Consistency, anyone?

This short commentary is one part surmise and three parts observation. It’s composed of a series of events with a predictable outcome. Except to those familiar with Scout Pioneering, and Scout competitions, the whole scenario will appear obscure. But to the Scouts involved, it’s far from obscure. On the contrary, whenever something like this happens, it’s downright confusing, and without being melodramatic, maybe a little traumatic too. No real names are used in this account, and no fingers are being pointed at any individuals. The characters in stories like this are always well-intentioned and without malice. There are no wrongdoers involved… just victims.

Scout Pioneering is about building structures with poles and rope. They can be useful, they can be for fun, and often they’re both. Knowing how to tie knots and lashings is a basic Scouting skill that’s been a part of our movement for over a hundred years. In all bonafide Scout Pioneering settings, when two poles cross each other, but do not touch, a Diagonal Lashing is often used to spring the poles together. The lashing is so-named, because the wraps run diagonal to the poles. Additionally, those who are experienced in building pioneering structures accept the fact that joining two poles together that cross from 45º to 90º calls for a Square Lashing. There’s more contact between the rope and the poles than with a Diagonal Lashing, and hence a Square Lashing provides a better hold. The Square Lashing gets its name from the fact the wraps run square to the poles. The name has nothing to do with at what angle the poles cross.

Enter “Ned”: Without knowing any better, Ned, a well-meaning Scouting volunteer, reasons quite innocently the Diagonal Lashing should be used whenever Scouts join two poles that cross each other at less than a perpendicular angle. So from this viewpoint, which, because of its name, appears logical, Ned concludes Scouts should use Diagonal Lashings when making an A-frame. After all, the angles formed by the poles are less than 90º. Without any real, hands on exposure to pioneering, he’s not familiar with the fact the lashing is reserved for springing two poles together when they cross but don’t touch. To him, his assumption about the lashing is obvious. He proceeds to write up a description of a Scouting activity featuring his misunderstanding about the use of Diagonal Lashings. Since he’s an intelligent, well-respected Scouter…somehow, it get’s printed, and then again reprinted, in official BSA publications.

Enter the “Raccoon Patrol”: As part of a troop that regularly embraces large pioneering projects, the Raccoon Patrol is well-versed in building A-frames. During inter-patrol competitions at Scout meetings, they do well in A-frame Chariot Races. On outings they build camp see-saws where the roller bar for the plank is supported by two heavy duty A-frames. They have also helped to build several monkey bridges relying on sturdy A-frames as sub assemblies. Belonging to a unit with a successful pioneering program, they’ve been taught to make their A-frames using three Japanese Mark II Square Lashings. In addition to being supported in certain BSA publications, their grasp of Scouting skills stems from Scouters who’ve served on the pioneering staff at national jamborees and who, themselves, have learned from some of the most esteemed Scout Pioneering legends.

Enter “Nancy”: On staff at summer camp, Nancy volunteers to conduct an A-frame Chariot Race as part of the camp-wide skills event towards the end of the week. Her reference material is one of the BSA publications containing Ned’s well-meaning misconception, directing Scouts to construct an A-frame using Diagonal Lashings. Without any real experience putting together an A-frame, she’s basing her thinking on what she has read. Furthermore, since the content is featured in an official publication, she requires each patrol taking part in the activity to build their A-frame in just that way.

Reenter the “Raccoon Patrol”: Participating in the camp-wide competition, the Raccoons confidentially arrive at Nancy’s station, all revved up to be the fastest patrol in the A-frame Chariot Race. Nancy proceeds to explain her rules for putting together the A-frame, which immediately confuses the Raccoons. In their attempt to comply, they bungle the Diagonal Lashings, something they seldom use. At the top, they ask if they can tie a Square Lashing in lieu of a Shear Lashing, and Nancy acquiesces. But, they are further penalized because Nancy insists that if they’re going to tie a Square Lashing, it must start and end with a Clove Hitch. She has never seen or heard of a Japanese Mark II Square Lashing. It isn’t in the official publication she is using as her reference. At that point, the Raccoon’s performance is so poor, they don’t even bother to race. With disgruntled comments, they leave Nancy’s station. They are hurt and bewildered.

Are these kinds of scenarios rare at Scout skill events? The answer is, no. They take place at Boy Scout summer camps, district and council camporees, and OA conclaves. Scouts have been penalized, disqualified, and even politely insulted by facilitators who base their event’s rules on material that contradicts what some may have adopted from other official publications. This is a sad state of affairs. Scouts become frustrated, angry, and disillusioned—feelings that shouldn’t obtain at a Scouting event.

What about this conflicting information presented in different official publications? Are there ways around the confusion? The answer is, yes. At the time of this writing, a national task force is taking steps to assure the publications all provide compatible information pertaining to Scout skills—approaches that are sensible, practical, and proven to be the most efficient. This is a lengthy process and will take time. Everything that appears in official BSA publications should be exemplary, but change happens slowly. Until Scout skills are presented consistently across the board, the following is felt to be an advisable practice: during inter-troop, district, or council events, in competitions like the A-frame Chariot Race, let the patrols complete the challenge in anyway they can. Don’t permit their efforts to be circumscribed by a rigid set of exacting rules. As long as what they build is safe and gets the job done, the Scouts should be allowed to experience success.

Camp Seesaw Video and Photo Montage


With limited space for their exhibit at the 35th annual Aynor Harvest Ho-Down, Boy Scout Troop 818 erected this seesaw.

Boy Scout Troop 888 builds a seesaw as an attraction at a District Webeloree.

Lots of See-Sawing at a district event for Webelos Scouts
Lots of See-Sawing at a district event for Webelos Scouts

Camp See-Saw

Camp See-Saw as a Festival Exhibit
Camp See-Saw as a Festival Exhibit



We were introduced to and adapted this project thanks to the great Pioneering Made Easy website. It was inspired by Fun With Ropes and Spars by John Thurman who, with his inimitable approach to providing pioneering challenges and robust Scouting activities, dubbed it the “Underwater See-Saw.” This version is a doable land approach that can be erected during a camping trip (where the materials are trailered in) or along side a Double A-frame Monkey Bridge as part of a simple, public demonstration of Scouting fun. Because of the size and weight of the materials required for its construction, it’s categorized under Involved Campsite Improvements, but when the smoke clears, what we’ve got here is a large campsite toy that’s relatively easy to build. Link to: Larger ViewWe’ll need:

  • 4     10′ x 4″ leg spars
  • 2     6′ x 3″ leg supports
  • 2     2′ to 3′ x 3″ roller supports
  • 3     2′ to 3′ x 2″ connectors
  • 1     6′ x 4-1/2″ roller spar
  • 1     10′ x 10″ x 2″ smooth plank
  • 12   15′ x 1/4″ lashing ropes
  • 4     20′ x 1/4″ lashing ropes for the roller supports
  • 1     35’ x 1/4″ lashing rope for the plank
  • 4     25′ x 3/8″ guylines
  • 2     old tires
  • 8    30″  pioneering stakes

Note: In building the see-saw, the premise is to space the A-frames, the roller supports and the two bottom connectors so that the 6′ roller spar can easily roll around, but can hardly move from side to side or up and down. Overall, this is a simple project though some precision will be required when positioning the plank at the right height so that riders don’t experience too much tilt. Like with any seesaw, care must be taken not to misuse the structure, but overall this camp seesaw is a tempting attraction and gets a lot of long-time play and attention. When built with care and guyed down securely, it can withstand the frequent use it invariably will get, even from heavier riders.

Tightly Lashing on a Roller Support
Tightly Lashing on a Roller Support

Build the A-frames. The first step is to prepare two matching A-frames using the leg spars and the 6’ leg support spars. You can use a Shear Lashing or a square lashing on top, and square lashings for the 6′ leg support spars. The main thing is to make sure that with both A-frames, the tops intersect the same distance from the tips and the legs spread apart an equal distance at the butt ends. 8″ up from the bottom and 8″ protruding from the legs is fine, and intersecting a foot from the tips works fine too.

Prepare to connect the A-frames. Stand the A-frames up so that the legs and support spars are parallel, about four and a half inches apart. Since the roller spar will eventually be rotating between the A-frames, the actual distance the A-frames are apart is determined by the diameter of the roller spar. Four Scouts should hold the A-frames upright and steady.

The Roller Bar has to take all the weight, in this case over 550 lbs.
The roller supports have to take all the weight, (in the above photo over 550 lbs. Click on the photo for larger image.)

Lash on the roller support spars. Measure about 30″ up from the butt ends of all four legs. (For smaller, shorter riders, a lower height is definitely advised.) The height of the roller support spars will determine the angle of the board. Too steep an angle could easily make riding precarious. Begin connecting the two A-frames by lashing on the roller supports with tight square lashings. Lash them to the outside of the legs at a distance just a fraction wider than the diameter of the roller spar. For neatness, space them so the ends extend an equal distance out from the A-frame legs. Because these roller supports will be bearing the weight of the heavy roller spar, the plank, and the Scouts playing on the see-saw, when lashing them on with a Japanese Mark II Square Lashing, start the lashing by tying a Constrictor Knot around the leg to minimize any slippage.

Lash on the lower connectors. With the A-frames held steadily upright, temporarily lay the 6′ roller spar on top of the supports. Using the diameter of the 6′ roller spar as a measure, continue to connect the two A-frames by lashing on two connectors at a distance just above the roller spar, with tight square lashings. Again, for neatness, space them so the ends extend an equal distance out from the A-frame legs. Remove the roller and set it aside.

Lash on the top connector. Lash the last connector to one of the legs at the top of each A-frame, just below where the legs cross, with tight square lashings. If there is difficulty reaching the point on the legs where this connector needs to be lashed, carefully lay both parallel A- frames on their sides and then lash the connector in place. Again, for neatness, space the connector so the ends extend an equal distance out from the A-frame legs.

A Seesaw with a Plank (12') That was a Little too Long!
A Seesaw with a Plank (12′) That was a Little too Long!

Make the Anchors. Build four 1-1 Anchors 45º out from each leg.

Attach the guylines. With a Roundturn with Two Half Hitches, or Rolling Hitches, tie on the 4 guylines, one each about two feet below the square lashings at the top of the A-frames. Connect each to its respective anchor.

Position the see-saw. Stand up and move the A-frames in the position you want the see-saw. Drive in each of the four pioneering stakes, fifteen feet away and 45 degrees out from where they’re tied to the legs of the A-frames. Connect a guyline to each using a Roundturn with Two Half Hitches or rope tackle.

Lash on the plank. Slide the roller spar on top of the roller supports. Lay the plank on top of the roller and using the 35′ lashing rope, lash the middle of the plank firmly in place with a square lashing.

Lay down the tires. On each side, at the point where the plank hits the ground, place a tire to cushion the impact and absorb the shock.

Some advisories and suggestions:

  • Seesaws can be hazardous. Make sure there’s no horseplay. Just seated cooperation.
  • When Riders take their places on the board, they should position themselves so their weight is balanced.
  • Riders should never kick off from the ground forcefully springing their side skyward which can easily unbalance the other rider.
  • Exiting the seesaw should only be done when both rider’s feet are on the ground.
  • Adding ropes for handholds can be done in various places along the board by drilling holes about two inches from each edge and threading a short length of 3/8″ to 1/2″ braided nylon or polyester and tying a couple of figure eight stopper knots or tying the ends together on the underside of the board with a Water Knot.
  • Making four indentation grooves in the plank where it will be square lashed to the roller bar will eliminate the plank slipping towards one or the other rider during use.