I feel like cats are a little misunderstood. We often say that cats don’t care about any sort of luxury we buy them… and sure, there is some truth to that. They usually ignore the actual thing you bought and instead go to sleep inside the empty cardboard box where the item came from.

Cats like certain things and different cats will have different tastes, which is why some are more prone to new toys and some completely ignore them.

BUT if there’s one thing cats love by their own nature is climbing. This is why cat owners often find success when they create a cat tower – a DIY project that can be adapted from a common wooden shelf and becomes the new master lounge for your cats!

Here’s all you need to build a cat tower yourself and a few tips to make it perfect for your furry friend.

“The more cats you have, the longer you live. If you have a hundred cats, you'll live 10 times longer than if you have 10. Someday this will be discovered, and people will have a thousand cats and live forever. It's truly ridiculous. – Charles Bukowski

Required tools


The idea here is to take an ordinary wooden shelf and customize it to become a cat tower. This means we’ll be needing general use tools for wood work. Maybe you already own a good number of these if you’ve dabbled into DIY wood work before, but most of these are easy to acquire for cheap or even borrow from a neighbor.

Tools for adapting a shelf:

  • A small to medium-sized wooden shelf
  • Jigsaw
  • Drill
  • Square ruler
  • Marker

Additions your cat will like:

  • Carpet
  • Litter box
  • Self-adhesive hooks (for hanging toys)
  • Toys on rope
  • Manila rope and tension rod (to create a scratching post)

What can you do with a cat tower

Everything you can put in a cat tower. Source: HGTV
Everything you can put in a cat tower. Source: HGTV

If you can find a small shelf like this – whether from a department store like IKEA or used from a garage sale –, it’s more than enough to create an awesome cat tower with tons of room for up to three cats.

The general idea is to create climbing opportunities, places to play and places to rest. The woodwork will probably be the hardest part since it involves cutting, but if you don’t have the tools or don’t feel confident doing it yourself, a local handyman can always help you!

The climbing part we’ll talk about below because it’s very important, but it’s what will allow your cats to easily hop up or jump down, making it more intuitive for them.

As for playing, you can set up some hanging toys on a rope and a scratching post so that they are encouraged to mark the place and make it their own. Along with that, cats really love fluffy surfaces like cloth and carpet. You can acquire carpet or a fluffy rug and cut it small enough to fit the shelf piece – your cat will love it!

Finally, this is entirely optional but if you don’t have a better place for it, you can also set up the litter box at the very bottom of the shelf. This puts everything in one place and you can even create a small curtain so that the messy part is covered most of the time (nice addition for when guests are around). If you’re curious about the shelf above, read more about it here.

Now that we covered the general idea for the cat tower, let’s get into some important tips:

Creating climbing opportunities

Cats love to climb, so create opportunities for them! Source: Family Handyman
Cats love to climb, so create opportunities for them! Source: Family Handyman

This will make or break your cat tower. Cats like to climb – they’re naturally curious and they tend to feel safer when in elevated terrain, which is just their instinct. Thus, making an intuitive “ladder design on your cat tower will surely make your cat interested. And when they see that the place is comfy, safe, and maybe even has a scratching post, they’re more than likely to stay!

If your shelf allows it, instead of cutting a hole (which might be difficult if you don’t own the required gear) you can make this even easier by simply cutting one half of the surface, which will also allow your cats to traverse up and down more easily but still leave them room to lay down and play.

Use fluffy surfaces

Cats love rugs, carpets, and blankets. Source: My Very Educated Mother
Cats love rugs, carpets, and blankets. Source: My Very Educated Mother

Cats love fluffy surfaces like carpets, rugs, and blankets. This is most likely due to them relating it to the feeling of being close to another cat, or the feeling of being close to their mother – this is also related to why cats will often "smush" soft cozy spots with their paws before laying down.

In short, you can use soft surfaces to greatly increase your cat’s interest in this new place you made for them. They probably won’t care much for a flat and probably cold wooden board, but if you put a fluffy carpet or blanket on it, they’ll be all over it.

The wall shelf option

Wall shelves also work as long as you plan around it. Source: Tatiana’s Delight
Wall shelves also work as long as you plan around it. Source: Tatiana’s Delight

I’m also leaving this one as an option because it’s super cool and doesn’t cost a ton more, BUT it is a more permanent feature in your home, so you must be sure before you start!

The idea is to use simple IKEA wall shelves to create places where you cat can climb up and rest. This is best set up if you have a large empty wall in a corridor, for example, because then you can install the shelves like “steps so your cat can climb up and feel cozy at about your height – so that you can still pet them or pick them up if you want!

Make the shelves cozy with a blanket or carpet that fits nicely and they will feel like the kings or queens of the house!

Actually… who am I kidding? They already do.

Looking for some help with this project? Get free quotes from a local handyman in your area today!


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