Wood Edges are Great But...

 Wooden hangboards and holds have long been a staple for climbing training. Personally the vast majority of my top end finger strength gains are likely due to hanging on wooden edges. Did I need to hang off wooden edges? No, I hung on them because my coach had me hanging specifically on the lower corners of the Beastmaker 2000 and then the habit got developed. It wasn't the hangboard, the material, or necessarily even the edge size that got me stronger fingers, it was the regular consistent training with a focus on progressive overload.

When you hang from the exact same edges for cumulative hours with varying amounts of weight, multiple times a week, throughout the year, you will develop a fine tuned sense of awareness of how the edge can feel on any given day. You begin to notice the condition dependent nature of the edges and how you find you hit your PB's on mildly humid days but dryfire unexpectedly on dry days. You learn that the Beastmaker at your gym feels surprisingly different from the one at another gym. You Google this phenomenon and realize that there are Reddit threads and Youtube videos that go in depth on this subject. At the end of the day, it shouldn't really matter what you're hanging on as long as you're getting stronger. But we all know this can just feel wrong. 

As climbers, we are at least a little bit into metrics. If you are following a training plan, you are probably concerned with metrics. For these metrics to be truly useful and valid when you want to measure progress in some way, the data requires consistency. This is where wooden training edges and hangboards can fall short. This is not to say that plastic doesn’t have its downsides - it certainly does - but when you demand consistency, precision, and accuracy in your metrics, plastic has many advantages.

When you consider the material, wood is fantastic for many things climbers care about. It’s often a sustainably sourced renewable material, it’s generally skin friendly, it can be easy to work with, and they look great. For the vast majority of climbers, a wooden hangboard is all they may ever need, but its condition dependent nature can reduce its accuracy for consistent, reliable hangs. All it takes is one dry fire for you to realize you need to approach them differently. Having doubt in your hangs because of dry fire and injury potential is not something that should be anywhere close to your mind when you train.

The type of wood, fiber density, and grain orientation all play a massive role in how a board will feel and perform. Like anything in nature, wood has its quirks from its general composition to organic accents like knots. If you happen to have a glorious knot right where your fingers want to be, it’ll likely feel different versus if it weren’t there. The condition dependent nature of wood comes down to how the fibers that make up the wood grain interface with your skin and the moisture in the air. Imagine a book that got left out in the rain - it will swell up and expand, leaving big gaps between the pages - this is a very simplified way to look at how wood fibers expand. The gaps in the expanded fibers create openings for your skin to 'bite' into. The main difference you will notice between a bone dry wooden hold and the exact same wooden hold with enough humidity, is an increase in friction with some added humidity.

Why should you care? I’m always torn between recording detailed metrics or just loading my fingers until I 'feel' satisfied. But if you’re like me and have a degree of neuroticism when it comes to data consistency, hangs on a wooden board on a humid day feel like they should essentially be tracked differently from hangs on a wooden board on a dry day. If the board feels easier to hang, you will be able to add more weight. However when the conditions are less favorable, psychologically you may be pressured to utilize the same weight as the good day and through a combination of reduced friction and too much weight, you might find yourself dry firing and hurting yourself. If you try to do your hangs in a different location with the ‘same’ board, the data may get skewed because of conditions or variances of the hangboard. The hope for most people is that despite conditions, you will have progression between when you started the training cycle and when you finish. You may just boil the metrics down to # of hangboard sets completed in this phase. Conditions are manageable but it’s another variable to consider. 

When it comes to manufacturing, wood has some great benefits. It’s renewable, sustainable, strong, and easily workable. At larger dimensions, wood is great, especially when ultra fine consistency is not critical. As you approach smaller and smaller holds that demand greater precision and consistency, this is where wood falls short. One reason a wood edge on one hangboard may feel noticeably different on the same edge on another hangboard is due to steps in manufacturing that cause variances in the finish. One of the last steps for wooden climbing holds is sanding by hand. The CNC machines that do the bulk of the fine detailed cutting are able to produce an exceptionally high level of detail, but as the finish gets more fine, it adds significant time and cost to the process. Basically, it’s just more effective to do the final parts by hand. Changing the bits, loading the material, material moisture content, calibration, and hand finishing are all opportunities to produce variance. If you’re hanging on small edges, we all know that 1mm of difference can feel monumental. Some companies are much better at producing consistent wood climbing products than others. But they face the same challenges, especially when it comes to small edges.

When it comes to small edges 6.00mm and below, wood becomes difficult to work with. Structurally, the fibers become weak as there are fewer to support each other as the dimensions get thinner. A 90 degree sharp edge is far more likely to splinter for this reason. An effective workaround is to use higher density material, often hard woods. These wood species are able to hold the finer dimensions but the issue with finishing the edges is still the same, it can be very difficult to maintain consistency, especially with the edge radius. Furthermore, working with higher density wood is typically more expensive and more difficult to work with.

Radius geometry is exceptionally important for any size edge in order to balance comfort and functionality. The goal is usually a uniform profile that is consistent through the length of the edge. This is not easy to achieve with wood. With any kind of machining, a fine round filleted profile is more difficult to achieve compared to a chamfer. But ergonomically, we want the fillet. To get it precise to the half millimeter is can be very difficult with wood.

As you approach 4mm, you may even notice wood edges in the same pair you bought having variance in the actual edge depth. If your edge is 0.5mm off at 4mm, that’s 12.5% in edge difference. Add that variance to one side of your edge being 0.5mm rounded too much and you're looking at a cumulative 25% variance. 

The Transgression hangboard may have the most famous 6mm edge of all time. Every climber who’s touched that board has touched that 6mm edge. Polyurethane is able to dimensionally hold a sharp edge. The long length of the edge allows for the board to be overall consistent to overcome unexpected manufacturing hiccups like tiny air bubbles in the mold and such. It would be far more difficult and less practical to make the same geometry out of wood.  

Edge geometry plays a role in the manufacturing process as well. The majority of hangboards tend to have a comfy radius and somewhat slopey profile for their edges. This is not just for your tendons, it’s also easier to manufacture since you can achieve this with a 3 axis CNC. Wooden hangboards feature pockets - not just for pocket training but there is significantly less material to cut away. As soon as you introduce anything incut, you need additional axes or other methods that complicate the production. While training open hand is generally safer and effective for regular training, the geometry of a flat edge with a large radius will ergonomically encourage open hand positions. To add to the list of considerations, many wooden edges in the 6mm and under range will often have the specified edge with its undefined radius before it tapers wider. The taper is often to add more material for the mounting of the edge as well as perhaps structural reasons. However if you hang on these edges with an open hand crimp, you may in fact have more of your skin be in contact with the taper than the edge itself - so are you really hanging on 4mm?. This is similar to how open hand positions on the BMK2000 bottom corners can feel easier than in a half crimp - in an open hand position, you are literally holding onto more surface area. In a strict half crimp, you're essentially crimping a sloper depending on the generosity of the edge radius. 

Metric Climbing Hangboard Edges have a blend of texture, angle, and radius that are produced with exceptional consistency for consistent hangs and consistent metrics. 

I love wooden holds and hangboards. They will always have a place in my climbing and training but limitations exist. Having the right tool for the job can have a massive impact.


- Hunter Lee


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