Scout Stave Dish Washing Rack

Very Functional Camp Kitchen Gadget
Very Functional Camp Kitchen Gadget

Background and History. Washing mealtime utensils on a camping trip can range from using paper plates (no washing) to “Philmont-style” (lick ’em clean and sanitize in boiling water). Through the years, Scouting has come up with a variety of “dish washing assembly line” configurations. For a wide range of field applications, the three container approach has proven itself tried and true.

Here’s the method featured in the current edition of the Boy Scout Handbook:

  • 1st container: Wash Pot  (hot water with a few drops of biodegradable soap)
  • 2nd container: Hot Rinse Pot (hot clean water)
  • 3rd container: Cold Rinse Pot (cold water with a sanitizing tablet or a few drops of bleach to kill bacteria)

Here’s the method featured in the current edition of the Fieldbook:

  • 1st container: Wash Pot  (hot water with a few drops of biodegradable soap)
  • 2nd container: Cold-Rinse Pot (cold water with a sanitizing tablet or a few drops of bleach to kill bacteria)
  • 3rd container: Hot-Rinse (clear, hot water)
A Scout Patrol Using a Ground Level Dish Washing Assembly Line
A Scout Patrol Using a Ground Level Dish Washing Assembly Line

On many overnight camping and backpacking trips, this approach has been adapted, sometimes combining the second and third containers into one 8 quart pot. In all cases, the initial step is to clean or scrape off as much excess food as possible into a designated receptacle, before placing anything into the 1st container. Most often the final step, is to let all washed items air dry on a plastic sheet. Even when wash basins are used on front-country, “car-camping” trips, the whole production frequently takes place right on the ground. This is always the case when there are no picnic tables, limited table space, or when tables are being used for other things. Improving the campsite, making it more comfortable, making kitchen tasks more convenient, being resourceful and using one’s ingenuity is what creating camp gadgets are all about. That’s why the Scout Stave Dish Washing Rack was devised. 

The wash basins are supported underneath by two Scout Staves.
The wash basins are supported underneath by two Scout Staves.

Two challenges. 1) Drawings for dish washing rack designs are common. But, until you make one and try it with full containers of water, it’s difficult to realize what the main challenge really is—to keep the containers from crashing down because they’re too heavy! Depending on the containers used, an average wash basin won’t have enough of a lip to hold it in place or is just to flimsy to keep it’s shape when filled with water. That’s why lashing together a framework alone usually won’t suffice. Therefore, in addition to the framework, this design includes a bottom platform made up of two Scout Staves for the basins to rest upon, which solves the weight issue. 2) The next challenge is one that’s common to many a pioneering structure, be it large or small. How do we keep the rack itself from falling over? We overcome this basic concern by bringing into play the same stability solution used in making a simple camp table. It’s exactly the same concept that keeps a monkey  bridge erect. Like the table, we connect two upright A-frames with a rope, and using the same rope, we anchor them securely in place on either side. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • ten 5-foot Scout Staves
  • fourteen 6-foot x 1/4-inch lashing ropes
  • one 20-foot x 1/4-inch lashing rope
  • two narrow pioneering stakes
  • three wash basins (For convenience, the wash basins we used were very inexpensive and easy to find. Purchased were three 18-quart Sterilite basins from Walmart.)
Make two identical A-frames.
Make two identical A-frames.

Make the A-frames. Because the rack will be holding around nine gallons of water, approximately 72 pounds, the lashings for this project need to be especially tight.  An easy way to assure you’ll have well-lashed A-frames is to first square lash the tops at 90º and then the ledger to one leg, also at 90º. This will create some strain on the lashings when the other leg and the other end of the ledger are lashed together, yielding a nice tight A-frame. (Careful it’s not too tight, and of course you can always start with a shear lashing at the top.) With these Sterilite wash basins, lash the ledger in place about 28 inches from the top of the legs. Since all we’re using are Scout Staves, in this design one side of the ledger will purposely extend out much farther than the other on each A-frame—a place to hang some towels (or whatever).

Support the A-frames with the rope attached to the legs and anchored to a stake on each side.
A rope attached to the legs and anchored to a stake on each side.

Connect and stand up the A-frames. Tightly lash two staves to the outside of the legs of each A-frame, about 20 inches from the top. The front and back edges of the wash basins will rest on these staves. Hammer in two stakes about 12 feet apart where you want the rack to be located, and position the connected A-frames between. Halve the 20-foot lashing rope and approximating the midpoint between the A-frames, secure the rope to the top of one leg with a clove hitch, and pulling the rope to the other A-frame, repeat the process on the top of a leg on the other side. Tie the ends of the rope to the stakes on either side, securing the ends tightly with tautl-line hitches. (If preferred use roundturns with two half hitches.)

Add the two-stave basin supports. The A-frame ledgers will now serve to do something more than keep the A-frames’ legs from shifting. They’ll now also support the two remaining staves that assure the basins stay put! Lash these two staves parallel to one another on top of the ledgers, on either side of the rack.

Place the basins on the rack. Once you check to see all the lashings are tight, and the central rope is secure and stabilizing the structure, then you’re ready to bring on the basins. Position them side by side and fill them about 3/4 of the way up.

Scout Stave Dish Washing Rack
Scout Stave Dish Washing Rack

The BSA Supply Division’s Scout Hiking Staff is still the best deal on the market for Scout Staves. Item: Number 1443 on scoutstuff.org

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5 thoughts on “Scout Stave Dish Washing Rack”

  1. Hi – I love this project and I wish I’d read about it a week ago. I am tired of losing picnic table space and this is such a cool thing to do. Get your First Class camp gadget done and make use of it in time for dinner. I’d also like to add that 9 gallons of water is a touch over 75 lbs, not 18. Those lashing indeed need to be tight.

  2. Reblogged this on Troop 113's Blog and commented:
    Awesome use of scout staves for a very functional dishwashing station. First Class scouts have the skills to do this, and it’s a hand’s on learning exercise to teach Tenderfoot/Second Class more lashing skills for sign-offs.

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