To the point

A simple jig for getting your tent pole pins in straight

In a previous article I talked about making tent poles and briefly touched on the difficulty of getting the pine in straight. For the most part if your pins are mostly straight nobody will ever notice. When you start adding finials and pennants, minor deviations become much more obvious. A drill press would of course get the pin in perfectly straight but very few of us have access to a drill press that can reach 6 or 7 feet off the ground.

To begin I assess the poles I am going to make. My standard is to take a 2×2 nominal pole and knock off the corners to make an octagon. Being a nominal 2×2 the actual dimensions are closer to 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″. This gives me the size for my drill bit. In this case a 1 1/2″ forstner bit.

I start with a 3″ block of 4×4. Making sure my table on my drill press is 90 degree to the drill bit I find the center of the block and using the 1 1/2″ forstner bit I drill in to the block 2 inches. The reason I stress the forstner bit is that It leaves a flat bottomed hole with a minor dimple in the center. The flat bottom lets your tent pole bottom out and the dimple ensures your will find the center to continue to drill through.

Block after drilling with forstner bit.

Forstner bit

Next you will need a regular twist bit the same diameter as the pin for your tent pole. I tend to use either 5/16″ or 1/4″. Chucking the appropriate drill bit in you can then proceed to drill the remainder of the way through the block, centered on the dimple left by the Fortner bit.

When you are done you will have a simple block that should slip onto your tent pole, you may need to sand the tent pole lightly. When the pole is firmly seated in the block you insert a drill bit into the hole on the other side and drill to your desired depth. I prefer to use about a 3″ or 4″ pin and leave about 1 1/2″ sticking out.

The pole inserted into the jig
Drilling with the jig for the pin.

The jig will keep you straight into the wood but it will be worn down with use. If you plan to drill a large number of poles in this manner you may want to put an aluminum sleeve in the hole to guide the bit. It’s a quick and simple jig that will save you a good bit of work down the road.

The inserted pin

The pin is actually straight, the angle of the camera and a weird setting made it look like it is bent to the side a bit. From this point I would round of the edges on the top of the pole to keep it from wearing on the tent canvas. You can epoxy your pins in place to keep them from slipping loose over time, personally I haven’t had a lot of issue with it happening but I do keep a few extra pins in the stake bucket just in case.

If you do not use round or octagonal poles you can still use this method. To figure out the size of the forstner you will need, measure from corner to corner on your pole to determine the size of the bit. . If you are using the nominal 2×2 from a box store, the corner to corner will usually be 2″. From there follow the instructions and you are good to go.


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