Please Note: This website is out of date. The Steward Community Woodland sustainable living project ended in 2018 for legal and planning permission reasons. The contents have been left here as a historical archive.

How to build a Bender

Benders have been a traditional form of woodland workers' dwelling for many centuries because they are low impact, quick and easy to build and are efficient in heating and materials.

You will need:

  • Coppiced poles (Hazel, Ash or Willow prefered)
  • Tarpaulin (water proof but breathable canvas prefered)
  • String may be useful

The Bender

To build the frame you will need to find some coppice wood that is about 2 inches in diameter at the base. The best wood to use is hazel but willow, ash or even sycamore will do. The number you require depends on the size of your structure, fifteen should do it. It doesn't matter if some are larger than others because they can be used as the main poles.

The diameter of your bender depends on the total size of your tarpaulin(s). As a rule of thumb, if the height in the middle of your bender is to be around half its length, your bender could be upto 2/3 the length of your canvas.

Place the two biggest poles in holes at opposite ends of your choosen site. You may need some help to bend them over in an arch to meet each other overlapping most of their length. If you can, twist them around each other so they stay in place on there own, but it is usual that they are tied to one another with string, however it is possible to build a complete bender without any string. Repeat this with poles for the opposite corners and tie them all together in the middle.

From here there are many ways you can arrange the poles to make a complete frame on which to put your canvas.

They can be placed so they all meet in the middle like a star pattern by keep filling the gaps around the outside in a similar way to that I described above. This is best if constructing a round bender.

Or you can go for a 'rib cage' type design taking the side poles over the main length pole at evenly spaced intervals. More suitable for an oblong design.

Or you can go for a completely random approach of putting the poles were they best fit. If using uneven coppice wood this is often the easiest approach but not the neatest

As well as poles from the ground and up, poles will need to be tied on horizontally around the frame. This is best done by weaving them in and out of the upright poles. Keep adding poles wherever looks necessary until happy that it's plenty sturdy enough and is a good dome shape with no gaps big enough that water will collect in the canvas. You should be able to hold on and hang your full weight from the center of a good bender frame.

All that's left to do now is to drag your tarpaulin over the frame and secure it at the edges. You may wish to bury it or hold it down with logs or stones. The only danger of this is your canvas rotting in the wet on the ground, some have plastic edges to prevent this. Blankets can be used between the canvas and the poles for insulation.

Windows and doors can be added either by lifting the canvas at one end and building a solid wall with windows and/or doors or by cutting it and fitting them.

See also:

Beccy and Merlin's bender, Bens dwellings & the long house

Last updated: 2011-02-04

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