Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cherry Fusion Paddle

From that large cherry stock I wrote about in the last post, I was able to carve out two paddle blanks. Here they are posing on the balcony with Toronto's skyline and the Don Valley in the background. The left one is the Maliseet style I wrote about already (58 inch) and the other is a shorter one (54 inch) I've dubbed the "Fusion Paddle" on account of its different native styles.

I was intrigued by the write-up on the early Mi'kmaq shaped blade described in Adney's Book as well as documented in Doug Ingram's great page on Historic Canoe Paddles The shape was reminiscient of a spearhead and looked exotic though I wasnt't too keen on maintaining historical accuracy and using a simple pole grip. So I decided on a style that would complement the look of the blade...a Northwest Coast Nootka style roll grip.

The grip started off as an elongated triangle after which I used a round rasp to scrape two grooves about 1.25 inchs down from the top of the grip. This left a roughly rectanglar top that could be shaped into an octagon much like shaping the shaft. I could've been technical about it an drew measuring lines like the shaft but figured it was an easy job to eyeball. The rough profile of the grip (before sanding to a slightly oval roll) is pictured on the left.

I also scooped out the area below the roll with a spokeshave leaving a confortable cambered section for the palm to rest. It looks quite thick and bulky but seems to fit my hands well and that is what custom paddle making is all about. Now I was left with the decorating inspiration.

Generally I burn wildlife imagery I've seen on paddling trips, but the blade shape and overall design wasn't inspiring me to do that this time. While searching the net for various aboriginal style art inspiration, I came across this amazing site describing Captain Cook's impression of Maori paddles when he "discovered" New Zealand. One such paddle, though faded with age, has a distinguishable negative-image painted scroll pattern (kowhaiwhai) and is on display at The Hancock Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne

The pattern seemed suitable for pyrography as it simply required a dark burning at one temperature. Using the computer scans of the paddle blank and Photoshop, I was able to stretch the Maori image to fit the different blade shape and handle on my paddle. After transfering the pattern with carbon paper (too complicated to do freehand), all that was left was to do the burning which took a total of about about 6 hours. Here are some final shots:

The unvarnished grip

The unvarnished blade

The final product varnished and ready to paddle

Obviously this paddle is a bit of a showpiece, but I could't resist taking it out on the lake and pretending to be part of native solo war party. The tapering tip of the blade coupled with high shoulders makes it quite fluttery in the water and not very powerful, but the grip was more comfortable than I had expected. My Fusion paddle is now on display in a prime location at the cottage and will only be used if I'm in the mood to spear something.


Susan Tomlinson said...

Wow, the Maori design is really spectacular on the paddle.

Why do you suppose it is fluttery? Is it the overall shape, or coudl there be something abou the cross sectional profile that's causing it?

Murat said...

Thanks! Abstract patterns really do look pretty when burned into wood.

The design with the sharply curved shoulders (similar to what are often called Voyageur style paddles) causes a lot of cavitation and water spillage when paddling with the blade fully submersed. There's a faint spine shape near the throat too that makes the cross-section in that area less flat and more diamond shaped. The tapering tip also makes it less grippy in the water. I guess all these things contribute to making this a less practical design. Adney writes that this blade shape was later abandoned by the Mi'kmaq for a more traditional beavertail style.

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