Friday, January 18, 2019

WCHA Membership Drive

Readers of this blog and lovers of historic canoe craft in general should consider joining the membership of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association.

The WCHA is a non-profit membership organization devoted to preserving, studying, building, restoring, and using wooden and bark canoes, and to disseminating information about canoeing heritage throughout the world. For the very affordable cost $40 US ($45 in Canada, $52 International) a year, members receive six issues of Wooden Canoe, the WCHA’s 28-page full-color journal. The journal is loaded with relevant build articles, historical info and priceless restoration information by the widely accomplished membership base.

In addition, members are allowed to post free classified ads in print and on the web site as well as reduced cost access to the summertime Annual Assembly. The organization also has Local Area Chapters to  help connect with WCHA members in your region for off season social events and paddling opportunities.

The WCHA's online store features some unique and exclusive content including a beautifully prepared 2019 Calendar as well as digitized catalog content of all the historic canoe companies amongst other items.

Joining (renewing) online can be done via their membership page  Alternatively, you may join/renew by phone at 603-323-8992 or by mailing a check to WCHA, PO Box 117, Tamworth, NH 03886.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Circa 1770 Cree Paddle Reproduction - Part 2

Continuing on from Part 1, work on the hard maple replica of the c1770 Cree paddle in the Private Nagy collection proceeded well but slowly.

Hudson Bay Cree Paddle
68 Inch long
circa. 1770 
Photo Credit: Clinton Nagy -

Blank being shaped

Hard maple is exceedingly heavy so the blade was thinned considerably from the normal 3/8 inch thickness used by many paddle makers. Once the blade portion was done, I thought of staining to match the tones of the original paddle. But a decision was made to use a propane torch and do an extensive charring on the shaft and grip to mimic the aged patina and a lighter burn to replicate the uneven colouring on the blade.

After the brief torching process, I wanted to take some photos. Being distracted by getting the camera, I neglected to realize that some of the thinned maple edge were left smoldering and eventually revealed some splits. In the end, I salvaged the paddle by having to reshape the blade tip a bit from the original shape. Lesson learned when exposing thinned maple to a propane blow-torch!

The original notes provided on the webpage listing mentioned that the zigzag decoration was made by etching the surface when the varnish applied was still wet. I wasn't aware of native use of varnish sealants but after doing some additional research have learned that a rudimentary varnish made by clarified pine resin and turpentine has been documented.

In order to complete this paddle in the spirit of the original, I decided to try and make a similar varnish formula using harvested pine resin in my local area. Large globs of resin were collected from a neighbourhood park where some mature pines had been pruned. On my backyard work bench, the harvested resins were heated in the same old pot ($1.99 thrift store purchase) used for making pitch for the birchbark canoe years ago. The modest  flame of an alcohol camping stove provided the heat.

The melted resin smells wonderful but can spontaneously ignite so precautions must be taken, including having a tight lid for the pot to snuff out any flames.

 Once filtered through some cheesecloth, the resin was cooled to solidify into a block.

In a separate setup, a small shallow can was filled with some non-refined turpentine obtained at an art supply store. Using a double boiler method, the can was placed into another pot with heated water serving to warm the turpentine while small chunks of clarified resin were added in approximate ratio of 1:2 resin to solvent.

I eyeballed it to make enough for a single coat on both sides of the blade. Once thoroughly melted and slightly bubbling, the mixture was removed the heat an allowed to cool to room temperature.  The resulting liquid had the expected golden colour with the flow consistency of watery honey. First tested on some scrap, the thin homemade varnish went on well. Waiting roughly 24 hours between coats, the process was repeated 2 more times.

To mimic the zigzag etchings, a final coat of 2:1 resin to solvent was put on. The pattern was mimicked as best I could given the time restraints of the drying mixture and the difficulty of working with a sticky, resinous surface. Etching just the pattern worked, but given the charred surface of the wood, there was very little contrast to make them visible, so in the end, I let the homemade varnish cure for a few days and then scraped out the pattern to reveal the blonde maple wood below.

Afterwords I realized that my zigzags were not as steep or spaced as close together as the original, but I'm still happy with the results. The shaft and grip been oiled but the glossy sheen didn't come out in the photo I took. Here is my reproduction

Reproduction of the Hudson Bay Cree Paddle
Collected by George Holt
1768 - 1771

I've written an article for Wooden Canoe with more historical details and images. It has been printed in the December 2018 issue - Voume 41 No.6). 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Antique Penobscot Paddle

An Ebay seller has a listing for an antique Penobscot paddle acquired from a Maine estate. Unfortunately there is no date associated with the item. Likely carved from maple, the 62 inch long paddle shows heavy signs of usage including abrasion on the shaft, splits at the blade tip and a chipped edge on one side of the blade.  Still, the carving details of the grip shows it was made by some skilled hands.

Antique Penobscot Paddle

Split blade tip and chipped edge (upper left)

Grip Closeup

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Oshkosh Museum - Pre 1848 Menominee Paddle

Wisconsin's Oshkosh Public Museum has a permanent exhibit entitled People of the Waters which features many artefacts of the area's First Peoples.

Included in the virtual online collection is a decorated paddle assumed to be Menominee in origin. The short paddle is roughly 47 inches in length with a 4-3/4" blade width. The upper portion of the blade is decorated with etched floral and diamond leaf designs. It is dated to be before 1848 and was discovered at Lake Winnegago, WI.  I was unfortunately denied usage of their images for this site without cost-prohibitive fees so interested readers will need to click and go to the page directly.

Page 339 of Alanson Skinner's Material culture of the Menomini depicts similar decorative etchings on another short Menominee paddle.

The other unique feature about the Oshkosh Museum paddle is the grip which features a triangular cut out with decorative scalloping down the sides. Interestingly, the grip appears to be asymmetrical as one side has a flat side and the other a half round roll grip.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Gear Project: Woodstove camp case

Here are some old pics of a quick project update. A while back I picked up a Kni-co Trekker stove that was used once by the original owner after realizing winter camping wasn't for him and his girlfriend. The stove was in great condition, even though I could tell he lit the stove without using a false bottom or sand as recommended by the manufacturer. He lowered the price even further when I mentioned this so got it for around 1/2 price off retail.

Canadian Outdoor Equipment sells a false bottom for the stove but it is quite pricey and heavy. Came up with my own solution using a metal pegboard from Home Depot. The length was a perfect fit and the sides were already pre-bent. Measurements showed that a single piece would be too large to try and fit through the door. So I cut a chunk out of the middle of the pegboard and fold down a single side on each piece. The two pieces cover the bottom of the stove and fit tightly with a friction fit, but can also be easily removed if needed. One piece is more narrow than the other so it can fit nested into the other when inverted. Here they are on top of the stove and then placed in the burned chamber...

Galvanized pegboard made into a false bottom.

In burn chamber

The new false bottom doesn't interfere with the storage of the collapsible stove pipe...

Of course galvanized metal can give off nasty fumes when initially exposed to fire. The stove has since been used and the toxic coating safely burned off. 

Also ended up making a carrying case of sorts for transportation and minimize any soot transfer. I used scraps of fire-retardant canvas to make a case that snaps open and closed. With some grommets and cordage, two carry handles exit from the sides to make lifting easier.
Scrap canvas pieces made opened up

The design allows for just one side of the carry case to open so that access to the stove interior is quick and easy.

opened flap to access stove door

Once everything is snapped up, the case does its job to cover the stove. In camp, I've used the empty case (still snapped into shape) as a way of collecting tinder and small branches.

Finished carry case

It was used well on my late fall trip back in October and fits perfectly on top of the wanigan for transport across portages. 

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