Sunday, 3 August 2014

DIY Poshcraft Jerky Tower-Long Version

This is one of two blog pages I've decided to do to go through the making of  the poshcraft jerky tower. This was going to be the only one but I've deliberately included every detail and thought along the way to help anyone who decides to make one themselves. I then decided to do a shorter, punchier page here to go through the basics. One is like the quick set up guide you often get with electrical goods, this one is the directors cut film DVD with outtakes and bloopers as extras, a Cromwellian warts and all if you like. So without further ado...

Gilwell 24 2012 was a wet one, a very wet one. The bushcraft base that a group of scouters organised was a wash out, as was my big naturally built jerky set up. We had Derek from the Jerky Shack was along too and his canvas covered box jerky set up, the turquoise box seen left of centre in the above pic, worked on despite the incessant precipitation. Whilst I had this method of producing homemade jerky I decided that I needed something like that in the future but a little more elegant. 


Derek suggested that nylon should be avoided (so bang went an old car cover) but as luck (or 'luck') would have it I discovered one of three parasols I had at home had  mouse damage. It had several undamaged panels and then it was full steam ahead to design a poshcraft jerky tower to make bushcraft jerky. I started to formulate a basic design in my mind I knew that each stage of the project would probably guide the next. 


 I started to formulate a basic design in my mind I knew that each stage of the project would probably guide the next. Many scrap paper plans later with the aim of getting four undamaged individual panels in the end I settled on a double panel and two singles to make a four sided obelisk. The reason I came away from four individual panels was that I wanted to cut the other side of the panel stitching to save the panel integrity, and it was impossible due to where the panel damage was. It also meant that two panels together have no gap to let smoke through and that I could look to design it so that the two single panels could be rolled back or removed if the conditions were favourable. The clothes pegs were placed on the sides to cut as I didn't trust myself without markers.

Cutting the panels out on the other side of the stitching would also mean that I could look to create a flap with the view to it overlapping the next panel to cover any gaps through which smoke could escape. The stitching means that sewing  the panel edges would be simply no more than me running a stitch up the flap seams...With my puny sewing machine skills just as well!

So to work, off came the finial and the cutting began. As you can see in the rhs picture above the original panel stitching is to the left of the scissors and the mouse damage to the right in the top corner. This is creating the overlap strip of an inch or so on the waste side. As previously mentioned, I could run the edge through a sewing machine and create a small flap to fit over the gaps between panel to help keep the smoke in.


I rather thought that the shape after the first panel was removed would be a rather fetching design for a poshcraft shelter! I decided to leave the cut pieces attached to the apex section of the parasol and see if I was workable, because as luck would have it the panels were all symmetrical. Time would tell if I needed to make individual panels or whether I could keep it as one and pleat it as required. I was keen to keep it as one because of the ease of throwing it over a stand, and I could also secure it with the finial.

As an aside I found a lot of these...erm...'caterpillar cocoons' all over the parasol and this particular one looks like it was made into jerky! I had originally envisaged using straight six foot (ish) hazel poles but it occurred that there were some  good lengths of wood within the stripped parasol so I decided to look at using them. As a bonus they would also enhance the poshcraft look. They were fastened by a stout piece of twisted wire around a circular fixing not unlike a sailship's capstan so I undid it and set about freeing up the longer lengths.

Initially I wondered about somehow using the inner lengths of wood that sat in (and made rigid) the parasol, but I discarded this idea as they were a little too small in my opinion. If I was going to use the parasol wood then version two was looking at using all the longer lengths by overlapping and bolting them together. I also had my eye on the metal pin that held the parasol in place when it was used with the view to it supporting a small fire pit to provide the smoke.


Before I ran the edging stitches on the panel flaps I drew out a diagram to make sure that they overlapped each edge, and where to put metal eyelets to secure them. The paperclips where used to show me where to cut and stitch.

I used a hot skewer to gently enlarge the holes in  the parasol capstan to take the pin (the pin originally went into the pole and the two holes on the capstan were pre-formed but of the wrong size). It is made of resin or plastic and despite some nasty fumes it was quickly and easily done. As I inserted the pin I put a small gated clip in place to receive a chain later to hold the fire pit later on.


I wanted the meat to be about chest height if possible (although it ended up in an upper torso position) so I bolted the lengths together to make a combined leg length of sixty four inches. With the basic four sided jerky tent in place (seen above with a metal ring inserted top and bottom of each panel and tied with paracord 550) it came to a height of sixty inches from floor to finial tip and the footprint is around four feet squared. 

The parasol material is probably similar to other designs in that the lower edge of the material has little pockets into which the umbrella like wooden spokes sat to tension the material when the device is on I decided to cut a small channel on the top one to accommodate the parasol as before, albeit the material would need to be twisted through 90 degrees to fit (see the clothes peg picture from earlier on). I made my first error at this point as I shaved a channel on the wrong face of the upper length and  I couldn't move the wood around as it would be the thin side against the wider side, and the bolt holes would need redrilling, seriously weakening the structure.


The solution was to cut the offending end off and redo it-success-I got the right side this time, but I'd overlooked the fact that the wood was now about 5-6 cms shorter and therefore the length wasn't long enough to engage. This is the reason that the cover has metal eyes put in to secure it at the bottom (as per the lhs picture above). It's not the end of the world but it's still annoying. Possible other fixings considered were screws to put the metal eyelets over (I attached four at the bottom to tie paracord to to tension the sheets in the end), eyes and hooks, toggles and 100% velro.

Even allowing for the mess up over the tensioning it was fairly straight forward to this stage, but now the playing around and a situation where one idea was quickly usurped by another took place. Many coffees were consumed whilst the extended puzzlement and head scratching occurred, oft  pursed lips with a tapping index finger. The two shots above typically show how I envisaged the single panels being rolled up and somehow secured, and the internal space of the cover with my foot as scale. 


Using something like metal skewers or de-barked hazel lengths to secure the jerky weren't really considered as there would have been issues with the snug fitting canvas knocking them off, so I planned to use a sturdy old barbecue grill and I decided that the most durable way of securing it would be to use adjustable jubilee clips. The only thing I'd overlooked was that the double thickness of the leg joints, combined with the fact that I'd twisted and snipped the wire around the capstan meant that I had to get rather large clips to slide up the leg. I whipped some paracord 550 around the spot I though the clips would need fixing, this was initially to increase the diameter that the clips had to grip on, but it also helped to keep them from biting into the wood. The simple whipping how to to is shown below, along with the finished fixing (you may noticed that I settled on brown paracord in the end).

Whilst working on this project it did start to occur that one possible weakness was the fact that, as with all similar jerky setups, smoke could blow under the canvas pyramid with even the slightest breeze (note that three sides of the au natural jerky tower that I knocked up on the bushcraft base at Gilwell24) above needed a light thatching to prevent an almost unnoticeable yet unpredictable  breeze blowing the smoke three ways). I used the mouse damaged offcuts that I'd mercifully kept to create two extra patchwork panels with my limited sewing machine skills to use with the two joined panels on breezy days. I went for a combination of metal eyelets and velcro to hold them in place and the lower stitched panels overlap inside the regular ones to stop smoke seeping through the gap.


Whilst I was putting eyelets strategically in everything I popped one in the top hole through which the finial screws to give it added strength. almost immediately afterwards I thought I should have cut a circular disc of spare material, placed it inside and pushed the eyelet through this too, just to give the top added durability. I also removed the attachment chain from the pin that will hold the fire grill too, just to tidy things up.


In the future I want to investigate making Biltong so I may need the extra side(s) for that...Or not as the sun is the key, not smoke from what I've read. The side material of the double panel under the apex was a bit flappy (see the lhs picture above) so I sewed the edges to the apex to increase rigidity. I did also toy with the thought of cutting away, but retaining, one of the single panels (one has a metal eyelet slightly out of place) as it was probably never going to be needed (I'd assumed that it might be useful if light mizzle or an isolated shower occurred). I left it on at the 11th hour but instead I three quarters unstitched both the single panels to help roll them back out the way if I was only using two panels. I reinforced the remaining stitching and placed velcro in the other corner to hold them in place if used to aid their rigidity. The panels would now be rolled sideways and secured to the poles, as opposed to being rolled up and secured.


Putting the flaps on in their near complete state meant that I could accurately measure how much space the grill would have to fit snugly between the legs and not touch the canvas sides. I considered two sizes; one larger rectangular one from a standard barbecue and a smaller squarer one from an old hibachi style barbecue. I felt that the larger one maximised the space available but I needed to cut a small section off both ends to both make it fit, and to remove the looped metal extensions that held it in place on the barbecue. I'll be keeping the smaller one to experiment with the afore mentioned Biltong, and will look to suspend it on a chain...


Which leads us nicely onto the fire grill. I've put a couple of pound shop non stick (or should that be 'non stick'?) pans together for increased strength and to help prevent potential buckling. I worked out three equal spacings around the rim(s) and simply used a small hammer to punch a bradawl through with minimal distortion. These were then fitted with split rings, had three small lengths of chain added which met in the middle and were secured with another split ring. This chain then goes through the grill and attachs to the grated clip in the capstan. Since doing the article I've taken some more advice from Derek and burnt off as much of the tin's surface just in case there was any risk of it contaminating the jerky.

 I did two batches and used Cajun and jerk dry mixes with a little Seasonall mixed in. I used a charcoal lighter (which I've pimped to be a rudimentary stove) to start off some charcoal and a small lump of oak.

I transferred the charcoal and wood to the suspended pan. I've also included a shot of the grill which is handy in that the longer lengths can be half dangled, half draped, and any smaller lengths of meat can be simply placed on top. Any more than three supporting chains and you'll struggle to get the embers in.

The pan edge is handy because it can allow wood to be balanced on the edge, in this case plum, to allow it to burn a bit at a time. There is extra chain available so I may consider putting the extra just above the pan to allow me to anchor it to the rear leg (that I'm pointing at) to pull it in a bit if it's excessively breezy to help retain smoke. The other advantage of having a grill over skewers is that the meat can be moved around to maximise the sun available and minimise the effect of any shadow, layering from the front in a triangular shape looks like the optimum positioning.

 My garden faces roughly East so the sun tracks along the side so as you can see from the lhs picture above I moved it around to maximise the sun's rays. It's portable if two people carry it carefully but you must do it slowly or the ember pan may leave you with a burn on your shin. The day's weather was sunny/ cloudy and breezy, you can see the wind is blowing the cover in the above lhs pic, and it was pretty wind resistant but I may look to fit prussic loops to the legs with a tent peg through each one so that I can peg it in (unless it's on a patio!).

It's turned out some quality jerky. This project very much reminds me of my attempt to make a pair of Joe O'Leary style moccasins in that it was as satisfying as it was absorbing, and definitely time consuming. I will probably look to replace the current bolted legs with ones made from continuous lengths of wood (and maybe stain them with birch bark oil, or is that putting flammability in the way of embers?) and maybe somehow make the legs adjustable for uneven ground? Maybe there's a some sort of metal 'thingy' I can get from a builders merchants to mimic the the material pockets that secured the parasol spokes? Maybe.

As a quick PS I was really chuffed when Bushcraft editor Steve Kirk asked me if I'd like to do the how to as an article for the magazine which I was only too pleased to do. After a night as Badgells Wood Campsite I headed to his house and did a photoshoot for the cover which was a nice bonus.

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