Wooden Packframe – The Final Draft

Expanding on Lessons Learned

In 2012 I decided to build a wooden packframe.  What started out as a Sunday afternoon project led me down many paths, from Iron-Age Europe to 21st Century military designs and it took about a year of stewing around before I actually got around to building something. It was fortuitous for me that Markus at 74 FOOTWEAR DESIGN CONSULTING wrote and excellent little history of frame packs at almost exactly the same time I began researching them myself.  Shortly thereafter, I discovered Steve Watts and Dave Wescott were delving into the same subject (great minds think alike I guess).  After collecting many photos and drawings I dove in, and using human measurements as much as possible, I built the frame below.

A few hickory boards and some simple steam bending created a design I liked.

I decided against metal fasteners for the original project so everything was pegged and tied with rawhide.

It didn’t take long to build and tying it all up with rawhide was a simple evening job. The next step was to create some sort of support to keep the frame from my back and attach shoulder straps.  This wasn’t as easy as it sounded since comfort and strength had to be combined while keeping possible chafing to an absolute minimum.

The two horizontal rods keep the uprights from converging under tension and the three cross-strakes are stabilized by being set in grooves on the uprights. The steam bent support and top bar add to the overall sturdiness of the frame.

I decided that simple was best so I used heavy leather, stretched tight, across the back kept the straps fairly straight-forward.

Several people asked about the need for a curved top bar; well why not? I like curves and I think it reminiscent of the Otzi-style simple frame.

 

An Otzi reconstruction. Click the image to see the article there.

Was it good enough?

The answer is probably.  It was mostly used to pack gear in for demonstrations and spent most of its time as a show-piece.  Honestly, over the years I owned it, it only went on one real backpacking trip, and that was even a fairly short one.  However, I learned some things along the way.  I like the shape, it was fairly comfortable, it was certainly sturdy enough,and it carried a heavy load without much difficulty or discomfort.  So the design was more-or-less right for me.

On problem was that I didn’t like the tensioning of the leather back straps as it was difficult to draw them tight enough.  That’s how packframe number 2 came to be.  I began by deciding to improve the back padding system but with a few other minor changes in mind, this happened.

A bunch of new parts generated themselves on my workbench one lazy afternoon.

Parts –

Recycled fir for the uprights came from a 125 year old door frame, some planks for the cross-bars came from the scrap pile, and a couple pieces were pulled from the first packframe.  Before I knew it, I was bending a thicker and better arch for the top piece and construction began.  Since I wasn’t working from a plan and there is no real standard for this type frame I pondered the whole thing for a couple days to decide how to fasten the parts (pegs, lashings, screws, or glue) and began assembly a few nights later.  I have gathered quite a few old screws of various sizes over the last couple years in my housing restoration so I decided to use those for the basic construction.

After too long a mental debate, construction went pretty quickly.

Construction technique –

As can be seen in the images, the cross-bars are let into the uprights in a simple lap joint for strength and racking stability and fastened with reclaimed brass screws.  The platform support is lapped and pegged with wooden dowels.

Side view showing lap joints and side supports.

I added a small oak angle brace to further support the platform support which is also lapped and pegged.  The small missing piece visible here is operator error.  When I was cutting the laps I was in such a groove that I cut the low one on the wrong plane.  I’ll probably fill the gap with a small wood piece, but for now, I live with the hideous disfigurement.  Also visible here are the walnut caps I pegged to the bottom of the uprights.  Old Douglas fir is a fine wood but can be very brittle and the end grain would probably not fare very well under hard use on rocky terrain.

The frame in all its glory, waiting to be packed and carried off into the sunset.

Straps and Suspension –

I chose 12 oz Hermann Oak leather for the lower pad stretched tight and permanently fastened to the frame with brass screws and finishing washers.  The essential suspension depends solely on the cordage being strung tight while the leather pad distributes to stress across a smooth and wide surface. I think it will be quite comfortable.

Shoulder strap connection, a whittled oak dowel that is easily removed.

I would like to make a removable rucksack for this frame and would like to be able to utilize the straps either so making them easily removable was a must.

Waist support, 12 oz harness leather. 6-7 oz leather was used for the back pad.

As for hip belts; I’m still undecided at this time but I suspect that sometime soon I will be constructing one.

A better view of the top arc and the overall harness.

I’ll continue to update the progress here and try to remember to take more photos along the way.  It really hinders work to have to think about documenting yourself along the way but I know people appreciate seeing the steps.

Walk in peace…

GTC

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