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The Near-Perfect Tent: Design and Build a Recycled Tent

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Like so many before me, I dreamed of owning the Perfect Tent. Years of disappointing store bought tents, the lameness of available designs and workwomanship, and the burning shame every latter-day utilitarian feels at owning things that are bright and new told me I would have to design and make my own.

What follows is what I came up with. It's not Perfect, but it's pretty good, and you'll enjoy having one if you decide to make it.

Best of all though, if you plow through these instructions, I try to pass on the confidence and basic know-how to design and make your own.

Pros:
CHEAP (almost free), durable, lightweight, roomy, very dry, good star visibility, versatile, sets up easily, DIY pride and skills-building. It's one-of-a-kind I guess, uses very few new materials, and like all great human endeavors, materially registers my existence on earth.
DURABLE: It's overbuilt and performing like a champ so far in downpours, snow, high coastal and mountaintop winds, crappy terrain, etc.
LIGHTWEIGHT: the post office weighed it for me in the bag and it came out to something like 4 lbs--not bad for a 2-4 person tent!
Cons:
I'd like a tent that blends in with the natural surroundings better, but I had no choice in this because the source tents were yellow and blue.

A con for some people might also be that my design uses guy lines and pegs, which you and your significant other will get into arguments over trying to set up, and then your drunk or stoned friends will trip over in the dark. For me though, these elements enrich the overall camping experience and were 'must haves'.
 
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Step 1: Planning, Materials

Picture of Planning, Materials
I. Tent Design
First, decide what you want in a tent, and what you'll use it for. Make a list of the features you'd like to have, and all the things that were frustrating or inadequate about tents you've owned and used in the past. Rank these in order of importance.

I wanted: a lightweight, 2-3 person backpacking tent, roomy enough for canoe-camping, with decent visibility through all sides, a mosquito-free view of the stars at night, a fly that came out at least 1-2 feet from the tent walls, and something that would be comfortable to hang around in on rest days, in the rain, without getting wet.

I hated: getting wet in every single tent I've ever used regardless of what it cost, not in the least because of crummy flys that allow the water to run onto or under the tent; poor visibility, crouching around in a too-low tent, clambering over people to pee at night, not having enough ventilation, and having the tie-down points and corners rip out in rougher conditions.

Look at tents on the market and see if any approximate what you'd like. "Borrow" from extant designs, and draw up some of your own. Buy a tent you like, copy down all its dimensions then return it, or just make some pictures using whatever doodling skills you possess. Don't get out the graph paper and start going to town--these don't have to be exact at all.

'III. Seek the Treasure: MATERIALS!
Garage sales and craigslist.org are old tent gold mines.
Families who camped together in their salad years scatter, divorce, get fat, blow out their knees, and buy RVs, leaving enormous tents to rot in someone's garage...and that's where you come in, like a crayfish to a discarded toaster.
I recommend holding out for a giant cabin tent, which will have more solid panels than a dome tent and be easier to make new parts from. When the monied clean house these come cheap, so wait for a deal. (I recently bought an enormous multifamily cabin tent with separate rooms porch jacuzzi tiki bar etc. for a mere 45 bucks. It has more than enough material for the tiny solo tent I want to make, plus next year's christmas gifts for at least a couple of lucky people.....and you can use the scraps to make compression sacks for sleeping bags and clothes, your tent bags, kites, whatever you think of.)

What you come up with will determine what you'll be able to make, so the design phase should really be folded into the materials-gathering phase. If you have an old dome tent or just its poles, you'll be able to make something different than what I made.
As with any DIY project, the genius of your design will emerge from the tensions between available materials, your design ambitions, and your skills set--all of which will be improved in the process: Innovation through Impoverishment + Improvisation.

My Pretty Great Tent is made from a crappy old cabin tent (blue and yellow) someone left the basement of my apartment house that got wet, mildewed, and had its colors bleed--hence the muddy-to-tie-dyed appearance of the top piece in the photos. I also used pieces from a worthy old 2-person (brown) tent a friend gave me after its corner tore out.

III.' Materials Preparation'
Washing: Whether you should wash the source tent(s) first obviously depends on their condition, and/or how much time and $ you want to spend. There are tent-washing detergents out there that might be worth the money. There are probably vegan baking soda and what-all concoctions safe for toddlers and fish that folks have made too; you'd have to check (and let me know b/c a homemade recipe would be great.)
I used a lot of regular detergent and a laundromat washer on the cabin tent for this project. It came out nice, but the waterproofing washed out. Re-waterproofing the cloth when I was done with the tent sucked!, so you should probably only do this if your source tent was as moldy and cat-box-smelling as mine was. (I used a 10:1 solution of mineral spirits and 100%silicone whipped up with the home egg beater to re-waterproof it, but we'll get to that later.)

Dyeing: I wanted to re-dye the material a more natural color: it didn't work on my test pieces, so I guess nylon resists bleaching and dyeing. I suggest seeking materials that are the color you'd like, or being happy with what the Lord provides.

Breaking it Down: Once you're satisfied with the source-tent's smell, begin to rip seams and see what you've got to work with. At this point, just rip enough seams to make the whole thing lie flat, leaving your pieces as large as possible. Don't be afraid to bypass the seam-ripper altogether and just cut through the seams--it saves time and you'll be able to patch together sheets for your Frankentent regardless. Use sharp scissors or better yet a fancy hot-knife which cauterizes your cuts. In the future I plan to modify my soldering iron tip to make it into a cutter for this.
***Be careful with, and SAVE those Zippers***--they're expensive to buy new. Also save all of the loops and webbing and whatnot.

Step 2: Mock-up, Measurements

Picture of Mock-up, Measurements
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'1.)' Gather up your best dream-tent doodle, some sleeping bags, backpacks, other camping crap if you think it'll help, get a tape measure, a framing square, your future tent poles and pegs or some sticks of some kind, and get a couple hundred feet of strong string or parachute cord and head for the park or yard. (You may also need newspapers, tape, and scissors, SEE BELOW, 3b1).

2.) Choose your favorite design, and build a full-scale, 3-D string model of it using all of the stuff above. This is way better than simply calculating b/c it'll really give you a sense of what you're going to get.
a.) Lay out your sleeping bags and backpack and whatnot on the ground. Imagine that you're lying inside of your fantasy tent, changing, sitting in your camp chair, playing chess, throwing gear around, or whatever it is you aspire to do inside of it, then poke four pegs into the ground to mark out the rough shape of the tent floor's four corners. Tie some string between the four corner pegs and then re-assess your dimensions...adjusting as necessary.
b.) when you're satisfied that you have enough room to do what you'll want to do in your tent, measure the distances between the pegs along one side, and along the back, and round them up to the nearest whole number.
c.) Now, using the framing square and tape measure, re-lay the floor according to these rounded figures, making the paralell sides exactly the same length so as to form a perfect box or rectangle. Measure from corner to corner to get this box or rectangle perfectly squared (the distance between corners should be the same if it's squared.)
d.) Now put up the tent poles where you'll want them, using cords and stakes to hold them in place. Adjust the cords until the shape, height, etc. of your tent starts to seem right.

I don't have photos of my mock-up, but it looked exactly like the 3-D drawing below (with the angry cloud).
If you're designing your own tent, just spend some time playing house--sitting up, crawling in and out of, moving your hiking gear around inside of your imaginary tent, while adjusting the dimensions to your liking. Neighbors, passers-by will love watching this step. A random cat came over and "helped" with this step when I did mine...

3.) Now you have two options:
a.) When your ghost tent is up, your strings are all adjusted, and you love what you've got, take all the measurements for the tent off of your mock-up and transfer them to your drawing...redo the drawing first if you need to. See my diagrams below.

b.) OR, if you don't own a tape measure, forget the measuring altogether and just make some patterns. Here's how:
1.) tape together sheets of newspaper into larger sheets(or use some saranwrap or cheapazoid plastic drop cloths,) then tape/attach them to the strings to form panels where the cloth will be.
2.) Cut these out along the strings, and label them if you need to. A dome tent would be easier to make this way, unless you're a math gal with computer skills and some sort of drawing program.
Since I didn't do patterns for the Great Tent, I don't have pictures of how to do it, but I've done this for other projects and it's simple. Just be confident and it'll work out.

Measurements are probably the best way to go for a boxy tent, but if I ever make a dome tent, or something wacky I'll probably use patterns.

4.) The Fly:
a.) FOR THE MATH INHIBITED: don't bother measuring for the fly--we'll make it our way later. Just set aside a lot of cloth for it. DO NOT use my fly measurements below if you're copying this design; they're wrong.
b.) People with math skills: you'll be able to figger out what-all you need to do at this point in terms of the fly.

5.) doors and windows:
I just guesstimated these. See drawings for details. If You're making the Pretty Great Tent, measure what looks like a good door width for you, decide what shape you'd like it to be, and pencil them into your drawing with your measurements. Just be sure to leave 4 inches of cloth around the side and tops of the doors and windows for durability (see below for details).

Step 3: Make a Parts List

...or for the Frankentent, you might call it a Patch list...
This is simply a list of the tent parts you'll be making and their dimensions.

If you're like me, and you probably are since you're reading this and not a book on how to sew, you like visual aids. I diagrammed each constituative tent part before I started cutting things out. The photos of these are below.

To write up your parts list, just take the dimensions you recorded from the mock-up and add a 1/2"-1" seam allowance (the amount of material that will be used up in the seam when you sew pieces together) to any edge that will be sewn to another edge--pretty much all of them in this case.

'For Example:
the front door's finished dimensions taken off the mock-up are
'57" high x 72" wide.'
So, adding the seam allowance, the rough dimensions for the door is 57" + 1/2" lower seam +1/2" upper seam x 72" + 1/2" left seam + 1/2" right seam; or 58" x 73" total.

For those of you who have figured out at this point that the Pretty Great Tent actually is the Perfect Tent and are ready to partake in the Dream, here's the Parts List for my Pretty Great Tent :

Ripstop:
1 Floor: 82" x 94"
1 Roof: Made of several pieces; a window frame, screen window, and solid lower panel.
-window frame:
2 6" x 56"
1 6" x 74"
-top panel: 45.5" x 74"
1 Front Door: 55" x 74"
1 Back Wall: 14" x 74"
2 Side Walls: 55" high x 85"long x 14" lower height
1 Fly: 1 pc. 194" x 72", another few pieces to be determined later.

Screen:
1 Front Door: 58" x 73"
2 Side Doors: 30"w x 50"h
1 Foot Wall Vent/Window: 65" x 10"

Zippers:
4 Side Doors: roughly 100" each
2 Front Doors: 186" each
1 Foot Vent: 82"
(You'll need 2 zipper pulls per zipper, or 14 pulls in all.) Again, zippers are pricey. I had to buy some of the zippers I needed new and they were the single biggest expense for the tent.

Webbing:
How much you'll need will depend on how you want to make your tie-down and guy line attachments. I just used some 1 1/2" and 2" wide webbing I had from an old backpack I cut up for other projects.
Each piece was about 3-4" long for the tent tie-downs, and about 2-3" for the fly. You'll Need:
4 corner peg loops
4 pole loops
2 rear corner tie downs
7 Other tie downs on the fly

Cordage:
use what you have, or get some line of your choice for the guy lines. You'll need about 30' of it for both the fly and the tent.

New Materials Sources:
I couldn't scavenge everything I needed for the tent, so I had to buy some. One dumb thing I did was cut up the zippers on the cat-box cabin tent when I was ripping it apart, assuming that zipper-by-the-foot was cheap. It's not.
And since the moldy cat-box tent's windows were shot, I bought some "noseeum" mesh new from an online dealer.

Outdoor Wilderness Fabrics online rocks, and the people there are good sources of info.
I bought the poyester 'noseeum' mesh from the brilliantly-named NettingWorld online.

Seattle Fabrics is a complete, though more expensive source. If you're in town, one thing they have that's awesome is a discount bin full of little sacks of scrap material, scrap webbing, zippers, velcro, and other junk. They also have some good patterns, examples of stuff you can make, and if you go to the right person, enough snottiness in the service to help you feel like you're an integral part of the hep-cat revolution or whatever.

As always, the thrift store has old school bags and what have you that you can cut up to get the webbing pieces you need, or you can just apply your imagination to whatever you've got in your cultch pile.

A final note about zippers: I did use a few old zippers and they're fine. Instead of having a continuous zipper all around the front door, separate zippers work one side of the door, and another zipper runs along the other side and the bottom. You could work something similar out with the other doors and window.

Step 4: Raising New Tent Pieces From the Ashes of the Old

Picture of Raising New Tent Pieces From the Ashes of the Old
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There are a lot of ways to lay out and cut or make these six basic parts, but I'll go through the one that worked great for me. Know that when you're making a Frankentent, laying out, and "cutting out" your pieces can be a pain in the foot because the cloth won't lie flat and it's odd-sized. But there's an easy way to make very precise, attractive new pieces from older-n-effed-up scraps and such:

--Orchestra in, and Crescendo--

Make a simple frame set to the dimensions of each piece. Then lightly stretch and clamp some cloth pieces across the frame, mark the edges, and cut out the piece.
The frame should be adjustable/re-assembleable so that you can re-set its dimensions for different pieces.

Once your frame is set up, you can stretch the old tents' cloth across it, pinning or clamping it taught, but not overly so. If a single scrap won't cover the full dimensions, sew as many as you need to together until you can fully cover the frame.

Think of this as making a large, funky stretcher for a painting and lightly pulling a canvas--one that might need pieces added to it--over it.
(You may want to cut your doors into these panels once they're done and still in the frame. See steps 5-6 for details. )
--decrescendo--

The frame can be made out of any material that's long and thin and won't flex much. My basement (a trove in its own right I guess) had some 3/8" X 1" X 8' aluminum flatstock in it and it worked really well...so well, that when I make my next tent I plan to try to get ahold of something like it again (I moved). Stiffish rebar would work, as would 1 X 3s in a pinch.

You'll need as many clamps as you can lay ahold of. I had a bunch of spring clamps from other projects, so I used those. If you don't have clamps you could use bolts w/wingnuts to hold a wooden frame together, and thumb-tack the cloth to it...or something else; use your imagination here...

...though as an aside, friends, sometimes you just want the right tools for the job dammit, so try to lay ahold of something slender and strong like the flatstock, and Furthermore, I encourage you to splurge on a sack of spring clamps if you don't have any--6 big ones and six small ones--b/c life w/out an adequate supply of clamps is a slack and cold thing indeed. Use your projects to justify spending money on tools. You'll get into a rewardingly vicious cycle where you buy tools to make things and then need to justify the expense of those tools by making more things that you'll need other tools to make and on and on until like me, you become your little family-neighborhood-and peer group's tool library--something which often garners gifts of alcohol and baked goods in addition to the more rewarding ones of friendship and diy comraderie...

Anyhoo, my frame, pictured below, is made from a couple of pieces of flatstock combined with the kitchen table, which I lengthened using an 8' board.

SO:
Just set the frame to the dimensions of the piece you need, stretch the material over it, patching in more cloth as needed, then use a sharpie or a fabric pen to trace the piece's cut lines along the edge of the frame.

A Final Thought Here:
Aside from environmental and economic ones, there's no reason why you couldn't make the tent out of entirely new materials using these same directions, so go for it if that's the itch you want to scratch. I strongly encourage you to reuse existing crap though--the closer to free you can get the greater the fun! and yeah, it's a bit more ethical. That said, I'd personally like to have a one-person stealth-camping tent for solo paddling/private property camping and if I can't find a camo junker to refab I'll have to buy the material new...

See the pictures for more directions and details.

Step 5: A Note About Sewing

Picture of A Note About Sewing
So, here's the thing about sewing:
Don't worry if you've never sewn a stitch in your life. Once you've got your six sides cut out, you're over some of the harder steps. Or more precisely, if you gotten this far, everything else will be easy.

You'll need:
a sewing machine
good scissors
lots of nylon thread, preferably UV resistant
needles--hand, machine
a seam ripper
lots of pins
a good magnet (easier to deal with pins)
a tape measure/sewing measure
something to mark on fabric with

1. SEWING KNOW-HOW:
I never sewed before I made this tent. If you're in the same boat, read up on the subject a little online or in a book, but most importantly, start by sitting down with a well-tuned, definitely working machine and learn to make some straight stitches on scrap material.
For my sewing training I looked at the owner's manual for my mom's machine to figure out how to thread and adjust it, then I looked at the old tent and how its seams were made, and then tried to duplicate them. I also went to a fabric shop with some scraps from the tent and talked to some employees there about what I wanted to do and they showed me how to make a couple of basic seams too.
Getting a zipper foot and learning how to use it seems like it would be helpful--I didn't have one and my zipper seams are functional but kind of ugly.
You can figure functional sewing out in under an hour, so just jump right in. Once you're making the tent if you mess up, you just rip the stitches out and start again...but you probably won't need to do this if you practice a little.

2. Access to a decent machine is critical. I recently picked up a used Brother and started making some bike panniers and a few dry bags with it and it SUCKS! Doing any project with a Chinese-manufactured piece of crap will make you hate life and the whole project which is tantamount to hating the Will-to-Make-Stuff that comprises every decent human being's most basic drive (that's right; Freud got it wrong.)

I borrowed my mom's 1970 Singer Athena 2000 to make the Pretty Great Tent and it's a beaut! I plowed through a few thicknesses of ripstop and webbing with it with no problems...I also made a water and impact-resistant hardcase for my camera and a backpack with it, and if it wasn't 2600 miles away now I'd be making the panniers with it. So if you're trolling for a used machine I highly recommend it.
But, my friends, Beware of the Singers from the Russian Years...that's all I'm saying on that topic.

On the other hand, if you want to make a lot of outdoor gear for yourself, family, and friends, a commercial machine is better--though it's a bigger investment. I'm currently waiting for the right deal on a commercial machine to come down the pike myself...

If you own or get a free junker though, don't worry--you can still make tents with it. A piece of crap machine like my "Brother" could probably handle most of the sewing on the tent, but doing the corners, and sewing webbing in require power.
I talked to someone who runs a Bernina sewing store who said that their Swiss-made machines can sew a seagull to a cinder block, but even the old used Berninas cost way too much ($1200++). ***But, the store owner told me that instead of buying one you could sign up to use the store's machines by the hour. She recommended doing the lighter sewing on your piece of junk at home, then bringing the tent in and sewing the corners and webbing and such with the brick-stitchers at the store to save cash.***

3. I used a denim needle on most of the seams and zippers.

4. I bought a big spool of UV-resistant nylon thread online from Outdoor Wilderness Fabrics--a great, cheap source--and used it for all of the sewing.

5. Glues and such gum up the needle and aren't necessary--I just pinned all of my seams together and then sewed them. It can be slow, but it seemed worth it.

6. You could try using some sort of waterproof seam sealer tape as you sew. I didn't bother because I'm cheap, I planned to have a fly that would keep the tent dry at the bottom of a lake, and because I painted on seam sealer once I was finished (just mix up 100% silicone in a 4-5:1 ratio with mineral spirits and paint it on when you've got the tent set up.)

Step 6: Making Windows, Doors

Picture of Making Windows, Doors
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1.) Cutting out the Doors and Windows
The next step is to put doors and windows in the tent's wall pieces. All you have to do is decide what size you want them to be, draw them onto the cloth using a yadstick, and cut them out. If you're making the Pretty Great Tent, you'll cut out three sides of the foot vent and side doors, leaving the third side uncut as a hinge. Doing this while the cloth is in the frame would be best, but laying out the material without the frame works fine too. I drew the doors and vent in with angular corners, using a yardstick. Then I used a big coffee can to round out the corners. Just be careful to cut along the rounded line.

2.) 'Sewing in Zippers'
Once you make the cuts, you'll sew the zipper on. Sew the zipper onto the door (or window) first--as opposed to sewing it onto the door or window "frame" edge first.
a.) First, fold 1/4" of the cloth under itself, and pin it to itself from the neat or unfolded side. Make sure you pin exclusively from the side you'll be sewing from (the 'top' side as you fold the material under, or the outside of the tent.)
b.) Then pin the zipper to this folded edge, pinning from the same side you did before. Pin it close to the teeth but not too close. Let a couple of inches of extra zipper overlap each end of the door cut.
c.) Sew the zipper onto the door or window edge, removing pins as you go. Keep your magnet in close by as you sew so the pins get sucked over to it while you're running the cloth through--it's a drag messing with a pin cushion; just pull the pins out as the cloth goes into the foot, and sweep them towards the needle.

3.) Once you've sewn the zipper to the door or window, repeat these steps to sew the zipper onto the edge of the door or window frame. Keep the zipper closed during these steps.

4.) When you've got the zipper completely sewn in, feed the sliders in and then run a bunch of stitches across its terminal ends so that the sliders won't come off. Then get some scrap material and sew a nice little patch over the outside side of the zipper ends to cover up the cuts/mess underneath (pictures in following steps).

When you're finished, you can unzip the zipper and admire your new door or window.

5.) Screens:
When you're done sewing the zippers for the doors and windows in, zip them shut, then lay the screen out over the door or window hole and cut your window screen to size, leaving 1/2" overlap. Fold the edge of the screen over 1/4" all around, and pin it to itself, leaving the heads of all the pins on one side of the screen.
For Screen Windows and/or the Foot Vent:
Think about which side of the tent wall you're dealing with (screens should be on the outside of the foot vent or window so you can unzip the solid panels from inside,) and after folding the edges of the window screen over 1/4", pin them to the wall material. Make sure the door is clear of where you'll be sewing and will still work right when you're done, and sew the screen on, being sure not to sew the door shut.

'For Screen Doors:'
a.) Fold the 3 edges of the screen door that will have a zipper running around them over 1/4 ", then pin and sew the zipper onto this edge like you did the solid doors.
b.) Then, with the ripstop door unzipped (open), sew the other side of the screen doors' zippers to the tent wall even with the solid panel's zipper.

c.) Once these three sides are sewn in, fold over the "hinge" side of the screen door, pin it to the ripstop wall/door hinge, and sew it. I might use a zig zag stitch the next time I do it, but for the great tent, a straight one worked fine.

You should now have both solid and screen doors that will open and close sewn into the wall.

Step 7: Making Side Doors II

1. Making the screen side doors and sewing them on is easy. But I want to be perfectly clear on this step. Either
a.) measure your doors and transfer those measurements to the screen material and cut them out, or
b.) after you cut the doors out, lay the material flat, then lay the screen over top of it and trace the door shape onto the screen. Cut out the screen, leaving a little extra (1/2") all around.

2. Sew one edge of the zipped-shut zippers to the door(s), then sew the other edge to the tent. Both the cloth and screen doors' zippers will end up being sewn to the door frame-edge together. You could pin the solid and screen doors' zippers together and sew them to the frame edge at the same time, but I found it easier to do them individually, and I suspect you will too.

Once both the screen and the solid doors have their zippers sewn on, zip them shut and sew the hinge end of the screen door to the hinge end of the opaque door.

This might sound complicated, but it's not--as you'll see once you're doing it, and by looking at the phhotos.

3.) I added a couple of tie-back strings at this point. just cut some line of some sort and sew it on to your liking. I reinforced mine with some scrap material. My photo shows one way to do this.

4.) Since the floor comes up about 3" from the ground, the bottoms of the doors will eventually be sewn to it when you assemble the tent. For now, just get the wall panels sewn up as discussed above, leaving the zippers of the screen and solid doors pinned together along their bottom edge. You'll sew them to the upturned side-pieces of the tent floor last.

Step 8: Roof

Picture of Roof
The roof for this particular tent was pieced together out of a large rectangular piece of screen, a large piece of ripstop, and three narrow border strips. I sewed the border strips to the screen first, then sewed this panel assembly to the ripstop panel.
I just matched the edges of thw two pieces needing to be sewn together, rolled them over twice, pinning as I went, then sewed two lines of stitches along the roll.

(Note: in the photo of the completed tent, there is a drip edge on the lower end of the roof. This was the result of getting my roof measurements wrong somhow. The roof was too long, so I folded over the edge and sewed in the flap. This ended up being a good thing because I reinforced the parts where guy lines attach and the flap takes all of the stress of the lines.)

Step 9: Front Bay-Style Door

Picture of Front Bay-Style Door
I didn't photograph every part of this process, but this step is simple, and I've added pictures of the details:

1.) Piece together or cut-out the solid panel for the door. I had to sew three different pieces of cloth together for this, which is why there's a diagonal stitch across the front door, and a brown strip of cloth down one side.
2.) Piece together or cut out the screen door panel.
3.) If you're using continuous zippers, use a soup can or a bucket of fried chicken to round out the two bottom corners of these--like you did on the side doors. If you're using a couple of zippers, you should have them meet at right angles to each other in the lower corners.
4.) sew the zippers onto these in the same way you sewed them onto the side doors.
5.) match the two pieces with each other and sew their top edges together. This seam doesn't have to be fancy--they'll get a better one when you sew the doors to the roof.
7.) Once you've made this stitch, and sewn the zippers onto both the screen and ripstop doors, match the zippered edges of the two up, pin the unsewn edges of the zippers together, and run a stitch around them.
5.) set aside until final assembly.

Step 10: Tent Assembly

Picture of Tent Assembly
This is simpler than it may seem. Just pin and sew the four walls to the roof, one at a time, then sew the walls to each other along the corner seams.

I started with the front doors, then did the back wall, then sewed in the side doors. Once all four walls were sewn to the roof, I sewed the vertical, or corner seams together one at a time.
Leave the top four corners unsewn in the last inch or two so as to attach the webbing for the poles and guy lines.

Then sew in the floor in the same way. On three of your walls, you'll be sewing the door zippers to the floor. This is only slightly harder than sewing the tops of the walls to the roof. You just need to make sure that when you sew the two zippers in together that you don't crowd the teeth too much or run over them with your stitch. There were several points where I sewed through the zipper teeth doing this and had to rip the seam back open. It sucked, but it all works out in the end, so just be careful and be thorough when you pin the seams together.

Remember that you'll be turning the tent inside out to make these seams (just like a pair of pants or a T-shirt) so that they'll look neat from the outside...

**Again, I suggest leaving the floor and ceiling corners unsewn at this point. Just sew the seams shut to within an inch or so of the corners. It's easier to add all of the webbing for stakes and lines all at once after the tent is fully assmebled.

I did this step all in one semi-intense go, and didn't take pictures of the process. From the standpoint of assembly it's as easy as putting together a little model house. From the perspective of process it's a little harder, but not unlike anything you have to do up to this point. I've included some photos to to give a sense of how this is done below.

Step 11: Overbuilding

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Although keeping the weight down was one of my top considerations in making this tent, durability won out in some instances.

1. I added some heavy nylon ribbon to the seams that run from the top of the poles down to the lower back corners, and from there down to the staking corners. I pulled the ribbon off of the junk tent. I just sewed the walls to the roof, then turned the tent right side out and pinned and sewed the ribbon onto the outside.

2. I used strips of 2" to 2 1/2" webbing for the corner stakes and for the guy line attachment points. I already had a little grommet-making kit so I put some grommets in these.

3. I also reinforced the corners with extra wedges of ripstop, building up a couple of plys and in some cases 4 plys of material. The webbing pieces are sort of long so that I could sew the crap out of them. (see photos).

Step 12: Optional Canoe Paddle Poles

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I canoe camp a lot, so the idea of using paddles for poles was appealing, though obviously not necessary. So I attached some webbing that was long enough to tie a paddle handle into. The pictures explain how.

Step 13: The Fly

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Making the fly is simple. When you've completed the tent, set it up. Then take your fly material--scraps, etc.--a bunch of pins and clamps, and piece the fly together over the erected tent. The tent serves as a 3-D frame that you stretch and pin the material over. If your material pieces are small it can be a pain in the ass, but be patient, keep patching it together, and you'll get there.
You can pin and sew as you go (recommended), or if you're a good sewer, pin it all up then sew it all at once.

I originally intended to put a zipper in the weather side of this fly, but got antsy to take the tent camping and didn't bother.

In any case, when you've got the fly together, put it over the tent again and mark where you'll need guy lines to hold it down.

Then make some small, grommeted webbing attachments, reinforcing the cloth around where you attach them with extra ripstop, and sewed them all together.

Step 14: Waterproofing

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For the seams, I mixed up mineral spirits with silicone 50/50, on the advice of someone somewhere on the internet. It seems to work okay, though it's peeling off in places. I mixed up a 4:1 solution of the same with better results, so I recommend that, or even a 5:1 mixture.

For the cloth, I first mixed 100% silicone and mineral spirits together in more of a 3:1 ratio, put it in a spray bottle, and sprayed it on while the tent was set up. Then I spread it around with a paint brush. It seems to work so far, but it was a pain in the ass to mess with.
Later, i found a commercially available product that's 10% silicone. SO I mixed up the 100% silicone with the mineral spirits in a 10:1 ratio, put it in a windex bottle and sprayed it on with good results.

Word to the wise: test that fly out before taking it camping!
One of my neighbor kids-turned-projects assistant gladly soaked the tent under a shower from the hose while I sat inside watching for leaks. He also put the hose on jet and tried to penetrate beneath and through the fly w/blasts of water--exposing a couple of leaky seams and unsealed patches of cloth, and warranting a retributive soaking of his own.

Anywhere I missed with the waterproofing leaked like a seive, requiring a couple more applications.

USE A RESPIRATOR 'AND CORROSION-PROOF GLOVES when you're painting or spraying the stuff on so you can be patient and thorough. ***I'm not talking about a dust mask and latex gloves, please use the right gear and dispose of things propoerly.***

After an initial trial trip, I decided to fully waterproof the floor of the tent. I used a 5:1 ratio just for overkill.

For a different tent I bought a WAY overpriced product--by "nickwax" or something like that--that sprays on, to see if it was worth it. It works okay so far, but so does the silicone, which was free (aside from the mineral spirits) since there were bunches of it in a friend's garage when he moved in.

Step 15: Final Thoughts

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Some will fear at this point that I haven't told them everything they need to know about making a tent. All I can say is that it's very simple and logical. If you can make a little paper model tent, you can make a real tent. Sewing for utility is easy. Sewing well comes with practice. You're not making dress shirts or anything, so just be willing to accept anomalies, odd colors, inexplicable and ugly seams and you'll be fine.

Look at what a new tent costs--way too much, like all outdoor gear. Once I finished the tent I branched out into dry bags, backpacks, stuff sacks, a sweet, high impact-resistant camera bag, all sorts of stuff.
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xando5 years ago
i followed your tips and im proud to say that i have been living in this tent for 3 months now. if my parents could see me now. last night i ate wild onions and dog meat for dinner.
panzuman xando5 years ago
where are you camping and how do you have internet access?
shmuki panzuman11 months ago

Probably by a river in some city near a coffee shop...

JosiahK xando12 months ago

dog meat?

bentm (author)  xando5 years ago
This is one of my favorite responses, and I'm glad to have played some small part in the realization of this Dream. 
bscott231 month ago

Awesome....

Repurposing is always awesome. Love the detail you put into this.

badgernatmom2 months ago

I am a stupid person with my hands but I think some of my ideas are not too bad... ANYWAY: do you think that you could make a tent that you could flip over on so that you could use it as a kind of cot? I thought about having the cot frame be the tent frame and the cot surface be the tent itself. You could set up the cot to lie around in the sunshine in the daytime (or sleep under the stars at night) and just flip it over and have the cot surface kind of fold out to cover the frame and make a tent.

KateinNH2 months ago

I don't argue with my S.O. over such things as tent guy lines, I let him have his day in the sun on the little stuff.

NancyRhodes2 months ago

Until now I have resisted an account here... already too too much mail in my box. But I wanted to comment about your tent adventure and thus took the plunge. Great narrative and exciting re-use of found tent and materials. The recipe for waterproofing sealer DIY spray was secondary in the push to be able to comment. That might be immediately useful to me. Thank you for sharing. I don't think I will be making my own but I enjoyed your adventure and tackling and encouraging sewing as a no-gender excluded oh so very useful skill set. Thanks a million for my a.m. coffee mug entertainment.

Epic and a fun read too. Thanks.
gr8fldanielle2 months ago

this is a great 'ible and my mind is reeling. The is pretty cheap on e-Bay and so is the mosquito netting, has anyone considering rather than dealing with zippers maybe using Velcro?

billyoungm2 months ago
Crayfish to a discarded toaster?! Can you elaborate on that?!
thayray2 months ago

Should have guessed this caffeinated text hailed from Seattle. ;)

OutdoorKid5 months ago
Why are you sitting on a table?
Wild-Bill12 months ago

If you have estate auctions in your area, then try there to get a good deal on a good quality sewing machine. I picked up a Pfaff portable complete all the feet and spindles for $75. I see good quality sewing machines come up at the auction a quite a few times a year and even some big commercial machines. I am going to have to try your seam sealer formula.

meismeems4 years ago
Wow, for a beginner you actually did quite an amazing sewing job!!! I've been sewing for years, and I'm sure my attempts at constructing a tent would not be noticeably neater!

I commend you on your spelling as well....rarely do I read an 'ible that has so few spelling errors. It made my reading very pleasurable. Your attention to detail in making your tent AND delivering your instructable is greatly appreciated!

+1 I agree!

beme20131 year ago
Lol
beme20131 year ago
Where did you find that huge tent so cheep?
Tofuturtle2 years ago
thats so cool!
schpidah2 years ago
Great Instructable! The write up was immensely entertaining as well.
Evilrick5 years ago
I have been trying to find someone to make me a lean-to with a screened in front for a long time, I have been using big plastic tarps but they just don't do what I want them to. Now I guess I'll make it myself. Surprised I didn't think of this before.  As far as the sewing machines go, I have to say that my mother has a Singer and has had lots of problems with it. I bought a Brother machine (that's right, my own machine, single men need things sewn too), and have never had any problems with it. Have made a couple small bags for water bottle and camp cooking stuff (besides patches on my jeans), have sewn web straps on jean material without any problems, guess they are not all that bad.  I would also like to know whats the weight on your almost perfect tent. Might be a project for after the lean-to.
bentm (author)  Evilrick5 years ago
I agree that we should stop gendering tools and activities--masculinity as it's been imagined and practiced falls squarely into the spectrum of hilarious-to-pathetic at this point. 

I also find myself disillusioned with the Romance of the Tarp.  Bugs and animals crawl on your face at night, and I don't feel protected against monsters and Satan the way I do in a nice, enclosed, candle-lit tent. *

Surely there's a comfortable mean between super-equipped 1960s Man Scout-style camping (canvas everything, Axe-n-saw for erecting a semi-permanant cabin, chairs, table, spruce-bough bed, etc. from the abundant "saplings" that are always supposed to be around in an inexhaustable supply), and the self-sacrificially-macho Ultralight thing where you "Toughen Up" and swing superiorly down the trail like Tarzan wearing nothing but a loincloth made out of beef jerky that supposedly doubles as raingear, tent, first aid kit, and food source.  A nice lean-to for example. 

I think I put the weight down here somewhere, but offhand, I think it was 4.4lbs. 

And yeah--a brand name doesn't gaurantee anything one way or the other.

*Note to the over-helpful reader who is now itching to assert his greater knowledge and experience and importance in the world of manly pursuits by chiding me for using a candle in a tent: save it please.
verity33 bentm2 years ago
"I also find myself disillusioned with the Romance of the Tarp. Bugs and animals crawl on your face at night, and I don't feel protected against monsters and Satan the way I do in a nice, enclosed, candle-lit tent."

I love that! My sentiments exactly! :oD

Nice instructable! Thanks.
lukeyj15 bentm5 years ago
personally i prefer using cyclone lanterns. Kerosene is pretty cheap and you don't get wax everywhere
bpfh3 years ago
Hey, you found real nylon thread! kudos! I'm looking for this stuff.

My dad picked up the end of the huge sppols from the industrial sewing machines that made seat belts and safety harnesses. Brilliant stuff, and whatever you are sewing will break long before the thread will!
Demascus4 years ago
nicely done, the siicon stuff where do you get it out in the real world. ?
I think he's talking about 100% silicone caulking from the home improvement store. It comes in tubes and is applied with a "calk gun" a kind of clamp like thing that pushes a plunger up the tube and squeezes out the contents through a hole in the tip of the tube.
From the description sounds like he's making his own silicone paint with the mineral spirits as the solvent vehicle.
Spray it on, the spirits evaporate leaving behind silicone impregnated cloth.
Clever
Yes that is what i thought. Bought multitubes of silicon caulking and mixed with the mineral spirits, use cheap garden sprayer and sprayed it on my canvas. I used it, and it only sprinkled but no drops inside noted. Still the real test awaits in a thunderstorm...lol
chokapi3 years ago
I actually like this. Be surprised.

I'm more of a solo tent kind of guy, and see some promise in the tent displayed in pic #4 and 5.
kcox83 years ago
wow! your tent design is very close to what i imagined would be the perfect tent for me. you made it really easy to understand the construction process. thanks for all the excellent tips and instructions. hope my tent turns out as sweet as yours!
arpoky4 years ago
Whenever I see the thumbnail for this Instructable, I think you are laying on some invisible wall or falling backward. The stool you are leaning back on just blends in with the ground.
i thinks it's called a baker tent. i made one years ago using coated ripstop nylon sail material. very light weight & strong. worked well on the Appalation (spelling ) trail in Feb.
Cool tent.
" " Instructable.
" " Author.
This is by far the best DIY project I have ever found. Thanks a million for all your hard work sharing it with the planet! You Rock!!
wood_chuck74 years ago
Brillant! I think I'll make this my winter project! Love the discription of cons of guy lines...will completely hold true with my friends :) Cheers!
bobbyfour4 years ago
This is absolutely amazing. I especially like the design, it looks like the legendary 'campfire' tent that Bill Mason loved so much. I have never seem one in nylon, maybe I will try one too :)
I was thinking the same thing. Looks like Bill Mason's classic tent.

Great job on making something so usable. Might do this myself.
World class!

I've tried most all tents from lean-to to canoe fly to Baker, tube and beyond.

This is the most reasoned and proven approach I've seen.

Camo fabric is available online:

E.G. http://www.lurasfabricshop.com/fabric-choices/camouflage.html

Now I need a temptress; oops seamstress (first.)
beanblog4 years ago
This looks like a pretty great tent! Where were you able to find ripstop nylon in widths greater than 60" ? I've been unable to source anything larger than that.
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