I made a crimp block

Fri Dec 30 '22

A mild finger strain sustained while doing some intensive training at the climbing gym has led to me needing to do some lightweight, repeatable crimps and pinches. This rules out a hangboard, as I can’t easily weight a single hand with the volumes that I’m targeting.

In particular, I wanted to do a higher volume of repetitions spaced throughout the day, which is only possible at home. While buying a crimp/pinch block would have been easy and relatively cheap ($50 CAD) I’m currently on a kick of trying to use things I have rather than buying more things.

I love any time I get to mix two hobbies together, like climbing + woodworking. If combining two hobbies is fun, what happens if another one (videography) is added? Double the fun? Quadruple?

If you prefer to watch instead of read you can skip to the tl;dr section where the final video is embedded.

One thing I have found in both cooking and woodworking is that often it’s easier to make things in bulk than in single, small batches. An example in cooking is that it’s difficult to emulsify things in a blender if there’s low volume, and the parallel in woodworking is that it’s often unsafe to work with small pieces of wood, so you end up working with a larger piece and then trimming it down later, sometimes wasting wood in the process.

It was easy to think of how to scale up the design into multiple finger blocks, and I knew that I wanted to make at least three (one for me, two for my climbing friends) but could increase this to make the best use out of whatever wood pieces I found in my shop.

Filming and woodworking

My script going into the video for the process was fairly simple and mostly involved the setup pieces of the video. From there, I just recorded short bits of video of each step of the process as I went, changing camera angles whenever I picked up or put down a tool.

I’ve done woodworking before where I started in sketchup, generated a cut list and instructions, and followed them precisely, but this project (and filming) was much more of the plan-as-you-go type, which I enjoy a lot.

There’s only one camera filming me during this build, and you can sometimes pause a step midway to switch camera angles—but this isn’t always safe with power tools. However, doing the build in bulk like this did lead to some serendipitous shots where I can trick the viewer into thinking there are two cameras.

An implementation issue

The original design had the various finger slots routed into the block. This is aesthetically pleasing and how most commercial crimp blocks are manufactured, but this design was a nightmare for me to implement. This is perhaps because I’m using a trim router (a plunge router would be better suited), poor quality bits, or more probably because of user error.

a routed slot in the maple where each subsequent layer has different bumps.

When this happened I was pretty frustrated, especially after taking so much care to route the slots, so I quit for the day and headed to the climbing gym instead. Working out is such a great way to solve problems, in my experience, and my solution was to use my table saw to route the slots instead. This meant you couldn’t have the stopped slots in the original design, but has the advantages of being faster, safer, and easier to clean out chalk from.

In the past—especially watching a lot of youtube maker channels—I would get tool envy and think that purchasing some tool or equipment would make the process easier. My current goal is to design for optimal usage of all the tools I have, which I think this small redesign accomplished perfectly.

The rest of the build was pretty uneventful and I ended up finishing the pieces the next day, minus some paracord work for the slings. The pieces were all finished with 240grit sandpaper but have no wax or other protective coating, as anything I could think of would be incompatible with climbing chalk.

While the wood is lacking the texture you frequently find on climbing holds, this means that your finger positioning is even more important, which is a bonus to training. It also means that it’s very gentle on your skin for repeated training sessions.

End product

In the end, this is a pretty versatile block and I’m quite happy with it. At the time of writing this, I only have a few sessions of use, so I’ll probably have some updates or redesigns in a couple of months.

The only change that has already become apparent is to incut the non-crimp side of the 6mm and 10mm edges so that it can also be used for pinch training, as it’s almost entirely impossible to use these edges for pinching otherwise. This could be retrofitted to the existing blocks with some routering or even just through sanding.

a finished crimp block made of maple with a paracord sling
The finished block.
a side profile of a crimp block showing the hold depths
The side profile, showing the four edge depths.
a crimp block in use with the hand in a half-crimp on the 10mm edge
Demonstration of using the 10mm edge in a half-crimp position.
the block being used for pinch training with the fingers on the 20mm edge and the thumb on the 16mm edge
Beyond the four crimp edges, you can also flip the block 90° and use the various edges for pinch training. The thumb can be placed on an opposing edge, or on the outside of the block itself for a wider pinch.
a greater swiss mountain dog being used as leverage for finger training
A reasonable way to use the block if you’re missing weights but have a 100lb dog at hand.

As for the videography, I’ll let you decide how it turned out. I’m pretty happy with the result after a few hours of editing. I think that the lighting needs the most work, as my shop has lots of shadows, and I made the mistake of using some LED penlights (with a different temperature) for one shot in particular which really blew out the image.