DIY Cat Tree: Turn a Shelving Unit Into a Cat Tower

Learn how to repurpose a thrift-store find like a wooden baker’s rack into a high-rise cat tree complete with a satisfying scratch post, litter box and kitty hammock.

August 13, 2020
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Give your feline BFF a place to climb and nap without spending big bucks on a cookie-cutter cat condo. All you need to get started is a bookshelf or baker's rack to repurpose and some basic tools. Then follow the simple steps below to make a custom, DIY cat tree.

Cat Tree

Upcycled DIY Cat Tower

Now you can give your feline BFF impressive outdoor digs without spending big bucks on a cookie-cutter cat condo. Repurpose a thrift store find, like this wooden baker’s rack, into a high-rise cat tower complete with exclusive views, satisfying scratch posts and kitty hammock.

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza Photography

Tomas Espinoza Photography

Tools and Materials

  • wooden bookshelf or baker’s rack
  • drop cloth
  • carpenter square/ruler
  • marker
  • manila rope
  • scrap board (1x3)
  • fine-grit sanding block
  • drill
  • 3/4” spade bit
  • jigsaw
  • lint-free rags
  • primer
  • paint
  • paintbrushes
  • hot glue
  • tension rod
  • fabric
  • cup hooks
  • self-adhesive hooks
  • cat hammock
  • litter box + scoop
  • small cat toys

Prep Workspace

Place the shelf on a drop cloth in a well-ventilated area, then gather your tools and materials in one central area. When it comes to DIYs, keep it fun and avoid frustration by having everything you're going to need close at hand, including any extension cords.

Prep Workspace

Upcycled DIY Cat Tower: Prep Workspace

Place the shelf on a drop cloth in a well-ventilated area, then gather your tools and materials in one central area. When it comes to DIYs, keep it fun and avoid any frustration by keeping everything you're going to need handy including any extension cords.

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza Photography

Tomas Espinoza Photography

Make Modifications

We used a jigsaw to cut off the arch on the top of this 1980s baker's rack. We also made a few more alterations, like adding 6-inch square cutouts to allow the cats to jump in between shelves.

Make Modifications

Upcycled DIY Cat Tower: Make Modifications

After we used a jigsaw to cut the arch off the top of this 1980s baker's rack, we made a few more "renovations," like adding 6-inch square cutouts to allow the cats to jump in between shelves.

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza Photography

Tomas Espinoza Photography

Getting Started

After you've marked the cutouts, use a drill to make starter holes so that you can slip the jigsaw blade down into the wood. Outfit your drill with a 3/4" spade bit, then make a hole in the center of the square.

Make a Hole

Upcycled DIY Cat Tower: Getting Started

After you've marked the cutouts, make starter holes so that you can slip the jigsaw blade down into the wood. Outfit your drill with a ¾" spade bit, then make a hole in the center of the square.

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza Photography

Tomas Espinoza Photography

Cut + Sand

Place the jigsaw blade inside the starter hole and begin cutting away the wood until you can move along your markings. When using a jigsaw, let the blade get going before slowly moving it forward into the wood. After you've made all the cutouts, use a sander or fine-grit sanding block to smooth rough edges and take off the high-gloss finish.

Cut + Sand

Upcycled DIY Cat Tower: Cut + Sand

Place the jigsaw blade inside the starter hole and begin cutting away the wood until you can move along your markings. When using a jigsaw, let the blade get going before slowly moving it forward into the wood. After you've made all the cutouts, use a sander or fine-grit sanding block to smooth rough edges and take off a high-gloss finish.

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza Photography

Tomas Espinoza Photography

Prime the Shelf

Now you're ready to clean the piece up and prime it. Use a damp rag to remove any dust, and if it still has a grimy film from its previous life, use an all-purpose cleaner to thoroughly de-grease the surface. Once the shelf is dust-free and squeaky clean, prime it. We get why it's tempting to skip this step, but don't! Your paint will adhere better over time, and the color stays true. Pro Tip: If your piece has a super shiny finish, and you don't like to sand, use a de-glosser before painting.

Prime

Upcycled DIY Cat Tower: Prime

Now you're ready to clean the piece up and prime it. Use a damp rag to remove any dust, and if it still has a grimy film from its previous life, use an all-purpose cleaner to thoroughly de-grease the surface. Once the shelf is dust-free and squeaky clean, prime it. We get why it's tempting to skip this step, but don't! Your paint will adhere better over time, and the color stays true.

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza Photography

Tomas Espinoza Photography

Paint the Cat Tree

When the primer has properly dried, give the shelves a coat or two of paint. If the cat condo will be outdoors, use an exterior-grade paint and choose a color that blends well with your outdoor decor or patio space. For the sheen, choose a gloss or semi-gloss so it'll be easier to wipe little paw prints away.

Paint

Upcycled DIY Cat Tower: Paint

After the primer has dried properly, give the shelves a coat or two of exterior paint. Choose a color that blends well with your outdoor decor or patio space. When selecting a sheen, choose a gloss or semi-gloss, so it'll be easier to wipe little paw prints away.

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza Photography

Tomas Espinoza Photography

Add Litter Box

Of course, any legitimate cat condo will need "facilities." Add a tension rod and cute fabric to create a privacy curtain for the litter box. And don't forget to add a self-adhesive hook nearby to hang the scoop.

Add Litter Box

Upcycled DIY Cat Tower: Add Litter Box

Of course, any legitimate cat condo will need "facilities." Add a tension rod and cute fabric to create a privacy curtain for the litter box. And don't forget to add a self-adhesive hook nearby to hang the scoop.

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza Photography

Tomas Espinoza Photography

Install Scratch Posts

Scratch posts are what it's all about when it comes down to a cat tree's curb appeal. We wrapped a scrap board with 1/4" manila rope, then secured it using hot glue. The board wedged nicely between the shelves, but we also added self-adhesive strips to the ends for a little extra stability. Take advantage of any spindles or slats by wrapping rope around a few of them for an additional scratch zone.

Install Scratch Posts

Upcycled DIY Cat Tower: Install Scratch Posts

Scratch posts are what it's all about when it comes down a cat condo's curb appeal. We wrapped a scrap board with ¼" manila rope, then secured it using hot glue. The board wedged nicely between the shelves, but we also added self-adhesive strips to the ends for a little extra stability. If your shelf has spindles or slats, make the most of that by wrapping rope around a few of them for an additional scratch zone.

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza Photography

Tomas Espinoza Photography

Hang Hammock

After a day of intense frolicking on the cat tree, your precious baby will surely be exhausted, so an adorable cat hammock is a must-buy. Screw cup hooks into the shelf above for super-easy hammock installation.

Hang Hammock

Upcycled DIY Cat Tower: Hang Hammock

After a day of intense frolicking on the cat tree, your precious baby will surely be exhausted, so an adorable cat hammock is a must-buy, right? Screw cup hooks into the shelf above for super-easy hammock installation.

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza Photography

Tomas Espinoza Photography

Food + Water

Make sure to include bowls for food and water, but NOT near the litter box. You'll also want to refresh the water frequently so your cat will be enticed to stay hydrated.

Food + Water

Upcycled DIY Cat Tower: Food + Water

Make sure to include bowls for food and water, but NOT near the litter box. You'll also want to refresh the water frequently so your cat will be enticed to drink and stay hydrated.

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza Photography

Tomas Espinoza Photography

Snacks + Toys

Hang a few fun, colorful toys around on the cat tree, so if the mood strikes to bat one around, it's front and center. And of course, you'll need treats stored in sturdy, airtight containers.

Snacks + Toys

Upcycled DIY Cat Tower: Snacks + Toys

Hang a few fun, colorful toys around on the cat tree, so if the mood strikes to bat one around, it's front and center. And of course, you'll need treats stored in sturdy, airtight containers.

Photo by: Tomas Espinoza Photography

Tomas Espinoza Photography

Secure to Wall

Finally, it's wise to secure any tall shelf to the wall using safety straps or brackets, especially those that will be lounged in, pounced upon and scratched vigorously by your favorite cats.

Watch the Cat Condo How-to 01:26

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