There is no disputing the fact that indoor cats, because they are safe from predation, traffic and communicable diseases are healthier and live longer than their outdoorsy brethren. Still, a cat needs adventure now and then. You can help by giving her a realistic tree to climb.
Before cutting down a redwood for kitty to play on, consider the size of the room where it will go and the height of your ceiling. Carefully measure each door it must go through, and make no individual component larger than the narrowest opening – you may have to move it someday. You can build a larger, more elaborate tree with branches by making it in sections and pegging or bolting everything together once it is in the room. Cut off the branches outdoors, and reattach them indoors by pegging them together with large dowels or metal rods inserted in matched holes drilled through both the trunk and the base of each branch. Using this method, you can also correct the angle of some branches to make them more horizontal for lounging.
A rustic cat tree should start with a real tree trunk. If you have access to a woodlot, you're in luck. Select and cut a sturdy tree with a trunk diameter between 3 and 6 inches, and remove a section no more than 8 feet in height. Trim away all but the largest branches, and cut those to a reasonable length. If you don't have a woodlot or tree-cutting skills, arrange to get a log section from a tree-removal service, or look to a local sawmill or firewood supplier for help. Purchase some rough boards as well, to turn into platforms and a tree house. You may also want to buy some carpet scraps for platforms and scratching posts. Choose green materials to simulate grass and leaves.
Tools and Hardware
Each cat tree is individual, and the tools you will need to build one will depend on what you design and how you plan to assemble it. In general, though, you will need a sharp handsaw or chainsaw; a drill and an assortment of wood bits; hammer and nails; measuring tape; sandpaper; wood rasps and files; wood glue, and an assortment of screws and bolts. Other things you may need include dowels or metal rods; L-brackets; carpet knife; carpet tacks, and fabric glue.
Making it Safe and Secure
Make the base for your cat tree as heavy as possible for stability. Build a plywood box large enough to hide three of four concrete blocks inside and either set the base of the trunk inside through a cutout hole, or attach the trunk on the surface using L-shaped metal brackets. For an extra measure of security, attach closed eye screws to the top of the trunk, and tie the trunk to a heavy-duty toggle bolt in the ceiling with strong wire or rope. Secure large branches with pegs or rods as previously mentioned, but add an L-shaped bracket above and below any that hold a sleeping platform or other weighty object. Ensure that all fasteners sit below or flush with surfaces to prevent injuries.
The fun part comes when the tree is completely assembled. Add green carpeting to the surfaces of the base and platforms to resemble lush foliage. Attach artificial vines or bunches of silk leaves to branch ends to dress it up – don't use anything with easy to loosen tiny parts that could pose a choking hazard, or leave sharp wires behind. Tie small bags of catnip or other cat toys from strings for your cat to bat at. Build a wooden box to serve as a tree house den. Drill a few shallow holes in the trunk to hide kitty treats in. Let your imagination go wild.