Tentmaker Stories

Here are a few anecdotes to illustrate how I deal with the problems that crop up and how many of them are really just lessons in disguise.

A Popped Peak

One of my earlier tents, before I’d really figured out how to make peaks (it’s rather tricky on a round pavilion with whole bunch of canvas coming together at one point) popped the peak seams on a dewy morning at Estrella War. The actual event wasn’t much to behold; the canvas just went a bit slack as it slid a little ways down the center-pole.

The owner came down the road and rather demurely told me of her problem (Why people are reticent to let you know that you screwed up I haven’t figured out, but there you have it). I found a vendor at the event who sold me some scraps of bull hide, got my box of hand sewing tools and headed to her camp. There, I took down her tent, which was still standing, and cut and sewed on a bull hide peak. Charge to her…  nothing. Lesson for me… make stronger peaks.

A Broken Center-Pole

Some years later, the same tent (this was one of my very first tents) broke its center-pole during a night of 60-80 mph winds. Once again, the event itself was underwhelming; the pole broke just below the hub, leaving the roof still an integral whole. The tent got a bit floppy with the roof sort of wobbling around up on top. Folks in the lady’s camp helped her take down her tent and put her up in one of their tents for the remainder of the night.

As it happens, I had made that tent’s poles from a different kind of wood, pretty, but not as strong or flexible as the Ash that I had come to use in the interval since that tents construction. I felt that, in this case, the fault was mine (really, this had just confirmed a decision I had already made to change woods) so I took the broken parts home and made a new set of poles from Ash at no cost to her. For me, the knowledge gained was well worth the cost.

Shrinking Canvas

When I first started making tents, I did a number of tests on the canvas to see how much it shrank. Thinking that I had it pretty much figured out, I went on to make a number of tents. One was a cover for a rather large (18′x20′) steel frame. A year later or so, the owner went to a very rainy event in the Pacific Northwest and the canvas shrank. They managed to get through the event, with the cover not really fitting the frame that well. When he let me know, I was surprised, but asked him to bring the tent and frame by the shop.

Sure enough, the roof had shrunk by over a foot across. Since it had been tightly fitted, it no longer fit well at all. The seams at the peak were straining just to get it even close. I measured it carefully, got out my seam ripper and went to work, eventually adding a one foot wide, double layer of canvas to the ridge.

When the owner asked how much he owed for the repair, I said it was on the house, but he didn’t figure that was fair. After all, had I known how bad the shrinkage would be, I would have allowed for it and actually charged more (for the extra materials needed). In the end he paid me for the cost of the additional materials and I provided the labor for the repair, gratis.

Lesson learned… I now test each new lot of canvas for shrinkage.

Maybe I Really Do Want Sod Cloths and a Floor

This is actually happened a number of times so it’s kind of an agglomeration rather than a specific story. Oft times, folks will order a tent without sod cloths or a floor, either because they don’t see the need or to save money. Occasionally, after a year or two, they will change their mind. It’s not hard to add sod cloths, so I do that at the same price listed on the website. I do ask that people pay the shipping both ways, but I only need the walls, instead of the whole tent, so that helps. Often, we can cut shipping costs further by me picking up or delivering the the walls at an event.

Broken Spokes

Occasionally, when breaking down, someone will forget to put their peak lines up before pulling put the wall stakes. A weakness of the hub and spoke design that I just haven’t found a way out of is that, when you do this, the tent falls over. :( Sometimes this breaks off the tip of one or more spokes and/or splits the hub.

In a case like this, it really is just operator error. If you save the pieces, I can usually repair them quite easily (even if it looks really bad, save the pieces) Depending on how bad it is, repairs like this are generally less than $40 plus shipping (with the usual caveats on pick-up or delivery at events) If a piece is so badly shattered that it must be replaced I’ll do it for a modest fee.

Alternately, if you have a modicum of skill, or know someone who does, I’m also happy to walk you through the repair process. One of the nice things about using honest materials is that damage is almost always worth repairing.

Lesson Learned…. I’ve changed my recommended break-down procedure; spokes first, then stakes. I’m still working on making a tent that doesn’t fall over when you pull out all the stakes :) or that doesn’t break the spokes when it lands on them.