In 1970 I went to visit Mert Long,
an old shipwright from Maine who moved to Cape Cod. I went to see
him about learning to build a small boat. At his shop I noticed 5
or 6 flagpoles in various stages of development, and after discussing construction
of small boats I inquired about the poles. From here a friendship
started, and in time he passed along to me his knowledge of sparmaking in
the traditional manner used in the schooner boatyards of Maine.
Design and Shape
Mert's flagpoles had a beautiful shape, he had the formula and the eye for tapering and following the large sticks of wood that he used. We still make our flagpoles out of a square timber of solid Douglas Fir, which is a very strong, vertical grain, rot-resistant conifer. We shape them down with saws and planes and drawknives, until they are round and tapered. We made a large lathe to improve our efficiency on the finishing end, but our poles are made mostly by hand, following the traditional shaping methods and specifications.
The Truck (Top Pulley)
Mert made his truck out of White Oak butt stock, and we still do. This stock resists cracking in the sun and the elements.
It is a primitive, highly efficient pulley system - the halyard goes up one hole in the truck and down another. The "roller" of the pulley is the smooth truck itself, thus there are no moving parts
His signature flagpoles had one massive side post that tapered up to the pole. We have followed that tradition, but instead of the locust that Mert prized (for "lasting one day longer than a stone"), we now use a long lasting pressure-treated Long Leaf Yellow Pine for the side post.
Our smaller residential flagpoles (15' to 25'R) are easily lowered by one person for seasonal storage or maintenance.
Mert finished his poles with 3 coats of marine white paint. We still use marine paint, but we have added an undercoating of marine West System epoxy which makes our poles watertight, just like a boat. Our last coat of acrylic paint is the most ultra violet protection available. It's a beautiful high-gloss, yet warm finish, designed to withstand our harsh New England weather. We also make varnished or custom color poles.
We suggest repainting our wood poles every 5 to 8 years,
depending on exposure. Otherwise, they are maintenance free.
Old Knowledge, New Technology
New materials and tools have come along since Mert's day, and we have taken advantage of some of these technologies; but his knowldege is still being used and passed on to others.
It is very satisfying to produce beautiful solid wood flagpoles, and to know that with proper maintenance they will stand the test of time and weather.