Introduction to Pioneering

Link to: Older Pamphlet Info.The following text is by Adolph E. Peschke as presented in the 1998 printing of the 1993 edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet:

Pioneering is the knowledge and skill of using simple materials to build structures that are used in a wide range of Scouting activities. These skills are sometimes referred to as “backwoods engineering.”

Down through the ages, people have used ropes, spars, and simple hardware to build bridges, towers, and even their own shelters. In the early development of our country, pioneering methods were used in mining and transportation, to clear the wilderness, and to build roads and bridges. So it is understandable that the term “backwoods engineering” was applied.

The same skills can be used by Scouts to build pioneering projects ranging in complexity from a simple camp gadget to a signal tower.

Whatever the project, the same applied principles of physics, geometry, and math are used to build pioneering projects and structures. But, keep in mind that all the information (in this pamphlet*) is eventually used for a practical, hands-on application—that is, to build something.

Pioneering is a good foundation for many Scouting activities. You must learn, and then use, such disciplines as planning ahead and teamwork. You can also put to use the basic skills learned in rank advancement, such as knot tying.

But most of all, pioneering provides a practical way to experience the joy of accomplishment when you’ve built something that is needed for yourself or others; it can be something that makes living in camp easier and more comfortable. Pioneering can be both fun and challenging when you use your skill and knowledge to choose the right materials (ropes and spars) and build a usable structure.

The basics of pioneering, such as tying knots, making lashings, using rope tackle, constructing anchors, and basic rope knowledge can be done at home. The projects and structures (shown in this pamphlet**) can usually be constructed with materials available at summer camp or at council camping events.































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.

14′ Double Ladder Signal Tower

This signal tower went up on a camping trip in March of 2000 in a large grassy field. The operation took a little over two hours. PHASE 1: Before we started, a well-muscled sledge hammer crew, made up of Jason Hardee, Theodore Fontana, Cory Keibler, Kurt Lester, and Will Hall, took turns pounding in 24 three-foot pioneering stakes to make up the four “1-1-1” anchors needed to tie the tower down. PHASE 2: A crew assembled the 2 fourteen foot ladders. (All Scout campers tied at least one of the fifty square lashings required to put together the completed project.) PHASE 3: Another crew held the ladders in position while they were lashed together. Thanks to Jason for his diagonal lashings, and Theodore and Hiram for their help in lashing down the floor spars making up the platform. PHASE 4: The tower is hoisted with Scouts manning each corner guyline and the rope used to make sure the tower isn’t pulled too far before it’s secured. Thanks to Michael O’Neil who was in charge of tightening the guylines using the rope tackles at each of the anchors
This signal tower went up on a camping trip in March of 2000 in a large grassy field. The operation took a little over two hours. PHASE 1: Before we started, a well-muscled sledge hammer crew, made up of Jason Hardee, Theodore Fontana, Cory Keibler, Kurt Lester, and Will Hall, took turns pounding in 24 three-foot pioneering stakes to make up the four “3-2-1” anchors we thought we needed to tie the tower down. (For years, we overlooked the fact all we really needed were 1-1 anchors.) PHASE 2: A crew assembled the 2 fourteen foot ladders. (All Scout campers tied at least one of the fifty Square Lashings required to put together the completed project.) PHASE 3: Another crew held the ladders in position while they were lashed together. Thanks to Jason for his Diagonal Lashings, and Theodore and Hiram for their help in lashing down the floor spars making up the platform. PHASE 4: The tower is hoisted with Scouts manning each corner guyline and the rope used to make sure the tower isn’t pulled too far before it’s secured. Thanks to Michael O’Neil who was in charge of tightening the guylines using the rope tackles at each of the anchors

The National Camp Accreditation Program (NCAP)   Program Specific Standard PS-212 states: “Scout camp structures such as monkey bridges, obstacle courses, and pioneering towers are expected to meet safety standards in equipment and supervision comparable to COPE but are not subject to COPE standards, do not require COPE inspection, and do not require an on-site COPE Level II instructor.
“VERIFICATION: If a project has participants elevated more than 6 feet above the ground, evidence of council enterprise risk management approval. This approval may be part of the general program design review in Standard PD-112.” 


14′ Boy Scout Tower Gateway (Four Flag Tower)

Jamboree Pioneering Area: Towers

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

This project solves the old problem of wanting to build a signal tower when there aren’t enough big spars to do the job. The double ladder tower requires four 14-foot spars and several smaller spars, but not nearly the amount needed for a four-leg signal tower. It also cuts down the number of lashings required.

This tower is not free standing. It requires the use of guylines to hold it steady. Review the sections on anchors and rope tackle if this is your first encounter with guylines.

Assemble the ladders. This project begins with building two ladders: a climbing ladder and a supporting ladder. Lay out two pairs of spars on the ground for the legs of the ladders. Be sure the butt ends are even at the bottom so that the tower will stand up straight. Before you begin any lashing, mark the positions where the spars that will hold the top platform are to be lashed onto the legs. This is about 4 feet from the top ends of the legs.

To make the climbing ladder, lash ten rungs on one pair of legs at about 1-foot intervals. The top rung should be lashed on where you marked the position of the platform, 4 feet from the top. Also the top handrail is lashed on to complete the climbing ladder.

To make the supporting ladder, lash three spars on the other set of legs to serve as the bottom, center, and top spreaders. The top spreader should be lashed at the point you marked for the platform, 4 feet from the top. Then lash on the top handrail, as on the climbing ladder.

Lash the ladders together. Now you have to join the two ladders to form the tower. Turn the two ladders up on their sides so they’re parallel to each other and approximately 6 feet apart. Check to see that the bottoms are even. Now lash on the base spreader to join the bottoms of the two ladders.

Lash on the platform supporting spar just above the top rung and top spreader on the ladders. Before proceeding, check the measurements from the bottoms of the legs to the platform supporting spar to make sure they’re equal on both legs so that the platform will be level.

Continue by lashing on the top long handrail. The lash on the two side X-braces diagonally between the legs using square lashings to lash the ends to the legs, and a diagonal lashing where they cross.

Figure 137
Figure 137

Lash the other side. To make the lashings on the other side, you have to get the whole crew together to roll the tower over 180° so that it’s laying on the X braces and the other sides of the ladders are up where they will be easier to get to.

Then proceed as before. Lash on the base spreader spar and the platform supporting spar. Again, measure to make sure there’s equal distance from both ends of the platform support spar to the bottoms of both legs. Continue to lash on the top long handrail and finish with the X-braces.

Lash on two more platform X-braces under the platform. These braces go diagonally across the legs just under the platform to help the tower resist racking (see figure 137). Use square lashings to lash them to the legs and a diagonal lashing where they cross.

14' Double Ladder Signal Tower Schematic
14′ Double Ladder Signal Tower Schematic

Before standing the tower upright, lash on the spars to form the platform floor.

Anchors and Guylines. When all the lashings are done, move the tower to where it will be hoisted. Before actually hoisting the tower, lay out the position of the four legs on the ground.  Then determine where the four anchors for the guylines will be placed to steady the legs of the tower. (Refer to the Anchors section to determine the position of the anchors.)

If the tower is positioned to make use of a natural anchor (such as a tree), prepare anchor strops to attach the guylines. For any guylines that won’t be using natural anchors, build anchors using pioneering stakes. At a minimum, you’ll need to build well constructed 1-1 anchors at all four corners.

Attach the four guylines to the legs just above the platform. The guylines should be 3/8-inch diameter manila or polypropylene rope. They’re attached to the legs of the tower using a roundturn with two half hitches and securing the running end of the rope.

Note: For safety reasons, never use a taut-line hitch on guylines, or for that matter, in any pioneering work. This hitch is used when adjustments in the tension are called for. It can slip.

During the Carwash Fundraiser in May of 1997, we raised our third 14 foot Double Ladder Signal Tower. After the tower is lashed together, requiring 50 square lashings, before it can be hoisted, it has to be carried and positioned in the exact location. Once in position, the crew divides into :lifters
Hoisting the 14′ Double Ladder Signal Tower

Hoisting the tower. Hoisting the tower up into a vertical position is done with separate ropes. Do not use the guylines. Tie two lines on the side of the tower being lifted and one line on the opposite side to prevent over pulling and toppling the tower.

You’ll need a whole crew to do the hoisting. First there should be a safety officer who observes for all safety considerations and signs of trouble during the hoisting. There should also be a signal caller who tells the crew members when and how fast to pull on the hoisting ropes and when to stop pulling. Two or more Scouts should be on each of the two ropes. And one or two Scouts should be on the rope on the other side to prevent over pulling the tower.

When everyone is in position, the signal caller should direct the Scouts on the hoisting ropes to hoist the tower into position. As soon as it’s up, temporarily tie the guylines to the anchors using a roundturn with two half hitches.

Heeling in the legs. When the tower is upright, heel in the butt ends of the tower legs in holes about 4 to 6 inches deep. This is done to steady the tower and can also help in leveling the tower to make sure that the platform is level and the tower itself is vertical.

Four 1-1 Anchors
Four 1-1 Anchors

Tighten the guylines. To hold the tower steady, gradually apply strain to each of the four guylines at the same time. One of the easiest ways to adjust the strain is to tie a rope tackle on the anchor ends of the guylines.

As soon as the tower is in position and the legs are heeled in, go to each of the anchors and untie the roundturns with two half hitches and replace it with a rope tackle.

Do this by tying a butterfly knot in each guyline about 6 to 8 feet from the anchor. Then wrap the running end of the guyline around the forward stake of the anchor and back through the loop in the butterfly knot. When rope tackles are tied to all four anchors, gradually tighten the lines. Apply enough strain to each of the guylines to hold the tower firm and in a vertical position. Then tie off the rope tackles and secure the running ends with half hitches.

Test the structure. Before the tower can be put into general use, make a test climb while the safety officer and the whole crew observe all the lashings and anchors to ensure they are all secure.

Note: Some people are not comfortable climbing up to a high place. They should not be encouraged to climb if they are not sure of themselves. Do not pressure anyone to climb the tower if they don’t want to.



  • four 4-inch x 14-foot tower legs
  • ten 2-inch x 3-foot climbing ladder rungs
  • three 2-inch x 3-foot support ladder spreaders
  • two 2-1/2-inch x 6-foot base spreaders
  • two 2-1/2-inch x 6-foot platform supporting spars
  • two 2-inch x 3-foot platform handrails
  • two 2-inch x 6-foot platform long handrails
  • four 2-1/2-inch x 10-foot X braces
  • two 2-1/2-inch x 8-foot X braces
  • eighteen 2-inch x 3-1/2-foot platform support slats
  • eight pioneering stakes
  • binder twine
  • four 3/8-inch x 50-foot manila guylines
  • thirty-one 1/4-inch x 15-foot manila lashing ropes (for 28 square Lashings and 3 diagonal lashings)
  • twenty-two  1/4-inch x 20-foot manila lashing ropes (for 22 square lashings)

In accordance with current regulations, a fine adaptation consists of replacing the ladder rungs with support side spreaders, and dispensing with the platform floor slats. Lashing one or more long flag poles to the top of the legs and flying banners or flags never fails to elicit a rousing array of cheers, as the Scouts hoist their tower into an upright position!  Click here for project description and materials.

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.