Monday, December 29, 2008

Power Outage Carving

Yesterday, our area was part of Ontario hit with heavy windstorms that knocked out power to 200 000 people (some are still without power). Bushcraft expert Mungo has a new post mentioning basic supplies for a 72 hour emergency kit, a very timely reminder that people should be prepared for such events.

We had had lots of food, water, supplies, an emergency radio, LED flashlights, candles, even an solar panel for recharging batteries & electronics on hand. Plus, with some methylated spirits used for paddlemaking in storage, I made a few simple chimney stoves with used pop cans from the recycle bin to boil enough water for endless tea and a lamb & vegetable stew for dinner. We had plenty of firewood and wood shavings to burn and keep us warm too.

I was counting on our baby boy (who turned 3 months yesterday) for entertainment, but with the lights out, both he and my wife simply fell asleep right after the sun went down at 5pm. So for entertainment, I set about carving a model canoe with a chunk of basswood and my carving knives...

Block of basswood with rough image

Rough carved canoe

Doesn't look like much now, but once its been finished, I plan to decorate it with woodburnings to make it look like a bark canoe, complete with lashings and gummed seams...maybe even use it as a tub toy for the boy's bath time. Any future "emergency survival kit" of mine will have to include some basswood and a carving knife to pass the time whittling away.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Canoe Gift

Merry Christmas to everyone! This year I got a special gift...some ME time to work on the bark canoe up at the cottage while my wife's cousins help out with our 3 month old. Despite the freezing temps, I set to work in the garage making some canoe slings to fit on metal saw-horses with some scrap 4x4 cedar posts and old carpet.

Canoe on slings

With the canoe safely resting on the soft carpet slings, the next job was to install the permanent thwarts that I had carved months before. These needed to be mortised into the inwales and required some trial and error shaping. I had brought up my portable shaving horse from the city on this trip and this helped while carving with the mini crooked knife and spokeshave. It took a while, but eventually all the thwarts were in nicely.

Working on the shaving horse

Mortising in the centre thwart

Holes were drilled into the thwarts and with some of the remaining spruce roots I had on hand (soaked in a "cooler" of hot water), the permanent thwarts in place. Even though my lashing job isn't as neat as many other canoes I've seen, the whole canoe seems very sturdy. Here's what it looks like now...

Canoe with permanent thwarts

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Incised Decorated Paddles

Lately, I've been curious about Abnaki styled paddles with their intricate incised scroll and floral carved patterns (like the c.1878 Maliseet posted earlier and my own 1849 Passamaquoddy Replica). Information on these glorious designs has been really hard to come by, but I managed to find a few beautiful pics with clear images of this elegant style of paddle decoration courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History outstanding Native American collection.

Catalog No: 50.1/ 9825
Dimensions: L:182 W:20 H:3.5 [in CM]
Accession No: 1916-9

Catalog No: 50.1/ 9826
Dimensions: L:171 W:16.5 H:3 [in CM]
Accession No: 1916-9

Catalog No: 50 / 9792
Dimensions: L:99.2 W:10.5 H:1.8 [in CM]
Accession No: 1910-44

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Paper Canoe

Johan from Belgium emailed me another link on alternative bark canoes a while ago posted on Bob Bear's canoe site. Bob did an outstanding job documenting construction of a small-sized bark canoe replica using paper for the hull. I guess it's not that far fetched given that birchbark (often called Paper Birch) just consists of naturally glued laminated sheets held together by a waterproof resin. Given the absence of bark in Bob's area, he resourcefully made his own bark substitute with sheets of paper laminated in his workshop.

Laminating paper sheets; Hull Fold Up

He also deviated from standard birchbark building by using other materials that were available to him - including heavier ash for the ribs and basswood for the stem pieces, sheathing, and gunwales; rattan cane for the lashing. Delicate areas of the paper hull subjected to stress were strengthened with epoxy, including any seams. In the end, he ended up with a 10' 4", Old Style Algonkin Hunter's Canoe with a 28" width (same as my boat) and a depth of 11 1/4". For step by step details, check out his online article Paper Canoe: Building the Paper Tcîmânens

Paper canoe hull

Bob's Paper Algonkin Hunter's Canoe

Along with Plywood Canoes discussed earlier, it seams there are lots of ways to overcome a shortage of quality birchbark to build these wonderful canoes

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cherry Gallery - Painted Beavertail

The Cherry Gallery has another antique paddle for sale on their site. A whopping 70.5 inch long beavertail paddle circa 1910. One of the down sides of painted paddles like this is that it is difficult to tell the type the wood given that the grain pattern is masked. The lower grip and blade both have clearly defined spines that would be add a nice symmetry to the overall design. The text below the pics is from their site.

Tall Painted Paddle
This is a refined, hand-made Maine paddle with a wide beaver tail blade and a great old green painted surface.
Circa 1910
6.5” w, 70.5" h

Monday, December 8, 2008

Passamaquoddy with Unique Grip

Here's a Maliseet/Passamaquoddy paddle with an interesting carved grip area that I found in the American Museum of Natural History Native American collection. Looks like it had some form of paint on the blade area that has since faded to a dreary grey.

Catalog No: 50.1/ 7780
Dimensions: L:127.5 W:13 [in CM]
Accession No: 1914-4

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Heritage North Museum - Birchbark Canoe

In 2001 Heritage North Museum in Thompson, Manitoba commissioned a birch bark canoe as a public programming activity. The site no longer exists, but thanks to the WebArchived version parts of it, including the photo sequence has been preserved. It apparently was built according to the archival and oral research representative of Northern Manitoba. In Adney's Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America, this area is encompassed by boats of belonging to the "Western Cree" and this canoe certainly seems to confirm it.

Western Cree canoe

A few things I noticed in this build were the stitching panels on the sides of the canoe. The builder had placed the side panels on top of the main hull sheet, with the seam effectively pointing down into the water. Most water-worthy boats I've seen have the main hull sheet overlap on top of the side panel, with the seam pointing up and away from the water surface. Don't know if this was simply a decision made by the builder or if authentic canoes from this region were built this way.

Bark foldup

Mike Camp sewing sides panels onto the outside of main hull sheet

In addition, this canoe has the continuous lashing and round gunwales reminiscient of East Coast Mi'kmaq canoes, in the style documented by Todd Labrador's build. This would certainly take a lot more root than I had gathered for my boat.

Continuous gunwhale lashing

It's an interesting style of canoe and is now on display in the museum's gallery, complete with a stuffed black bear for "ambience".

Canoe on Display at Heritage North Museum.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bark Canoe with Painted Planking

Central New Brunswick Woodmen's Museum has an interesting decorated bark canoe. The catalogue info on Artefacts Canada's site doesn't list any dimensions but the the bark is painted brown with some decorative motifs as well as green planking & ribs on the inside. The list it as a "woodland canoe" that is dated somewhere before 1979. Here are some pics

Painted hull, ribs & sheathing

The gunwales are nailed rather than lashed, a common procedure in modern bark canoe building (See Ferdy Goode's Ash Gunwaled Canoe). But what really caught my eye is that there are no root lashings attaching the side panel bark. These pieces are nailed on as well as being positioned with the side panel overlapping the main hull sheet on top. Normally, I've seen this reversed so that water doesn't get forced into the seam. Don't know if the gum has since fallen off, but the seam doesn't have any waterproofing pitch.

Side panel seam & panel decoration

The ends seem to have a strip of canvas or other material to cover the cutwater edge as well as remnant marks of a crossed-lashing pattern. The small bit of bark folded over the edge is what is the Wulegessis, an Abenaki term for the protective bark cover that also served a decorative function. These tend to be found on East Coast origin canoes apparently.

Canvas covered ends

Just the interior and exterior painting alone make this a pretty unique canoe. If I'm ever out to the East Coast, I'd like to swing by this museum for a closer peek.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

c1840 Figured Maple Paddle

A Fine Northeastern Woodlands Native American Maliseet or Micmac Maple Wood Single Blade Canoe Paddle. Old smooth and dry patina – the letter ‘Y’ carved to one end. Circa 1840. Size: 203cm long – 80 ins long. Beautifully crafted from one piece of figured maple wood this paddle was made to be used with a birch bark canoe. It is generally considered that Micmac and Passamaquoddy birch bark canoes were the finest of all bark canoes and were built for use on both rivers and the ocean.

The maple looks to have darkened considerably with age, almost to a cherry colour, but the paddle seems sound. I really like the elongated grip and spined blade. If you look carefully at the bottom of the the grip area, you'll see a carved drip rings. This is definitely a design I'll consider replicating in the future.

Dec 7, 2015 Update: This paddle is no longer on the site but re-appeared in 2015 as part of Woolley and Wallis Auctions in the UK. See updated link and additional photos HERE.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Japanese Canoe Paddles

It seems that Native canoe paddles aren't just part of the North American psyche. Hidenao Matsubara of Indian Canoe Craft in Hokkaido, Japan has a page on some of his carved paddles. The Google Translated page reveals some info in typical computer translated english, but the paddle pics are gorgeous. Here are some samples below:

The grips on the last three paddles are quite unique and the eloquent chip-carving on the last paddle is something I'd like to try with some of my future attempts. Matsubara also has a fantastic page on Aleut Paddles which are far more beautiful than my attempt at this design earlier this year.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pin-Up Girl Paddle

Came across this painted paddle with a 1940's era pin-up girl (rather scantily clad for times I suppose) posted at the Cherry Gallery's website

Pin-up Girl Paddle

The gallery also has a page documenting a birchbark canoe model. It's not to scale but has an interesting lashing technique - the continuous lashing around a round gunwale giving it the illusion of a stronger bind. This is the style of lashing often seen on Mi'kmaq canoes. This method requires many holes piercing the bark in close proximity and apparently weakens the bark. Ferdy Goode mentioned to me that it is kind of the equivalent of perforated notepad paper that's easy to tear off.

Canoe model with continuous lashing

Close up

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More Alternative Bark Canoes

Johan, a reader of my blog from Belgium, took the liberty of emailing me more photos of Hans-George Wagner's fantastic plywood bark canoes to post on the site. Here they are below:

Johan also mentioned a kids school project where the youngsters built a canoe using hardboard panels and nailed gunwales. The gore lashings are different is that the kids used a cross pattern rather than a parallel stitch commonly seen in other boats. Curious that the stitches don't seem to the sealed with any pitch while the panels look to be oiled/varnished. In any case, a fantastic school project!

Many thanks to Johan for these shots and if any other readers have canoe related info that would like to share, I'd be willing to put up some posts on the topic. Feel free to email me.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Historic Passamaquoddy Paddle - Part 2

My last paddle project was temporarily put on hold after the birth of my son. But in an effort to resume a little bit of normalcy in our daily baby routine, I finished off the grip section during a brief respite from diaper changes and burping duty.

Incomplete grip area; Completed burning

I was actually working on the decoration of this paddle the night my wife's water broke and will always associate it with the panic and excitement of my son's early delivery. As such, I decided to dedicate this one to him and burned his full name, date and time of birth in the empty triangular space on the grip. I'm hoping it'll be a family heirloom and he'll appreciate it when he's old enough.

The Dedication Inscription

To seal it, the paddle was oiled rather than varnished to give it a more natural, matte finish. The fact that oiling is so much easier than varnishing is a plus. A quick 15 minute job for a single layer rather than the much more time consuming affair with varnish, solvents, safety gloves and a wailing baby in the background. Over the last few days, I've been adding additional layers of 1850s Circa 1850s Tung & Teak oil to give the paddle the desired sheen I was looking for. Here is the final result posing with Toronto's first snowfall in the background.

1849 Historic Passamaquoddy Replica

I really like these abstract scroll designs on certain paddle blades and plan to do more of them, hopefully eventually getting enough detail to replicate the c.1878 Maliseet Paddle I posted on earlier.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Alternative Bark Canoes

One of the most interesting canoe projects I've seen is the construction of a replica birchbark canoe without the all-important birchbark. Two builders in Germany have overcome the shortage of appropriate bark in their area and have instead resorted to using 3mm (1/8" thick) birch plywood which apparently can be shaped like bark around a canoe building frame. Hans-Georg Wagner has a page that documents his construction process, including authenthic spruce root lashings, cedar gunwales, ribs, and pitch for sealant. The plywood on his replica 2-1/2 fathom Tetes de Boules (Attikamek) boat is eventually stained to look like a bark canoe. Fascinating stuff although the final weight of the canoe is a whopping 72 pounds, pretty hefty for a 15 footer. Here are some shots from his site:

Soaking the plywood sheets

Folding up the plywood panels

Lashed up plywood hull

Wagner's Canoe

Another site I found was Wolfram Kaukars' Pantarhei Canoe which similarly uses plywood for the hull. Kaukars' son has uploaded a YouTube video of photo stills that documents his dad's work. This 14 foot Abnaki Hunter's replica is around 64 pounds.

Gunwales clamped and pegged

Kaukar's Plywood Canoe Replica

The plywood adds quite a lot of weight to the craft, in addition to needing a sealant varnish coat for protection, but it's great to see traditional bark canoe techniques being adapted to modern materials.

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