plans.
Then I aligned and clamped a scrap board so that when I used my circular saw it followed the angled line.
The smaller angles I cut with my miter saw.
For the arms, I did pretty much the same thing, drawing the polygon on the board using angles and a speed square. But instead of using a circular saw, I cut all the angles with a miter saw because the piece was short enough to allow this.
Step 2: Build the Trays
Start by gluing the three or four (depending on the tray) sides together using wood glue. To make sure everything would fit, I placed the bottom piece of the trap in the middle of the sides while the glue dried.
It was my first time trying mitered corners. Theoretically, everything should come together at perfect 90 degree angles, but that certainly didn’t happen for me. Someday, I’m sure I’ll figure it out, but in the meantime you’ll have to read someone else’s blog if you want your corners to have perfect miters.
Once the glue is dry, attach the bottom piece to all three/four sides of the tray using pocket hole screws.
Repeat for the other two trays.
Step 3: Build the Leg/Arm Structures
If you have preferences about which legs/arms are the front or back of the cat tree, be thinking about that as you complete this step.
Properly align two legs and an arm flat on the floor. Use wood glue and pocket holes to connect these pieces together once you’re satisfied with their placement.
Repeat this step for both leg/arm sets.
Step 4: Prep Tray Bottoms
The trays will attach to the legs with pocket hole screws on the bottom of the trays. Therefore, pocket holes need to be added to the bottom of the trays.
To figure out where to place the pocket holes, I laid the trays down on the leg structure, and marked where the legs intersected the tray. Then I added the pocket holes in those places.
Additionally, the top tray needs a hole to allow access to the hammock, as well as four screw eyes to hold the hammock in place. Open each screw eye slightly with pliers before adding them to tray, so that you can later place the grommets on them. Then cut the hammock hole using a jigsaw after drilling access points at each corner.
Step 5: Assemble the Cat Tree
Once all the tray bottoms have pocket holes, assemble the cat tree. I did this by laying one leg structure on the ground and attaching all three trays to it with pocket hole screws and wood glue.
Once it was secure, I flipped the cat tree over onto the other leg structure. Then I secured it with pocket hole screws and wood glue.
Then I stood it up and admired my cat tree! Side note: I was super excited to get to this part. There were a lot of firsts for me in this project, so the build was pretty slow-going. It was such a relief to have the main structure built!
Optional Step 6: Stain/Paint/Finish the Cat Tree
I wish I could give you the exact stain I used, but it was actually a Sherman Williams mistint that I picked up for $2 at Habitat for Humanity… One of a kind, unfortunately.
If you’re not sure what finish to use for the tree, be sure to grab my Fabulously Finished Reference Bundle for $29. It walks you through all of the options, and guides you to the perfect choice!
Part 2: Cat Tree Accessories
There were six accessories that accompanied the cat tree: The bottom water dish tray, the twine scratching post on one of the legs, the two cushioned areas, the scratching cardboard boxes, the hanging strings, and the hammock. The hammock was a bit more involved, so I’m going to cover it a separate post, and the scratching boxes were purchased off Amazon here, but everything else I’ll cover here.
I spent some amount of time on Amazon looking for a pair of white ceramic dishes that had a small lip on them, eventually settling for the replacement bowls of this stand. To make my own stand, I cut a board to be the same size as half of the bottom tray. Then I outlined the bowls on the board.
To account of the lip of the bowl, I drew another circle 3/16″ inside of the first circle. That smaller, inside circle is what I ultimately cut out with the jigsaw.
I sanded all the pencil marks off the tray, then glued legs to each corner.
I’ll note here that I only used wood glue, which alone, makes for a pretty weak joint. I don’t anticipate these legs encountering much side pressure, given that this tray will stay entirely in the bottom tray of the cat tree. However, if I’m wrong about this and the legs fall off, I’ll add an angle bracket to each joint.
Twine Scratching Post
This is exactly as simple as it looks. I wrapped twine around the leg until it was well covered. I started and ended in the exact same place, so when I was done, I could add a few discrete staples that secured both loose ends.
To make each cushion, I cut a piece of scrap wood to be the size I wanted each cushion. Then I used spray adhesive to attach foam to the scrap wood.
I sprayed the foam with spray adhesive, then wrapped the whole thing in batting, using a staple gun against the scrap wood bottom to secure it in place.
Finally, I wrapped the cushion with the chosen fabric, securing it place with the staple gun/staples.
I cut the 1″ dowel rod to match the distance between the two arms. Then I inserted it place, where it was snug. I tied three pieces of rope to the dowel rod to hang down for my cat to play with. This was the very last thing I did and I was so excited to finish the project!
This project was a ton of work, but my cat loves it, and I love that I don’t have an ugly, carpet-covered cat tree in my home.
My cat loves perching on the top level, and actually having a scratching thing she’s allowed to use.
If you think this is a cool project, be sure to save this post to Pinterest so you can find it again later! And if you think you might make your own cat tree, be sure to download the free printable plans so you know exactly what to do!
Monday 13th of July 2020
I'd be wary of the hanging ropes - kitty could get tangled up and accidentally hang herself . . . I always put things like drapery cords up and out of reach so my cats aren't in danger of this.
Saturday 18th of July 2020
This is a great point - I didn't even think of that!