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 I needed a tent, quickly and inexpensive, for a party we were throwing. While thinking I could use electrical conduit (EMT which is metal) and fittings to do the job, I realized I was confusing PVC fittings and electrical fittings. and the original idea of fabricating the structure with straight pieces of conduit (sticks is the common electrical term for 10' segments of conduit) just wasn't feasible. Over the years I have installed a lot of commercial electrical feeds for various equipment in businesses and shops of mine. This installation entails a lot of bending of the sticks to make electrical runs to where you need them. I then rethought my original premise, and conceived of this idea.

 Why not make the equivalent of a circle of conduit, using the bends to form the tent structure. The structure I made was that of a tent with a peak running the length, simple enough, and could be almost entirely done in a loop, except the apex, which would have to be mechanically fastened. Now you could just as easily make this with a flat roof, and in smaller elements, giving you incredible flexibility in design and layout. You can have 1, 2, 3 or heck all sides covered. Your limit is your funds and your imagination. For smaller layouts, without long runs, or height, I recommend 1/2" conduit and fittings, for larger runs, and taller structures I would recommend 1", however 1/2" is much easier to manipulate on the fly.

 Here is a picture of all the parts waiting to be assembled into a 10' x 30' tent. You really do not need much by way of tools, a list will be at the end of this page. To make a 4' x 4' x 8' flat  topped section you would need (7) 1/2" sticks, 8 couplings and plastic or tarps to cover whatever faces you don't want open. That's less than 10 bucks. To make it 4' x 9' x 8' you would need 9 sticks, and 8 couplings. 

 Now, the easiest way to plan this in 1/2" conduit is to thing that with every piece that you want corners  (easiest to keep aligned) you will lose 1' of length on a run.

 Notice in this picture that the base pieces (the ones with bends in both ends) were 10' sticks, each side riser was a 10' stick, and the apex piece was a 1' stick) the long pieces with no bends were the apex supports cut to 9'-2" with the ends flattened in a vise, to give overlap when connected to the main frame.

 This picture shows the parts to make a single 19' x 9' x 12' tent section. The nice thing about this idea is you can economize by building every other section you need and using connecting bars to make runs of a span up to 10'. Also, the conduit gives you a place to string your lighting, hang speakers, and props, etc. If you look at the first picture you can see we hung three lights inside the tent for atmosphere. We just wrapped the cords around the conduit, and cable tied them where we wanted a drop.

 Here you can see how the frame is assembled, in the foreground is a base section, bent at 90° on each end. 

 Laying behind it in the shot is the assembled set of legs and apex section. At the left side of the image you can see a section already in place.

 Here you can see the frame assembled and in place. 

 In my version, I needed a pointed roof, so my bends are on the legs (to take advantage of the conduit length) and the apex section. I do not recommend drilling holes for the supports in the bends of your frame, that would make a weak point. In a tunnel system, you could easily just make bends at the ends of the top sections. Make legs to the height you want minus about 3", and then just make your top sections with bends at both ends like the base sections. 

 Once I had assembled 2 frames, I separated them by the same distance as the run of a single frame. This allows economy by not having to build an entire 3rd frame. Instead I spanned the 2 frames with a single stick, cut to the appropriate length crimped flat on both ends, then drilled with a hole to fit a screw thru.

 As you can see the I have fitted both sections and the span between the 2 frames with bars across the apex. This was done by drilling a hole where needed on the apex stick on each frame, and then putting a screw thru that hole, and thru the hole in the span stick, retaining it with a nut. In my case accomplished with #8x1.5" screws and nuts I had on hand.

 While the sucker was tarp-less, we strung up the lights to be used during the festivities. As you can see at the base of the closest frame, Desi was assisting by tenaciously guarding the parts.

 Once the lights are in place, it is time to begin attaching the tarps.

 Attaching tarps was easy, I used releasable cable ties thru the grommets, cinching them down snugly while at the same time wrapping the tarp a bit around the conduit.

 To secure the whole setup with the tarps in place, and to remove any sag, a few rebar stakes in the ground at the corners tied off with some rope using sheepshanks or taut line hitches do the trick. 

tautline.gif (51825 bytes)
You can adjust each line as needed on the fly without having to worry about them coming undone at the wrong time. It was rather amazing how much tension we could apply to this to get it taut.


Conduit bender tool (Greenlee or Leader)
3' or 4' section black iron pipe threaded (for the conduit bender)
Pipe cutter
Flat head screwdriver
Small crescent wrench
Vise (not necessary but very useful)
sledge hammer (for driving rebar stakes)

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