Thursday, August 9, 2012

Temagami Style Carrying Bar

One item on my endless to do list of projects was to carve a new centre yoke for the 15footer cedar canvas canoe since the the current, no-frills centre thwart is quite uncomfortable for portaging. Some old-school authors and builders believe that a single centre thwart bolted onto the gunnels is a potential weak point in the construction arguing that the role of the thwart is to simply spread out the hull to the desired width and not meant to bear the weight of the canoe when portaging. 

Close inspection of the attachment points of the thwart in my canoe show some stress related splits that have occurred. You can just make out a split in the inwale around the 2 attachment points. 

Installing a new yoke will also likely also mean having to do a time consuming inwale restoration or splice might be in order but I want to start using this no-name, amateur built canoe for some upriver tripping ASAP. 

Writings about native methods of portaging birchbark canoes mention a "carrying bar" - basically a piece of wood that fits over the mortised centre yoke and stretches over the gunnels thereby providing support when the canoe is flipped over. In the Temagami region of central Ontario where camps still use heavy cedar canvas canoes, the carrying bar is still used to prevent potential weakening of the gunnel structure.

Here's a photo of one such carrying bar rigged up with cord and a tumpline from the wonderfully illustrated Canoeing Wilderness Waters by Heb Evans

Normally, the bar is made with a scrap piece of spruce or pine and notched to fit over the gunnels. It is securely lashed to the center thwart with cord is a series of Marline Hitches so that paddle blades can be slipped under and used as a temporary yoke. A tumpline is also secured around the whole apparatus

Found an online article in Boys Life (July 1951) that shows describes this classic method of portaging. Hopefully this embedded article will appear in your browsers below.

Instead of using pine or spruce, I had some very lightweight 8/4 Sassafras pieces left over from some paddles. A nice chunk with one straight edge was almost a perfect width for this project. The ends were cut to fit nice and snuggly over the thwart.

Scrap piece of Sassafras

Ends notched to fit over gunnels

Came up with this idea to combine the carrying bar with the Stewart River portage pads picked up last season. Basically some additional notches were cut to accomodate the pads and once they were secured with their bolts and wing-nuts, the whole apparatus was secure. The tumpline was lashed in using the methods described by Heb Evan in his book. This way I can still lashed the paddles in reverse style with the grips on the thwart and the blades resting on the seat while comfortably (relatively) supporting the canoe on the shoulders.

Aug 10 Update: Received a most informative email from Brian Back, Keewaydin Camp Historian, with some corrective details about traditional carrying bars used by the Temagami camp. Here's his info...
"The traditional carrying bar was not lashed with marline hitches, though it appears so in the photos. Nor are there any overhand knots on it. The lashing actually doubles back to form a double lash. The single lash wears out quickly where it meets the edge of the paddle. For some reason Heb’s photo is not of the double-back lashing. The carrying bar in that photo has been hand routed (also can’t be seen) in the traditional way to prevent the lashing from slipping from the left and right anchor points."

Apparently there is plenty of info about tumplines and other traditional wilderness canoeing methods in Back's book entitled, The Keewaydin Way  for anyone else who may be interested.


Jonathan said...

Hi Murat,

Is there a crooked knife you'd recommend to a beginner? I'm going to learn to make my own eventually, but first because of time it'd be easier to buy one. I'm looking at Moose River Handcrafts to buy one.

Mike said...

Great article....

Murat said...

Johnathan: Never purchased anything from Moose River but the knives seem like the real deal. I've made most of my own blades, but also bought one from OrienM of Old School Tools. It is an outstanding general purpose blade for most hardwoods. Wherever you purchase from, I highly recommend buying a blade only and making a handle to custom suit your hand. Here's how mine turned out. Comfort is everything for this tool otherwise it will literally be a pain to use. Other folks may not make a handle suitable for your own grip. Good luck.

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