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Reese Tipis.   World's Highest Quality Native American Lodges

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Here are some of our most commonly asked questions.


Q: Why does the 9' tipi not come with a liner?

A: The 9' tipi is too small for a fire and/or serious camping. It does make a great play tipi for children of all ages. If you intend on building a fire in your tipi or camping in cold or wet weather, we recommend at least a 13.5' tipi with liner.

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Q: Can you teach me about Indian customs and traditions?

A: There are many who claim to be experts on the customs and traditions of the Native Americans. We are not among them. We do claim to make a completely authentic Sioux/Cheyenne tipi of exceptional quality. When we made the tipis for the movie Windwalker, we learned that there is very little "documented" information to verify exactly the traditions of different Indian Nations. Many of the "so called" experts are using 2nd and 3rd hand information, most of which comes from white men who have done very little true research. The best book we have been able to find on this subject is Reginald & Gladys Laubin's book called, "The Indian Tipi - Its History, Construction and Use" (italics added) ISBN 0-8061-2236-6. We have not felt qualified or justified to repeat what they have written. Therefore, we recommend their book to those who inquire. This book is available through us.

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Q: Will you provide plans for making my own tipi?

A: Due to the high rate of failure, and subsequent request to complete tipis, we no longer provide plans or design assistance on tipis. When we first started building tipis, we used to sell instruction kits - none of the do-it-yourself tipis were completed to our customers satisfaction and we were often asked to complete the job after the materials had been incorrectly cut or sewn. In addition, standard home sewing machines are not capable of sewing the number of layers of material required to make a tipi that will withstand constant use. In order to maintain the quality we demand from our product one would require four separate specialized industrial sewing machines and years of experience in the textile industry.

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Q: Why don't you make jointed poles?

A: We tried at least 6 different ways to make jointed poles, without success. They "always" deflected inward where the joints are, and the Tipi looks terrible. Part of the problem is that "Tipi Poles" must be tapered to work. The taper of the poles, at the point where the tripod is lashed together, is what keeps the knot from slipping down when the tripod is erected, and thereafter the taper permits adjusting of the rest of the poles in and out and up and down to conform to the canvas cover, for a nice tight fit. To my knowledge there is no machine in existence that will duplicate the gradual taper of a lodgepole pine pole. If there is, the cost of doing the job would be very high and any raw material (4 X 4's, poles, etc.) could not hope to retain the strength of a natural tree (lodgepole pine or equal) because of grain problems. Even lodgepole pine poles, 'pencil sharpened' to the right taper and to a uniform size, would lose the strength of the outer "rings" that give stability to the pole, here and there along the pole. There are still a few 'ready made' joints that can be used with straight materials, but none for tapered poles. The Army had metal sleeves made for their wooden poles, but nothing for a tapered pole. But even the army-jointed poles would not stay straight when we tried to use them in a tipi. They were a disaster. The only way I know of that worked at all was to take each pole, cut a long diagonal cut (more than 24 inches) through the pole, and 'peg' the pole together. I have tried this, with bolts to hold the poles together, but it takes extreme care to keep the bolts from wearing against the tipi cover. The other problem is that, in a very short time the bolts and bolt holes cause the pole to split. The pole can be wrapped, but wrapping and unwrapping is very tedious and does not stop the splitting. I finally gave up. If you can find a successful way to do this, I will be the first to congratulate you.

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Q: Why is there an additional charge for shipping poles that are longer than 27'?

A: Common carrier 'LTL' (less than a truck load) freight companies will not haul poles longer than 27'. This limits that size pole that we can ship using standard carriers. We can deliver poles of any lenght but cost can be a major consideration. For our larger tipis, we have developed a method of splicing the non-structural tips of poles longer than 27 feet poles so the can be shipped via common carrier freight companies. This splice is above the area where the pole is exposed to sideways force. In addition, this is a one-time splice that must be glued once the poles arrive at their destination. We normally maintain longer poles at our facility in Colorado Springs for customer pickup. Since our pole yard is locaed in Montana, there is an additional "destination" charge for all poles picked up at our Colorado Springs facility.

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Q: What is an ozan?

A: The Sioux 'ozan' is and awning-like cover that extends from the top of the liner over the sleeping area and acts as an inside rain cover. It is as useful during extended rain storms where a few drops always sneak past the closed smoke flaps as is for the sudden summer thunderstorm where you have little warning to get the smoke flaps closed. It also increases warmth during cold weather. An added benefit is that one can hang a privacy curtain from the ozan creating private compartment in the rear of the tipi. Click here to learm more about ozans.

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Q: Why do I need a liner?

A: After you have properly pitch your tipi, you have a tent open at the top and all around the bottom. Since the cover is a few inches off the ground, as it should be, a considerable draft is possible making the tipi nothing more than a temporary shelter, not really fit for living in. Winds blow across the bottom of the tipi making the tipi drafty and cold and raindrops run down the poles and soak everything inside. If the poles and cover is all you have, then your tipi is drafty, wet, cold or hot in warm weather and as incomplete as a log cabin without any chinking. One reason many people have been disappointed with even quality tipis is that they thought the cover and the poles were the whole thing. A tipi is far from complete without the liner.

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Q: Can I use my tipi as sweat lodge?

A: The problem is that it is impossible for a tipi to hold the moisture in. The only way is to build an ozan that is all inclusive (covers the whole area of the lodge) with a very small opening over the fire. The tipi would need to be very small and the liner would need to be low to keep the sweating area small - and this defeats the function of the Tipi in its normal usage. I would suggest putting the Sweat Lodge outside, near the entrance to the Tipi, so the sweatteee can retire to the Tipi to dry out in the tipi, and go to bed in a warm, dry sleeping bag. Why not have the best of both worlds without trying to mix them together? For more information on sweat lodges, we recommend Reginald & Gladys Laubin's book called,"The Indian Tipi - Its History, Construction and Use" (Italics added) ISBN 0-8061-2236-6. This book is available through us.

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Q: How long does it take to set up a tipi?

A: After you are familiar with the procedure, if you follow the instructions that come with the tipi, you will be able to put up the tipi and install the liner (with one helper) in about 1 hour's time. I can put up a 17.5 tipi and liner, by myself, with no helper, in less than 2 hours.

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Q: How is it possible to have a fire in a tipi and not get 'smoked-out'?

A: With the bottom edge of the tipi cover about 6 to 8 inches above the ground, and with the bottom of the liner snugged to the ground, it is necessary for the air to flow up between the two layers of fabric, and over the top of the liner, to get into the tipi. When you light your fire, the hot air (& smoke) from the fire rises up through the smoke flap opening and "draws" outside "cool" air into the tipi - between the two layers of fabric and over the top of the liner. This flow of air, from all around the circumference, and at the top of the liner, spills down into the tipi and "crowds" the hot air to the center. Therefore the smoke rises directly over the fire and is exhausted out through the smoke flap opening without any problem with smoke in the tipi, unless green wood is used and the fire is allowed to die down to the point that there is not enough heat to "lift" the smoke out of the tipi.

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Q: What effect does a fire have on the canvas?

A: Very gradually, the inside of the tipi, above the fire, will get dark as the fabric absorbs the pigments from the smoke. However, the tannic acid and oils in the smoke has a tendency to "tan" and "season" the cover and make it more waterproof and more resistant to deterioration. The Indians would usually build a fire with green wood in a new "skin" tipi to saturate the tipi surface with smoke. They would first put the tipi up "inside out", then, after smoking it, they would put it up again "right side out" and smoke it again. Then the constant use of the fire in the tipi would preserve the "skin", helping it to be waterproof and helping it to remain soft and flexible. The smoke has the same type of "conditioning" effect on canvas, and the gradual darkening of the interior of the upper portion of the tipi and the inner surfaces of the smoke flaps makes the tipi look more "seasoned" and more "authentic".

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Q: What method do you use to secure the tipi cover to the ground?

A: We use the same system that the Indians used to secure their tipi covers - pebble ties. To best explain how this is done, I'll quote from my father's book, "The 20th Century Indian Tipi"
"During those early days, we experimented with metal grommets and with web loops to attach tie downs around the bottom of the cover. We found that grommets eventually cut through the fabric and consider them to be unsuitable for tipis. Almost all tipi makers agree, and avoid the use of grommets.
However, many tipi makers think web loops are OK. We do not agree with this for a number of reasons.
Web loops cannot be relocated and do not appeal to most of our customers who prefer to use pebbles as the Indians did.
Web loops must be sewn to the bottom hem to get a good anchor for the stitching. Otherwise they are likely to tear out of the cover when heavy pressure is exerted while tightening the tie ropes or when the tipi is stressed by strong winds. Sewing the loops along the bottom edge places them very near to the ground and frequently does not leave enough space to tighten the cover to the tie pegs. We have seen some tipis with a cotton web strap sewn around the perimeter of the tipi and positioned a few inches above the bottom edge of the tipi cover. Then the web loops are sewn to the web strap. The problem with this is that cotton webbing is untreated and it will shrink at least 10%. Most of the shrinkage is along the length of the web, and this can create puckers in the tipi fabric.
Cotton webbing absorbs moisture easily and when it is wet it is very difficult to get it dried out. As a result the danger of getting mildew in the tipi is greatly increased" (Reese).

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Q: What kind of floor do use in your tipi?

A: Cost, mobility, and longevity are major considerations when selecting flooring. For permanent setups, nothing is better than our hand-crafted redwood interior floors. Made in our facility, our tipi floors (or decks) provide comfort and warmth while ensuring a dry and clean interior to your tipi. For overall comfort and lifetime value nothing beats a Reese Tipi redwood floor.
For mobile or more primitive tipis, we prefer a flame and mold resistant material such as our Starfire flooring. This floor has the appearance of canvas but lasts much longer.
Standard outdoor carpeting is also an option but may not be flame resistant so select this option with care if using a fire in your tipi.

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Q: How do I use the smoke flaps to control air circulation in a tipi?

A: As you probably already know, the tipi and liner are designed to work together to control the ventilation that is essential for having a fire in the tipi. This unique combination of tipi cover and liner also make it possible to eliminate cross drafts of air in the tipi, and to cause the tipi to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter, compared to other fabric structures.

With the tipi cover raised from four inches to eight inches above the ground, and with the tipi liner installed with the bottom flap tight against the ground, and with the door closed and the liner flaps over the door closed, the only way air can get into the tipi (except for slight leakage through the fabric) is up from the ground (between the tipi cover and the liner) or down through the smoke flap opening.

When it is hot outside, the heat of the sun causes the air between the tipi cover and the liner to rise into the tipi and out through the smoke flap opening. The coolest air sinks to the floor of the tipi and is trapped there. The hotter air rises and escapes from the tipi. Therefore the tipi is cooler, on the inside, than the air on the outside.

In cold weather, when there is no direct air movement in the tipi, the sandwich of air between the tipi cover and the liner that acts like a layer of insulation. Even with only body heat (and no fire), some of the heat is captured under the slope of the liner, and it is warmer in the tipi than it is on the outside. Also, the wind chill factor is eliminated.

In hot or cold (summer or winter) weather, the tipi functions best when there is no air turbulence inside the tipi. The purpose of the smoke flaps is to guide or deflect outside air currents (wind) to one side or the other so as to prevent movement of air in the tipi. To accomplish this purpose, each smoke flap is equipped with a supporting (smoke flap) pole at the top outside corner and a tie rope at the bottom outside corner. Each smoke flap can be adjusted, independent of the other smoke flap, for maximum versatility. The variety of positions and combinations of positions are almost without limit. However, there are a few positions that are widely used to control the air flow and to make the tipi look beautiful. You can adjust the tops of the smoke flaps for a wide or narrow smoke flap opening, according to your preference. You can tie the bottom corner ropes to a medicine pole in front of the tipi, or you can tie them flat against the tipi cover, wide right and wide left, with the corner ropes tight around the tipi cover to the back side where they are tied to a tipi peg (stake). Or you can tie both bottom corners to one side, together, if there is a slight breeze from the opposite side, or if you just like that "look".

If there is no wind, you can put the smoke flaps where they satisfy your eye for beauty. If the wind is blowing from the rear, position the smoke flaps directly in line with the wind, so that the air flows by with a minimum of turbulence. If the wind blows from the right or the left, position the smoke flaps away from the wind, so the wind can flow over the surface of the smoke flaps without getting into the tipi.

If the wind is blowing directly into the smoke flap opening or if you expect rain, select one of the smoke flap poles to move first and loosen the bottom end of the smoke flap rope from the peg (stake). Move the bottom of the pole from the back to the front of the tipi and guide the tip of the pole between the fabric of the other smoke flap and around the "neck" of the pole structure. With the tip of the pole against the "neck" of the pole structure, push the tip as far toward the rear of the tipi as the fabric will allow it to go. Then stress the pole between the top corner of the smoke flap and the ground, with the bottom of the pole as close to the tipi as possible. Before anchoring the bottom of the pole, be certain that the smoke flap is wrapped around the "neck" of the pole structure and that the tip of the pole is now around behind the lift pole and beyond the back center line of the tipi cover. The bottom of the pole will have crossed in front of the door and will be at the front of the tipi on the opposite side of the door. Now you can tighten the bottom of the smoke flap rope to the peg (stake) to which it was originally tied. This gives you a smoke flap with the top pushed in one direction and the bottom in the opposite direction.

Now, repeat this process with the other smoke flap pole, except this pole will go over the top of the other smoke flap and tight against the "neck" of the pole structure. It will also cross in front of the door and be anchored on the side opposite to the other pole. Then bring the bottom of the smoke flap to the same side as the top of the smoke flap (and pole tip). This smoke flap will be on top of the first pole and both smoke flap bottoms will be on the same side and the smoke flap ropes can be tied to the same peg (stake).
Smoke Flaps Closed  
Now, the smoke flaps are completely closed against wind and rain and snow, and the poles will be crossed above the door. However, there is still enough air space between the poles at the "neck" of the pole structure to maintain proper ventilation. It is important to use dry wood to minimize smoke in the tipi. The important thing to remember is that a flame is required to generate enough heat to rise and carry the smoke out of the tipi. If no hot air is rising, the smoke will collect in the tipi. If you accidentally let your fire die down, and the wood is green, you can quickly solve the smoke problem by having a supply of newspapers on hand to crumple and burn on the fire to carry the smoke out while the wood is getting hot enough to ignite again. Some brands of fire-starter sticks or bricks are also helpful for this.

Q: What is the differance between a tipi and a wigwam or wikiup?

A: Wigwams and wikiups are non-portable structures constructed of branches with bark or branches as covering. A tipi is a portable structure constructed of long poles witha canvas or hide covering.

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© 2001 - Frank Reese - All Rights Reserved.