We bent the poles that came with our 6-person cabin tent. When I was unable to find the manufacturer's website and their phone was disconnected, and I discovered that custom replacement tent poles cost upwards of $30 per pole, I decided to make my own.
This was an easy and cheap project. The total cost of supplies for two poles (including the beef jerky which is always necessary for these kinds of projects!) was $12.50. It took about half an hour to make two poles.
Step 1: Get to the store!
I bought stainless steel electrical conduit from my local home store. It's cheap, relatively light, and very strong.
Before heading to the store, if your tent has built-in sockets where you insert the poles, see how snugly your old poles fit. If they're very tight, you'll need to find conduit that's very similar in size to the originals.
Second, take your broken poles to the store with you. Conduit is usually sold by the size of the hole down the middle, not the size of the outside of the pipe. If you have a 3/4" tent pole and buy 3/4" conduit to replace it, you'll be in for a nasty surprise later.
Once you've found the perfect piece, find a larger piece of conduit that can slip over it. You'll be using this as a sleeve to connect the pieces you'll be sawing apart in while.
Next is the hardware to hold the poles together. I used standard bolts, washers, and nuts to semi-permanently attach the sleeve to one end of each pole, and a clevis pin and hitch pin to quickly attach the other ends.
Step 2: See? Saw!
Got everything? Good! Start by cutting your new poles to the same length as the old ones. If you're concerned about making exact replacements, saw them slightly longer than the originals so that the sawing and filing you'll be doing will shorten them to the right length.
Next, file those ends! These poles will be rattling around with your camping gear and you don't want to tear up your tent (or your hands!) against sharp steel edges.
Decide how many pieces you want to cut your pole into. The more segments you have, the shorter and easier to pack each piece will be. Of course, more pieces means more work and more weak points in your poles. I just cut mine into two equal pieces.
Finally, cut a one foot long piece of the large "sleeve" conduit for each joint that you'll be making in your poles. Since my poles were only cut in one place, I made one sleeve for each pole.
Step 3: And now we drill.
If your original poles have holes in them for attaching guy lines, inserting pins, etc., then complete this step. If not, skip it.
In a nutshell, measure the distance from the end of the old pole to each hole in it, mark your new pole at the same distance from the end (either end at this point!), and drill it. If your pole has more than one hole, make sure you drill them into the same positions on the new one. For example, if they're all in a line on the old pole, make sure the new holes are all in a line. If they're on opposite sides on the old pole, put them on opposite sides of the new one.
For each hole, find the largest of your drill bits that will fit in it. Use that to drill the new one.
This can be a pain in the butt if you don't have a drill press. Just clamp it as tightly as possible and start drilling slowly until you get the hole started. Use a much smaller bit to drill a pilot hole if you need to.
Step 4: Long sleeves.
If you're OK with one-piece poles and you have a pickup to haul them around, then congratulations! You're finished!
Assuming that you're not, it's time to install the sleeves. Do this before you start cutting your poles into a lot of little pieces.
First, slide one of the foot-long sleeves over your new pole. Center it over where you want to cut the pole, but make sure it doesn't cover any of the holes you drilled in the last step!
Next, mark the sleeve at 1/4 and at 3/4 of its length, or at 3" from each end.
Clamp the whole arrangement down tightly and pick out a drill bit the right size for the bolts you're using.
Drill through the sleeve, right through the pole, and out the other side.
Insert the bolt through the hole and put a nut on it so that the sleeve is bolted into place.
Now pick a bit the right size for your clevis pin and repeat the drilling process.
Finally, disassemble everything and file the drilled holes. Hang in there! We're almost done!
Step 5: More cutting, then finishing up.
Now cut the poles between the holes you just drilled for the sleeve. In my case, I cut mine in half. File those newly-cut edges!
Next, slip the sleeve back over the cut you made and line up the holes you drilled in the last step. Unless you used a drill press or are incredibly lucky - I didn't and I'm not - only one set of holes should match. Slip the bolt back through the holes, put a washer and nut on the other side, and tighten it snugly.
Now insert the other half of the pole into the sleeve. Line up these holes, slide the clevis pin through them, then insert the hitch pin into the clevis pin.
Congratulations! You're finished and you just saved yourself about $25 per pole.
Suggestions for improvements:
- Trim the bolts and clevis pins to get rid of any excess length.
- Install smooth caps over the end of the bolts to prevent snags.
- Paint your new poles gray to match or to look cool or to make your kids cringe. Be creative!