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Portaledge designs

Original Post
Joe Virtanen · · Asheville, NC · Joined May 2010 · Points: 241

I'm a fan of working with metals and fabrics, I've made many a weather vane and backpack in my time.

This year I've thought of a fun new project: Portaledge!

Curious to see if any of you have made your own. What are some of the challenges you had to overcome?

Pictures and chicken scratch designs appreciated!

I'm currently cooking up a design for a double ledge with 6061-t6 tubing, ripstop cordura for the bed, no spreader bar.

Greg Howland · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 140

I've been doing some research to do the same thing. Found a few useful pages out there. Hope this helps.……

rock-fencer · · Columbia, SC · Joined Dec 2009 · Points: 265

i'd go with titanium tubing to shave weight, otherwise your probably better off buying a ledge off ebay and re-doing the bed. there is also info on about the krusty ledge made from PVC and a home made bed.


Joe Virtanen · · Asheville, NC · Joined May 2010 · Points: 241

Thanks for the links Greg!

I checked out the Krustyledge but I think I'd rather try to go with a design that doesn't require a spreader bar.

Thanks for the titanium suggestion T, I'll keep that in mind.

Luke Malatesta · · Moab Utah · Joined Apr 2007 · Points: 305

Titanium is awsome due to durability and weight, really expensive...Looking @ around between $20-$30 a foot. A decent sized single is uses around 20'. If you can find it @ a good price it is worth it.

Here are some pics of a few I made in my shop @ my house. Love this topic!

All have titanium frames- 2024 and 6061-t6 corners...Working on a Carbon fiber one that breaks in thirds. Bed is Ripstop dyneema fabric. All aluminum hardware. Around 7 lbs

Not to hard to make once you get the pattern...Let me know if you have any questions.

ledge 1

Ti- alpine double


Larry S · · Easton, PA · Joined May 2010 · Points: 841

I know it's more expensive... not sure how much. But 7075-T6 aluminum is much stronger 6061-T6. 503MPa yield strength vs 276MPa. It's a bit stiffer too. Might help you with your design sans the spreader bar.

rock-fencer · · Columbia, SC · Joined Dec 2009 · Points: 265
Luke Malatesta wrote:Titanium is awsome due to durability and weight, really expensive...Looking @ around between $20-$30 a foot. A decent sized single is uses around 20'. If you can find it @ a good price it is worth it. Here are some pics of a few I made in my shop @ my house. Love this topic! All have titanium frames- 2024 and 6061-t6 corners...Working on a Carbon fiber one that breaks in thirds. Bed is Ripstop dyneema fabric. All aluminum hardware. Around 7 lbs Not to hard to make once you get the pattern...Let me know if you have any questions. Luke
Where did you source your fabric & tubing from. I'd be interested in the actual frame structure, tubing size etc... Also you using a home machine for the sewing or an industrial?

Joe Virtanen · · Asheville, NC · Joined May 2010 · Points: 241

Yeah Luke, I'm also really interested!

You know where you got the corners, tubing, and fabric from?

If you have any designs as computer files or lots of pictures I would kill to have them!


Luke Malatesta · · Moab Utah · Joined Apr 2007 · Points: 305


I looked into 7075-T6...Really hard to find and def. more expensive...I did find one outfit back east that had some.

I bought a bunch of the tubeing from an outfit out of washington I believe... I had to buy a bunch in order to avoid a handling charge...The corners are old A5 surplus I picked up a while ago that were made for 1" tube instead of 1 1/8" aluminum. I used 1" OD x .036 wall Grade 9 CWSR titanium....light and no need for a spreaderbar. My single is 78.5" long and 31" wide.

Problem with working with titanium is it reallly difficult to machine...Tubes had to be cut on a lathe and drilling through it is rough as well. You need a decent drillpress or a mill would be even better, lots of cutting fluid and carbide debarring tool.

The connectors a custom made on my lathe as there is no standard tube that fits into the size of titanium I used.....

The fabric you can get from rockywoods, OWF, or seattle fabrics for small runs....I used the ripstop Dyneema fabric cause it is really strong, does not stretch to much and is easy to square up when cutting cause you have a 1/4" grid to work off of....I does cost a little more per yard. Has a nice thick urethane coating on the back as well.

I have an industrial sewing machine I used....I do have an old Pfaff 30 that I rebuilt and this works ok on smaller jobs, does not have a walking foot though.

The patterns I came up with on my own. I First used cardboard and then bought some fancy Clear pattern Fabric.

I went a little overboard once I got started. This started as a home project and has turned into a small business venture. I have a pretty small space (15' x 15') for all my equipment and to work in.

Hope this helps.


Spyder · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 5


when will your new designs be available for purchase? are you making flys too?

Joe Virtanen · · Asheville, NC · Joined May 2010 · Points: 241

Cheer Luke, that's all great advice!


Greg Howland · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 140


$400 just for the frame on a single??? If I were you I would re-evaluate what materials you are using. There is a common misconception that you need a really strong metal to resist the bending which causes the hour glass shape and thus the need for a spreader bar. What you really need is a component with a high second moment of inertia. This is based on the cross sectional area of your material. Second MOI is basically a structures resistance to bending and deflection. The basic principle is that the further that you spread the material from the centriod of the cross sectional area, the higher the second MOI. This causes a higher resistance to bending and deflection. It is also true that no matter how strong the material at the centriod, it doesn't contribute at all the the resistance to bending or deflection. This should be a pretty easy calculation if the cross sectional area of the material you are using is symmetrical about both axes. Do some research and it may really help you out. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about it.

Luke Malatesta · · Moab Utah · Joined Apr 2007 · Points: 305


I know that would be expensive for a single frame, and that the benifits of titanium don't quite add up to the price. The only reason I even considered it was that I got it @ about 7.50. I thought I could make a small run of really unique ledges for around the same cost of those currently on the market.

My future plans were to offer some for sale that gave the buyer options for frame material depending on what was most important to them (light weight or cromoly) and make the ledge compact.

I do like how the titanium and cromoly react with the corners...they do not bind like aluminum does.

I am working with some carbon fiber now that could be really cool or a big waste of $...Time will tell i suppose.

It does, as does cromoly, have a high modulous of elasticity..Titanium is somewhere in the middle.



PS: Spyder..I hope to have a few ready by the spring. I need to finish some patterns for the fly.

I also am not trying to hijack the thread as a business promotion....Just trying to share what I know from working with different materials and would be open to any suggestions.

Joe Virtanen · · Asheville, NC · Joined May 2010 · Points: 241

No worries Luke, I've searched the site and stumbled across some of your pictures. You can hijack all you like because I'll probably be borrowing from some of your AMAZING* designs.

  • This description sponsored by Luke Malatesta.
Greg Howland · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 140


Makes much more sense now why you would use titanium now. I was just concerned when I saw what you were selling them for with respect to a $400 frame cost.

I think you should definitely run with the carbon fiber frame. I've been looking into myself. Shouldn't be extremely expensive if you are doing it yourself especially if you know which resin you need. Sheets of it are too difficult to manufacture, though I'm not very familiar with making rods or tubing.

Keep up the good work though. Craftsmanship looks terrific. I might be ordering a carbon fiber double from you if I get too busy with work.


Likewise. I don't mean to hijack this thread. Though, this discussion is probably something that you want to keep in mind during your design. You can put a lot of thought into these if you want to build a quality ledge the first time. Though if you have the time and money or materials at your disposal then have some fun with it and experiment to find what suits your desires. Best of luck.


Luke Malatesta · · Moab Utah · Joined Apr 2007 · Points: 305

No problem Greg....I think that the carbon fiber unidirectional tube will work great....Some of the best tube I have found comes out of Salt lake here in Utah.

Joe - Here are a few tips and tricks when it is time to sew, Ledges are different from smaller stuff and things need to be square, That and your trying to account for frame flex snd not end up with a hammock soooooo.....

You are going to want to order 3 yards of fabric when it is time to sew up your bed. Most fabric come in @ 58-60" wide. 2 yards of it would be to short and leave you more room for error...Plus you will have some scrap to check the tension of your thread and make cool little stuff sacks when your done.

I use a 90 weight Bonded nylon thread for all of my stuff. My sewing machine can easily handle it. When you start to sew through multiple layers and add binding tape to the mix, the base weight of your fabric will start to matter.

Get your self a 1" binder (or whatever size for the tape you plan to use, if you plan on useing tape) to bind all if the edges. I have a swing away I made so I can just swing it out of the way when I am not using it, this also helps when you are back tacking while binding.

Practice binding arcs and circles before you try to sew your final ledge....Moving the binder in a right angle orentation helps....This take a bunch of practice and can be frustrating.

I am not sure how you plan on doing your suspension, a bartacker sure is nice though :)

A bar tack machine makes nice pretty stiches and was needed for the direction I was planing on doing, but it would not be any less bomber with a walking foot machine.

Spend a lot of time looking @ ledges and how they are made. i have probabily owned or borrowed one of every ledge made. Cool to see how things have evolved over time.

Post up as your progress!


Joe Virtanen · · Asheville, NC · Joined May 2010 · Points: 241

I haven't thought about binding the edges, that's a good idea. I really just thought about folding and sewing the edges into a fold. I definitely can't afford a bartacker so I'll have to figure something out with a regular machine, luckily webbing is cheap so I can experiment.

Buff Johnson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2005 · Points: 1,145

Kindofa special design thought.

What I'm thinking is to be able to hold four people on the same platform, but need only lying space for two. (or could say three people and also gear; I figured just go with a total weight of 4 people).

Could just say use two ledges, but would like to work on just one, strong enough for two people who are able to lie down and a third person moving around on the ledge along with a bunch of equipment.

Need to be able to put the fly on while it is loaded in a horizontal position.

Moof · · Portland, OR · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 25

A few random thoughts from my attempts:

1" stainless corners off of ebay (stainless marine hand railing elbows) work OK for 7/8" and 1" tubing. They are a bit heavy, and vary greatly in the amount of overlap with the ends of the tubing. My current double ledge is made out of 4130 tubing and these stainless elbows and works pretty nicely (but heavy...). There are 2 pictures (not good ones) of my double ledge in this trip report from Mideast Crisis.

Custom milled corners is new territory for me, I ordered a batch and I am hoping they turn out well. Mine are for 1 1/8" tubing, hoping I can get double duty out of them to accomodate both Al and CF tubing. I am paying about $550 for a batch of 28. Not sure what I'll do with that many, but it was $250 for a single ledge worth, so I double downed on insanity. If not for wanting to use CF tubing for my project I considered making one of the corner ends male to slip inside the double butting to allow use of 4130 as the double butt to avoid binding. I think Theron's ledge uses 1 male on each corner, but I don't know if it was for this same reason.

Bartackers are not needed for the ledge body, just use linear tacks (back and forth). Early A5 and Fish stuff was done without tackers and was bomber. Tackers are HUGE time savers once you get to things like the ledge suspension, easily 5-10x faster. Consider begging Fish, or finding a local person who can tack for you for those bits (i.e. send it to them taped or pinned together).

#69 thread works OK in home machines and is about their limit. You can still make a bomber ledge this way, but plan on triple stitching in spots where you see double stitching on commercial ledges. Watch craigslist, you can probably pick up a decent single stitch non-walking foot machine for $300-400 if you are patient. Good walking foot machines are worth it if you can swing it, but expect those to start in to the $700-800 range for anything in good shape. Invest in a reduce pulley or servo motor (or both) to get enough control for sewing of this nature (especially if you only sew occasionally and don't have mad skills). Occasional steals go by, so be ready to pounce on them, I got a computer controlled walking foot for $800 that sells for $4.5k new, and usually $2.5k+ used by shear dumb luck (and lots of patience).

Carbon fiber and Titanium is insane as a material unless you get a deal. Big walling is insane too, so it makes perfect sense. My tubing for my next project is coming from Rock West Composites. $460 for a ledge worth of 1 1/8" carbon fiber tubing. Sadly the 72" standard lengths work out very poorly to break the sides into thirds, so I am just going to break them in half instead. Overall the CF tubing saves about 2 lbs compared to aluminum (22' of 0.23 lb/ft 6160 vs 0.13lb/ft carbon fiber).

My current ledge has unequal pole lengths. Side poles are 39.5" and 42.5", end poles are 22.5" and 25.5". With a 6" joiner overlapping by 3" this makes the broken down length equal which makes it pack up pretty darn tidy (well as tidy as you get for a broken down monster ledge). I really like how this came out.

I should not have put tensioners at both ends of my ledge. Because my ledge has end poles that break down I can use a simple continuous piece of bungy cord to hold it all together, and don't need the end poles to be free floating like BD's (and I assume Metolius?). The extra set of tensioners just mean more hassle, more sewing, more weight, and precludes using thick webbing as a rash guard on that end.

Angle the fin more than you think you should. I only angles mine by 3" on each end, and should have done more like 6-8". Your feet need only about half the space your torso does. I am also considering doing a 2:1 for the fin tension straps. Fat guys like me make it hard to get the fin as snug as would be nice.

Tubing can be gotten many places. I like, and for 4130 and 6160. If you chat with them they can cut tubing to your dimensions for a fair price. I only paid $5 cut charge at Aircraft Spruce to get 4 6160 joiners and 8 4130 tubes cut to size last time. Figure on $100 or so in tubing as a ballpark for a double ledge. 1"x0.035 4130 worked just fine on my double, but is heavy. A5 ledges use 1 1/18"x0.058" 6160-T6 with 0.083" thickness double butting and joiners. Consider using 1 1/8"x0.058" Al tube with 1"x0.047" 4130 joiners to reduce binding (or find a source for anodized tubing).

If you hate binding as much as I do consider just taping the inside curves. For the long straight runs just fold the raw edge under. Pre-ironing the binding tape into a taco is a must if hand binding without an attachment (and is not bad for small projects). Practice on scraps...

Expect the bed to stetch, my 1000d cordura bed one gained about an inch on the width after getting stretched out the first couple times. Aim to barely be able to assembly the ledge, and make the side poles just a little long. Once the stretch is in there decide if you want to shorten the poles a bit or not.

Rough quantities (for cabana sized):
22' tubing ($70)
2' joiner tubing ($20)
2' double butting tubing if using 6160 ($20)
4 corners ($60+)
3.5 yards bed material and bin material ($30-60)
80' 1" thin flat webbing ($30)
6 metal cinch buckles ($12)
6-10 1" ladder lock plastic buckles ($5)
15-20' thick flat 2" webbing for the rash guards ($12)
1/4-1/2 yard ballistics for the end rash guards ($10)
6' 1.5" thin flat for backside fin reinforcement (unless sewing taco style like A5/BD) ($3)
Binding tape

Plan on $300-400 in just raw materials/shipping and a 2-3 weekends to knock out just the ledge. Size your ledge to match an existing fly, or develop mad sewing skills. Don't forget the ledge haulbag.

In short, if you want a weekend hobby this is an awesome project. Otherwise you'll quickly figure out that Fish/BD/Metolius are not ripping you off as much as you think they are. Especially the Fish Econoledge is an absolute steal.
Moof · · Portland, OR · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 25

Got my machined corners in, and they turned out great. Hopefully I can finish my frame this weekend. I have enough corners for 7 ledges, and I'm thinking to selling off 4 sets (PM me if interested, $125 shipped for a set of 4).

John McNamee · · Littleton, CO · Joined Jul 2002 · Points: 1,690


Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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