The cat tower is the most ghastly piece of furniture ever designed. This is an irrefutable fact. Unfortunately, cats love cat towers, especially as they combine their favorite pastimes of climbing up to a perch (to nap) and scratching their claws (after waking up from a nap).
So there’s a good chance that you have a cat tower in your abode. But what happens when you get to a point where you don’t want a raggedy carpeted mass to be the centerpiece of your living room? I was thinking about this while perusing the high-end cat towers showcased on the ModernCat website. Unfortunately, I don’t really want to splash out $500 on something that my cat Mimosa will ultimately destroy, however slick it may look. Cheaper options like floating cat shelves may work if you live in a sturdy old castle, but in an apartment building they’re likely to fall off the wall with annoying regularity (and leave behind badly-patched-up holes when you finally ditch them).
A solution of sorts came up when I was looking at a couple of companies that make sleek and slender cat towers based around adding wooden platforms to an extendable metal pole IKEA sells. (In fairness, they disclose the IKEA basis of their products.) The pole is part of the Swedish behemoth’s Stolmen range and costs just $30, plus $10 for four brackets to affix the platforms). To that you can purchase various-sized platforms for your cat to scale up and lounge around on.
Or, if you do a bit of web searching, you can attempt to make one yourself. Which is just what I did for Mimosa. Here’s a step-by-step account of how it’s done.
1. Design your tower
This homemade tower was replacing a Petco one, so I began by replicating the number and height of the platforms. I settled upon a medium-sized platform to start, a small intermediate step, another medium-sized platform, and then one more than large enough for her to sleep on at the top.
This was partly based on Mimosa’s behavior: She rarely uses the lower platforms as anything other than stepping stones, so it seemed a waste to make them too large. Being that I’m useless as anything DIY-related, I asked a friend and his cat, Maximillian Jeffrey III, to help with designing and making the wooden platforms. As you can see, Maxi was very hands-on about the whole endeavor.
2. Make the platforms
You’ll need to cut the platforms out of wood. I went with an oval shape for the medium and larger sizes, and a circle for the stepping stone. I used MDF. Looking online, it seems you can do this with a wood cutting machine. Fearing that I’d likely just end up cutting the MDF into small and useless pieces, I pestered a friend to do it.
Each platform needs to have a hole in it for the Stolmen pole. The size of the holes in mine were two inches, though you could make them a little tighter if you measured properly. (I did not do this.) When your platforms are cut, it is optional whether you introduce them to your cat at this early stage.
3. Paint the platforms
The platforms received an undercoat of white paint and were allowed to dry, and then I decided on a bright blue color. Here they are drying in the bath after the first stage, possibly placed to look a little like a snowman. To keep the bathtub paint-free I used a torn-up copy of a very underwhelming issue of Bon Appetit magazine.
4. Varnish the platforms
I applied three coats of varnish to help protect the painted latforms from scratches. I used a can of Krylon clear varnish, which was a breeze to apply and took barely ten minutes to dry. This time I put them on a bunch of copies of a free Ecuadorean newspaper they were giving out on the street corner. I apologize to the publishers if they think there’s been a spike in circulation.
Oh, and as you may have noticed, one of the platforms ended up not getting painted. Hey, things can get hectic when you’re making your own cat tower.
5. Pick up supplies from the hardware store
You’ll need to visit a hardware store to pick up some bits. I recommend one staffed by a fine cat. This little guy was exceptionally helpful.
I got some nuts and bolts to secure the platforms to the IKEA brackets. Make sure the nut is long enough to go through both the hole in the bracket and the thickness of the wood, with enough left over to screw the bolt on. The one below was originally too short. In the end I used two-inch carriage bolts, largely ’cause I always dream of living in a carriage house in Brooklyn Heights. The cat seemed very impressed with this goal.
6. Here’s a gratuitous picture of the hardware store cat.
7. Test out the Ikea brackets
IKEA being IKEA — you know, missing bolts, parts that don’t actually fit, torture-like instructional diagrams — I’d recommend testing out one of the brackets on the pole just to make sure everything’s going to fit nice and snugly. At this point your cat might begin to get suspicious about what’s going on.
Resist the urge to do what I did and think it would be a good idea to plan ahead and start attaching all of the brackets and the platforms to the pole. Why? Because first you’ll need to complete step nine…
9. Drill your holes
Each platform needs two holes drilled through it to accommodate the nuts and bolts you bought from a cat-staffed hardware store. To do this, place the IKEA bracket over the hole and then mark with a pencil where the holes need to be drilled. Commence the power tools.
10. Assemble the pole!
Despite the barb about IKEA instructions earlier, it’s pretty easy to assemble the pole. Put your platforms on one at a time — bracket first, then slide the platform on; lather, rinse, and repeat — then carefully stand the pole up. The bottom of it fits into this plastic cup thing on the floor. Once it’s raised, you can tighten the nuts and bolts to secure the platforms. Then it’s a case of extending the top of the pole until it hits the ceiling, at which point you can lock it into place by twisting it clockwise. Or anti-clockwise. One of them will work.
You can also use three screws to affix the top of the pole to the ceiling — although I discovered that my apartment has a very hearty concrete ceiling the drill bits would not penetrate. Instead, I used the two brackets supplied with the Stolmen pole to act as extra supports to the wall.
11. Warning number two!
The Stolmen pole works by the slightly smaller extendable upper tube locking into place via the bigger outer tube below it. If you were wondering, it is possible to fiddle around with said tubes and get the smaller one stuck inside the bigger one. Do not do this. It could take you 45 minutes, a lot of Googling, and many ridiculously-conceived attempts to get the small pole back out.
At one point you may even attempt to take the bottom of the Stolmen pole off, pull the small pole out the wrong way, and use the stringy end of a Cat Dancer toy to push it back through and then fish it out. This does not work. Luckily, some caring sharing people online have some sagely advice, although the record should show that a Swiffer handle does not work the same as an old-fashioned broom handle for this purpose.
Congratulations: You now have a sleek and stylish home-made cat tower. It is probably very tall. (You can also see the badly patched-up holes from a previous cat shelf attempt in the background here.)
13. Test the tower
In order to persuade Mimosa that the new cat tower was significantly better than her old one, I filled it with some of her favorite things: Coffee and treats!
A new toy addition which at the moment I’m calling Jenny. She’s some sort of mass-manufactured rooster bird. I also popped Mims’s old nemesis Gertrude right atop the tower.
Mims took the bait and began ascending her new real estate!
She showed Jenny who’s the boss!
She checked out the view from up top!
And she squared off against Gertrude! (Although, as you can see, at first she admittedly cheated a bit and used her old cat tower as a route to get to the very top of the new one.)
This ruse of using the old tower as a prop was something she continued to do, here to scoop up some treats.
14. Serenity now!
Mimosa has settled into her new cat tower. The old one is staying for the moment though — until I’ve added some sort of bedding to the top shelf and a scratching solution to the bottom of the pole. Those additions will be documented in a soon-coming part two of the Ikea cat tower saga: How To Creatively Customize Your Cat Tower!
Are you thinking about building your own cat tower? What would you do differently? Let us know in the comments.
Read more about cat trees on Catster: