My brother has an outdoor cat. A fourteen year old orange tabby, Pumpkin is an enormous, lovable beast who spends his days romping around the yard and surrounding woods, hunting small prey, visiting the neighbors, and climbing high into the branches of trees. It’s not unusual to see Pumpkin perched in the boughs of a mighty oak, surveying his kingdom with casual satisfaction.
My poor cats can only dream of that sort of rugged lifestyle. Bourbon and Lola (or as the vet likes to call them, Bourbon and Cola) are purebred Siamese who have spent their entire lives indoors. They may act tough, but these delicate flowers just aren’t built for outdoor living. Instead of hunting chipmunks, they stalk nerf golf balls. Their kingdom is climate controlled, their every meal catered, and the only oak they may perch upon is the fireplace mantel. The closest they come to gamboling through the forest is enjoying the view from the screened in porch on a sunny day.
The instinct to find the highest spot to perch runs deep in our feline friends. An elevated vantage point gives them an unobstructed view of their surroundings and gives them a sense of security in knowing they are out of reach of aggressors. Although it may not be a true survival imperative for indoor cats, they are still going to seek out the tallest tree or at least the next best thing.
At my house the preferred perch is this DIY cat tree made from the trunk of a poplar tree that fell in the yard this winter. Easy and inexpensive to build, it combines the appeal of natural materials and the comfort of carpeted platforms for climbing, lounging and lying in wait for the errant cat toy that might stray from the herd.
I’m not sure the cats appreciate this feline furniture as an authentic piece of the great outdoors, but they sure spend a lot of time using it. As for me, I find it a whole lot prettier than some of the store-bought alternatives and the footprint is small enough that it doesn’t eat up a lot of space in the living room or screened in porch.
Want to build a natural branch cat tree for your own pampered pets? Odds are the basic materials are already in your own back yard. Here’s how to do it.
Find a tree fallen tree trunk or branch at least four inches in diameter. Look for one that is relatively straight, dry and without any evidence of insect infestation or damage. This lawn debris will be used as the “trunk” of your cat tree. Here we have found a segment of a fallen poplar that will suit our purpose. As with any plant, confirm your tree is non-toxic to cats before using.
Using the tree branch, two smaller branches, some plywood and a little carpeting, we will build a stylish cat tree in just a couple of hours.
Wash the “trunk” with an antibacterial soap and remove any loose twigs or bark. Use a chainsaw or circular saw to cut to a length of four feet. Make sure ends are flat and the trunk rests level on its end.
Measure up 16 inches from the bottom of the truck and use a circular saw set to a depth of 2 inches to score a slot ¾” wide to hold the bottom platform. Four passes with the saw should be enough to provide the width needed before chiseling away the remainder.
Use a chisel to break away the wood in the prepared slot.
Make sure there are no spurs or debris left behind to leave a clean, smooth slot to hold a platform on which your cat can perch.
Insert an 11”x14” piece of ¾” plywood or particle board in the slot to make sure it fits snugly. and is level with the ground when the trunk is held upright. Once the first slot is complete, measure up eighteen inches from the slot, rotate the trunk approximately 90 degrees and add a second slot for the middle platform.
Once the slots have been prepared, Remove the platforms and rest the trunk on the center of a 24”x24” square of ¾” plywood. mark the location.
Flip the trunk over and place the 24” square of plywood on top, aligning it with the marked center. Attach the base to the trunk using three 6” screws.
One at a time, remove the screws and use a spade bit to drill a hole at each screw just deep enough to prevent the head of the screw from protruding. Replace the screws and flip the trunk to rest on its base. Make sure the base rests flat on the ground and does not rock.
Insert narrower sides of platforms into the prepared slots, offset to about 2 inches from a corner. Make sure the platforms are level and the offset is enough to make it easy for a cat to leap from the lower platform to the upper.
Use a pencil to trace the slot location on each platform.
Cut two pieces of carpet to a size of 15”x18”, one to 18”x18” and one to 28”x28”. These will be used to cover the platforms of the cat tree.
Use a spray adhesive to coat the top, edges and an inch in on the bottom edges of a platform.
Center platform top-side down on a piece of prepared carpet (also top-side down) . Fold the edges of the carpet down to adhere to the platform, pinching the corners to create a seam with a protruding “cat’s ear” at each corner.
Use a utility knife to trim away the “cat’s ears”, leaving square corners and a clean seam.
Use utility knife to cut away the carpet where the platform will be inserted in the trunk slots. Once first platform is complete, repeat carpeting procedure with the second platform.
Moving on the the top of the cat tree, center a 14”x14” piece of plywood on top of the trunk and secure with two 6” screws. Using the same method as when attaching the base, use a spade bit to countersink the heads of the screws.
Now that you’ve had some practice attaching carpet, you should be able to do it upside down. That’s good, because the carpet for the top platform is to be attached in place to allow the screws to remain hidden. Spray the top, edges and bottom perimeter with adhesive. Center and attach an 18”x18” piece of carpet, fold the edges under and trim the corners.
Flip the trunk over to rest on the top platform and detach the base. Cover the base using the 28”x28” piece of carpet, reattach and flip the tree back over. Make sure it still rests flat and level on its newly carpeted base.
Return the lower and middle platforms to their slots and secure each with a 3” screw from below, driving the screw at an angle into the trunk into the platform inside the slot.
Use a miter saw to cut two small branches about two inches in diameter to a length of ten to twelve inches with ends angled at about 45 degrees.
Place a branch under each of the side platforms and make sure the ends rest flat against the trunk and the bottom of the platforms (you may need to make adjustments to the angled cuts, depending on the shape of the trunk). Once these branches are trimmed, secure to the trunk and base using 2” screws.
These smaller branches are strictly cosmetic, so don’t worry that they don’t seem like they will be able to bear a heavy load.
Find a sunny spot in the living room or screened in porch for your DIY cat tree and stand back. My cats were on board before it was even in place. For indoor cats, having their own tree to climb makes the longing for a romp in the wild a little more bearable and this natural tree branch construction gives it a stylish look that adds a little fashion to the function.