Flag Pole Stand

Our pack was going to introduce den flags to our boys, and the task of making flag stands fell on me. At first I figured that I would just tap into my reserve of 2 x 4's and knock something together, but as I looked at various plans and ideas, I kept coming up short because I did not want big, bulky, hard-to-store stands hanging around that got in the way and nobody wanted to store.

I bounced the idea of flag stand design off of my father, and after exhausting some ideas involving 2 x 4's,  we came up with a plan to use varied widths of PVC pipe that would fit inside of each other for storage, but we continued to run into brick walls for how to make it stable. Continually, the plans showed we needed "feet" on two of the legs to keep those legs level with the opposite legs, and the feet issue complicated the storage requirement.

Then, lo and behold, googling brought me to a site where they suggested filling a coffee can with Plaster of Paris. Brilliant!

So, here's my take on how I made it unique, including a handle for carrying and/or hanging them, and using plastic coffee cans so they wouldn't mar the gymnasium floor where we met and wouldn't rust if we used them outside.


Bill of Materials

I purchased some of the materials from Fleet Farm and some from Menards. The grand total of items for all nine flag pole bases came to less than $40.  I sought out coffee cans from people that I knew who drank a lot of coffee, and I opted for cement rather than Plaster of Paris because I wanted more durability and more heft.

  • 9 empty plastic coffee cans
  • 9 two foot sections of chain (Fleet Farm will cut them for you; see below as you might want them longer than two feet)
  • 2 bags of cement (each can takes about 0.11 cubic feet)
  • 1 five foot 3/4" section of PVC pipe
  • 1 ten foot 1-1/2" section of PVC pipe
  • Can of Navy spray paint that is approved for plastic

To calculate how much cement you need, in case you do not use coffee cans like we did, take the height times the width times length times 7/8's (according to Great Grandpa's engineering book for filling a circular object, this is the easy way to calculate the volume of a round cylinder).

A coffee can is about 6 inches high by 6 inches wide by 6 inches long, so 0.5 x 0.5 x 0.5 x 7 / 8 = 0.1094  This tells me I need 0.11 cubic feet of cement per coffee can. For nine cans, 9 x 0.11 = 0.99 cubic feet.  Each bag contains 0.5 cubic feet, so I needed just under two bags of cement (0.99 / 0.5 = 1.98 bags).

We chose a cement that hardens quickly, and we chose Navy colored paint to be close to Cub Scout blue; Boy Scouts may wish to go with Khaki Green. We also found a paint that binds to plastic well.  You could also get a small can of Cub Scout yellow and stencils to paint your Pack or Troop number onto the side of the can, or you could use a nail and carve your number into the cement.

Click on each of the pictures to enlarge them.


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Handles

At six inches long, we made the handles wide enough to fit a man's hand or two boys' hands. In retrospect, four inches would have been sufficient, and the chain would have been a little more droopy; that is, it would have hung down along the side more nicely.   If you make the chain any shorter, you risk wearing your knuckles raw on the cement whenever you try to carry the base.

We would recommend a 4 inch handle and going with a 2.5 foot length of chain instead of our 2 foot. The chain we used was 49 cents per foot.

Measure the smaller 3/4" PVC to 4 inches or 6 inches or whatever length you've chosen, then cut the pipe squarely using a mitre box and a hacksaw; if there is an adult with a chopsaw, that would work very well, but a mitre box is safer for the boys to use.  Sand the edges dull and the ends flat to remove burrs and things that can scratch you.

Stuff the end of one chain into each handle and center the handle on the chain.

As you pair each handle with a chain, put them in an empty coffee can. This will help you to make sure you have one handle and chain for every flag base. You certainly don't want to be surprised by not having enough chain/handle pairs when the cement has been mixed and is ready to pour into the cans!



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Cutting The Pole Holders

Next we want to cut the larger pipe into sections that are slightly longer than the depth of the coffee can. This allows us to slope the cement up to the edge of the pipe so that moisture will run away from the hole, and will result in a nicer, more finished look.

You don't want the pipe too long! You'll make it harder to store or hang your flag bases, and you'll scrape your knuckles or smash them against the handle whenever you try to carry them!  By the way - if you do hang your bases as a way to store them, please use a VERY sturdy hook or nail. These things are heavy when they are finished, and dropping them could crack the plastic case (the coffee can) as well as smash a toe or anything underneath them.

We cut our pole holding pipes at 6 1/2 inches, and that was perfect, as  you'll see.


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Mix and Pour The Cement

CAUTION: When you pour the dry cement into a bucket or mixing tub, you will raise a cloud of dust. DO NOT BREATHE THE DUST! Cement dust is known to be harmful to your lungs. WEAR A PROTECTIVE MASK, PLEASE!

"Cement dust and wet concrete and mortars are particularly hazardous. With sensitive skins, burning can take place very quickly and all users should be fully aware of the hazard and of the precautions necessary. A particular danger is trapping of dust or splashes, e.g. around the top of boots, where damage is accelerated by abrasion and rubbing. It is provided for your safety. Where protective equipment is indicated, use it! First Aid Measures Eye Contact: Wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water before continuing. Clothing contaminated by wet cement, concrete or mortar should be removed and washed thoroughly before use. wash eyes immediately with plenty of clean water for at least 15 minutes and seek medical advice without delay. Skin Contact: If irritation, pain or other skin trouble occurs, contact a physician."

Mixing the cement should be handled by a knowledgeable adult. You want a good, soupy consistency, but if it's too wet it will take a long time to set up.  Too dry, and it won't fill in all of the cracks and holes and air pockets.

Begin by preparing your work area. We laid a tarp on the ground to make it easier to clean up after ourselves.  We also mixed the cement in smaller portions, not all at once, to keep it from hardening on us since we only had one adult doing this portion.

After mixing the cement, we made sure the chains were in place, the handles were hanging freely, and the pole holders were relatively centered.  We also took care to move the handles around to the side where the coffee can handle was so that there was one "clean" side of the coffee can for painting our Pack number on it.

We then shoveled the cement into the can, placing our hand over the pole holder pipe to keep cement from going down the pipe.  Shimmy the cement with your trowel or shovel to make sure there are no air pockets.  Check to make sure your pole-holding pipe is centered and straight up-and-down (otherwise, your flag is going to lean!).

Over-fill the can slightly so that you can smooth the cement up from the lid to the edge of the pole holder pipe to give it a nice, finished look.  Try to clean as much of the cement off of the sides now while the cement is wet, even use a damp rag to carefully wipe the sides. Believe me, it will save you a lot of time during the clean up stage!

If you are going to use a nail to carve your Pack, Troop, Den, and/or Patrol number into the cement, now is the time to do that!

When you are done, let your cans "set" for 24 to 48 hours before you use the handles to carry them; the amount of drying time also depends on the type of cement you used and how watery you mixed it.  Test one can before you rely on the others.  Keep them dry and out of the rain during this period.


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Paint and Finish

Once the flag bases have dried, you're ready to paint!  You'll need to clean off any cement that has dried on the sides and bottom, and wash them so they are absolutely as clean as possible. When done cleaning and washing, be sure they are completely dry before you start painting.

We were able to hang them by the handles so that we could get all around the cans and paint the bottoms as well as the tops.

After about two coats, we set them on the ground for a final painting of the tops and sides. We were able to get all of our painting done with one can, but it was on its last spurts as we finished the final touches.

If you carved your number into the cement, you could use a contrasting color (such as Cub Scout Yellow against the Cub Scout Blue) with a very small paint brush to fill in the numbers so they stand out better.

And you are done! Congratulations on your new flag pole bases!