How to Make a Wigwam

By Helen Jain
Native Americans
Tippi image by martintu from

Wigwams were commonly used by Native Americans as more permanent homes. Unlike tents or more temporary structures, these buildings were sturdy and could last through the seasons. They were an ideal structure for Native American tribes that stayed in one area for any length of time and could be easily built in a relatively short amount of time.

Clear a space for the wigwam. The space should be large enough to fit the structure and circular in shape. It should be able to fit a circle that is approximately 12 to 14 feet in diameter, though clearing extra space can be done as well.

Draw a circle on the ground. This will be the outline of the wigwam and can be drawn with a stick, shovel or even a foot.

Dig 16 holes spaced evenly around the circle. These should be about 6 inches to 1 foot deep and approximately 2 inches in diameter.

Place eight saplings or poles in the holes. They should be placed with two beside each other, two empty holes and two more beside. In the end, there should be two in each corner facing two more in the opposite side. The saplings should be approximately 14 feet high.

Label the saplings to avoid confusion. Samplings 1 and 3 should be opposite 2 and 4; 5 and 7 should be opposite 6 and 8.

Bend the saplings toward each other two at a time, overlapping the saplings by approximately 3 feet. Start with 1 and 2. Lash the two together and move on to 3 and 4. Make sure that when bending 5 to 6 and 7 to 8 that they bend over the lashed together saplings. Lashing the saplings together means to tie them in a way that they hold easily. Tie all of the meeting areas where the saplings cross with others, including where the 5 and 6 cross over the top of the 1, 2, 3 and 4 saplings.

Place the remaining eight saplings into the remaining holes. Place these numbered 9, 13, 15, 10, 12, 16, 14 and 11. These are going to be bent slightly differently and require different placements as a result.

Bend the poles to the corresponding opposites, lashing together 9 and 10, 11 and 12, 13 and 14, and 15 and 16. These should be bent over the previously lashed together eight saplings and will form arcs over the top. Make sure every area that crosses another pole is tied together with rope.

Bend four saplings around the structure to form hoops that are lashed to the rest of the wigwam. The first hoop should start about 2 feet or so above the ground and the remaining three should be spaced evenly apart. The first sapling should allow a space for a door by leaving a gap between two of the other saplings. The other three should form full circles.

Lash bark sheets in layers of three to the structure. This can be done by drilling a hole into the sheets and passing the rope through the bark and then tying the sheets to the saplings. Make sure there is a place for the door and there is a hole left open at the top of the structure.

Add four more sapling to the outside of the structure for added support. These should wrap over the top, but should not cross the hole or the door.