Cat shredding the paint on your walls? I’m having this problem now and decided to put a cat scratching post right next to the problem area to hopefully provide an irresistible alternative. Unfortunately my cat is a beast and has a reach that extends beyond the length of the tallest cat scratchers on Amazon (and thus probably everywhere else cat scratchers are sold). I remembered seeing a fun multi-colored DIY cat scratch post project on A Beautiful Mess (“Colorblocked Scratching Post DIY“), and decided it was time to attempt this project myself.
Based on a little web research it seems that sisal (Agave sisalana) is the best material for this application. Others say that cats are naturally attracted to scratching sisal. I’m not sure if this is true, but the light natural coloration of the fiber looks nice and is affordable.
What is sisal?
According to Wikipedia, no one really knows for sure where the sisal plant originated from, but it is thought to trace back to the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Sisal was once shipped out of a Yucatán port of the same name. It is the fiber in the plant’s leaves that is used to make rope. As of 2013, Brazil produced the majority of sisal.
1/4″ vs 3/8″ rope
I wasn’t sure whether 1/4″ or 3/8″ rope would be preferable, so I ordered a roll of both to test them out. Amazon reviewers used both for making cat scratchers, and one reviewer recommended going with 1/4″ because it was difficult to wind the 3/8″ rope around the turns. I planned on making a vertical cat scratcher that needed to be quite tall, and a second shorter horizontal scratcher. I decided to try the 3/8″ rope on the longer vertical scratcher because its greater thickness meant less rope length was needed to cover the area (1/4″ and 3/8″ rope costs about the same per foot on Amazon at the time of this writing). The 3/8″ rope is also stronger than the 1/4″ so it may withstand scratching better, and it will provide more material thickness to “grab” on to. And finally, I thought the 3/8″ thickness would look better, that the rope thickness to scratcher dimensions would be more proportional than the 1/4″ would offer. I purchased a roll of 1/4″ for the shorter horizontal scratching pad to hedge my bet. Amazon reviews assured me at least one of these, probably both, would work.
It turns out 3/8″ was not too hard to work with after all. I wrapped a standard 2×4 piece of lumber with relative ease, and like the coarser look. Only time will tell how the rope holds up to use.
How to adhere sisal to wood
To start wrapping, I used a glue gun to tack down the rope end perpendicular to the direction of wrapping at the edge of the wood piece, then simply laid down a strip of glue gun glue along the edge of the lumber end and pressed the sisal rope down over it, applying pressure until the glue cooled. As I glued and wrapped, the rope end was hidden by the horizontal turns of rope. This should help prevent the end from becoming loose and leading to unravelling.
I considered using wood glue as other blogs recommended, but am so glad I went with the glue gun. Wood glue takes a long time to dry, whereas glue gun glue cools very quickly. I am certain wood glue would have been messy, and that making the turns around the 2×4, particularly on the 2 edge would have been fraught with difficulty. It would have indeed been a challenge (perhaps impossible) to get the rope to lay flat against the wood around these tight turns and stay adhered until the glue dried.
The glue gun eliminated all of these challenges. It was no problem at all to make the turns, and applying pressure to the rope briefly was enough to get it adhered in place. The greatest challenge was getting each row adjacent to the last without any gapping. I didn’t entirely succeed at that, but close enough.
I hesitated to opt for the glue gun because glue guns are often associated with “crafty” projects that don’t require durability. It will be interesting to see how the glue gun glue adherence stands up to cats. At least for ease of use and cost, the glue gun is a winner.
A package of twenty 10″ x 0.28″ glue sticks should be more than enough to complete most cat scratcher projects. You may be able to get away with half as much glue for a smaller project area.
How to calculate how much rope you need
Note: Please read the whole section and proceed with caution at your own risk. This procedure assumes the ends of the board are left bare. You may also want to additionally consider how you will attach the post portion of the cat scratcher to any kind of base.
If you know the dimensions of the area to be wrapped and the width of rope you will use, you can estimate how much rope you will need to buy.
For the calculation, I defined “one wrap length” as the number of inches needed to wrap the rope around one time. For a modern 2×4 that actually measures 3.5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide, this is 10 inches (3.5 + 1.5 + 3.5 + 1.5). (If your cat scratching post is a cylinder shape, the circumference of a circle is 2 x pi x radius or pi x diameter.)
You also want to know how many “rope widths” are needed to cover an inch of cat scratch post length. For 3/8″ rope, it takes 8/3 or 2.667 rope widths to cover an inch. For 1/4″ rope, it takes 4 rope widths to cover an inch. This I defined as “# wraps per inch”.
The final parameter you need to know is how long your cat scratching post will be, i.e., “# inches to be covered”.
Approximate amount of sisal rope needed, inches = One wrap length x # wraps per inch x # inches to be covered.
Divide the above number by 12 (12 inches per foot) to determine the approximate length of rope you will need in feet, which is the unit that sisal rope is sold in on Amazon. You may want to add a few feet to this number to ensure you have enough rope to complete the project. Ideally the roll of rope is long enough to cover the whole area so that you don’t have to figure out how to add in a second piece of rope and hide the tail end of the first.
For convenience, here’s how much length of a modern 2×4 can be covered by 100 feet of 3/8″ and 1/4″ rope:
100 feet of rope will cover a 2×4 board less than 45 inches long. Make sure to account for how the ends will be secured. I was able to cover 45.75 inches of a 2×4 including wrapping one end under, but one Amazon reviewer noted that the length of rope in each roll varies so it is possible that your roll may cover less or more.
100 feet of rope will cover a 2×4 board less than 30 inches long. See notes above under ‘3/8″ rope’. I would personally not aim to cover a length of more than about 25 inches to allow for securing the rope ends and potential variation in actual rope length and board dimensions.
Recommended sisal rope products on Amazon
DIY horizontal cat scratcher
Cats seem to need something to scratch both horizontally and vertically. For a horizontal scratcher, those corrugated cardboard scratchers are a good option. You can make one yourself by cutting corrugated cardboard pieces of the same size and using wood glue to adhere them together. I made one of these years ago and it’s still holding up well. It was a lot of work to make (cutting through cardboard over and over again takes its toll), and so I’d consider buying one next time instead, but I once owned a store bought one, and it didn’t last nearly as long as the one I made. So who knows, maybe I’ll be up to the task again when the need arises.
I’m about to make a horizontal sisal cat scratcher using the same method as that of the vertical scratcher. I plan on using a 1×6 board instead and will place it outdoors in a covered area, and hope it will withstand the elements better than a cardboard product would.
I’ll try to remember to update this post on how these sisal scratchers hold up over time. If you’ve made a sisal cat scratching post, I’d love to hear how it has worked for you.
I think this would make a great project for young kids! Let me know how it goes for you, and if you have any tips on improving this project.