Thursday, June 27, 2013

Making Washington's Tent, Weeks V and VI: Common Tents and Tent Poles

Over the past two weeks, we've been working on more knapsacks and hunting shirts in the tent shop as well as finishing up our second common tent and beginning two more. We sewed our first common tent with a bell back from a sturdy hemp canvas. This time, we're making some with little or no bell back section (something like this) and using fairly heavy linen canvases. The geometry involved in common tents is pretty simple, but we all had flashbacks to middle school math classes as we figured out hypotenuse lengths, the equivalent to one side of a wedge-shaped common tent.

Michael Ramsey draws a line onto a length of linen canvas in preparation for cutting. The resulting piece will be a door panel or rear section of a common tent.  

Joseph Privott, Tyler Putman, Aaron Walker, and Brendan Menz at work in the tent shop.

Gwendolyn Basala and Aaron Walker sewing knapsacks.

Joseph Privott, Gwendolyn Basala, Michael Ramsey, and Neal Hurst working in the tent shop.

Of course, tents require much more than canvas to stay up. Over in Colonial Williamsburg's joiner's shop, Corky Howlett and his fellow joiners finished making the poles for the Washington sleeping marquee. These include two uprights and a ridge pole, each consisting of two individual poles linked by an iron-bound scarf joint (so they could be broken down into more manageable lengths) and several door poles used to raise the tent roof slightly above the entryways. This made entry more convenient (although a tall man such as 6'2" George Washington still needed to duck slightly) and shed rainwater away from the doors. 

Diagram of the tent poles, via the Joiner's Shop.

Neal Hurst holds several in-progress tent poles end-up to show how the joiners plane down square stock into round poles, via the First Oval Office

The tent poles for Washington's sleeping marquee don't survive, but those for his slightly larger dining tent belong to the Museum of the American Revolution. They're made from mahogany, an excellent choice for tent supports, because the wood naturally resists rot and insect damage. We think of mahogany as something of an extravagance, but it wasn't quite as expensive in the 1770s. Anyone interested in the subject should check out Jennifer L. Anderson's recent book, Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America. What really surprised me about the new poles was the color of this particular raw mahogany, much lighter than I expected after years of studying darker finished furniture. But our poles quickly turned a darker reddish-brown, although still lighter than their eventual color, after only a small test treatment of oil, as you can see below.

Neal Hurst and Corky Howlett with the completed tent poles, via the First Oval Office

The tent poles in the tent shop, ready for use.

Tyler Putman showing the darker, oiled area on a scarf joint section of one of the tent poles.

We're looking forward to using these poles in our finished tents as the summer continues. You can keep an eye on our project Saturdays through Wednesdays via our live webcam and twenty-four hours a day via facebook

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