I have wanted to make a cat tree using real branches for a long time. It’s one of those projects that’s been bubbling up on my dream project wish list for a while. I am ecstatic with the finished tree!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We should start at the beginning.
Make a Cat Tree Using Real Branches
One day while we were at my parents’ house, my dad and I went out into the woods behind their house and emerged with two branches. This is the cat tree before photo:
I had a big vision for these branches! But first I had to let them dry out indoors, so while I was doing that, I started browsing some inspiration for realistic-looking cat trees. Here are some of my favorites:
Since I’m not a professional woodworker and many of these trees were made by professionals, I tempered my expectations and decided to take bits and pieces from each design to incorporate in to something that I could realistically make. I sketched out a super advanced design with a pencil and paper.
So I actually didn’t end up being too far off from what I wanted. So with these fool-proof plans ready to go, I started gathering supplies.
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Branches & support pieces:
- A big branch and a small branch. My small one is about 3′ tall, and my big one is about 5.5′ tall
- A paint scraper—you can get a simple little one like mine here
- Minwax Stain in Natural and Rust-Oleum Ultimate Polyurethane in Satin
- Small hand-held saw
- Sisal for scratching post portions
- Fake vines—mine are old from Jo-Ann, but you can browse similar here
- 2″ x 48″ dowel, cut in two pieces for the scratchers (here)
- 2.5″ wood screws
Base & platforms:
- One piece of 3/4″ plywood cut to 2′ wide by 3′ long
- 2 pieces of 1″ x 3″ x 8′ pine for the base’s ledge
- Rust-Oleum Wood Stain in Kona and Minwax Polyurethane in Semi-Gloss
- Decorative rocks—you can browse them on Amazon here
- Stepping stones from Lowe’s—here
- Pine scrap pieces in various sizes for the platforms
- Brown faux fur fabric—reused
Miscellaneous tools & supplies:
- Miter saw
- Drill—I have this one
- Assorted sandpaper—I used 100 and 150 grit
- Hand-held staple gun
- Liquid Nails Heavy Duty Construction Adhesive—it’s cheap and wonderful
- Various sized nails and screws
Here’s how to make a cat tree using real branches!
Step 1: Scrape, sand, and finish the branches.
Once your branches are sufficiently dry, strip the bark off and then finish and seal them. This is actually a lot of work, so I broke those steps out in to their own detailed post about how I stripped, stained, and sealed my branches! You can see that post HERE!
But here’s a glimpse at the very messy and frustrating but rewarding process:
After you strip your bark off, level your branches as best you can. Some people recommend a laser level, and while I’m sure that would have been 1000000% times easier, we leveled the tops and bottoms of the branches by eyeballing and then sawing off very small portions at a time.
Step 2: Attach the branches to the base and finish the base.
First, pre-drill holes in the branches. If your branches have any cracks, make sure you avoid those areas when drilling. Position and attach your branches to the main base piece, the plywood, by screwing 2.5″ screws up through the bottom of the plywood and into the branches. We also added Liquid Nails on the bottom of each branch before screwing them on.
Next, build out and finish the base. We built a raised edge all the way around using 1″ x 3″ pine pieces cut to length. This serves two purposes: it covered the rough edge of the plywood while also creating a space for rocks to make the tree bottom heavy. I stained the entire base in Kona and finished it with two coats of semi-gloss polyurethane.
Step 3: Create and install the scratching posts.
Once the base was finished and the two branches were attached, we worked on the scratching posts. We made the posts using a 2″ x 48″ wooden dowel cut in to two pieces. I stained and finished these in Kona and semi-gloss poly to match the base and glued sisal rope around them. To get the sisal rope to stay while the glue dries, you can shoot in a few staples with a hand-held staple gun.
Then we dabbed some Liquid Nails on the bottom of each post and screwed them in to the base just as we did the tree branches.
Step 4: Create the platforms.
I grabbed four scrap pieces of pine to use for the platforms. I loved being able to use these little pieces that had just been sitting around! The back scratching post platform is very small—more like a step stool for the little girl—while the front scratching post platform is a bit bigger. The two higher platforms are about the same size—big enough for King Henry to max out. We also build out a tiny little ledge around the highest platform to coordinate with the base.
I decided to do a mix of stained (Kona) and finished (semi-gloss poly) platforms to match the base and platforms upholstered with faux-fur fabric. They had the same faux fur on their old cat condo, and they loved it, so I just reused that.
Step 5: Install the platforms.
We used a combination of Liquid Nails, screws, and a nail gun (but you could use a hammer and nails) to secure each platform in place. Again, remember to avoid nailing or drilling directly into a crack in your branches.
Here’s my dad looking adorable while we were attaching the platforms!
Step 6: Add finishing touches!
Yay, almost done! Time for the finishing touches. I put a few cheap stepping stones and big rocks in the base to keep the tree bottom heavy. The rocks are big enough so that neither cat will understandably mistake the base for a litter pan and Henry won’t eat them (he is an asshole and eats lots of things he shouldn’t).
The stepping stones allow them to walk around the base and helped me keep costs down since they were so much cheaper than the rocks. I also picked up some faux vines to wrap around the branches.
And here it is—finally in its new home!
You’re going to love my total cost for this project. The tree I really loved was $800 (and used fake branches!). For my tree, I spent…
Here’s the breakdown of what I paid (I did use coupons for a lot of this):
- Satin finish for the branches ($6.00)
- Semi-gloss polyurethane ($6.47)
- Faux vines ($12.99)
- Decorative rocks and stepping stones ($25.07)
- Lumber for the base ($13.14)
- Wooden dowel ($7.98)
- Liquid Nails (3.47)
Everything else? It was found, foraged, already owned, or borrowed with the help of my sweet dad! If you have most of the tools and can get a little creative, you can keep the cost for this project much lower than it would be to buy a new similar-looking tree!
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