Thursday, January 29, 2009

Making Cross Braces

I'm back up north for a quick getaway and spent some time putting some of the scrap cedar in the garage to use for the bark canoe. When the ribs are soaked and bent into shape, they exert a tremendous amount of outward force. Gidmark's book talks about how once, Jocko Carl forgot to make some crossbraces before ribbing the boat, and the force of caused the lashings on the permanent thwarts to snap.

Jocko ended up temporarily nailing cross pieces or braces across the gunwales to counteract this pressure. But I wasn't confortable with the idea of pounding nails into the delicate cedar only to remove them later when another option existed. Some videos I've seen document using thick wooden braces with notches cut into them to fit over the gunwales. So, 6 braces were made with some some knotty scraps not useful for much else and notches were cut roughly cut out.

Using knotty scraps for cross braces

Testing some of the braces for a snug fit

Even though I won't be needing these until the spring, I've put them in "safe" place away from the other scraps so I don't accidently lose them when the rib bending time comes.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Splitting Cedar Sheathing

When I made the decision to use rough sawn white cedar lumber for the birchbark canoe's ribs and sheathing, I miscalculated the amount of wood I needed. Resigned to the fact that I'd have to waste another day to drive to the mill where the clear white cedar was purchased, I stumbled on a great find at RONA (Canadian equivalent to Home Depot). Normally these home reno stores are loaded with construction grade lumber, but this time I managed to find some near perfect, clear, straight-grained Western Red Cedar 2x4's AND at 50 off no less!

Straigt grained clear WRC

Sure WRC is not traditional birchbark canoe material but I was forced to use this wood when making the gunwales given that I couldn't get a hold of white cedar at the required length. The darker coloured sheathing might be a nice accent against the pale white cedar ribs, especially after seeing a red cedar planked canoe at the WCHA assembly last summer. Of course 2x4 are actually closer to 1½" × 3½" in dimension, and this worked out well since the sheathing width in my boat is meant to be between 3-3½ inches wide anyway and about 1/8-1/16" thick. Given that splitting is usually done on green cedar wood, the splitting is often more controlled and sheathing even thinner. César Newashish demonstrates the process in César's Bark Canoe, splitting a huge board of cedar over and over again until he ends up with 5 ft long pieces that are paper thin, split right down to a single grain line.

Given that this dimensional lumber has been kiln dried and my wife has expressely forbidden the soaking of any more wood in our bathtub after the making of my canoe model, I figured the best I could do was split each board into 8ths and then shave down the rest with crooked knife or block plane. Here are some pics of the sequence:

Initial split

Two halves

Starting another split with the knife

Following the grain

Quartered pieces; Splitting down to eighths

Final sheathing splits (about 1/8")

Not every 2x4 split this evenly and there are some shorter pieces of scrap that I'll be using for temporary sheathing when the rib bending phase comes. Many of the pieces have a wonderful tone and when laid out on the floor I can begin to visualize what the final boat will look like.

Some of the sheathing blanks laid out

Still a lot more work to do, but I'm optimistic that I'll be paddling this sucker by the late spring.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cree Hunters of the Mistassini

I just finished re-watching the fantastic 1974 film, Cree Hunters of the Mistassini which is available on the National Film Board of Canada's new site. This outstanding bushcraft film shows 3 Cree families in their winter hunting camp living off the land for 6 months. Amongst the amazing footage of trapping beaver, building a lodge for 17 people, construction of Mistassini style snowshoes, are some fantastic scenes of the men paddling their canoes.

A few screen shots show the main focus of the film, Sam Blacksmith, paddling with a Cree style paddle. It's been painted a deep green colour (which contrasts very well in the winter snow). The shots of the men skillfully navigating white water in their canoes is especially exciting, as the narrator mentions that none of them know how to swim since the water temperature is so cold year round. Despite not having any lifejackets and such, these skillful paddlers handle the river rapids with utter confidence.

Sam Blacksmith paddling his winter hunting grounds

Sam paddling a creek in the midst of an early snow

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cree Paddles

One of the more unique paddle designs described in Adney & Chappelle's Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America is that of the Cree. These paddles tend to have long, blades with a slight outward flare and smaller, bobble grip. Adney mention's that the Cree were the only tribe which used distinct paddles for males & females, often decorating them with simple lines, crosses, or dots. A quick search of the Canadian Museum of Civilization revealed a few of these paddles in their collection.

Adney's Plans; 3 Cree Paddles from the Canadian Museum of Civilization

While checking out the forums on, I came across a post debating types of sealants on historic paddles (now deleted). One poster put up the following pics of a canoe displayed in a store and it looks to have a Cree paddle with blue & red paint decorated with white dots. Different decoration pattern than what Adney documented but there's no mistaking the unique paddle shape

Another decorated Cree paddle

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Exotic Paddle Series (1)

While winter has set in and my own paddlemaking hobby slows down, I thought I'd begin a series of posts on exotic paddles from around the world. Here's a pic from the Australian Art Network. A pair of ceremonial paddles from Borneo from an unknown artisan

Ceremonial Paddles - Dayak, Borneo

I find the blade shapes with their soft curves and blunt arrowhead style tip very appealing and might try this design in the future.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Adirondack Guide Paddles

Summer Antiques in Lake Placid New York has some interesting paddles posted on their site including the following collection of Adirondack Guide Paddles with very interesting spherical grips

Assortment of Adirondack paddles

Adirondack Guide Grips

Also in the store is a Penobscot style paddle with a scalloped, step styled grip. It looks to have been painted and is now faded to a dreary grey colour. Personally, I wouldn't paint the whole paddle in such a manner, but perhaps the original owner used an oil based paint as a sealant instead of having access to spar varnish.

Penobscot Paddle

To top off the collection, check out this Abenaki Birchbark canoe (circa 1895). Looks to be in great shape with a nice patina on the faded bark.

c. 1895 Abenaki Canoe

Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Brunswick Museum Maliseet Paddles

The New Brunswick Museum website has a fantastic virtual exhibition collection that includes some native paddles. The predominant group in the area were the Maliseet who refer to themselves formally as the Wolastoqiyik. In addition to some model paddles from T.E. Adney himself, the collection includes a few full sized paddles with the beautifully carved grips and some decorative carvings. Here are some of the examples below

c. 1880
Maple with carved decoration
169.0 x 13.6 cm
New Brunswick Museum, (1959.86B)
c. 1880
Cherry with carved decoration
155.5 x 12.0 cm
New Brunswick Museum, (1959.87A)
c. 1880
Cherry with carved decoration
147.5 x 11.5 cm
New Brunswick Museum, (1959.87B)

c. 1875
181.0 x 14.8 cm
Pilick (Kingsclear First Nation)
Gift of Chief William Polchies, 1932
New Brunswick Museum, (16063)
c. 1880
Maple with carved decoration
168.0 x 13.0 cm
New Brunswick Museum, (1959.86A)
c. 1875
111.5 x 10.8 cm
Pilick (Kingsclear First Nation)
Gift of Chief William Polchies, 1932
New Brunswick Museum, (16064)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Maori Decorated Canoe Decks

Taking a break from the bark canoe, I decided to do some decorative work on my 14ft Cedar Canvas Gerrish replica built on the nine day course at Bearwood Canoes this past summer. I had previously posted on the decorated yoke burned with a Maori style abstract pattern and thought that decorating the cherry decks in a similar pattern would be a nice touch.

Installed decorated portage yoke

I took advantage of a brief day of mild temperatures (-2 Celsius) to burn the pattern onto the installed cherry decks. At this temperature, the pyrography tip could still turn out a hot enough temperature for the high heat pattern burn. Working on the decks was a bit akward given the positioning and the cold exposure on my bare hands, so the work was a little shaky. Still, given that the design is a contrasting abstract piece that isn't meant to be too crisp or formal, it turned out well.

Burning the decks

Close up of the deck

Interior View

The seats have since been removed and I'm planning to do some more decorative burning (in the cozy indoors) before the interior varnishing and exterior painting begin in the spring.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Prepping the Ribs

I've been having tremendous difficulty sourcing out some straight-grained, knot free cedar to make the ribs and sheathing for the bark canoe. With my ever limited time, trying to harvest, transport and hand split rib blanks from a log now seems like an unsurmountable task. Back when I took Pam Wedd's Cedar Canvas course, she mentioned how she used flat sawn white cedar that was machine planed with great results.

So despite the guilt of sacrificing some authenticity for practicaliy, I ended up obtaining some knot-free, flat sawn white cedar stock from a local mill and had the boards ripped to 2 1/4 inch wide strips. My intention was too still maintain a sense of authenticity by at least hand splitting them and then shaving them down to 3/8" thickness with hand tools.

Given the chilly temps up in Hunstville the last few days, splitting by hand meant some rather frozen fingertips. Here is a photo sequence...

Starting the split

Leveraging between the knees

2 ribs blanks

Working all those ribs down with my mini crooked knife while wearing thick gloves wasn't an option, so instead, I ended up setting up a little work station and used a small block plane to shave down to the appropriate thickness. To pass the time I had some tunes going on a wireless set of headphones, while our baby monitor was also nearby in case the mrs. needed me to stop and come help with the little one.

Shaving down with a block plane

Given that I've read that sawing cedar weakens the wood, I ended up making 10 extra ribs in case of a breakage disaster during the bending phase later in the spring.

Ribs organized on the canoe

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