Poles for Pioneering – What is a Spar?

Wooden poles are the main ingredient in building a pioneering structure. Everyone knows what a pole is. Depending on the project at hand, we use them in all different lengths and diameters. But, what are all these references to spars? Is a spar different than a pole?

What is a spar? Simply stated, in pioneering, a spar is a thick, strong pole. Obviously, when completed, a pioneering project has to be able to withstand the strain and stress that will occur while performing its intended function. We can’t build a structure out of spindly sticks tied together with string and expect it to work. We use spars lashed together with good, natural fiber rope!

Bamboo Pole, Pine Spar, Scout Stave, Stick
Poles, Staves, Sticks, and Spars

Okay. So a spar is a thick, strong pole. Now there are a lot of givens, but we’ll go through them anyway, and quickly:

  • The best spars for pioneering are straight with a minimum of taper.
  • The diameter of a spar is measured at the butt end, not the tip. Depending on what’s being built, butt ends are frequently between two and four inches thick, and under certain circumstances, even thicker.
  • Spars can be any length, depending on what’s being built. In Scout Pioneering, the most common sizes are six, eight, ten, and twelve feet. (Depending on what’s being built, fourteen, sixteen, and even longer are sometimes called for.)
  • For pioneering projects, spars should be skinned. (If the bark moves when the project is under strain, lashings can slip, skinned spars last longer and the projects look nicer.)
  • Spars should be stored out of the weather for future use.

Is a Scout Stave a spar? No. By themselves, they’re too skinny. Scout Staves are great for instruction and small projects, but a 5-foot Scout Stave is a strong stick, not a spar. Many camp gadgets can be built using short, smaller diameter poles, like Scout Staves.

Is a bamboo pole a spar? A bamboo pole is a bamboo pole. Large diameter bamboo is certainly thick, and depending on it’s condition, also strong, however it should be born in mind, bamboo can withstand vertical stress much better than horizontal stress. It’s super for a variety of pioneering uses because it’s wonderfully straight and for its size it’s very light weight. Due to it’s surface being so slick, lashing bamboo poles together presents additional challenges.


Author: Scout Pioneering

Volunteer in the Boy Scouts of America

6 thoughts on “Poles for Pioneering – What is a Spar?”

  1. Fyi, HD and Lowes sell Tree Stakes, these are 2″ dia by 8ft long, with a pointed end.

    These can be used for medium sized projects. I used them for the Floating Flag Pole project, possibly will work for the A-Frame Bridge project also.

    1. Maybe, with lighter Scouts. Though I don’t know about that 325 pound Scouter from Texas who crossed the bridge at the Philmont Training Center. Thanks for the

  2. I am an ASM for a Cincinnati scout troop and we are also in need of additional spars for a weekend campout in December. Any suggestions about where or how we could procure some?

    Thank you!

  3. We recently saw a spark of interest in several of our Scouts to build some pioneering structures, but we have a limited number of staves and spars for them to do much with Our Troop also tries to practice LNT whenever possible so we are hesitant to go cutting a bunch out of the local woods. Do you have any leads on where we could purchase some “farm” grown or already cut spars?

    We are in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia if that matters.


    – Jeff Guthrie

    1. Hi Jeff,

      I just spoke with George Hudak of the US Forest Service, who is the Timber Program Manager at the Monongahela National Forest. His office is in Elkins, WV. Please contact him regarding a permit to harvest some spars for your troop. So he could get an idea of what you’d be wanting, I told him you’d be interested in 10 – 8′ x 4″ spars, 10 – 6′ x 3″ spars, 4 – 10′ by 3″ spars, and 4 – 12′ x 4″ spars, but this was merely to serve as a point of reference. 3′ to 4′ x 2″ ladder rungs, walkway, and platform spars can be cut from the same trees that provided the longer lengths.

      Mr. Hudak can be reached at: 304-636-1800, extension 201. Incidentally, I mentioned in conjunction with procuring the spars, your troop would be interested in doing a conservation project.

      Let me know if you have any questions, and please keep me posted on how this goes.

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