Round Peg In a Square Hole-crafts

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Frome the Archives: Lawn Camels

This is an article I wrote 12 or more years ago, when I used to visit the Estrella War as a guest of House Alkazar. I intended it for some SCA publication or other, but I never got around to submitting it. I found it this morning, going through some stuff, and thought the techniques described might be of use to some folks.

Those of you who went to the Estrella War may have noticed House Alkazar's new Lawn Camels. (For those who didn't see them, they consisted of two large figures cut from plywood: a standing camel (about 7+ feet at the top of the hump) and a kneeling one (about 4 feet high). As there seems to be a growing number of Middle Eastern personnas in the SCA, I thought I would share how I had built them, in case others were interested.

The Beasts were a 12th Night present for Sahar of House Alkazar. Since she lives in Sacramento and I live in Pasadena, the first constraint on them was that they fit in my Ford Escort hatchback. (I wasn't ABOUT to check them as baggage on a plane! Imagine filling out the claim slip if they were lost...) As my usual medium is textiles and I have little or no experience with wood, I enlisted the aid of a friend and her friend. They had power tools and the knowledge of how to use them, and were willing to teach me and keep me from cutting or sanding my fingers off.

We used 3/4" plywood in 4' x 10' pieces, about 2.5 of them, when all was said and done. The kneeling camel was made of a lower piece and an upper piece which were freehanded on the wood in pencil, then cut out with a jigsaw. The body of the standing one was a made similarly, with the legs added as two separate additional pieces. My tutor then puttied in flaws, uneven grain, and knots in the wood, afterwards sanding the surfaces and all the edges with an electric sander.

To assemble them, we used two 6" galvanized steel hinges per body to hold the top and bottom pieces of both camels together, and the standing one used another to hinge the back leg on. The front leg was attached with a smaller hinge, both because it was what we had, (this was done almost exclusively from stuff my friends had lying around) and because the shape of the piece might not have allowed a larger hinge to be used. We then marked straight lines which passed through the legs and through the higher portions of the body (the head and the hump--O.K., with one hump, they're technically dromedaries, but Lawn Camels is much more euphonious, plus it sounds less pretentious) and attached automobile hose clamps along this path: two on each leg and one per body section per pole, giving a total 8 for the standing one and 4 for the kneeling one. (Attaching the hose clamps was not as easy as it sounds. We finally managed to drill holes in the clamps by placing them on a wooden broom handle, then drilling through to the wood. And, to screw them in, a screwdriver with the head at a right angle to the shaft would have been helpful, as certain logistics made it unwise to completely undo the clamp to screw it in.) We then cut steel pipe into lengths corresponding to the straight lines we had drawn, plus about 2 feet. My tutor then sharpened one end of each pole (using a car body sander), making them into tube knives.

Finishing consisted of painting the bodies and faces in some detail, (including the hinges, to minimize their visibility) using exterior flat paint, and water sealing them twice. (Hey! I've been at Estrella quite a few times! Those puppies needed to be sealed TIGHT!) I then cut floppy leather ears and braided some rope into tails, attaching the ears with a staple gun and the tails with screws.

All of the actual construction could have been accomplished in one weekend. The paint, however, needed a full 24 hours to dry, and each coat of the sealant required two full days. So, overall, we're talking a little more than a week, total elapsed time, with much of that being drying time.

Once on site, all we needed to do to set them up, was to unfold the camel face down, slide the appropriate length pole through the hose clamps, stand the beast up, pound in the stakes, and tighten the hose clamps. (The idea was that you shouldn't need any tools more complex than a dime and a rock to set them up, although it is easier with a screw driver and a mallet or hammer.) We considered the direction of the wind before we placed them in our encampment, facing the head or tail directly into the wind, rather than letting it hiit them broadside. For foul weather, we may need to run guy wires from the poles to secure them, although they seemed fairly sturdy.

Problems: We didn't consider the thickness of the wood or the hose clamps when we decided to hinge them. This required the front leg on the standing camel to be hinged in the opposite direction from the back leg and the head-hump section. Not a problem during use, but it makes it large when folded and more awkward to store than I had wanted. You could solve this problem, partially, by hinging the legs one way and the hump the other way. However, you'd pretty much have to slip cover them, then, to keep the hinges from showing. (Aren't there also hinges where the pins are made to be removable? That would solve the problem entirely.)

Other considerations: make sure that the hose clamps you buy are only just big enough for the poles that you're going to use. Part of our difficulty in attaching the hose clamps was due to them being too big. Also, when first drawing your designs, you might want to do it on a large piece of paper, or scale it up from graph paper. I free-handed each piece separately and, even though the pieces matched up, I ended up with something that looked as if it had been shot in Cinemascope and was being shown with the wrong lens--that is, the horizontal and vertical scales didn't match.

In any case, I think that these techniques would be useful for lots of different applications. How about Lawn Elephants? Or a facade or gateway for your campstie? Or a tower with a light in the window to guide you home at night? The possibilities are endless.......