Climbing Science

Ever wonder how strong that volume you’re cranking on is? Looking for tips to build your home woodie? In this interview, president of Rockstar Volumes and DBI Woodworks Inc., Dovi Hirsch, shares wisdom and tips into the science behind building these vital training devices

But first, get to know Dovi in this film by our friends at Just Go Climb:


You have a lot of creative volume designs, including the third eye, snow cone, yin and yang, and even a teddy bear. Where does the inspiration come from?

Teddy BearThe 3D volumes are mostly geometric shapes, the more unique ones come from various setters we have worked with. Some of the Flat Series starts with a sketch that is later imported into our computer to work on the CNC machine. A few of the Flat series were designed by Mad Rock athletes Peter Dixon and Rob D’anastasio.

Some of our products, like the teddy bear, were actually wine bottle holders that we then converted to a flat. Setters also provide a lot of feedback.


Related: What it Takes to be a Female Route Setter: An Interview with Kat Hart-Gentry


Now that you have the idea and the sketch, what’s the next step?

For the Flat volumes we then take the sketch and scan it into a program called VCarve. This is a CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing) program that allows me to draw the designs and then tell the CNC machine what to do. I can indicate that I want a quarter-inch bit, the cut to be inside the line, outside, depth of cut etc.

3D woodwork

The 3D volumes are drawn in 3D modeling software, and then 2D planes are created with t-nut holes. Part of what our software also does is allow us to automatically nest the parts so that the pieces are interweaved. This way we end up with almost no waste. I input everything we need—all the shapes—and whatever fits the best in the least amount of sheets is what we end up making.

Are there any free programs that climbers could use to experiment in designing a volume, a hold, or their home woodie?

I recommend SketchUp from Google for designing anything. A lot of our geometric shapes start in SketchUp—which provides three-dimensional modeling—where we decide the sizes and angles. We then transfer this into the VCarve program, which is two-dimensional.

To actually build the volume, what are your next steps?

DBI Woodworks IncOur next step is to load the sheets on the CNC machine. Everything gets cut, even all the t-nut holes. After this, we use a custom built shaper and hold the piece at the desired angle.

The parts are then glued and stapled together, the ribbing is cut and installed to fit in all of the inside corners. Once cured, we trim all the ribs and sand the corners, mounting and set screw holes are drilled. Coating is applied and t-nuts are installed.

Is there a tool or piece of equipment that you couldn’t work without?

The Bosch Multi-Master really helps us cut all the ribbing pieces.

What type of wood are you using?

Pine plywood, 3/4” thick.

DBI Woodworks

What sort of loads can your volumes support?

One of the tests that we did was with a pick-up truck, dragging a 600-lb log almost 30 feet across a parking lot. we then dropped it off a building and wailed on it with a sledge hammer and parked a truck on 4 of them. Our volumes are as strong or stronger than whatever the wall is being made out of.


Check out the impressive Rockstar Volumes product strength testing:

Where does 3D printing enter the volume and hold industry?

I don’t think we’ll ever really be climbing on 3D-printed plastic, but prototypes for certain holds might be effective. It takes a lot of time to 3D print and it’s probably more cost-effective to make a mold and pour the holds.

What product are you using to coat the volumes, giving them the necessary friction?

We have them coated by Rockwerx with their Gym Rock Lite product—we have a partnership with them that we started a little less than a year ago. Prior to this, we were using a truck bed liner.


Related: Rock Climbing Science: Understanding Friction Forces

Dovi Hirsch

If I’m building a home woodie, is a truck bed liner an appropriate coating option?

Truck bed liner is a good option, but it’s pricey. The dirtbag alternative might be an epoxy floor paint or deck paint.

What other tips might you have for someone building a woodie?

We made a woodie in our shop—we had small 8’ x 12.5’ space where we could put our wall. Ours is a little unique in that we had to hit a beam so we did a couple angles: straight up and then coming out about 30°, and also straight up and coming out about 20°.

If you can do multiple angles, that’s great. I suggest that if you’re only trying to train, do a 30° angle. But, if this is all you have to climb on you might try 15° angle, but add volumes to make the wall more varied. It’s really about getting as much square footage of wall in your room.

climbing woodie

Photo: Jake Sutton

What has been the biggest challenge in creating Rockstar Volumes?

The hardest thing is to get gym owners to understand that volumes will make their walls more interesting. A lot of people don’t understand how easy it is to change up a wall (even home walls) with volumes.

We’re trying to get the industry to shift in this direction.

rockstar volumes


Now to you

Have you ever designed climbing holds, volumes, or built a woodie? What tips do you have? Add your feedback in the comments.