Saturday, May 18, 2019

Chestnut re-canvassing

Been absent from posting for the little while. The next major project involves the Chesnut Playmate acquired back in 2015. I was able to extend the functional use for a few years by filling cracks in the canvas skin but by the time of the late season fall trip last year the boat was leaking considerably. So the time has come for a re-canvassing.

Without a workshop, I've had to wait for the weather to cooperate in order to do any repair work in the back yard. It's been a very cold and wet May, but managed to slowly get things in order.

First up, the shoe keel, brass stem bands and outwales needed to be removed. The former owner painted right over the stem bands so each of the tiny screw heads were covered in paint. It took half a day to carefully scrape away the paint and remove each screw. The outwales were attached with steel screws which have rusted over the last 60 years of the boats lifespan. They were difficult to remove but finally the outwales were off after much persistence. Thankfully, the keel came off very easily. The original canvas was cut away and the wood work of the boat was revealed. The red cedar planking hasn't seen daylight since this boat was made estimated to be between 1958 to 1961.

Overall things are in pretty good shape with just some minor planking needing repair. The planking was not faired or sanded well in the original factory. Large rasp marks were seen on the outside of the planking which were covered by the original #10 cotton duck cover. A few days were spent filling gouges, removing tacks along the sheer line and heavily sanding the hull.

After frustratingly waiting for a day where no rain was forecast, the big day of canvassing the hull had arrived. Working alone, it took about 6 hours to get the job done, but most of that was spent setting up the contraptions needed.

As a way of cutting down the weight, a decision was made to use a lighter weight #12 canvas which was promptly shipped by the fine folks at Buckhorn Canoe. I adapted the canvassing rig mentioned in Mike Elliott's book, This Old Canoe, which proved invaluable during the whole process. In addition, after attending Pam Wedd's canvassing seminar at the Wooden Canoe Assembly in Peterborough last summer, I learned the steps needed to canvas a boat using the upside-down method.

Additional braces were attached to the saw-horses to elevate the canoe. The 18' foot long piece of canvas was folded in half lengthwise and clamped on the ends. I ended up re-purposing bits of my son's oak crib for the wooden parts. Here's the setup before full tension was applied in order to remove the sags

At one end, the wooden clamp was secured to a fence post to form an anchor. Here I re-used my y-strap normally used for securing the canoe to the car's roof rack.

The other end was mounted to another anchor point and heavy duty 2" ratchet strap used to provide the lengthwise tension...

Once this was all done, canvas stretching pliers were used to provide downward tension and two stainless staples were used to secure the canvas at each rib location. An electric staple gun really came in handy here to do job when working solo. Closing off the ends went without a hitch and I'm pretty happy with the results.

Once done, everything was packed up and the canoe lowered. Also setup a tarp to cover the boat for the time being. Next up is treating the canvas with preservative to prevent rot and then filling. If everything goes on schedule, it should be back on the water in just over a month or so...

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Ontario Backcountry Canoe Symposium

Got the chance to attend the annual Ontario Backcountry Canoe Symposium held in Kitchener-Waterloo this past weekend. It was my first time coming to this popular event which draws the  community together at the start of each paddling season. The Wooden Canoe Heritage Association had a table with info and copies of Wooden Canoe journal to give away. I brought along the paddle display made for the WCHA assembly last year. During the intermissions between speakers we had quite a few visitors and spread the word about the organization.

Photo with WCHA Canada Chapter Head, Alex Guthro
Photo Credit: Emily Guthro

Discussing history with a fellow attendee
Photo Credit: Emily Guthro

Amongst the attendees were Mike from Badger Paddles who are celebrating their 10th anniversary in the paddle making business. Also got to meet with Milan from Hunter & Harris, another paddle making company based in Bradford, Ontario. We exchanged some ideas and I got to learn more about some of the future plans and design ideas from these quality handcrafted makers.

Photo of Hunter & Harris booth
Photo Credit: Emily Guthro

Hunter & Harris Paddle Display
Photo Credit: Ontario Backcountry Canoe Facebook Page

Canoes were obviously well represented by the folks at Swift as well as John from BackCountry Custom Canoes, maker of skin-on-frame canoe designs that have become popular of late. Turns out a scouting group, the 2nd Kingsville Scouts are raffling off an all cedar Langford Canoe in a draw to be held on August 11, 2019. The canoe was setup on the speaker stage for everyone to admire. Tickets are a very reasonable $20. More info on their Facebook page.

Photo of Langford Draw Canoe
Photo Credit: Emily Guthro

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Historic Paddle Photo: Dept Crown Lands Photo

Here's a camp photo from the Report of the survey and exploration of northern Ontario, 1900 by the  Ontario Dept. of Crown Lands. Th crew rests on boulders in camp. Two narrow bladed paddles are visible as is the bow of their all wood canoe at far right.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Tom P's Adirondack & Folk Art Paddles

Blog reader Tom Penniston is parting with two of the better paddles in his personal collection.

The first is a 56 inch long Adirondack steering paddle identified as being made by the 19th century guideboat builder, A.H. Billings. The grip and motif are identical to the Billing's paddle now in the collection of the Adirondack Museum (Item 1971.163.0002) originally from Clark’s Camp on Blue Mountain Lake. Tom's paddle is made from bird's eye maple which has aged to a lovely patina.  The rounded grip is shaped above an arrowhead-style carving. At the base of the grip, the initials "E K" are etched into the wood.

Tom also has a full-sized 65 inch Seth Steward (1844 - 1927)  folk art paddle. Steward was a Maine artist who frequently painted on smaller souvenir canoe paddles, many of which featured the long, flat grips of the Northeast Region (see example in this earlier post from 2010). A  biographical writeup with more samples of Steward's work can be read on the Cherry Gallery Journal. A full-sized Steward paddle is a relatively rare find in the paddle art world.

Anyone looking for more info on this rare piece of folk art and/or the Billings Adirondack paddle can contact Tom directly via email.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Penobscot style paddles and snowshoe frame canoe seat.

A recent listing on featured two vintage paddles and a snowshoe style folding canoe seat.

The shorter paddles has a classic Penobscot style stepped grip The longer paddle has some visible signs of warping in the shaft but otherwise seems sounds.

Closeup of the short painted paddle shows the blade has split, a very common feature with old maple paddles, but has undergone some sort of repair with large metal fastenings (bent nails?) holding the pieces together.

Unfortunately no dimensional info is given.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Historic Paddle Photo: Sportman's Exhibition, New York, 1897

An earlier post mentioned the gallery page of artworks by Edwin Tappan Adney currently being  featured on through an association with the Mariner's Museum. One of the images is  Adneys sketch of a decorated Penobscot paddle etched with a family of moose on the blade and floral designs at the throat and grip face. His scribbled notes mention that the paddle was found at the Sportman's Exhibition, Maine Exhibit, New York in 1897 and was possibly made by a St. John Indian living at Old Town, ME.

It turns out an image of this very Maine Exhibit  appears on the Maine Memory Network site. Artifact 17572 features a zoomable image of the outdoor display. Tucked to the right of the image amidst all the mounted deer & moose heads, trophy fish and a stuffed owl is a full size canoe paddle.

Title: New York Sportsman's Show booth, 1897
Creation Date: 1897
Subject Date: 1897
Town: New York
State: NY
Media: Photographic print
Object Type: Image

The photo resolution is insufficient to visualize any markings so Adney's sketch provides much needed details. The whereabouts of this paddle today is not known, but Adney did in fact make a 1/5 scale model sometime between 1935-1945 which now resides in the storage collection at the Mariners Museum ( Accession Number 2000.0038.000022A )

Saturday, February 23, 2019

19th C Passamaquoddy Paddle with unique carving features

Here's another remarkable example of an Eastern Woodlands paddle with some interesting features. A current inventory item posted on Adam Ethnographic Art, it is listed as a  19th century Passamaquoddy. It measures 195 cm (76 inches), consistent with other long paddles of the Woodland Tradition, typically used standing in ocean going canoes. Below is an image and description from the source site posted with permission from the owner. 

Passamaquoddy Paddle
An interesting paddle from the Passamaquoddy people of Maine and dating to the early 19th century. This paddle has been carved later in its life by a European, I am sure while still in the U.S. It has a plate attached to the grip with the name 'JOHN H TAYLOR ESQ' embossed upon it. This also would have been added later, either the name of the new owner or more likely the name of an earlier owner, the information having being passed down with the paddle. 195 cm. 

The carving decoration is quite unique, leafy designs with a few double curve motifs is a pseudo-native style believed to be added later. Etched within the design are two apparent faces drawn with distinct features, each inverted from the other.

Blade  closeup

One of the "faces" carved into the blade

The grip features a heavily indented carving which flows down the sides, not a very common feature with many paddle handles. Also shown below is a close up of the metallic name plate embossed with capital letters belonging to a former owner.

Grip closeup showing metallic name plate attached.

Price on request by contacting Adam Prout.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Birchbark canoe raffle UPDATE

Updating  a post back from in August of 2018...

Paddling friend and Artist, Mike Ormsby  has arranged for a fantastic fundraising raffle of remarkable birchbark canoe. The canoe is in great shape considering it is nearly 50 years old. It is constructed with a single piece of bark (extremely rare) and needs some superficial repair work to new lashings, a thwart and some re-pitching.

Jocko Carle & Basil Smith Raffle Canoe
Addition photos: Facebook Album

Only 100 tickets were being sold at the time, with the draw being held once all the tickets were sold. In order to get this project moving, Mike has now lowered the criteria to just 50 total tickets for the draw. With 42 already sold, only 8 more are needed to proceed. 1 in 50 chance to win a canoe like this are fantastic odds!

Tickets are $100 (Canadian Dollars) each. Payment can be made by e-transfer to or through PayPal.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Canoe Museum Volunteer: Rick Schuett Paddle

For an innovative canoe paddle design, check out the Dec 2018 blog post entitled, "A fitting paddle for Rachel" from the Canadian Canoe Museum. The piece outlines the story of Rachel Q, an accomplished young woman who uses a prosthetic on her left arm.

Paddle maker and museum volunteer, Rick Schuett, engineered a special paddle for Rachel which allows her to make make all the necessary correction strokes with her right while the prosthetic hooks securely on the grip.

I happened to meet Rick during the 2018 WCHA assembly in Peterborough where he demonstrated the design to onlookers. The rotating mechanism in the shaft was made from a modified gas supply line coupling.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Historic Paddle Photo: Brantford Canoe Club (1892)

Found another historic image (1892) of members of the Brantford Canoe Club. Seated on the floor holding a paddle with B / C / C decorated on the blade is a future International celebrity, Mohawk Poet and Performer, E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake).

Brantford Canoe Club Members, 1892
E. Pauline Johnson fonds
William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections
McMaster University Libraries, Hamilton

A gentleman on the far right leans against a paddle with some interesting features. The throat of the blade has carved notches where it meets the shaft. Likewise, the base of the pear-shaped grip also has decorative notches. The pattern is not unlike a late 19th century one used by the Lakefield Canoe Company featured in an earlier post here.

Walter Walker's 19th Century Lakefield Canoe Co pattern

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.

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