Locating and choosing the correct poles.
If you wish to make your own tipi poles this is a relatively simple process but quite time consuming.
The wood you can use is anything in the pinaceae (pine) family:
You will find a lot of debate as to which wood is best (strength, growing rate, flexibilty) but all of the above work great so more than likely it will come down to which tree is most abundant that you have access to. (For our tipi hire business we use mostly spruce and larch)
A good idea when finding tipi poles is to find work being done on managed woodland areas (National trust, forestry commission etc – listen out for the sound of chainsaws on your walks) and ask who you can contact to purchase or, if your lucky, charming or beautiful have the wood from. The smaller trees used to make the tipi poles are usually made into fencing rather than sold commercially so hopefully you will have no trouble in acquiring a handful.
When you choose, or cut your poles, make sure they are considerably wider at the base than the tip.
It is very important that you get the diameter correct at the point of crossing (where the poles are lashed together to form the tripod) the diameter you should aim for is two inches: this is a good size as any wider you will have a very large opening at the top.
Any questions relating to the diameter of pole needed, the length of tipi pole you wish to make etc you can find at the following website. Have a look at this and then we will cover the manufacture of the pole.
Make your tipi poles:
Once you have your poles, with a hand axe remove all the the outer branches making sure you cut the pole as finely as possible.
Smaller branches will come off easily, a saw maybe required for the larger branches. Once you have removed the large branches you will have a substantial branch collar to contend with. Remove as much as you can with your axe and then you can sand with a very heavy duty grade paper to make the branch collar flush (to save time you can use an angle grinder if you own or hire one, or an electric sander)
You will then need a draw knife to remove the bark. Draw knifes are now rarely used and as such hard to come across, failing car boot sales and second hand tool merchants as with everything they can still be found on the net.
Remove the bark with you draw knife. Once you have a removed all the bark your tipi pole is pretty much complete. You will need to sand to the pole to make it as smooth as possible. It is very important that if you make the poles smooth to prevent them from ripping the canvas.
To make sure it stands the test of time it is a good idea to treat the poles.
The area of the pole that is most likely to rot is the base as this is in contact with the damp ground. To treat the pole you can stand your pole in a wood treatment (do not use varnish) This will coat the outside of the base of the pole and will also mean that the treatment is drawn into the wood. You can also paint the whole pole for extra protection.
Sadolin is a comparatively expensive wood treatment but a very good one for tipi poles. Sadolin is good because it allows moisture to escape the wood, it absorbs into the wood treating from the inside and it also provides an outer barrier. For all the tipis we hire out we use Sadolin as the treatment.
With varnish you create an outer barrier but effectively seal the moisture inside the wood. The trees you have purchased or acquired by being charming would more than likely be fairly green and still drying out, you need to allow this process to happen so therefore treating your wood with varnish will do in more harm than good and is certainly not recommended.