The Somewhat Ambiguous Shear Lashing

VIEW VIDEO: How to Tie a Shear Lashing

Scouts Lash the Tops of Their Sheer Legs with a Two-Spar Shear Lashing to Begin Their Single A-Frame Bridges
Scouts Lash the Tops of Their Shear Legs with a SHEAR LASHING to Begin Their Single A-Frame Bridge

DEFINITION: ambiguous |amˈbigyoōəs|adjective(of language) open to more than one interpretation; having a double meaning; unclear or inexact

Put the two timbers together and tie a clove hitch near the top of one. Bind timbers together by seven or eight turns. Make turns loose, one beside the other. Make two complete frapping turns around lashing turns between the timbers. Fasten securely with clove hitch around one timber. Open out the timbers. Note: Two shear lashings without frappings and with the clove hitch around both timbers are used to lash two timbers into one long one.
From the 1981 Printing of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet

One Thing is NOT Ambiguous! The shear lashing’s USE is quite clear. References to the lashing in John Thurman’s Pioneering books, in John Sweet’s Scout Pioneering, and the Lashing section in the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlets by Pioneering Legend Adolph Peschke all describe its fundamental use exactly the same way. Putting it neat like John Sweet: Use a sheer lashing “when two spars are to be opened out like scissors to make a pair of sheerlegs,” or right to the point like John Thurman in Pioneering Projects, the sheer lashing is “used for lashing together two parallel spars which will be opened out of the parallel to form sheer legs.”

What are sheer legs? Simply put: sheer legs are two upright spars lashed together at the tips with the butt ends splayed apart to support some kind of weight. Most always, in Scout Pioneering we use sheer legs to form an A-Frame.

Ambiguous? Yes. Let’s start with ambiguous spelling! Most modern references to the lashing spell it s-h-e-a-r. Yet, the much respected and revered John Thurman was emphatic that the correct spelling was s-h-e-e-r!

Terminology. In John Sweet’s book, sheer lashing has two different forms each with the same name. When two spars are lashed together for strength, or lap-jointed to extend their length a sheer lashing is used BUT with the clove hitches tied around both spars and without any frapping turns. He still calls it a sheer lashing, but of course this is commonly known as a round lashing!  John Thurman refers to a true round lashing as the Sheer Lashing Mark II and the lashing used to make sheer legs as the Sheer Lashing Mark I.

Let’s take this opportunity to further clarify two lashing designations that keep popping up. A SHEAR Lashing is used to make shear legs. A ROUND Lashing is used to attach one pole to another in the same direction as in extending the overall length of shorter poles. (It can also be used to bind more than one pole together to make a stronger pole.) SHEAR Lashings incorporate frapping turns. ROUND Lashings do not! Along these lines, the West Country Shear Lashing should be called the West Country Round Lashing, and rightfully so!

Nowhere is this stated more clearly than in Gerald Finley’s book, Rope Works: “West Country Round Lashing is also called West Country Shear Lashing, but this name contributes to the confusion caused by lumping shear and round lashings together. West Country Round Lashing is used to form a rigid joint between two parallel poles; it does not form the flexible joint of a shear lashing and it has no frapping turns.”

Two-Spar Shear Lashing. To add to the possible confusion, Adolph Peschke calls what John Thurman refers to as the Sheer Lashing Mark I (which is in actuality THE shear lashing) the Two-Spar Shear Lashing. This name can also be related to the tying of a Tripod Lashing With Plain Turns, wherein the procedure is exactly like the Two-Spar Shear Lashing but with three spars. It follows that it’s easy to dub this tried and true form of tripod lashing (just like the Two-Spar Shear Lashing) the THREE-Spar Shear Lashing. The Two-Spar Shear Lashing is used to make an A-Frame, and the Three- Spar Shear Lashing is used to make a simple tripod.

Ambiguity in Tying the Lashing. Though the formation is the same: clove hitch around one spar, six to eight wraps, two fraps, finish with clove hitch around one spar, there are varied approaches to actually tying the shear lashing. These discrepancies all hinge on… the hinge. (Pun intended.) The spars have to pivot in order to spread out the desired distance. How can this be accomplished so the lashing is tight but not so tight that when spreading the legs into position, the legs and lashing rope resist the strain to the point that something breaks? The tighter the wraps, and the more wrapping turns you take, the stiffer the lashing will be.

  1. One view is to make the wraps and fraps on the loose side, concluding they’ll tighten when the legs are spread.
  2. Another view is to place a small block of wood between the spars to yield adequate room for the frapping turns.
  3. Another view is to make the wraps moderately tight and then before frapping, spread the legs a bit to allow room for the frapping turns, being careful not to close the spars on the lasher’s fingers!
  4. Finally, another view is to complete the wraps, then spread the legs to the desired width, and then take tight frapping turns.

Whatever works well will also depend on the diameter of the spars, how straight they are, and indeed on the structure itself.

Open out the Timbers. NOTE: Two shear lashings without frappings and with a clove hitch around both timbers are used to lash two timbers into one long one.
The NOTE is a perfect description of what is termed the “Round Lashing!”

Pioneering Stumbling Blocks (For Those Who Haven’t Gotten Started Yet)

As John Thurman so succinctly states:

“Why Pioneering? To me the overriding reason for presenting Pioneering is that Scouts like it.”

We know with certainty that the majority of Scouts do like pioneering, and the better they get at it, the more they like it. So, if the Scouts have the desire, why aren’t more Scout units providing the remarkable fun that goes hand in hand with building and enjoying a wide range of pioneering structures?

Stumbling Blocks:  -1-    -2-    -3-

The reason or reasons are obvious. Somewhere there’s an obstacle or obstacles, and a problem or problems. If there wasn’t, more and more Scouts would be happily involved in unit pioneering programs, building ever-more wonderful things at camp, on outings, and during camporees. The fun, adventure, involvement and challenges are built right in—and also the success. And, nothing succeeds like success! So lets start right there:

STUMBLING BLOCK 1: Nothing Succeeds Like Success!

Generally speaking, experiencing failure is not great for sparking enthusiasm and rarely results in an exclamation like, “Hey! That was fun!” In his book Pioneering Projects, Gilwell Camp Chief, John Thurman wrote, “if any Patrol, Troop, or Scouter tries to start pioneering before establishing a sound background of basic Scout training in regard to knotting and lashing, then pioneering will become unpopular and will go down in the history of the Patrol or Troop as a failure.” Why? Because without the prerequisite skills, the structure won’t work or stay standing. That’s no way to equate pioneering with something the Scouts can successfully accomplish, and that’s no fun.

An Introduction to Round Lashing for New Scouts During a Troop Meeting
An Introduction to Round Lashing for New Scouts During a Troop Meeting

But, just teaching Scouts the ropes is not enough! Unless the training sessions on knotting and lashing are “tied” to some fun or practical application, then repeated knot-tying and lashing sessions will be a source of exasperation and boredom—an inevitable turn off. Not good! After introducing some basics, give the Scouts a real opportunity to put them into action! Not with an elaborate project, but with a challenge or game where they actually get to use what they learned.

Scouts use they're round lashings to play
Scouts use they’re round lashings to play “Catch the Snapper.”

(Refer to Favorite Scout Meeting Challenges.) Make sure the activity matches their skill level. That way, success is assured, and each new success is a building block to a bigger one. When these initial forays into pioneering are successfully carried out, then it’s a sure bet that actually building the useful camp gadget and larger campsite improvement will result in its own success story with a tangible outcome in the form of a concrete accomplishment. “We built that!”

Now, if the youth and adults are really interested, what else will hold a troop back from implementing an effective Pioneering program?

STUMBLING BLOCK 2: Lack of Scouter Training.

Pioneering Team Building Challenge at a Camporee
Pioneering Team Building Challenge at a Camporee

(a) It’s possible the Scouters themselves don’t possess the necessary knowledge and skills required to introduce their Scouts to the knotting and lashing techniques required to construct even a simple camp gadget, not to mention a bridge.

No excuse. The basic knowledge and skills required are super easy to gain. Knot and lashing diagrams, online animations and demonstrations, and learning sessions from fellow Scouters are available to one and all. What it takes is devoting some time to mastering each technique so it can be passed along directly to the Scouts or to those who will be doing the instructing. VIEW: HOW-TO PIONEERING SKILL VIDEOS

(b) Perhaps the Scouters never actually built the pioneering projects themselves, resulting in a natural hesitation to embark on ventures into unfamiliar territory. When there’s a desire to get into pioneering, but there is very little or no pioneering experience, the best training by far is from qualified individuals who have presented a well-rounded pioneering program to their units and have themselves helped provide the opportunities to successfully build the projects. In lieu of that, a great place to start is to get information that is both understandable and dependable. Successful pioneering programs have been developed from scratch by utilizing the 1993, 1998 edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet by Adolph Peschke. The pamphlet is like an A to Z primer on the modus operandi of basic pioneering.  Additionally, as a source of comprehensive information, the book Scout Pioneering spoon feeds the reader with practical approaches and ideas.

STUMBLING BLOCK 3: Lack of equipment.

Lack of equipment is easily the most understandable of all deterrents. Naturally, when there are limited or even zero materials, implementing a unit pioneering program can be daunting proposition. For smaller camp gadgets you can use sticks, Scout staves and binder twine. But, for larger projects, you need the right kind of lashing ropes and the right kinds of spars.

A collection of pine spars ready for transport to the unit's storage facility.
A collection of pine spars ready for transport to the unit’s storage facility.

A favorite John Thurman quote is, “Determination remains the enduring answer to most problems.” So, coupled with the determination that Scouts will be rewarded with rich pioneering experiences, here are some avenues to pursue:

A collection of bamboo, the quantity and size to build the chosen project.
A collection of bamboo, in the quantity and size to build the chosen project.
  • Make an ongoing and concerted effort to get everyone on deck to help locate and gather the materials needed to build the targeted project(s). This is a whole lot easier and more practical than when one individual takes on the responsibility all by themself.
  • Check with the owners of land where there are stands of trees that are good for making spars, sharing with them what you want to do with the spars, and offering to do a little unnoticeable thinning out of some trees, which will be beneficial to the overall tree population. Forest Stewardship
  • Start with what you need. Expand as you go. Necessity is the mother of invention.
  • Team up with other Scouters in neighboring units, in the District, or in the Council, and put together a pioneering kit for communal use. (For a unit interested in putting together their own pioneering kit, a good place to start is to gather the materials necessary to undertake the specific project or projects the unit wishes to build. More supplies can be added to the unit’s kit to meet additional demands for materials, as required by the desire and wherewithal to tackle new and different projects.)
  • Gather the materials you need based on where you are in the cumulative pioneering process. Start with what’s necessary for training and interpatrol activities, and then add the components required for a chosen project, starting from the more simple, e.g. a Double A-frame Monkey Bridge. That way, you can start building your pioneering program around the specific project you’ve got in your sights.
  • If you’re in an area that just ain’t got no trees, check into building a pioneering kit made up of laminated spars.

Nothing really worth doing is ever really easy. The keys are a willingness to learn, a desire strong enough to motivate you to persevere, and the sound conviction that: this is going to be great!

As John Sweet says in Scout Pioneering, in regards to giving Scouts the opportunity to experience the joys of Pioneering, “…greater efforts are obviously needed to open up this adventurous, creative, challenging Scouting activity to the Scouts who would undoubtedly revel in it if given the chance to do so. Everything, finally, will depend on the attitude of the Troop Scout Leader, and they are the one who must be won over. Scouters who are themselves well-versed in the simple techniques of pioneering will need no encouragement and might even have to be restrained! To the others, a vast company, we would merely say that in all fairness they should at least allow their Scouts to have a go. One thing is pretty certain. If they do they will add another dimension to their training programme.”

(Questions? Call or email.)

Pioneering Bridges and the Saga of the Bridge of Fifteen Nations


Bridge Project built in Brazilian Boy Scout Camp
Bridge Project built in Brazilian Boy Scout Camp

Before we relate this interesting, real-life account, here’s a little about building bridges and Pioneering: To open up the frontier, pioneers built BRIDGES. To this day, the most familiar and most  functional of all “larger” pioneering projects are bridges. In the older edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet, pioneering legend Adolph Peschke provides details for five “boy-sized” projects. Four of them are bridges: (Double A-Frame Monkey Bridge, Single Lock Bridge, Single Trestle Bridge, Single A-frame Bridge).

Here are some scanned photos and text from the 1976 printing of the Boy Scout Fieldbook where, again, there is a major emphasis on building bridges:

The 1967 edition of the Boy Scout Fieldbook is replete with photos of real Scouts doing real Scouting, old-school-style!
Three Walkway Bridges

“With your knots and lashings down pat, you’re ready for one of the most exciting outdoor crafts going: pioneering—building structures of timbers for practical purposes. It tests many skills, including teamwork. Probably your first try ought to be a simple project—but you may get your gang really steamed up by the notion of a bridge to avoid a long walk around a gully, stream, or pond on your campsite. So bridge it!

“LOCK BRIDGES are used for spanning streams with steeply sloping sides. If the stream is narrow, use a single-lock bridge (top right), consisting of two trestles and two roadways. For a wider stream, build a double lock bridge (center) in which the two trestles that are placed in the water are locked into a horizontal trestle that carries the center section of the roadway.

“TRESTLE BRIDGES are used to span fairly wide streams with shallow beds and gently sloping sides. The trestles are of different heights, depending on the depth of the water at various points. The bridge is constructed by placing the first trestle in the water, then lashing two “road bearers” (lateral spars) to the top of it, and anchoring the other end of the bearers to the bank. Other trestles are then placed in the water and connected with more road bearers.”


In the preface of his book, Progressive Pioneering, John Thurman tells a story illustrating a modern-day scenario of pioneering in action and how it “saved the day.” Additionally, the account provides a shining example of people from fifteen different countries working very well together to satisfy a common objective:

“SOMETIMES cynical people say, “Why pioneering, anyway?”, “What is the practical application in the  modern world?” Well if ever pioneering was justified, the true story that follows surely proves the point.  From the very start of Scouting, one overall idea was ‘being prepared’ and I still find that this makes sense, in any country, in any situation, in any age.”

John Thurman goes on to describe exceedingly rainy conditions that prevailed for nine days throughout the training session. With the training at an end, the last day, a September Sunday, was set aside for a special celebration:

“We, that is myself and the members of the Training Teams of fifteen countries of the Americas—North, South, Central, and the Caribbean—had the previous night, at midnight exactly, come to the end of a strenuous, exacting, but very satisfying “Training the Team” Course. The course had been held in the National Training Centre of Mexico, a place called Meztitla. The site was literally hacked out of the jungle, on the lower slope of a considerable mountain range. I had done what I went to Mexico to do and on this Sunday I was relieved of all responsibility and content to be a part of whatever final celebrations the Mexican Scout people planned. The morning was glorious with brilliant sunshine and a fresh and pleasant breeze. The camp looked lovely, although it  was a little wet under foot. The flags of fifteen nations flew proudly and unitedly in the centre of the camp. Visitors, many of considerable importance, began to gather; the Mexican Minister of Education, the First Secretary of the British Embassy, the Governor of the State, the Mayor and his supporters, and wives and families, relatives and grandparents of many of those who had taken part in the course.”

In his book, what follows are descriptions of the festivities. It was quite a party with lots of speeches, special presentations, Mexican music, and lots of Mexican food. Then, like it had during the previous nine days, the rain began to fall…and fall, and then really fall. It was one serious downpour, a veritable deluge. John describes that rivers appeared where the paths had been. The only way into camp was a ford across a mountain stream, and this, it was discovered, was already impassable. He writes:

“It steadily worsened; the mountain stream was now a raging torrent, bringing down boulders, tree trunks, and great lumps of what had been the bank. The ford had vanished completely and in front of us was a chasm or ravine about twelve feet deep with a raging torrent tumbling along its new course.

“There was no other way out of camp. We could have stayed and we could have managed, but it would have been hard on the woman and children who were our guests. We could have thrown a foot bridge across the ravine but then they would have been faced with abandoning vehicles and a very long and tiring walk to the nearest habitation.

“Unanimously it was decided that we should build a bridge; not a foot bridge, not a monkey bridge, not an aerial runway, but a road bridge which would carry the vehicles, the equipment, and the people.

“And so began the Saga of the Bridge of Fifteen Nations, for the men of fifteen nations contributed to its building. Mercifully equipment was available and there was a large supply of timber. The hands were willing, experienced, and capable. The men knew their knots and lashings and their basic pioneering.

“Three hours later, as darkness began to cover the area, the first car—a little Renault—gingerly felt its way across the bridge. As it accelerated up the bank on the far side of the ravine, the cheers from the men of fifteen nations were united, vociferous, and heartwarming. We were wet and tired; some of us were bruised and battered, and some had minor cuts, but spirits were never higher. Within the next half hour, every vehicle and every person made their way across the bridge and so onward to Mexico City; perhaps a little later than expected, but Mexico is one of the countries of ‘manana’, so why be concerned about slight errors in punctuality?

“It was truly a memorable day. It was Scouting in action and Scouting in practice. It was good to know that we could build a bridge when a bridge was the only answer. It was even better to know that the men of fifteen nations could work unitedly and effectively to build the bridge.”


Rope-Toss-Log-Lift Challenge

Racing over to the log!

If the site where you hold your meetings can feature a “permanent” crossbar about 10 feet high, then your Scouts can frequently practice and enjoy this activity whenever the opportunity is presented. Otherwise, erecting the crossbar is itself a mini-pioneering challenge, and if you have the grounds, can be regularly put up by a patrol  prior to or during as many meetings as desired.

Also referred to as the Rope-Throw-Log-Lift Game and the Heaving Bar, this is an activity requiring a series of rope-handling and knot-tying skills. Because the skills that are called into play aren’t normally combined in such a sequence, and because there’s an element of fast-paced, fun competition, those Scouts knowing how to tie the featured knots most often get a kick out of giving it a go. The activity can be a competition to complete the task in the fastest time between individual Scouts or played with a team of three Scouts, each assigned a specific task.

Here’s how Adolph Peschke describes this activity in the 1993 edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet:

Long log! (Isn't that supposed to be a timber hitch?)
Long log! (Good Half Hitch, but is that a Timber Hitch?)

This game is intended to develop the knot tying skills of an individual Scout or of a team of three Scouts. It is important to know that the knots used (clove hitch, timber hitch, sheep shank) are each tied in a typical application for each knot. Additionally, you will develop the skills of coiling and throwing a rope.

To prepare for this challenge, you should practice tying the individual knots and coiling and throwing a rope. The challenge starts for a single Scout with the rope coiled ready to throw. The rope is thrown over the cross spar. If the throw misses the mark, the Scout recoils the rope and throws again. If the throw is good, he uses the end of the rope he is holding to tie a clove hitch on the stake next to where he’s standing.

Next he moves to the end of the rope that was thrown over the cross spar and uses it to tie a timber hitch  around a short length of log (about 4 inches in diameter and 4 feet long). Then he ties a half hitch around one end of the log (forming a Killick Hitch).

To complete the challenge, he moves to the part of the rope between the stake and the upright structure, and ties a sheep shank to shorten the rope enough to suspend the log above the ground.

This is how it should look!
This is how it should look!

When the challenge is played with a team of three Scouts, the first Scout throws the rope over the cross spar and ties the clove hitch on the stake. the second Scout moves to the log and ties the timber hitch with the additional half hitch. The third Scout ties a sheep shank to shorten the rope and hold the log off the ground. The challenge comes when the game is played while being timed with a stopwatch. As a patrol, the times of the individual Scouts can be added up for a total patrol score.

Three Scouts at once!
Three Scouts at once!

The following materials will be needed so that three Scouts or three teams of Scouts can play simultaneously:

  • three 50-foot x 1/4 or 3/8-inch throwing ropes
  • two 8 to 10-foot x 2 to 3-inch legs
  • one 10-foot x 2 to 3-inch crossbar
  • two 15-foot x 1/4-inch lashing ropes
  • seven stakes
  • three 4-foot x 4-inch logs
  • four 20-foot guylines

To set up the upright structure, lash the cross bar to the legs with tight square lashings. About 3/4 of the way up each crossbar, attach two guylines with a roundturn with two half hitches. Stand up the structure where it will be positioned, and hammer the stakes about 12 feet out from the legs at 45° angles. So that good tension can be applied to each leg, you can attach the guylines to the stakes with a simple rope tackle.

On the throwing side, space out three stakes between the legs and hammer them in to the ground about 25 feet from the structure. On the other side space out the three logs.


Rope-Toss-Log-Lift Challenge at the Jamboree

Pioneering Projects

Author: Adolph PeschkeThe following text is by Adolph E. Peschke as presented in the 1998 printing of the 1993 edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet:


The craft of building with ropes and spars continues in remote areas throughout the world today. Scouts can apply the skills of knot tying and lashing to build pioneering structures that are needed to make living in camp a little more comfortable. Whether you build a simple gadget, or a bridge to provide a shortcut to the swimming pool, pioneering can be rewarding and fun.

The pioneering projects shown here, along with the suggested sizes and lengths of spars, are intended for building “boy-size” structures; that is, projects that can be built by boys of Boy Scout age.

You don’t have to build a huge tower to learn the skills and enjoy the fun of pioneering. These projects are designed so that you can build them in a few hours with a minimum of equipment and supplies. Yet, you will still learn how the basic pioneering skills of knot tying and lashing must work together with the design of a structure to produce a sound, safe pioneering project.

Building these projects will be much easier if you put together a pioneering kit first. The success of any project is directly related to the planning and preparation you put into the project from the beginning.

Here are some things to take into consideration before you build a pioneering project:

  • Decide on the type of project you want to build. Take into consideration the equipment, the number of people needed, and the time required to build it.
  • Check the site where the project is going to be built. Collect all the information that you will need when building the project. For example, are there any natural anchors for guylines? How wide and deep is the creek where a bridge is to be built?
  • Make a rough sketch of the project or work from an approved plan drawing. Along with the sketch, have a list of equipment that includes all the equipment you’ll need. You don’t want to start a project and later learn you need something you don’t have.
  • Select the necessary spars you’ll need for the project, making sure that you have enough spars with the proper butt diameter and length to build a safe project.
  • Determine the size and lengths of all the ropes needed for lashings, guylines, etc.
  • Before you start building, determine if the project can be divided into subassemblies for ease of lashing and erecting. Assign crew members and a crew leader to each of the sub assemblies, based on skill level and experience.
  • Go over the plans with all the crew members. Assign only one person to give signals when raising all or part of the structure.
  • As you’re building the project, frequently check the progress to make sure it is being done with safety in mind.

A word about the appearance of the project: Part of the skill in building with ropes and spars is to select the spars that are best suited to the structure. In some situations, the supply of spars might be limited.

It is not necessary for your project to be picture perfect, but rather that it is structurally sound. If one or two spars are a bit longer than required, that’s fine as long as the lashings are in the proper location for strength and the diameter of the spars will carry the load applied.

Try to avoid cutting off the ends of spars and ropes just to fit a certain project, especially if you’re working with spars from a pioneering kit. The next crew might want to build a different project and could use the spars and ropes at the original lengths.

The spars used for a pioneering project should have the bark removed for two reasons. Bark beetles and other boring insects can seriously decrease a spar’s strength, and inspection is easier with the bark removed. Also, if the project racks, the bark under the lashing can be loosened, which in turn makes the lashing loose and adds to the possibility of making the whole project wobbly and unsafe. (And, bark under a lashing can be rubbed off in the process of setting up a project.)

Note: Any pioneering structure that is to be a permanent camp improvement should not be left with only lashings. It needs to be bolted together for safety and maintenance.

Pioneering Legend: Adolph Peschke

Soon after the 1993 edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet was published, I ventured to contact its author with some questions. Happily, I was able to reach him at his home, and was treated to enthusiastic explanations regarding the projects our troop wanted to build. Mr. Peschke was always very generous with his time and had so much information to share, it always felt I was being given dollar answers for my little 10¢ questions.

Pioneering Legend, Adolph Peschke
Pioneering Legend, Adolph Peschke

The following text has been extracted from the Acknowledgments page of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet he authored: “Mr. Peschke has more than sixty years’ tenure in the St. Louis Area Council, and is a Wood Badge course director for more than 20 course staff experiences. He has designed thirty original “boy-size” pioneering projects. As a design engineer for five national Scout jamborees, he was responsible for the theme development, site layout, and staff training for the Action Center’s pioneering areas. He also developed the pioneering kit with its color-coded system to identify rope and spar lengths for building pioneering projects, and he has contributed to the BSA Fieldbook, Program Helps, and Boys’ Life and Scouting Magazines.”

Adolph Peschke, a most worthy recipient of the Boy Scouts of America’s Silver Antelope Award, passed away on November 23, 2012. He was 98. I had just spoken with him about two weeks before, during which time he was, as always, enthusiastic and emphatically informative. He will be missed, but his legacy will live on. Thank you Adolph! You have served, and continue to serve, as a most-helpful resource of valuable insight and information.

Adolph Peschke’s Pioneering Guidelines

Adolph Peschke’s Introduction to Pioneering

Pioneering With Laminated Spars by Adolph E. Peschke: How to Build a Pioneering Starter Kit with Laminated Spars for a Scout Troop to Build “Boy-Sized” Projects.

Adolph Peschke in Wikipedia

Pioneering With Laminated Spars

The following text is by Pioneering Legend, Adolph Peschke, author of the renowned 1993 edition of the Boy Scouts of America’s Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet, from his treatise entitled “Pioneering With Laminated Spars.” Some additions have been included in this post, for the purpose of practical elaboration.

Suggestion: Prior to using them to build a project, to eliminate the lashings from slipping on the smooth surfaces of the Laminated Spars, wrap six inches of friction tape tightly around the areas where the spars will intersect one another .


Building an A-frame using Laminated Spars

Just what are laminated spars? They are similar in size and length to the natural tree spars that have been used for many years bt Scouts in the construction of Pioneering structures i.e.: bridges, towers, and in other camping projects.

This kit of Laminated Spars are fabricated using pieces made from standard lumberyard shapes. Here, two or more wood shapes are glued and nailed together to obtain a strong cross-section and length of the finished spar needed in building structures using ropes and spars. This method of gluing and nailing pieces of wood together has long been used by wood workers to gain the strength that a single piece of wood does not provide.

Lashing together 2 A-frames made with Laminated Spars

Important to Scouts is the fact that the same knots and lashings used with natural spars in building bridges, towers, etc. can be used with these Laminated Spars.

Because natural spars have become harder for Scout troops to obtain due to changes in conservation practices and the fact that suitable species of trees that provide the best spars are just not available for harvest in many areas of the country, Laminated Spars are a means for the Scout troop to have its own “kit” for a full program of “boy sized” Pioneering for teaching – learning – advancement – or just fun and action projects.

T h e  T r o o p  K i t

  • 4 ea.   Trestle Legs, 2-1/4″ x 2-1/4″ x 6′
  • 4 ea.    Ledgers Upper/Lower, 2-1/4″ x 2-1/4″ x 4′
  • 1 ea.     Transom, 2-1/2″ x 3″ x 4′
  • 4 ea.    “X” Braces, 1-1/2″ x 2- 1/4″ x 6′
  • 12 ea.  Walkway Cross Spars, 1-1/2″ x 3″ x 3′
  • 4 ea.    Walkway Cross Spars, 1-1/2″ x 3″ x 4′ (a little longer than specified but more thrifty)
  • 4 ea.    Walkway Laterals, 2-1/2″ x 3″ x 10′
  • 2 ea.    Walkway Planks, 2″ x 8″ x 8′

Refer to the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet for knots, lashings, and building instructions for the Single Lock Bridge.

Materials: It is not necessary to buy choice lumber. A good construction grade should do, if you can buy from a lumberyard that lets you pick and select what you buy.

Note: The lumberyards refer to size and shapes in nominal dimensions, i.e.

  • 2″ x 4″ actually is: 1-1/2″ x 3-1/2″
  • 2″ x 6″ actually is: 1-1/2″ x 5-1/2″
  • 1″ x 4″ actually is: 3/4″ x 3-1/2″
  • 1″ x 6″ actually is: 3/4″ x 5-1/2″

Reference the sizes shown on the sketches are actual i.e. 3/4″, 1 and 1/2″, 2 and 1/4″, 2 and 1/2″ , 3″. Also lengths are stated in feet: 4′, 6′, 8′, etc. When possible, select species Fir or Yellow Pine. Avoid large knots and “White Wood.”

Fabrication of Laminated Spars – All work should be done or supervised by adult leaders and/or skilled craftsmen.

LS1TRESTLE LEGS & LEDGERS: (as per The Troop Kit)

Materials needed: one 1 x 6 x 4-foot.,  one 2 x 6 x 4-foot, one 1 x 6 x 6-foot, one 2 x 6 x 6-foot boards

These lumberyard shapes may be bought in 8 and 12-foot. lengths.

Rip lumber to 2-1/4-inch strips and cut to 4  and 6-foot lengths.

Spread glue evenly on both pieces and nail with 6D Hot Dip Galvanized Nails along both sides with 10-inch staggered spacing. Leave clearance for 1/2-inch Round Over Router Bit. Paint the ends of the 4′ spars white, and the 6′ spars red.

LS2THE TRANSOM SPAR: The Transom Spar is a stout spar used on many different bridges to support the walkways where they meet at the center of the bridge. When the walkways are lashed to it, it makes a continuous unit.

Material needed: The Transom Spar can be made from one 2 x 4 x 8-foot stock. Rip the lumber to 2-1/2 inches and cut it into two 4-foot lengths.

Spread glue evenly on two sides and nail using 10D Hot DIpped Galvanized Nails. Drive nails from both sides at an angle (to prevent penetrating the opposite side). Router 1/2-inch round over all four edges. Paint ends white.

LS3TRESTLE “X” BRACES (as per The Troop Kit)

Materials needed: Four 1 x 6 x 6-foot boards. Rip each piece into three 1-1/2-inch strips.

Note: Once you have ripped the three pieces into into 3/4 x 1-1/2-inch strips, it is easier to run the 1/2-inch round over the edges.  See the sketch BEFORE routing. One piece gets 2 edges rounded, and the other two get one edge only. Becasue the strips are narrow, it is best to route round overs before nailing.

Use 1 and 1/4-inch Ring Shank Nails.

The finished spar is 1-1/2″ x 2 -1/4″ x 6 feet.

Paint the ends red.

WALKWAY CROSS SPARS (as per The Troop Kit)

Materials: Six 1 x 6 x 6-foot boards and two 1 x 6 x 8-foot boards

These spars have the same cross section as the “X” Braces above. Twelve of them are made from 6-foot sections and then cut into 3-foot lengths, and four of them are made from 8-foot sections and cut into 4-foot lengths.


Materials: eight 2 x 4 x 10-foot boards.

Rip these to 3 inches. It will take two to make each 3-inch x 3-inch x 10-foot spar. Round over with 1/2-inch bit on two edges only. Spread glue and nail from both sides using 10D Hot Dipped Galvanized Nails.

Note: Drive nails on an angle to prevent the tip from penetrating the far side.

Paint ends black.

Tools: The most practical method to reduce sizes of lumberyard shapes to the dimensions called for on the sketches is to use a circular table saw for ripping and an electric router to make the round-over cuts on the edges.

Caution: All power tools must be operated only by skilled adults, in accordance with the manufacturers specifications. Work in a safe place and follow safety rules.

Older Scouts may help with gluing and nailing.

A few “C” clamps will be needed to keep the pieces in line while being nailed.

Double A-Frane Monkey Bridge built with Laminated Spars
Double A-Frame Monkey Bridge built with Laminated Spars

Glue: Use Tightbond II (Blue Label) and spread with a roller to get a complete and even spread.

Nails: Use Hot Topped Galvanized Nails. Your spars will get wet from time to time so rust-proof nails are the best choice.

Paint: Small cans of brush on are best and much cheaper. A 4-inch gauge marker for the ends will make the job neater.

Note: Use the Boy Scouts of America Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet for instructions in knot tying and lashing. With this Troop Kit of Laminated Spars, you should be able to build the Single Lock Bridge.

Adolph E. Peschke

May, 2001

Some more notes: It will definitely pay off to wrap the spars with friction tape at the points where the lashings will be tied! (Same goes for slick, green bamboo.) In lieu of tape, use a bastard cut wood rasp file and form a slight roughed out indentation at the places where lashings will be applied, to eliminate sliding on the slick surface of the spars.

The colors for coding the spars at the tips are suggestions and bot universal. The colors chosen can be in accordance with those used by your unit, district, or council.

Prepare eight 2-1/2″ x 3″ x 8′ spars and four 2-1/4″ x 2-1/4″ x 6′ spars and you have the poles required for a Double A-Frame Monkey Bridge.

Favorite Pioneering Knots: Rolling Hitch

VIEW VIDEO: How to Tie a Rolling Hitch

A Very Useful Hitch!

John Thurman lists the rolling hitch (also known as a Magnus Hitch) as one of the essential pioneering knots. It’s similar to a clove hitch, but it’s a lot less likely to slip under a sideways pull. When securing a guyline to a horizontal spar, the rolling hitch can be used in lieu of a roundturn with two half hitches. It is also useful to attach a rope to another rope that has strain on it. Make sure that the direction of the pull exerted on the rolling hitch is against the double strand.

Link to: Older Pamphlet Info.Here’s how Adolph Peschke describes the rolling hitch in the ’93 edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet:

As you become more involved in pioneering activities, you will find that there are many uses for the rolling hitch. After the roundturn is made, it supplies enough grip for you to complete the knot with ease, even when the line is under strain. Further adjustment can be made without completely untying the knot, by loosening the knot slightly, pulling the rope tight, and tightening the knot again.

When the rolling hitch is tied to a spar, pull can be exerted either perpendicular to or along the length of the spar. After exerting heavy pressure, it will untie easily. When you need extra gripping power, just add extra turns. It works well with slippery or wet rope.

Pioneering Uses

When you want to tie a rope to a stake or a spar, the Rolling Hitch can be loosened easily to take up slack, and then retightened.

To attach a light tackle, double the rope over to form a bight, and tie a Rolling Hitch with a loop for the tackle (see figure 11).

To form a hand or shoulder loop to pull a spar, tie two rolling hitches, one at each end of a short rope (see figure 12).

From Older Merit Badge Pamphlet
From Older Merit Badge Pamphlet

The more you use it, THE MORE YOU'LL USE IT!
The more you use it, THE MORE YOU’LL USE IT!