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DIY: Home Climbing Board

by Jake Jackson

As I’m not within walking distance to any crags/climbing gyms are shut/I can’t face another fingerboard session, I set out to build a 40-degree home board. Included is the process I used plus plenty of pictures to inspire anyone wanting to try.

Keep training, but without your mates

 Ideally you want a good solid area that you can bolt the wall too. As I don’t have a garage and the pre-built shed in my garden is super flimsy, I set about building a sturdy shed, which added a considerable amount of time, money and work onto the finished build. Tips on shed building not included, you are on your own with that one.

I had multiple anchor points to begin screwing into to form the base of the wall. The width is 2.4m so lends itself to the strips of timber and ply that come from the merchant, which saved extra cutting.

I first started with the kickboard frame as this would provide a base to how I would measure the angled beams but also helps to support the board. This measured 10 inches high and is made out of 2 3×2” timber beams with 3 supports at the middle and end.

I then bolted a 5×2” (as per my mate Eddies suggestion, thanks Eddie) above the kickboard frame which would provide a sturdy timber plank to bold the 40-degree beams against. I would do the same on the roof beams too. This took a bit of fiddling to get the right angles on the chop saw!

A spirit level is your friend

I measured the distance between the first and last angled joist, in this case, I could place beams every 2 foot. You could put them closer to strengthen even more, however I only had 5 planks left! You also want to ensure there is a beam in the middle where the joins of the plywood sheets are so you can screw into it for support!

You can see the screws I used throughout the build were a mix of 4”, 5” and 6” inches long and cost about £5 a pack from my local DIY shop (Make sure to wear ear defenders when using the impact driver)

Once I had put all the vertical angled beams in (5 in total), I then put 50cm lengths in-between each beam to provide support to strengthen the entire wall. They’re slightly offset so I can get two screws into each side, in theory this helps with the strength rather than splitting the wood if you screw in at an angle (in hindsight it’s not the easiest to screw the ply too when they’re all at random points, so you might choose otherwise!)

Got to stay warm when exiled to the shed

Because I built the wall in a shed, I wanted to insulate behind the wall before I put the ply wall up! I used some ‘earth wool’ insulation. This is essentially recycled glass bottles and is apparently as eco as using sheep’s wool. I would have done this too, but my sheep are not getting sheared until May!

I built this so it would fit two 8ftx4ft plywood sheets (18mm) and I didn’t want to have to cut them, as my straight-line skills are not the best. I then screwed every foot around the edged and through the middle to secure the ply onto the 3×2” frame behind.

Spare planks of wood are your friend when moving around heavy plywood sheets, especially in a tight area. I found myself regularly using my head as well!

I had to cut some notches on the sides when I came to fit the second sheet (I did this with my jigsaw as I was slightly out on my measurement’s!) Who said they didn’t want to cut the sheets?

Keeping with my imperial measurements, as I wanted to have a ‘system board’, I drew lines at 1 foot spacing so I wasn’t guessing where I would screw the holds onto. A tip if you’re doing this is to use clamps or a light piece of wood (I used a long strip of 3×2” and my arms were aching afterwards!!).

I began to put up some holds I’d bought from a few different small online companies (all of which are exceptional quality and provide great variety).

Holds used: Silly Goat / Taylor Made / Beastmaker

Save your wood for me

When I was at the timber yard collecting the wood for the build, I saw some tulipwood batons that were really cheap. I thought these would be perfect for some footholds/crimps. From a 2.4m length I made about 40 small foot holds and 6 crimps/undercuts! Just be careful when screwing them on (they can easily crack in half)

For tips on making your own wooden holds – please read a previous post – Making your own holds

I cut two sections of 12mm ply offcuts for the kickboard. Ideally, I would have used the same 18mm like the board itself but the 12mm felt sturdy enough with the timber behind it. This measured up at 10 inches tall and 4 foot wide per sheet.

The ‘finished’ board after a few sessions of use. Overall, the build went fairly successful and was relatively straight forward to do- I hope I gave you a few tips for your planning or when you come to make a board to train on and good luck with all your training!

It won’t replace the camaraderie of your local wall but I’m sure you can put some hecklers on speaker phone to keep your psyche high.

For more wholesome climbing related stuff, follow Jake on Instagram : @jake.jacksn

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How to thread a sewing machine.

A step by step guide to setting up a sewing machine including adjusting tension and troubleshooting.

With pictures! (Because rushing to pause videos at the right bit is a pain in the arse)

Firstly, don’t be afraid of trial and error. Most machines work in a similar way but with slight differences, but if you understand the general set up, you should be able to thread any machine that comes your way. We have mainly Singer Machines and the ones we have taken pictures of are Semi Industrial, models 66K and a 328K (I’ve also included a photo of our industrial Brother zig Zag to give you an idea of how they vary)

1. Choose the right needle and thread.


If you have the wrong needle for your machine brand, the bottom hook may struggle to collect thread in order to send it back up. Provided you have brand compatible needles you will notice they come with names like ‘Leather’ ‘Jersey’ ‘Stretch’ which is kind of self explanatory. If in doubt, just buy ‘Universal’.

As a general rule the lighter the fabric, the smaller needle you’ll need. The two numbers on the needle size are basically just the same thing, one is European and one is American.

What will you be sewing?

Leather/ jeans/ heavier fabric: a Sharps needle has a cutting point so it cuts the fabric, so good for layers of fabrics or big tough ones. Size: 100/16, 110/18 or 90/14

Knit/ lighter fabric: Ballpoint or Jersey needles, rounded tip doesn’t cut into the fabric, but instead pushes aside, so you don’t end up ruining your fabric with massive holes or runs. Size: 90/14, 80/12 or 75/11(60/8 and 70/10 for things like silk and lace)

Stretchy fabric, Lycra, elastic: a Stretch needle, has a ball point but with a ‘scarf’ which kind of allows more room for the bottom hook to grab the thread and stops missed stitches. Size: this depends on how heavy the fabric is, so see above.


For threads, you want to look at thickness and what it is made from. As with needles, the heavier the fabric, the thicker thread you will need, but also more visible the stitch will be.

They are usually measured in ‘tex’ which is basically weight per 1000 metres. Higher the heavier. Obviously.

Light weight fabrics: sizes 16-30

Medium weight fabrics: 30-60

Heavy weight fabrics: 60-135

However, it seems like different brands have different ways of measuring which is really handy. It is a confusing mine field buying thread sometimes as it also can be measured in ‘wt’, which REALLY ANNOYINGLY is where the lower the number, the stronger the thread. So watch out for that.

You can use cotton or polyester/nylon. Polyester threads tend to be stronger, good for thicker fabrics and are good for stretchy fabrics as there is a degree of stretch in the thread. Cottons are suitable for stitching cotton fabric. It is always best to match the thread with the fabric.

2. Threading the machine.

Thread comes in from the right through a retaining loop.

Then straight down into the tension wheel, make sure the thread sits well between the plates.

Clockwise round, on the outside of the little wire moving loop, and up to the arm.

Thread through the hole and then back down again, don’t forget the clip on the left side which directs the thread to the needle.

There is usually a smaller loop on the place that holds the needle to loop through as well.

This is an older machine, and a bit simpler.

Same concept through, in from the right, through a hook.

Down in between tension plates, clockwise round, this time thread goes under wire loop.

Through hook and back up to arm, through hole on arm and down again.

Thread goes through clip on the left side to guide thread towards needle.

This is our industrial machine with a different set up.

Still goes through tension plates and the arm is under the cover on the left, the thread goes around that.

If you have a more modern machine, they have really helpful arrows. The jist is Left – Down – Tension – Up – Down to needle with different variations on the way. The sewing machine often has a model number printed somewhere and it is relatively easy to download instruction manuals for your specific machine if you struggle.

Not done yet.

You need to thread the bottom spool. Spool sits in with thread pulling from the left on this one. Pull end through notch on the right, behind the tension plate and back in through notch on left. Leave a long tail for needle to pull through before you start sewing.

3. Where does the needle go? Which way?

The needles are held in with a tiny screw, which you can undo with a small flat head screwdriver.

This is the front of the needle. Curved top, with a vertical groove (‘scarf’) where the hole is. This faces towards you. Sometimes machines have needle facing outwards, in this case, this side will be facing out left.

This is the back of the needle. The top is flat and there is a horizonatal scoop above the hole. You can figure out which way the needle goes in the machine by looking where the flat bit sits. Push the needle up into the head until you feel resistance. Make sure you tighten the screw well so it won’t work loose.

4. Tension correct and Troubleshooting.

On the top of the fabric:

  1. Top tension slightly too high
  2. Just right, the threads on both sides are pulled evenly.
  3. Just right, the threads on both sides are pulled evenly.
  4. Bottom tension too loose. Top tension too high.
  5. Bottom tension too loose. Top tension too high.

On the bottom of the fabric:

  1. Top tension slightly too loose.
  2. Just right
  3. Just right
  4. Top tension too loose. Bottom too high.
  5. Top tension too loose. Bottom too high.

What does it even mean?

You have two ways of adjusting the tension on your sewing machine. Begin by adjusting the top one first.

Righty Tighty. Lefty Loosey.

Make sure the foot is up before turning. When the foot is down, the plates close together and grip the thread.

Clockwise: tighter = higher tension

Anti Clockwise: looser =lower tension.

Once you adjust, re thread and do a tester piece of fabric before continuing sewing. You can continue to make amendments until it is just right.

Same thing on this simpler one – turn right to make tension high, and left to loosen it.

Bottom spool tension adjustment.

If adjusting the top one doesn’t work, it is worth seeing if it is the bottom one causing all the problems.

The small screws at the bottom of the spool casing. They are the ones you need. There is one screw holding it all together (right one in picture) and the adjustment screw is on the left (the one with the dome head).

Small screwdriver needed – and same thing again: right = tight / left= loose. But only turn it in quarter turns at a time.

There you have it. One sewing machine with thread all in the right places and correct tension throughout.

All sewing machines work on the same principle; a needle pushes a loop of thread through fabric – and a rotating hook goes through the loop and pulls the loop over the thread coming off the bottom spool. When the needle retracts (providing tension is all right) both top and bottom threads are intertwined with the twist hidden inside the fabric at the puncture point.

Don’t be afraid to get stuck in, and learn about how it all works…it will be easier to fix that way.

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Zoe Goes Places: North-East England

North-East Bouldering: a re-reintroduction

I’m back!

Settling down to the prospect of little-to-no international travel for the rest of the year, but excited for getting out and about in the homeland.

Isolating alone for 8 weeks, I swore lockdown would be train, train, train. Two full wine bottles became light weights… and then lighter weights… until I filled them back up with water. At one point, I even improvised a pinch block with a yoga block, a sling and heavy books. It then sat proudly in the corner, the pinnacle of my quarantine creativity, and collected dust.

To my sheer amazement, I didn’t exactly emerge from lockdown as the beast I had envisioned.

Regardless, since restrictions lifted, I’ve been out and subsequently humbled on the local sandstone. I’m incredibly fortunate to reside in Newcastle and have the Northumberland boulders on my doorstep – and I count my rocky blessings each day. Ironically though, after ‘living at the crag’ in Laos and watching the aptly named ‘TV Boulder’ from the guesthouse sofa in India, ‘on the doorstep’ now refers to a minimum 35minute drive and 15minute approach…

…But I’m not complaining. The car journey becomes part of the outing. Watching the grey monotony of the city gradually succumb to a rich tapestry of green and gold brings about a gentle high, accompanied by the low buzz of adventure. On my own, it’s almost a meditation.

Plus, a long approach justifies immediately opening the crag snacks; one must obviously refuel for the day of hard climbing ahead.

Except, this is England. Notably, the North of England. We checked the forecast a week ago. We checked the forecast last night. We checked the forecast this morning.

It’s now noon and we’re huddled in the van in a layby while the rain lashes down and I sigh at the little sun/cloud hovering above ‘12pm’ on We crack a beer and toast to the solid attempt at a day out on the pebbles. We barely touched the rock and ate all the snacks. Overall, still a good time.

I’ve cowered behind a crashpad as an improvised windbreak on the exposed face of Ravensheugh crag, insufferable midges have forced us to run from the sunburnt rock in Yorkshire and, in just one short evening session, I’ve been subject to all the elements one after another.

When the weather does behave (and has done for at least 36 hours prior, given the fragility of northern sandstone), I am practising sloping crimps, sloping footholds, and… well, most things sloping. It’s a relatively new technique for me, partly due to an active avoidance thus far. Sticking a slap for a top-out is mad satisfying though – I’m hooked.

Bouldering in the County is hard and fulfilling, and the sunsets make for some epic scenes. But climbing aside, Northumberland gifts tranquillity and a strange feeling of safety. Maybe it’s the supporting mattress of bell heather, or the soft haze rolling over the Cheviots. Maybe it’s just me.

Maybe it’s just not having to worry about snakes and scorpions under rocks or in pockets (I won’t spoil the idyllic by mentioning ticks).

Having decided to stay put for a while, I’m looking forward to seeing the progress by starting my own project list and setting targets. I won’t list them here; my fear of admitting failure is second only to my fear of ticks. But follow mine or Dirtbags’ Instagram for when they’re smashed and I can claim success (shameless self-promotion).

Thank you to the poor souls with whom I get to share these outings, who lend me pads and guidebooks, and who are making UK life a little less intimidating than I had anticipated.


Photo credits include: (Instagram) @smupwalton @corndawg_25 @micky_j_p 

Sport climbing in Laos, Zoe Allin

Zoe Allin is Dirtbags’ resident writer, adventurer and boulderer. She does an alright job.

Follow her on Instagram for up to date antics: @zoallin

Zoe goes all over the place and is kind enough to write some stuff. If you have any questions or queries about said adventures and locations, shoot us an email at and we will pass it on.

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Zoe goes places: Thakhek, Laos

Sport climbing in Laos, Zoe Allin

PAD THAI AND CLIMBING HIGH: A boulderer goes sport climbing.

In an unexpected turn of events, I find myself in Southeast Asia climbing 30m pitches on some seriously 3D limestone. We’re ‘living at the crag’ at Green Climbers Home in Thakhek, Laos, and I am VERY confused. Where are the crash pads? Why is the chalk bag secured to my waist, like ALL the time, and why is it so small? What is this rope attached to me? And, dammit, there are way more than 5 moves on that problem, sorry, route. 

Prior to Laos, I had only limited sport climbing experience indoors, never mind real rock, but I got the gist. Keep going up and keep clipping in. That stood to be fundamentally true and I enjoyed three weeks of climbing high and chilling out/eating my weight in noodles at the ‘Kneebar’ restaurant. 

zoe goes places chalk bag

For someone not afraid of heights, I was surprisingly wobbly on my first climb. Even on the tufa-ladder that was a 5b and with one hand in a jug the size of Jupiter, suddenly I felt quite unstable pulling up the rope to clip in. Nevertheless, I finished my time in Thakhek with my first 7a lead tucked neatly under my harness. 

As well as learning the basics like cleaning the route (I had never even considered that I needed to get the draws *down* – such is gym climbing life), I can also say I picked up some less conventional lessons/insights along the way. 

  1. Jumping to slopers and trusting a couple fingers on credit-card crimps are fun and games when two meters off the floor and protected by 3 pads and 2 spotters. Not that I had many as-extreme moves on my climbs in Laos, but holds I would consider bomber on a boulder definitely felt less-than-satisfactory on a route, even at the first bolt. 
  1. Following on from above, point 2 is a note to future self. It’s all in your head, throw yourself at it. Notwithstanding, the fear exists. I’m no mathematician but I think the formula would look something like this:

with Fi representing Fear Index. 

  1. Belay glasses: a gift from above (aka German inventor, Albi Scheider in 2007). Simple yet splendid. Prismatic perfection. Just yes.
  1. Now aware of ‘flashing’ vs ‘onsighting’, I propose a new category to delineate whether a route has been succeeded, notably if it is flashed or onsighted, when putting the draws up as well. That additional effort should be RECOGNISED.
  1. Sent multiple climbs in one day? Congratulate yourself with a Beer Lao. Not redpointed a single route? Have a Beer Lao and try again tomorrow. Rest day? Beer Lao by the cave. Sent your project? TWO Beer Laos. (In this respect, I find bouldering and sport climbing to be much alike but note that beer options may vary by country).

In conclusion, I would say that this trip went off without a hitch.

When I left for India, not in a mallion years did I think I would find myself in Laos. 

But now, I can’t think of anywhere that would have ‘biner more apt, or indeed, a beta place to commence my sport climbing adventures…

Hopefully, someone out there might relate to a thing or two I’ve mentioned above. Maybe you went the other way and started with sport before tackling a boulder. Let me know your experiences!

Thanks to a bunch of awesome humans including, but not limited to:

Mattias Sarvik for putting Laos on the map for me;

Yonatan Koren for the psyche and support on Schwitzerland (7a);

Jörn Störtebekker and Jules Guérin for the amazing photos;

Tom, Fai and all the wonderful people at Green Climbers Home.

Zoe Allin

Insta @zoallin

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Frame bag review: The Great Australian Triathlon

Australian triathlon bike packing bags custom order

An expedition

Filmmaker Jonathan Doyle, with Ben Cianchi, expedition leader, began a journey in December 2019, of the world’s first human powered vertical crossing of Australia. We followed them via social media updates the whole time (find them here) until it was sadly cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They are all safely at home now, reflecting, recovering and gathering together what looks like is going to be an amazing film.

We were stoked to be asked to help out. And we’re stoked for the final product.

Jonathan has kindly put together some words about how we contributed to this effort…please read below.

Kit review

Dirtbags are an incredible independent company based in the Lake District, UK, who specialise in recycling old outdoor and climbing gear to create beautiful bags and accessories. Dirtbags were kind enough to support our world first expedition, The Great Australian Triathlon (thegreataustraliantriathlon), providing us with pannier bags for myself, an expedition-ready powerbank and solar charging system, and most importantly, a set of custom-made frame bags both for myself (the cameraman) and the athletes (Ben Cianchi and Daniel Lamb). 

We spent a number of evening working closely with Dirtbags founders, Jen and James to ensure we able to create the best possible bags which satisfied exactly what we needed, and from the get go, I was so happy to be working with them. They were warm and welcoming and super-stoked to get involved with the project. Their enthusiasm was electric and ideas were flowing faster than the teapot! 

Ben Cianchi - The great Australian triathlon

Having used the frame bags intensely during the filming of the expedition’s first leg; Ben, Emma and Claire Cianchi covering 640km from the most southern point of Tasmania to the most north-eastern point by foot, I can safely say that the bags are the absolute dogs-whatsits. 

I tended to use the frame bag to carry two litres of water, lunch for the day and additional camera accessories such as audio recording equipment that I needed quick access to. The top-tube bag was used to carry a small-powerpack for my phone, snacks and bike repair accessories. The material itself easily held up to the abuse I subjected it too, whether that was a little overstuffing, heavy-handedness with the zips, or when the bike inevitably hit the ground during tricky sections of trail. 

Jonathan Doyle - the great Australian Triathlon

The most difficult task for Dirtbags was making sure the bags could handle whatever environment decided to throw at them. There hadn’t been much rain in Tasmania proceeding the expedition, so we had to deal with copious amounts of dust as we crossed the state. Obviously, we needed to keep that away from any electronic equipment being carried, but more importantly we needed to keep it away from the sandwiches. We were subject to one massive rainstorm up on the highland plateau and I did fear the worst for my lunch, however Jen and James absolutely nailed it. Upon opening the bags, everything was dry, the waterproof zips and the additional waterproofing of the bag material worked a treat. I was genuinely impressed. 

Finally, the bags are incredibly eye-catching, every bike-packer we met during the crossing stopped me and commented how much they loved the look of them, saying how cool they were and how they wish they had a more interesting setup. 

Overall I have been bowled over by the Dirtbags team in going above and beyond what was promised and provided such exquisite bike-packing bags. I will absolutely be using these bags for a long time into the future!

Jonathan Doyle

insta @jonathandoylemedia

All media credit: Jonathan Doyle