Wood Framed Canvas Canopy
Built to be a Merchant’s Tent at a Renaissance Festival, this canopy could find use wherever stylish shade is desired.
All descriptions and photographs copyright Jason Sinco Woodworks 2015
As part of my period woodworking demonstrations, I needed a shelter that fit my time period. After combing through historical resources and seeing what others had done, I came up with a design that would use off-the-shelf dimensional lumber for the frame and a canvas painter’s drop cloth for a cover. At time of writing, in my area, the materials for this project totalled less than $100.
*see updates at the end for notes since I’ve built it and an alternative front leg
For this project you will need:
4- 2x4x8 for the legs
4- 1x4x8 for the canopy frame, canopy prop, and leg brace (a 3′ brace and a 5′ prop should come from the same 8′ board)
3-2x4x? for the horizontal beams. These determine the width of your canopy, and can be 8′, 10′, or 12′ long depending on your needs. I chose 10′.
4- 1x2x8 for the canopy frame supports
1- 12×15 painter’s drop cloth
1- 1″x48″ dowel
1- 1/2″x48″ dowel
a ball of twine and a roll of sisal rope
Drill, with bits to drill 1&1/2″, 1″, 3/4″, 1/2″, and 3/16″ holes
Drawknife, chisel (1″ or larger), or pocket knife
Tape measure, ruler, and square
Here I’ve laid out the boards on the ground to work out my basic angles and get some measurements. My finished canopy will be 10′ wide, 8′ deep, 6&1/2′ tall at the back, and almost 8′ tall at the front.
Cut all your boards to length (see list above) with a hand saw or power saw and mark for the centers of all your holes. An old fashioned corded drill works best for this, you will need the extra power for drilling large holes and the batteries never need replacing. I have a set of Forstner bits, so I used those for the larger holes, but an inexpensive set of spade bits would do just as well. Place a scrap under the board to protect your work surface and also to keep the bit from tearing out the exit hole.
If you wish, you can saw the corners off of the tops of the legs. This is mainly decorative, but may prevent your canvas from snagging on the legs as well.
Lay out the tenons for the ends of your horizontal beams. Two of these will have tenons that are 6″ long, the one that goes to the front of the canopy will have a 4&1/2″ tenon. The tenon should be 1&1/2 wide and centered on the board.
Cut the tenon out using a jig saw or hand saw. Be careful not to overcut your lines.
Cut in the corners at the base of the tenon using a hand saw at a 45 degree angle. It should just take a few strokes. This is a safety cut for the next step, shaping the tenons.
The relief cuts you just made will allow you to safely split the corners of the tenon off with a chisel or knife. The goal is a rough octagon.
Work it down from an octagon to round. A drawknife makes very quick work of this, but that’s not the kind of thing everyone has in their toolbox. A chisel or pocket knife will do just as well. A scrap board with a 1&1/2″ hole drilled in it is handy to test the fit. The tenon should pass freely through the hole, with no hammering or persuading. If the fit is too tight, you risk splitting a board, particularly where a hole is near the end as in the top of the legs or the canopy frame.
Now is also the time to do the tenons for the canopy frame supports. These require a 1″ long tenon, 3/4″ wide, and offset to one side of the 1×2 board.
Round these as you did the others. A wood rasp is excellent for this if you have one.
Now, lay out and drill the holes for the canopy frame supports. I didn’t include these on the diagram, because their spacing depends on the length of your beams. Space them evenly along your beams (ex., for my 10′ long beam, I place a hole at 2′, 4′, 6′, and 8′) and place them 1″ from the top of the board. Put a piece of tape on your bit to mark 1″ of depth, and stop drilling when you reach that point. These holes will need to go in the beam with the 4&1/2″ tenons, and one of the others.
Time to make some pegs. You will need ten pegs that are 4″ long from the 1/2″ dowel. Drill a 3/16″ hole in one end and give the other end a little whittling for character. Cut a 2′ long piece of twine and loop it through the hole on the end. You will also need four 6″ long, 1″ wide pegs for the canopy prop. Drill a 3/16″ hole towards one end of these, and tie a 1/2″ peg to each one.
Assembly time! Lay out all the parts on the ground, with the back legs pointing back and the front legs pointing forward. Pay particular attention to the order of assembly. From the outside in you should have the front leg, the canopy frame, and the back leg. The large hole of the leg brace should go on the tenon of the beam in the back leg, the other will be attached to the front leg after raising. The 1″ hole in the canopy frame for the props should go towards the back. Make sure this is correct, or your canopy will be wonky. Make sure the two beams with the canopy support holes go in the top, and the short tenon beam goes to the front, with the support holes up and facing in. Insert the canopy supports into their holes and put it all together.
You may have been wondering where those pegs are going? I find it’s easiest to drill the peg holes at this point, when the whole thing is assembled, but still on the ground. No fussing with measurements or mixing up which hole goes where. See where the hole goes, drill the hole, put in a peg. Tie the other end of the twine around the base of the tenon and loop it over the boards. This makes sure your peg won’t work loose and fall out. Don’t forget the 1″ dowels will need a hole for their pegs, too.
And up she goes. Don’t try to be a hero, this really needs two people. With everything pegged, stand in the middle and lift the center beam up while walking it back, until the back legs are roughly vertical. Have one person hold the frame while another goes around and inserts the 1″ dowel pegs through the front hole of the leg brace and the front leg.
Unfold your canvas and drape it lengthwise over the top of the frame. Working from the back, spread the canvas out across the top beam until it is even on both sides.
Again, using two people, lift the canopy up to its full height, One person should hold the canopy while another installs the canopy props and secures them with pegs. Here I’ve got the canvas temporarily held on with squeeze clamps.
Painter’s cloths don’t usually come with grommets (more on their other faults later), so you will need a way to tie your canvas down. Making your own tie points is easy. Get a round object… a quarter, a washer, a wooden disk, a marble, or even a stone off the ground, and place it on the back side of where you want a tie point. Flip the cloth over and gather the material around the object in your hand. Tie a loop in your rope and place it around the object, then cinch it tight. Hey presto! Do this wherever you need to tie your canvas to the frame. And on a windy day you can just add more.
This canopy is great, and if you are up for a little DIY it makes a (relatively) cheap alternative to an EZ-UP style shelter for your event, or even as some summer shade in the back yard. But I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t have its drawbacks, and you should be aware of these before you commit to this project.
This is a hefty pile of lumber to be hauling around. If you are making this project to use at your home or in a dedicated spot, this may not be an issue. But you will need a pickup, trailer, or vehicle with a roof rack to transport it. Also, you will need a place to store it.
The painter’s drop cloth is an economical compromise. The going rate at Lowes in my area, at this time, is $32 for a 12×15. That’s cheap and easy and fits the part if you are doing a period event. But it’s not waterproof. A high quality duck canvas with a very tight weave would be naturally waterproof. Painter’s cloths are cheaply made and have a loose weave. They are also usually assembled from smaller pieces and will have random seams. I’ve had some success coating them on both sides with Thompson’s Water Seal. This makes them shed water instead of soaking it up, but if water is allowed to pool on top or it is a good drenching rainstorm, it will still drip through. If this is a concern for you, consider upgrading to a pre-treated tent grade canvas or sewing your own cover using some high quality canvas. It will add substantially to the cost but may be worth the peace of mind. Alternatively, purchase a poly tarp (you can find brown ones in the automotive section at Walmart) to use over the canvas in the event of a rainstorm. This is a cheaper option, and you only need to put it on in bad weather.
Also, it makes a great big sail. In extremely windy conditions you may need to anchor it using ropes from the corners attached to stakes or tied down to sandbags.
So keep those few things in mind, have fun, be safe using your tools, and enjoy your canopy! If you build one from my plans I’d love to see it!
So I had it out for it’s first event appearance and after having lived with it for a couple of days I have a few more notes.
The canopy prop is a bit of a pain, and the thing REALLY needs to be staked down, so thinking of adding front legs to aid in that. We had a big wind and rain storm come through, and because it came from behind the canopy it stood up fine. But if it had come from the front, I’m pretty sure it would have flipped over backwards and into the people that were behind us. I saw several Easy-Ups go flying.
The brown tarp did everything it was expected to, kept me nice and dry and wasn’t too terribly out of place.
Because it was a rainy weekend, the wood swelled and all the peg holes were tight. I’ll re-make the pegs, longer and with more of a taper to allow me to get them at least partly in if this happens again.
And lastly, it needs some sort of paint or stain for moisture protection. I stored it under a tarp and some of the boards got mildewed. I was able to hide it for the most part but it was pretty grungy looking.
Back out for the Central Missouri Renaissance Festival and made some of the changes I talked about before. Added front leg poles (an 8 foot long 2×3 with a hole drilled in one end to match the post on the front of the canopy. I glued on some scraps of 1×2 to beef up the sides of the hole), gave it a slick red paint job, and I think it was great. Didn’t need the brown tarp that weekend either.