Pinches & Jugs

I lunge for what I hope is a jug. I shift my weight to foothold no thicker than a nickel. Both hold. I follow a meandering line of colorful beacons up the wall, implicitly trusting the holds and the setter that placed them.

Then I stop to think. What beta do I have on these holds? I know something about the characteristics of granite and sandstone. Before attempting a new route outside, I usually consult a guidebook and a web site or two. What do I know about plastic?

As it turns out, there’s a community of craftsmen devoted to making indoor climbing both exhilarating and safe. The design and manufacture of holds, one activity of that community, is a fascinating blend of science and art.

These craftsmen must consider everything from the physiology of the human hand to the aesthetics of indoor climbing walls. To succeed, a hold maker must understand the properties of urethane and the economics of its use. Yet there is no degree in hold making.

This photo essay details the steps involved in the manufacture of climbing holds. (This is an extended version of the article published in the Feb/Mar 2016 issue of Climbing Magazine and available online here.) Like any 5-star route, the process involves several cruxes. Precision and swiftness are required; attention to detail is a must. There is no hangdogging. Make a mistake, and you start over.  

All photos were shot at Stone Age Climbing Holds in Sacramento, CA. Stone Age designs and manufactures holds for Touchstone Climbing, a chain of climbing gyms in California. There is a large and growing number of climbing hold manufacturers in the U.S. Stone Age is rare but not unique in that it performs the entire manufacturing process in-house. Most hold companies outsource at least some of the work. While the basic outline of the process described here is shared, each shop puts its own spin on its own process.