Hrm.. first a bit of help for a fellow academic:
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Right then.. on to the heart of the matter. I’m going to babble on about pavilions again today. Specifically, I’m going to talk about the poles we use in our French double bell wedge because it’s not the typical design (it’s not that unusual a one, either, just not the most typical).

First up, to give credit where it’s due, we did not make our bell wedge; we bought it from Midwest Tent & Bag (just the canvas); if you go to their website, you can read about the typical pole set up for a bell wedge. Neither did we make (either set of) the poles for our bell wedge; my dad, amateur-only-in-the-sense-that-he-doesn’t-get-paid-for-it all around handyman, made both our first set of poles (two uprights and a ridge pole) and our current set of poles (swingset style).

For those unfamiliar with the SCA, a brief moment of explanation might be necessary. Yes, this is a tent that we actually camp in. No, we don’t camp light. Yes, it is really as big as the dimensions list. No, it really wasn’t that much more expensive than a good modern tent. No, it doesn’t take up that much more room than a modern tent (or at least, it doesn’t have to.. ours does because our poles are *HUGE*, but that was our decision made for our comfort, not a necessity of the tent). No, it doesn’t take longer to set up than a modern tent – in fact, ours takes less time to set up than some modern dome tents.

This is one of many possible styles of period or periodesque pavilions that are used by people in the SCA. It’s not required that you use a period or periodesque tent to attend camping events in the SCA, but living for four to ten days out of a modern tent a couple times a summer gets old fast. Not to mention bloody hot. We have room to put up a full-sized slat bed in this tent, and still have space to walk around and stand fully upright to get dressed. The canvas breathes, so it stays cooler than nylon tents in the heat and humidity. No, it doesn’t leak; when it rains, the canvas swells up and keeps the rain out (you can also buy tents made with treated canvas that are both water and flame resistant).

You might also be trying to figure out why we switched from the more typical pole set up to the swingset style. It’s simply a matter of usable space. When this type of tent is set up, you end up with a floorplan that consists of a center square (or rectangle) capped on either end by a semi-circle. The ridge pole is the width of the center square, so the poles, if you’re only using two uprights, end up coming down in what would be the center of each circle where it meets the square (yes, I’m sure a diagram would help.. try this one, but note that ours has bells on both ends instead of just one), which effectively means you can’t put anything in one of the bells that extends into the center square unless it can fit on one side of the pole or the other. By using swingset style poles, the poles run along the walls of the tent and leave the center fully open.

Right then.. on we go. The key to our pole set up is this nifty little bit (all pictures are clickable thumbnails; click them to get to a larger version):

(viewed from the end)
(viewed from the top, with the ridge pole already attached)

Updated 7/14/08: Those nifty little bits turned out not to be able to withstand the torque from erecting the tent repeatedly and snapped at the end of last season. Dad took a look at the stress points and reinforced things across the ridge to come up with these instead:

This bit was custom made by Handyman Extraordinaire, aka Dad. It’s a work of genius, in my opinion. However, that said, it’s not necessary to have something this custom to make this type of pole structure work. you really just need a way to hold the two poles together at the right angle at the top of the tent and to have a way to cradle the ridge pole. Our nifty little bit just makes this a lot less fiddly. The leg poles for our tent are built around a hollow center pipe, so the little legs on this nifty little bit slide right into the top of that pipe:

Here’s the nifty little bit as it attaches to the legs and the ridge pole (which is the metal pipe extending out behind the legs that you can’t really see in this picture, but it’s the third leg of this tripod). You may notice two things at this point: a) the legs are awfully short – in fact they’re only half as tall as they need to be – because we asked dad to build the legs in two sections each so that we could pack them better; and b) the ridge pole is kinda of short, too.

And that’s because, like the legs, we needed to be able to fit it into our car. So the picture above shows how the ridge pole connects in the middle – there’s just a pipe sleeve over both ends of the pipe that gets bolted with that large eyebolt (which is an awfully handy place to hang a lantern).

So, when you put the tops of each side of the legs together with the ridge pole, you get this:

At this point, the ridge pole is about mid-shoulder height on me (I’m about 5’6″) and the legs are about 10 feet apart. The next step is to drape the canvas over the top of the poles:

.. and then pick up one side of the tent (we usually start with the back because the first side you pick up is a little easier, so it’s better to pick up the heavier side of the canvas first) and attach the bottoms of the poles:

Nifty, eh? Huh..? Oh.. you want to know *how* we attach the bottoms of the poles, too? Oh, fine..

As mentioned above, the poles are built around a hollow center tube (the light grey extending from the wood), so we just drop in a bit of smaller diameter pipe and slide the top and the bottom of the poles together. Strictly speaking, the short bit of pipe is probably not entirely necessary, but it’s nice to know that if the poles got rocked really hard, there’s something more than just that little sleeve holding them together.

To finish with the poles, we just repeat the above with the other side – lift up and attach the bottoms of the legs.

Ta da!Free standing bell wedge without stakes! While the tent is mostly stable at this point – meaning that no one needs to stand there and hold it up while someone else runs around pounding stakes – it’s not really anchored; a good strong wind from either end would cause it to fall to one end or the other. So the final step in securing our tent is to stake it out (not shown because we were just putting it up here to be able to clean and repair the damage mentioned yesterday; we also normally put down a tarp as a ground cloth under the tent, but I knew I’d be hosing it down and didn’t want to have to deal with the tarp collecting water since I knew we wouldn’t be fully staking it). We use 12″ metal stakes and start with the four stakes at the base of each leg, then stake out the center of each bell to get the tension figured out; the bells each stake out about another 4-5 feet from the center square on our tent. The rest of the stakes go in pretty quickly and without much of a fuss.

All totaled, I think we can get this tent up in about 15 minutes, including staking it out depending on the ground we’re trying to drive stakes into. Setting up the inside takes a bit longer – mostly because our camp bed takes about 15 minutes itself to put together – but I think we can, if motivated, get our full kit set up in less than an hour, including the pop-up kitchen fly and table. *shrug*

If I remember to bring my camera to our next event, I’ll try to get pictures of the inside once it’s set up – including positioning of the bed where we have it now and where it used to have to be because of the upright pole placement. And if there’s a great hew and cry, I’ll try to get assembly pictures of the bed (another Handyman Extraordinaire creation).

*SNKC = Still no knitting content.


2 thoughts on “SNKC*

  1. Liz says:

    How did your repairs go?

  2. gigi says:

    Hi…could you contact me? I want to buy one of these and have some questions about your experience with the bell wedge. Thanks!!

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