I actually built this a number of years ago, around 2005; it was previously on the RoseHawke website, so this is somewhat in the nature of a re-run.
When we decided to become Maine Coon parents once again after Melichus’ passing, we knew that we would need some sort of a cat tree so that kitties would, at least so we hoped, favor said cat tree as a perch instead of counters and tabletops which in our house are off-limits to furry felines. After some shopping at area pet emporiums which resulted in profound sticker shock and much head shaking at what you actually got for an absurd outlay of cash, I decided to do what I always do in such situations.
I built my own.
I had a hazy idea of what I wanted to do, but never actually made any specific plans as I knew the final design would really depend on the branches I could find. Sunny and I took a trip into the woods, chainsaw in tow, to a couple of trees that had recently come down in some storm or other. Mostly, I was just looking for a good assortment of limbs that seemed “interesting” – I’d try to configure them later. We dragged half a dozen good sized limbs back to the shop and I set to work.
First I knocked together a base, quite arbitrarily choosing a size of about 2×3′ – only found out later that it was perfect for the corner where the cat tree ended up. It was pretty simple, basically a box made from 3/4″ plywood and 2x4s, which I covered with beige carpet on the top and sides. The carpeting was stapled down with an electric stapler – my manual stapler just didn’t have enough “oomph” to do it. This was a small remnant I’d bought specifically for this purpose, but being a high-quality remnant, didn’t want to go around corners very much. I ended up securing the corners with roofing nails as even the electric stapler wasn’t enough to get through two thicknesses of carpet.
I then moved the finished base and the limbs into the den, as it was fairly obvious that once built there’d be no getting it through a normal door. By this time there was a set of French doors between the Living Room and the old den. Those were large enough to get it through.
I set the limbs I liked most on the base, determined a rough height, and cut them by clamping down to a sawhorse and using a reciprocating saw. Getting them square was difficult and involved a bit of trial and error. When I got it to where I was satisfied, I fastened them with large lag screws through from underneath the base and into the limbs. These would be the main framework. Where one limb crossed another, I fastened them together with a smaller lag screw to help with bracing.
Once I got everything sort of roughly situated, I started making patterns for the actual platforms. I did try to make sure that they would be in some sort of a configuration to aid kitties hopping from one level to the next. The easiest thing to do was to take cardboard, draw out a shape, and sort of tack it in place to see if it would work. If it needed to be bigger, I’d tape another piece of cardboard over it, try a new shape, and go from there. Again, trial and error and much standing off and seeing how it would work. The plan was to get the main bits around what was already there to suggest “tree” – but I knew from the get-go that would not be enough support from what was likely to be 40# worth of Maine Coons bouncing around on it, so I planned to beef that bit up by cutting one good sized branch into pieces that would fit between the platforms and fastening those so that they would give the illusion of one branch going all the way through.
Then it was a matter of tracing the patterns onto 3/4″ plywood and cutting them out with a jigsaw. The accompanying photo shows sticks that I’ve cut to help support the shelves temporarily until that branch was cut. They also helped as story poles of a sort to use for measuring the lengths for the pieces.
Under most of the shelves there is an angle bracket screwed to the platform and uprights for additional support. Then it was a matter of covering the shelves with the cheap green carpeting I’d bought, again for this specific purpose. Cheap was better than expensive as the expensive stuff was just too stiff to mold around any sort of a curve. As it was, it had to be tinkered with much like sewing fabric or upholstering a chair to make it fit the curves. The electric stapler once again proved its value. Generally speaking, I worked my way from the bottom to the top, cutting, fitting, fastening, as I went, standing off to try to catch problems before they happened, and making sure I was happy with it.
When it was finally finished, Sunny helped me to drag it into its spot in the Living Room (where it remains to this day) and we let the (at that time) kittens in. They knew immediately that this was theirs. None of this “OMG! What’s that?!” business.
One thing that I did end up doing later, after the boys were bigger, was putting an additional support under the lowest front platform (about where Narsil is in the photo) because as it turned out it wasn’t quite sturdy enough and was taking a lot of punishment from the boys leaping on and off. It was threatening to come loose, but the additional “log” sturdied it up nicely.