Monday, February 11, 2008

Walnut Nuthatch Experiment

After sawing out the Custom Solo Kingfisher blank from a decent piece of stock, I was left with a rather long cutoff piece of walnut. At it's widest point it was 3 inches but at least 58 inches long. Rather than simply waste the wood, I thought I could put it to use for an experimental paddle.

At the time, I hadn't graduated to making laminated paddles, so the idea of sawing out a straight section to make a shaft hadn't occured to me. Instead, I remembered reading somewhere that authentic voyageur paddles were quite narrow compared to modern standards, some as narrow as 3 1/4 inches with 30 inch blades. This seemed to be consistent with the paintings of Frances Ann Hopkins. She accompanied her husband, a Hudson's Bay Company official, travelling extensively by canoe along some of the most important fur trading routes during the late 1800's. Her detailed paintings are considered to be the most accurate representation of the Voyageurs during that time. The paddles do indeed look quite long and narrow, consistent for an occupation that required relentless paddling.

I thought I'd try to make one of these "authentic voyageur" paddles as an experiment with the remnant wood. The piece was 3 inches at its widest point, so I figured a blade would be feasible even if slightly narrow. Problem was, the wood tapered near the grip area, resulting in a width of less than 1 1/2 inches, so in order to form a grip, I'd have to improvise. I decided to glue a crosspiece against the face of the shaft area and carve a crude assymmetrical T-Grip. Not very authentic voyageur like, but experiments are meant to try something new, right?

Front of grip

Side View & Back View

As expected, the blade is quite flexible and not very powerful for solo paddling (I kinda knew that going in). But if imagined 7 other voyager paddlers in a 24 ft. Canot du Nord, I could see how paddling an narrow blade like this would prevent fatigue at 50-60 strokes a minute.

As for the decoration, the extreme narrowness of the blade and its faster pace usage inspired me to burn an image of a tiny, hyperactive bird - The Red-Breasted Nuthatch. I've seen these tiny creatures in action and they're quite interesting to watch climbing down tree trunks head first storing food in cracks of bark or searching out old stashes. As with most of my current work, I'll have to wait till spring to varnish. Here are the final pictures:

Red-Breasted Nuthatch closeup

The whole paddle

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