Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How to Make the Continuum Hangboard

  1. coherent whole that is characterized by a sequence or progression of elements varying by minute degrees so that no part is perceptibly different from the adjacent parts, although the extremes are quite distinct.

SICGRIPS' goal as a company is to produce innovative commercial rock climbing training products. However sometimes through our R & D process we come up with a product that may be helpful for training but not commercially viable for one reason or another. In this case it is because the board is too labor intensive to make. However, instead of throwing out the design, we offer the construction details here for the ambitious do-it-yourselfer.

The Continuum Board is a simple and elegant do-it-yourself hangboard utilizing wooden dowels cut on a slight diagonal which offer a progression of difficulty along each rail and between rails. It is limited in what it can do and is notdo-it-all hangboard. It is not near as versatile as our Gstring Climbing Grips. But what it does, it does well. It was inspired by Sonnie Trotter's Vice Board and Eva Lopez's Progression and Transgression boards. It is a relatively cheap way to create a great looking and functional hangboard for those who have the time, tools, skills and like to be creative. If you're lacking these, please support your fellow climbers and buy a board from Sonnie, Eva, or these guys at Royal Edge (or better yet get a set of Gstrings or Pocket Rocks from us! :-)

This board offers tendon and skin friendly training that ranges from jugs and finger slopers through to crimps.  It is very simple to increase the difficulty as you get stronger simply by moving the position of your hands. The board can be easily customized to fit your needs. It is a functional and great looking board that can fit into the decor of a living room, den or bedroom without the wild colors and weird patterns that resin boards often have.


It will take between a few hours to a full day of work depending upon if you have all the material and tools assembled and and your skill level with the tools.

Tools needed

Table saw, clamps, hammer, screwdriver (or screw driver bits) and a drill/drill press. A highly skilled woodworker could probably also get by without the table saw but it would take a high level of precision working with a hand saw to slice the dowels diagonally. However from my perspective it would be tons of works and a PIA to do accurately. My suggestions is, if you don't have a table saw or access to a table saw, forgetaboutit!

Material Needed

  • various sized dowels (see Design section below). Dowels smaller than 1" are oak, while the larger dowels are poplar. If you special order the dowels, you could have a set of matching hardwood dowels but it would significantly increase the price.
  • 3/4" hardwood plywood (oak or birch) - 27"-32" wide and 6"-12" tall depending upon how many dowels you use and the desired width or the width of the available space where it will be hung.
  • various sizes of nails 
  • wood glue
  • scraps of wood to create a cutting jig
  • various lengths of wood or drywall screws

Design Strategies

The key to the Continuum design is taper cut dowels so that they range from slightly positive on one end to sloper on the other. The boards I have made so far all use a diagonal slice through the dowel at the 75/25 position on one end to the 50/50 position at the other end. Other percentages could be used to yield rails with a different characteristics. However this combination seems to offer a good useable range.

The board can be easily be customized by the size and number of dowels used. I would recommend a board width of approximately 27"-32" which will fit nicely above a doorway. Each rail will consist of two 13"-16" dowels cut on the diagonal. Here's a couple of suggestions for places to start. The first one below is a "wide ratio" board with a decreasing difference between rail diameters (4/8", 3/8",  2/8", 2/8"). The second example is a "close ratio" board with smaller and consistent size differences between the rails (1/8"). 
A board could also be made with 2 or 3 rails with either a small (close ratio) or large differences  (wide ratio) between rail size. Suggestions for a close ratio 3-rail board are: 7/8", 3/4", 5/8" or 1", 3/4", 1/2". A wide ratio 3-rail board could also be made with dowels of 2", 1", 1/2". The design will depend upon how many rails you desire, how close a progression you desire, and how strong you are or hope to become. The dowel sizes will also be affected by whether you're going to leave it natural (more difficult) or put a high friction finish on it (see below). My suggestion is to make the board according to your best guess and use it without a finish. If it's significantly too difficult, then add a high friction finish to it.

cut dowels laid out on board to show taper (configuration A below)

Two dowels of each size are used to make up one rail. These can both be easily cut from the standard 3'-4' long dowels available at hardware stores and lumber yards. There are three strategies for how arrange the taper of the two rail halves.

Arrangement A (board shown above) allows hands to always to be equidistant apart while hanging the same grip position for each hand. However, the difficulty for each hand will be slightly different. That is, the index finger of one hand will always be slightly move positive than the index finger on the other hand. Same for the pinkies. Some people contend that it is important for consistent training and avoiding injuries to always have the hands about shoulder width apart - which would favor this arrangementIn both B and C arrangements, hand difficulty will be exactly the same for both hands given any particular position, but the distance between hands will vary.  Arrangement B places the more difficult positions in the center with hands closer together and the easier positions at the ends. Arrangement C is the opposite of B and probably offers the most aesthetic looking board.

Arrows show direction to move hands to increase difficulty

The height of the backing board will depend upon how many dowels you use and their size. I would recommend 3/4"-1" spacing between each rail. If you plan on training a closed crimp position on any of the rails, you should allow at least a 1" clearance between those rails, depending upon your hand/finger size. Once you decide on a layout, simply add up the numbers to figure out how tall to cut the backing board.

a smaller width board using configuration C above


(Note: this is a safer way to make a simple jig to use with a table saw then the method outlined below.)

The key to this design are dowels cut on a diagonal (see illustration above). This was done using a make-shift jig with a moveable "fence" nailed to a scrap of 3/4" plywood. Using a scrap at least 8-10" wide will keep your hands away form the saw blade. The fence is positioned so that the dowels are cut at 50% of the diameter on one end and 25% on the other. The percentage stays the same for each dowel size, however the actual amount cut off changes for each dowel size. Therefore the fence has to be moved after each size is cut. The jig allows you to set the fence on the table saw once with further adjustments only made to the fence on the jig to accommodate different sized dowels. The dowels were drilled for a nail at either end to hold in place on the jig while cutting. Make sure the nails will clear the saw blade. The smaller the dowel, the more of a challenge it will become and the measurement and tolerances become more critical. The smallest dowel I've cut using this method is 1/2" dia.


Wood or sheet rock screws along with wood glue are used to assemble the board. The screws can be done either from the front or from the back. If they are screwed from the back it will give a cleaner looking board but it is a more difficult to assemble. If it is screwed from the front, it is easier but may not be as aesthetic depending upon your tastes. If done from the front, I would recommend using black drywall screws (see mock-up below) which give a nice contrast to the wood and can be used as position markers for placing your hands. I would recommend 3-4 screws evenly spaced per half-rail. A 3/4"-1" wide temporary wood spacer strip is used between the rails to keep rails straight and evenly positioned while screwing and gluing. I also used small finish nails to temporary hold rails in place while screwing and gluing. When gluing, make sure excessive glue is wiped immediately with a damp rag. It might be possible to get by without screws but it would be difficult to clamp the dowels to get a good glue joint. I've not tried this so do at your own risk!


If a raw natural finish is desired, then just sand the board with 50-80 grit sandpaper and it's good to go (it's actually easier if you do the sanding on the rails before screwing and gluing). One of the nice things about training tools made out of wood is that they are very skin friendly. Intense training on textured urethane resin board can trash your hands fast. However, the down side of wood is that it can be difficult to train the size you desire because of lack of friction. If you desire to increase the friction on your board, a finish can be applied with a matt/satin clear acrylic or polyurethane varnish with Shark Grip (or some other commercial non-skid additive) added for friction. This is a clear slip-resistant additive that won't change the look. Aluminum oxide (220-400 grit used in sand blasting) can also be added but it will be visible in the finish. You could also use one of these additives in a house paint if you want a board so that it blends in more with the room!


If mounting above a door, make sure the backing board is wide enough to screw into 2-3 studs. Make sure to use a stud finder before drilling. Use four to six #14 in. wood screws to mount to the wall. Make sure the screws go into the studs! If you are unable to screw into studs, make sure that you use strong expanding toggle bolts that can handle the weight.

a smaller version mounted on the Crack Rack

You could also integrate it with or mount it on a removable mount like this that is based on a doorway pull-up bar.


The larger diameter rails are used as jugs and/or finger slopers. The smaller diameter rails can be used for open, half, or closed crimps. Because of their round nature, they will always be skin and tendon friendly. "Pockets" can be trained by just eliminating fingers. A pencil or chalk tick mark above each rail can serve as a reminder of what position/difficulty you last trained on. A couple of systematic approaches for training can be found on Eva Lopez's blog or the Anderson brothers' Rock Climber's Training Manual.

I hope this post provides some ideas for the do-it-yourselfers out there who want to build a functional and aesthetic hangboard similar to this. If you have questions, suggestions, or modifications, let me know.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Minimalist Running and Hiking Sandals

Every once in a while I'll come across a product that I like so much (other than Gstrings and Pocket Rocks! :-) that I just have to plug. Earth Runner Sandals are one such item.

Several years ago I got into minimalist running shoes. However, I wasn't sure what to do about sandals. Before I got into minimalist running shoes I had worn Tevas, and Chacos. Chacos are heavy duty and well suited for hiking but they're the polar opposite of the minimalist approach. They're heavy, sculpted, huge arch, thick, and a big heel-toe drop - in short clunky! And also for me, the straps just never worked well - they always tightened around my big toes and strangled them. I finally gave up on them. For hiking I wore my minimalist trail runners and for around town I went back to good 'ol flip flops, which (except for the arch) is about as minimal as you can get. However, they're called "flip flops" for a reason. The loose fit and the constant slapping against my foot is annoying. Quick on and off - but horrible for anything other than casual walking.

After I had gotten into minimalist running shoes, I read the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and became intrigued by the Tarahumara who run ultra-marathons either barefoot or with minimalist Huarache type sandals made out of car tires and inner tubes. It's an incredible book and the feats (pun intended) accomplished by the Tarahumara and others who have learned from them, are mind-boggling. Interest in the Tarahumara and their sandals has gradually spawned a small cottage industry that's developed different versions of the Tarahumara sandal made from modern materials. As I started searching for the "perfect" minimalist sandal, I found a number of small companies making high quality versions of them.

I studied the different nuances and implementations before making a choice. Good design is one of my most important values, whether designing rock climbing training products or desiring the most functional sandal. I chose what I thought was the best design. Oops! The real proof is in the actual use of the sandals. While they were good, the heel strap and helping sleeve just did not work well in keeping the strap on my heel. It was a bit clunky looking and performing. I readjusted them ad infinitum as per their instructions and videos, but the heel straps always felt as though they were about to slip off - and sometimes did.

I went back to researching how other minimalist sandals implemented the heel/ankle strap. Somehow in my original search I either didn't see or glossed over Earth Runner sandals. They looked to have a subtle and unique implementation of the heel/ankle strap. I tried readjusting my current minimalist sandals to approximate, as closely as possible, the Earth Runners. However because of the short length of the straps and the Velcro (yuck!), it wasn't possible to exactly duplicate them. But it definitely helped with the heel problem. This showed me the superiority of the Earth Runner design and I decided to go ahead and get a second pair of sandals: The Alpha X model from Earth Runners. I wasn’t disappointed.

Here's what I like about Earth Runners. The other top three brands have some of these characteristics, but not all of them which is what makes Earth Runners special:
  • Shaped-molded footbed/sole: Most minimalist sandals of the Tarahumara ilk, are thin enough they will gradually mold to your feet. Earth Runners come pre-molded with a slight curve up around the edge of your feet, which gives them a head start molding to your feet. This especially helps on the slightly thicker soled models and also helps from catching your toe, which is easy to do on a totally flat-soled sandal at the end of the day when you're tired.
  • Choice of soles: Two different Vibram soles offer a range of sole material, tread types, and thicknesses (see photos above). One a bit thinner (8mm) and more of a barefoot feel and one that is slightly thicker (11mm) with a bit more cushion but still minimalist.
  • Leather foot bed or bareback: Leather is comfy and stylish but bareback is much better for trails if it will be wet or muddy.
  • Leather or nylon webbing for straps: For running and hiking.nylon rules - little stretch and it wears like iron. For around town - leather is comfy and fashionable (if you're not vegan).
  • Custom foot outlines: Optional personal custom foot outlines. Good if you have unusually shaped feet (Mortenson toe, etc). I've also suggested to Michael that he offer an option to have different right and left foot tracings, which would be helpful to those with different sized feet. I know in climbing shoes, those with different sized feet often have to buy two pairs of shoes in order to get a good fit for both feet.
  • Light weight: You hardly know they're on you're feet.
  • Cam-buckle quick release for the ankle strap and ease of getting them on and off or adjusting. Others have Velcro, elastic, non-quick-release buckles, or are simply tied. It also allows you to easily tighten for a run/hike or loosen for casual walking.
  • Overall design and attention to detail: This is the big one and why I think they're the cream of the crop. Simple, aesthetic, high quality construction and materials. The cross-ankle strap secures your foot without extra straps, leather/elastic sleeves, or rubber liners that others use. The geometry is nuanced and unique to the Earth Runners and the adjustability, comfort and security of the ankle/heel straps is near perfect.
  • Comfort - I've already said it, but these are the most comfortable sandals I've ever worn.
Finally, as climbers, we often carry a pair of shoes up the climb clipped to our harness or in a climbing pack for hiking back down. Shoes are bulky and add weight. Earth runners are a great solution to that. They are light, slim and clip easily to your harness or stow easily in your climbing pack. They're also great for hiking to the crag. Wouldn't it be great if they made them with an option of 5.10 Stealth dot rubber!

Check them out - I think you'll find they're a great product: http://www.earthrunners.com/

P.S. I haven't touched on the optional earthing aspect that is offered in Earth Runners. Earthing is a controversial topic but I personally think there is something to it. However, since I spend most of my time in the office, workshop or house compared to hiking/running/climbing, the earthing aspect wouldn't offer me much. An earthing foot mat, or earthing sheets for the bed would be more efficient than relying on the amount of time my sandals would be in contact with the earth. YMMV. For more info on earthing see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3265077/ and http://www.earthrunners.com/pages/earthing

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Good Design Principles

One of the things that drives me as the owner of SICgrips is good design. I don’t want to create something just to be trendy and different or to follow past designs just because they have come to be accepted as the standard. It’s good to think outside the box and let the function of the product along with good design principles determine its form. Below are the ten principles of good design according to award-winning industrial designer Dieter Rams. These are principles that we've adhered to as best as possible when designing Gstring Climbing Grips. The many wonderful comments we've received over the last 3 years <http://sicgrips.com/Comments.html> affirm that. In the near future you'll see these same design principles embodied into Pocket Rocks and all future SICgrip products.

Dieter Rams: ten principles for good design


Rams introduced the idea of sustainable development and of obsolescence being a crime in design in the 1970s. Accordingly he asked himself the question: is my design good design? The answer formed is now his celebrated ten principles.

  1. Is innovative - The possibilities for progression are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for original designs. But imaginative design always develops in tandem with improving technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  2. Makes a product useful - A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic criteria. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could detract from it.
  3. Is aesthetic - The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  4. Makes a product understandable - It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user's intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  5. Is unobtrusive - Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user's self-expression.
  6. Is honest - It does not make a product appear more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
  7. Is long-lasting - It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today's throwaway society.
  8. Is thorough down to the last detail - Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
  9. Is environmentally friendly - Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  10. Is as little design as possible - Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Why Not Polyurethane?

The last few months we've been down a long wandering path in Pocket Rocks development. It's difficult keeping to a release schedule when the design-->prototype-->testing-->repeat cycle is dependent on one main person (me) who is a perfectionist. Since I'm also the main person who runs the company, this gets further complicated when partnering with other companies to implement the design. Development time and uncertainty increase by 10x.  :-(

While I won't bore you with all the details, one of the major side-paths taken in the development of Pocket Rocks was trying to mold them in urethane. Since this is the industry standard for climbing holds in gyms, it makes sense to use urethane, right?! They look really slick, so what's not to like?! Well... what makes good climbing wall holds isn't necessarily the best material for training devices. Here's why I believe urethane is not the optimal material for Pocket Rocks:

  • Texture. While many urethane climbing holds offer wonderful texture for climbing walls, that same texture becomes a liability with intensively training on a small range of grip positions. Texture is nice for simulating different rock types in the climbing gym and for actually climbing a route. However for training devices, skin and joint-friendly surfaces are more important. They may not offer as much friction, but the purpose of training isn’t to make it easy, right?!
  • Weight: For portable training devices, wood can be significantly lighter depending upon what type of wood is used. A set of equivalent urethane grips can be almost twice as heavy. For portability wood makes more sense.
  • Efficiency: Urethane relies on silicone molds that have a very limited lifespan and degrade with use. New molds have to constantly be made from a physical master, which is both labor and material intensive. The design for wood grips is stored electronically as a CAD drawing file and each grip is precision machined with no degradation or deviation over time. Each one is always the same. It’s also much easier to make design modifications.
  • Longevity: The wonderful texture of urethane holds wears under intensive use, and once it's smooth and polished, there’s no easy way to restore it to its original condition.
  • Sustainability: Urethane training devices use non-renewable resources that aren't easily recyclable - at least that I'm aware of. Wood is a renewable resource and is also biodegradable. When used in small quantities and sourced from managed plantations or eco-woods, it doesn't contribute to deforestation. 
  • Air bubbles: In two-part molds we ran into issues with air bubbles in the prototypes. I'm not sure if that was due to the unique design of Pocket Rocks or the incompetence of the hold company. :-/
  • Labor: Pocket Rocks require a two-part mold for urethane because of their shape. This drives up the cost of labor compared to climbing wall holds, most of which are simple single-sided, easy-pour molds. While cost isn't the final determinant, in combination with the other reasons it is a significant factor. One of our design goals for Pocket Rocks is to offer a lower cost portable training device.
In short, for training devices, look beyond urethane...

CAD rendering of hardwood Pocket Rocks

Stay tuned for news about the release of Pocket Rocks.