Make a cat post
Cats enjoy looking out a window while going about their not-so-busy day. Build your fur friend this stylish post and you’ll both be thankful.
In order to discourage our newly adopted cat from destroying the furniture in our home, I decided to look for a dedicated scratching post. I started at the local pet stores, but I wasn’t really satisfied with anything I found, so I chose to design and build my own.
After doing some research, I learned that the ideal height for a cat scratching post is about 34″. This allows an adult cat to comfortably stretch out while scratching. I also learned most cats like a variety of surfaces, so I decided to add a solid wood window perch to the top of the post. This contrasts with the carpeted base and provides two different surfaces for the cat to use.
Face to Face
Nicholson glued two 2×4s face to face to create the main post.
Setting Up an Octagonal Cut
With the blade tilted to 45°, and the blank resting against the blade, Nicholson adjusts the rip fence so it’s slightly in contact with one corner of the workpiece.
After four rips you’ll have an even octagon post to wrap sisal around.
Make Room for the Post
Trace the post onto the carpet, then cut out the waste in the centre of the carpet. This will allow you to more securely attach the post to the base.
Great Holding Power
Once the post is attached to the base and the double-sided tape is attached to the base, you can slide the carpet over the post and stick it to the base.
Mark Each Bevel
Working your way around the four edges of the base, cut a bevel on one side of each piece of trim, position it on the base, then mark where the other end needs to be cut before gluing and pinning it in place.
With the help of a few clamps to the keep the joints flush, Nicholson glues up the solid perch.
Time for Sisal
As Nicholson works his way around the post attaching the sisal, he applies some hot melt glue then wraps the cord around the post and holds it until the adhesive becomes tacky enough to keep it in place for good.
There are many ways to create circles in the shop. Nicholson keeps a series of circular patterns on hand so he can mark, rough bandsaw and flush trim parts quickly and easily.
After some use, Nicholson found his small cat wasn’t able to get on top of the perch easily. He cut a semi-circular recess into one edge. Another option would be to apply carpet on the perch, though this approach hides what can be the nice look of the solid wood in this project.
Build a base
The base is nothing more than a piece of 3/4″ plywood cut to size. I made my base 18″ square, but you could easily change these dimensions to suit your space. Just be sure that you don’t make the base too small and introduce a tipping hazard for your pet.
After you cut the plywood to size, place a scrap of oversized carpet face down on a work surface and trace the base onto it. Move the plywood aside and cut the carpet to size with a sharp utility knife. Next, mark the centres of both the base and carpet by drawing diagonal lines from corner to corner on each material.
Construct the post core blank
The core of the scratching post is made from a standard SPF 2×4. Begin by rough cutting two sections about 36″ long, and then flatten one face of each piece at the jointer. Apply wood glue to the machined surfaces and clamp the assembly up overnight. The next day, remove the clamps and rejoint one face and square one edge. Take the blank to the table saw and set the rip fence to 3″. Place one reference face against the fence and the other reference face on the table. Rip away the waste. Rotate the blank 90° and make a second rip cut. You should be left with a perfect 3″ square post. If your post is a little under 3″ to achieve a square, it won’t affect your final project.
Square off one end, mark 34″ from your newly cut end and trim the post to its final length.
Look, Mom, no math!
Cutting the post so it has an octagonal cross section allows the sisal to form a more rounded shape on the post and provides some space for glue squeeze-out.
To cut the octagon, head back to the table saw. With the saw unplugged, tilt the blade to 45° and hold one face of the post on the blade. One edge will touch the table of the saw, forming a “point down” diamond. While holding the material in place, gently slide the fence up to the blank so it touches the closest edge of the workpiece. Lock the fence in place. Reposition the workpiece so it’s flat on the table and registering square on the fence. Lower the blade so it cuts through the material without being too high, power on your saw and rip off the first edge using a push stick. Turn off the saw, wait for the blade to coast to a stop, remove the offcut, rotate the blank 90°, and rip away the waste again. Continue in this pattern for two more cuts, and you’ll be left with a perfect octagon.
Attach the post to the base
Flip your carpet upside down and centre the post on the carpet. Trace the octagon with a pencil and set the post aside. Cut away the carpet using your marks as a guide. Test to make sure your post will fit though the opening; adjust as necessary.
Centre the post on the plywood, using your lines from earlier, and drive four 2-1/2″ screws through the base and into the post. Make sure to predrill and countersink your holes. Optionally, you can add some wood glue to the joint if you like.
Turn your project right-side up and apply a liberal amount of double-sided carpet seam tape to the base. Slide the carpet over the post and stick it down. Make sure to firmly press or walk on the carpet to ensure a good bond.
Trim out the base
To dress up the base and hide the edge of the carpet, I added some shop-made trim. The cherry trim I made is 1-1/8″ tall and 3/8″ thick. At this stage, I prefinished the trim with water-based polyurethane to avoid getting finish on the carpet.
Start by rough cutting your four trim pieces to at least 20″. Next, cut a 45° bevel on one end using the mitre saw or table saw sled and hold your piece up to one edge of the base. With the bevel aligned with the corner of the base, mark the inside of the opposing bevel with a sharp pencil and make your cut. Apply some glue and pin nail the first piece in place with some 23-gauge nails. Turn the base 90° and repeat the process. Make sure to apply glue to the mitre joints, and confirm they line up well before nailing them in place. Keep your hands 6″ away from the joint area to avoid a potential injury from a nail blowout. The final piece will need to be cut to fit, so sneak up on a good fit to compensate for any small, cumulative errors that may have been made. Let dry overnight.
Add the sisal
With the base trim completed and the post installed, you can start adding the sisal. Sisal is a rough fibre spun into a yarn-like material and cats love it. It can be found at most home centres or ordered online. After experimenting a bit, I found that two 50′ rolls of 3/8″ sisal was almost the perfect amount for this project.
To attach the sisal, start at the bottom and squirt a bit of hot glue onto the post. Using a scrap, hold the end of the sisal in the glue until it sets (about 60 seconds). Wrap the sisal tightly around the post and add some more glue as you go. Having a helper hold the sisal and pass it over the post as you work can make the process faster and more enjoyable. Alternatively, they could rotate the cat post as you work your way along. Have a lot of glue sticks on hand (I needed 10) so the process is smooth. When you get to the top, simply trim the sisal with a pair of sharp scissors.
A seat in the sun
Start by rough cutting, milling and gluing up a blank of hardwood to a finished thickness of 3/4″. Be careful to get the edges of your blank aligned (cauls work well for this). If you choose to use biscuits, lay them out carefully so you don’t expose them in the next step. After letting your blank dry overnight, remove the clamps and scrape, plane or sand it flush.
A circle can be cut many ways, and the traditional way is to use a circle cutting jig and handheld router. In fact, I cut circles this way for many years. Recently, for cutting smaller circles, I switched to a different method. I keep a range of common size MDF circle templates in the shop (6″ to 18″ in 1″ increments). Then, when I need a circle, I simply trace the appropriate template onto my workpiece, rough cut it to 1/16″ outside my line with a jigsaw, and then double-stick tape the template onto my blank (being very generous with the double stick tape). Finally, I use a double-bearing flush trim bit in the router table to cut a perfectly dimensioned circle. Always use push paddles when at the router table, and cut in the proper direction so you avoid climb cutting.
Once your circle is cut, sand it and pre-finish the bottom and sides. Finish will be added the top of the perch after it’s fastened down.
Use an awl to dimple the centre of your circle, on its underside. Chuck a 1/4″ drill bit into a cordless drill and bore a hole 3/8″ deep into the underside of your circle. Using the same bit, drill 1″ deep into the centre of your post (this will leave a mortise for a 1/4″ dowel). Slide a 1-1/4″ long dowel into the mortise (this will allow you to easily centre your perch). Mark the top 3/4″ to the left and to the right of centre. Predrill, counterbore and then drive in two 2-1/2″ screws through the perch and into the base. Glue in some plugs made from a contrasting wood (I used walnut) and let dry. Flush trim the plugs and sand the surface. If your cat is heavier than normal you might want to add a few extra screws at this stage. Finally, add a few coats of finish to the top surface of the perch.
Cat scratching posts and perches come in all shapes and sizes, and some are so large they need a dedicated space in a room. This is a fairly large post, so if your cat is small you could make a smaller one. Although our larger cat had no problem gaining access to the top perch, adding carpet to the perch would make it even easier. We also have a small cat, who found it hard to make it to the perch. I eventually cut a semi-circle out of one side of the perch, allowing the smaller cat to gain access to the perch.
You could also take this design and run with it. A multi-level cat post, compete with a few boxes for a cat to hide in would be great. All cats seem to love small areas they can squeeze into and wood boxes are easy to make.
Once all the construction is completed, the last thing to do is to add some furniture pads to the bottom and place your tower in front of your cat’s favourite window. Your fur friend can now enjoy the views of your neighbourhood when taking a break from scratching.