Your cat needs a home within your home.
Maybe they don’t have the space to roam around like they need, or you just want to show them how much you care.
You decide to look up cat condos, but the price comes just a little bit outside of your budget.
That’s okay—this DIY cat tree guide will show you how to do it your own, and weigh the budget costs alongside the labor and materials required.
Some things aren’t worth the extra time, but if you’re proficient enough with a drill and saw, you could get away with a one-hour project that turns out extremely well.
1. Start With Your Lumber
2” x 4” posts would be a great place to start.
There’s not necessarily going to be a materials list, because this is like abstract art—you can do whatever you want with it, you just have to follow basic construction guidelines to make sure it’s stable and safe.
Ideally, you will want a cat tree with five platforms, one with an abode, and the base platform for everything to rest on.
For this, it’s recommended to get subfloor-style plywood. This is usually 0.75”, and comes in a variety of durabilities and wood grades.
You want solid, pressed plywood, not that stuff that looks like a bunch of wood chips pressed together.
Start with a 36” x 36” platform for the base. This gives you enough room for it to be stable, and because of how thick the plywood is, it will act as a stable base even if your 18 lb cat is leaping from platform to platform.
2. Measure Your 2” x 4”s
Five platforms means you need five different heights. How tall do you want this to be?
A good rule of thumb is to make each platform one foot higher than the other, so you would need one board at 12”, the next at 24”, then 36”, 48”, and 60”.
This way, you’ll get a five foot tall cat tree that can fit in many places in your home, and it won’t be a hassle if you need to move and finagle it out the door.
Make marks along your 2” x 4”s. If the ends are rough and splintered, consider trimming 1” off of them with a circular saw before starting, and measure them out.
After you have your markings, get an electric sander ready, or a lot of sandpaper to smooth out the rough edges.
If your platforms are unbalanced, your cat is going to know, and they might be disheartened to climb on your tree anymore.
Cut the 2” x 4”s and sand down the ends just very slightly, just enough to make it smooth.
We are not attaching them to the base at this point, so place them aside in ascending order.
Take this time to ensure the cut on your base went well, and check for splinters.
We want a flat, clean surface to work with when attaching the 2” x 4”s, so dust off any sawdust and keep things clean while you go.
For the platforms, you’re going to need 12” x 12” plywood squares.
You will need five for the platforms, and five more for the house we’re making, so a total of 10. These can be made out of the 0.75” plywood from earlier.
4. 2 Options for Platforms
There are two ways you can do the platforms.
They need carpeting, mostly for the sisal that’s in the carpet so your cats can scratch at them for months to come. You can either:
- Purchase 12” x 12” carpet tiles and attach them to 12” x 12” plywood squares
- Or purchase carpeting and cut it yourself, attaching it to the entire surface, sides, and underside of your plywood squares.
The latter is recommended so that your cat doesn’t chip their nails on plywood, and to create a completed look at the end.
However, carpet tiles are cheaper and will require less overall carpeting, and since they’re pre-measured, they work great for someone who’s only a little comfortable with these DIY projects.
Carpet tiles usually have a sticky backing on them, so they’ll be easy to apply to the plywood. Just don’t do it yet, because next we have to talk about the abode and how to build it.
5. Mini Cat House
So we want one small shack for your cat to fit.
Since we’re working with limited space here, grab one 12” x 12” plywood square, and attach three other plywood squares to it to make a three-fourths wall.
On top of those, position the other two squares.
You should get a very steeple-style looking house. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be stable. Attach the boards as needed with either wood glue or a brad nailer, or both if available.
It’s time to assemble everything.
Choose which platform the cat house is going on (I recommend second from the top, or the middle platform.
Decide where your platforms are going. If you’re not sure, attach the shortest post, then its platform, and you’ll see what available space you have to attach other posts.
Keep in mind that your cat has to be able top access one platform from another, so make it like a staircase if possible.
Attach your five banisters, four platforms, and cat house. This should be done with a brad or finish nailer if you have it available. Ensure everything is sturdy, and then proceed.
7. Carpeting Time
When it comes time to put the carpeting in, this is where a lot of cutting and stapling has to occur.
You want to fully assemble the entire cat house before you attach carpeting, otherwise you run into small issues with spacing between carpeting, nails and wood, and things just aren’t as stable.
But now that you’ve built it, start with the cat house, then the tops of the platforms. Work your way down, covering everything you see in carpeting.
Your cat is going to use this as a scratching post, so you want to be sure there’s plenty to scratch at whenever they want.
The hardest part isn’t wrapping carpeting around the banisters while they’re attached, but instead, placing as much carpeting inside of the cat house now that it’s built.
Attaching the carpeting with staples is a good idea, but be sure to check for where those staples end up and if they went in all the way. You don’t want your cat’s nails getting stuck in them.
Once the carpeting is on, you should have a sturdy, readily available space for your cat to lounge, scratch, and hide away when they want to.
Buying a New Cat Condo vs. DIY Cat Tree
It comes down to time and money, really.
If you have the time to devote to this project, more power to you.
If you’re struggling to get anything done during your free time, you might be better off buying a new, manufactured cat tree.
Let’s go over a quick list of the pros and cons of building your own.
As it stands, a manufactured cat condo is going to be easier to assemble, and you still have plenty of options to choose from.
Pros of Building Your Own
If you want to continue the DIY route, that’s an admirable thing to do. It’s custom, it’s an achievement, and there are a few other perks.
- Built for Your Space: Some cat condos are big and bulky, and if you have a smaller living space, this allows you to incorporate it into your living area without it being a major hindrance. You can ensure this by designating a spot for the cat tree ahead of time, and measuring it out, keeping platforms in mind.
- Safety: When you assemble some cat condos out of the box, pieces can feel flimsy or just not right. You are in full control, so you can make this as sturdy as you want. You could make the plywood thicker, you could make the platforms larger, or do whatever you want that’s going to keep your cat out of harm’s way.
- Add On: If you get a second cat, most of the time, you end up getting a second cat tree. Cats can get territorial, and then you have to go through the entire assembly process again. Assuming that you have some leftover materials from your DIY build, you could always add another platform, house, or another entire section later. If you do that and try adding it onto a manufactured cat condo, it’s going to throw the weight distribution out of whack. Your materials and the packaged materials won’t mesh, and it can cause a problem.
Cons of Building Your Own
But it’s not all sunshines and rainbows. You might end up botching the project, or running into some of these other concerns:
- Wasting Money: Depending on the cost of goods at your local hardware store, what you already have on hand versus what you have to buy, and so on, you might actually spend more money building a cat tree instead of just buying one outright. This isn’t always the case, but since you can find good cat condos for between $65.00 and $130.00, you have to weigh that against the materials and the time spent. Is it really worth it, or is it just something you want to do? If you want to make it custom and none of those manufactured cat trees do it for you, I would go the DIY route anyway.
- Scrapping: If you make a major mistake along the way, you might have to scrap materials. This isn’t just a problem for your budget, but it drags out the time it takes on the project. Things go wrong when everything is raw and nothing comes pre-drilled or pre-built for you. You have to take it into your own hands, and hopefully, those hands have already done some carpentry or construction in the past.
- Your Cat Might Not Like it: This could be the same with manufactured trees, but for the most part, companies have done their R&D and tested it on cats to see if they like it. They do specific measurements, and all the carpeting comes attached already which reduces staple heads and makes it generally easier to put together. Your cat could end up hating a manufactured tree and a DIY one, as a heads up. This is just a possibility.
Alternatives to Vertical Trees
Cats can be weird, and that’s why we love them.
If they end up disliking a DIY or manufactured cat tree, that’s okay. They need to rest and relax somewhere, so these alternative ideas could be their new safe haven that they just never want to leave.
You could do a two stack or three stack of these. Basically, you take bolts of sturdy cotton cloth, and you make a cat hammock out of them.
You can use an old shoe rack and simply secure the cloth to the four posts in the corners.
This could be done with rope, string, or knitting loops on the end of the cloth to slide down over the banisters.
Shoe Box Hero
Got an old shoe box lying around?
You know cats love cramped, confined spaces, so let’s make them an offer they can’t refuse.
The good thing is, you can move this around as you see fit, so if your cat likes being on the high ground, they can still be there.
Take a shoe box, and find an old shirt you don’t care for anymore. Something soft. Cut it up into wide strips of fabric, and staple them into the interior parts of the box.
We’re doing this to show it’s a comfy space and not somewhere that they can pee.
Try to get the material to come up over the edges just a little bit so it doesn’t look bland, and place your cat inside once it’s done.
You might have just made a totally free resting spot for your cat.
You can go to just about any hardware store, or even an arts and crafts store, and find pre-built wooden boxes with no tops on them, which are usually about 12” x 16” or something along those lines.
Get some carpet tiles and a razor, and cut the tiles accordingly to lay in the bottom. This gives your cats an area to knead and scratch when they want.
Now all you have to do is make about six of these, and line them up like a staircase, bolting them into the wall into studs.
You basically create a ton of little wall boxes for your cats to jump into and sleep. They like the high ground, and it looks pretty awesome as well.
Vertical, circular laundry bins—just hear me out—are basically castles that haven’t been built yet.
Flip it upside down so that the wider end is on the bottom, and cut a hole in the direct center of the top.
Cut about half of it out, so we still have some stability, but it’s enough for your cats to get out of.
Now we’re going to cut an archway along the bottom for your cats to go into, and carpet the entire thing.
The interior, exterior, all of it. Cut out some spots for windows along the way to let light in, and voila, you have a moveable, impromptu cat house.
They can climb up the interior or exterior and lay on the top, or go inside if they want to be alone. These are super cheap to make and you can move them wherever.
You can make a cat tree, condo, or house out of just about anything.
Just keep in mind that carpeting is a cat’s best friend because of the sisal used inside, and training them to only scratch on their condo/post is going to be an adjustment period.
Consider getting a wacky color for your DIY cat tree so that they can identify that as the only place they’re allowed to scratch.
Either Way, Your Cat Wins
At the end of the day, you might spend the same amount of money on a custom cat tree as a cat condo from an online store.
We’ve made a guide of the best cat condos out there, but if you still want to take the DIY route, you have the option to custom design a cat tree that fits your home.
If you own your home, there’s no reason you can’t make a permanent cat tree area that gives your feline total domain over everything they see (imagine how cool that would be).