Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hook & Crooked Knife Sheaths

When I purchased the Frosts Hook Knife at LeeValley it came without a sheath, simply wrapped in tissue paper. Since that time, I've managed to slice my thumb and fingers open a few times on this double-edged, razor sharp tool. Simply storing it wrapped in material wasn't keeping it or my fingers protected so a sheath was in order. While giving the Canoe project a bit of break, I set out to come up with cover.

I got an idea seeing a creative sheath on Flickr posted in Nickshep's gallery. From the photos, it seemed to be a folding sheath with a coiled bit of leather to protect the blade.

NickShep's creations posted on Flickr

I had a few scraps of leather lying around and thought I'd try something similar, but quickly realized his leatherwork skills far exceeded my own and my paltry supply of scraps wasn't suitable. So I used what I had and came up with a simple sheath by folding a piece of scrap leather in half, punching some holes, and stitching them with a bit of leather shoelace that could be tightened and loosened as required. I obtained the lacing pattern from Ian's Shoelace Site, a fantasticly esoteric and practical site on various lacing and tying techniques. Gotta love the internet for sites like this one! Anyway, I decided on the Roman Lacing method and finished it with a tie off around the back which keeps the knife in place. Not the most aesthetic solution, but a practical one that'll save the blade and my clumsy fingers.

Hook Knife sheath with Roman Lacing

After receiving the crooked knife with the Canoe Model Kit, I realized that this unique blade would need a sheath too. Basically the same design as before made with some scrap leather, a hole punch and left over leather shoelace. The leather piece wasn't perfectly symmetrical but I was too lazy to bother trimming it perectly flush. This was supposed to be a basic protective cover here and didn't really care about looks. For the lacing pattern, I chose the the Double Helix Lacing which spirals down the edge while being easy to tighten / loosen with one hand. Now that the knives are protected, I can get back to carving.

Punching out the holes

Tied Sheath

Crooked & Hook knife sheaths

Friday, March 28, 2008

New Bark Canoe Building Bed

Given that the original plywood building bed supplied with John Lindman's 3 ft bark canoe kit was slightly damaged when shipped, I set out to build my own improved substitute bed with some left over lumber.

Some months ago, I was given a ⅞" thick, 1ft x 6ft piece of damaged, knotty pine from a wacky neighbour who kept insisting I make a paddle from it. He's since moved and that worked out well because this piece of scrap (i.e. crap) from Home Depot wasn't suitable for a paddle. It was, however, suited for this model canoe project. Given the model was to be 3ft, I cut out a 3 ½ foot piece and sanded down the rough exterior with the ROS on the balcony.

Before & After sanding the pine board

The building bed's vertical and horizontal centre lines were then drawn forming a cross pinpointing the exact centre of the board. The plywood canoe frame (31" long x 6" wide) provided in the kit was then centred on the board and its profile drawn onto the wood. At this stage, I took the damaged bed provided with the kit and centred this on the new board (using the centre lines as guidance) so that I could mark through the pre-drilled stake holes with a pencil, effectively copying the pattern onto the new bed. 1/4" holes were then drilled into the pine (not all the way through however) so that the supplied dowels could be used to prop up the bark around the frame when I get to that stage.

Drilling staking holes & view from other end

Next steps include deciding on a canoe design. There are plenty of plans and models listed in Bark Canoes: The Art and Obsession of Tappan Adney by John Jennings as well as Adney's original work Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America. Adney was absolutely amazing in his workmanship and attention to detail (almost obsessively so). It'll be a while before I mull over the many designs and come to a decision.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Taking it Up a Notch

Since I started this hobby, a few people have jokingly asked when I'd move up to canoe building. Well that day has come...sort of. Yesterday I received my long awaited kit of materials from John Lindman at The Bark Canoe Store. How am I going to build an authentic birch bark canoe in a Toronto condo? Well, this one is a 3 ft scale model - but it's built with the exact same methodology as a full scale one. My intention is to learn these skills sufficiently to attempt a full sized 12-14 footer in the near future.

To that end, I've been reading voraciously on the topic of bark canoes. Some of the stuff I've gone through include: Bark Canoes: The Art and Obsession of Tappan Adney by John Jennings; Adney's Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America; David Gidmark's books (Building a Birchbark Canoe: The Algonquin Wabanaki Tciman, Birchbark Canoe: Living Among the Algonquins, The Indian crafts of William & Mary Commanda); John McPhee's Survival of the Bark Canoe; video study with Cesar's Bark Canoe as well as the outstanding Silvetip productions DVD of Jim Miller. Plenty of wisdom and detail within all these works makes the whole effort actually feel achievable.

Anway, the kit was well packaged and I was surpised to see that one part of the plywood framed box was meant to be the model's building bed, complete with drilled holes to fit 1/4" dowels as stakes for the inital building process. Unfortunately, this plywood piece had cracked nearly 1/3 down one end and warped a bit due to shipping trauma. I'm confident however that I can make a suitable building bed substitute with material on hand.

The packaging, Building bed plywood (top of box), Box Contents

Once laid out on the table, the contents became more obvious. They included an instruction booklet and John's own DVD (to add to the growing library) as well as all the materials necessary for the build: Cedar pieces for the gunnels, sheathing, ribs, thwarts; spuce root coils; pine rosin; 3 pieces of bark; 1/4" dowels for staking; clothes pines for clamping; round toothpicks for pegging; and a steel crooked knife for carving.

Materials all laid out

This is going to be a doozy of a project which I intend to post on whenever I need a distraction from the paddle work. Guess I may need to slightly modify the title of the blog now.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Laminated Adirondack Guide Paddle - Part 1

While searching the net for different paddle designs, I came across a pic of two Adirondack Guide paddles and liked their look. Their distinguishing feature was a combination pear grip with an extra flattened area encompassing almost half the shaft length. The only other time I've seen this close up is with Turtle Paddle Works' Whip-Poor-Will paddle, but that one comes with a narrow beavertail blade. Instead, I opted to keep the shaft style but use the 28" Algonquin pattern blade listed in Gidmark's Canoe Paddles book.

This paddle was made up of extra strips I had on hand from my attempt at the laminated Greenland Kayak paddle made back in the fall. Just like that one, the canoe paddle would be made of a Yellow Poplar (Leriodendron tulipifera) shaft from a pre-planed 1 1/8th inch strip (cut to 58") and a blade of Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) waste pieces. The photo sequence below shows the pieces lined up before cutting as well as the final orientation before gluing the blade. The 8ft long walnut strip (which was quite warped) was cut into 30" pieces for lamination against the poplar shaft and remaining bits of scrap walnut (one side square) were used to complete the blade. In the end, the width just measured that of the Algonquin style blade pattern at its widest point (5 1/4").

Leftovers for materials; Alignment; Dry Clamping & marking out of blade

The grip area was made with additional walnut waste pieces lying around and were oriented in such a manner as to be able to carve a regular mushroom head grip with a flattened extension of the upper shaft. Another board covered in waxed paper and setup on sawhorses served as the laminating beam. The strips were glued up with my usual adhesive, Gorilla Glue and clamped for 24 hrs.

Grip pieces; Wax paper laminating beam; Clamping & glue up

In the end the blank looked quite odd with all the waste pieces glued up, but it was more the sufficient to make a full paddle from these "scraps" so as not to waste the wood. While maybe not as aesthetic as a one-piece, it certainly allows for a more eco-friendly use of this precious resource. The actual paddle shape still needed to be cut out from the glued blank and that was done as part of my earlier post on the visit to The Carpenter's Square Do-It-Yourself woodshop.

Glued up blank & cut out paddle

The cut out paddle has been a breeze to plane and shave thus far. In one evening, I was able to do the work that nearly took 3 days on the Omer Birch paddle. The reason for this was because BEFORE the glue-up of the strips, I had lightly tested the grain with the spokeshave to ensure that all the strips aligned with the grain in the same direction. This way, the strokes would not need to be reversed when passing over the walnut & poplar, a mistake I had corrected from my earlier time-consuming error on the Laminated Jay Ottertail. From now on, every laminated paddle I intend to make will go through this initial test to save on the shaving time.

For the grip, I intended it to be a modified mushroom head style (like on the Walnut Kingfisher) with an flattened section to give the paddle more flex. Shaping involved cutting two grooves with a round rasp on either end, spooning out the wood between these indents, and then using the round rasp again to undercut the head of the grip in a slightly curved pattern. By shaping the undercut backwards like this, I could stop to check for feel and ensure I didn't remove too much wood. The pics below show the rough job, although I signficantly cleaned up the work since taking these shots. Don't know why the photos resulted in a blue tone, but in the 4th image you can spot a reddish smudge on the grip face. While holding onto the grip area, I scraped across three fingers on my left hand with the rasp - a careless and painful mistake that tore off layers of skin while smearing blood all over the shaving horse and onto the paddle grip. I guess now I've formed a blood-bond with this one.

Carving the grip

With bandaged fingers unable to bend at the knuckle because of my thoughtless mistake, I thought I'd begin the sanding phase on the bulk of the paddle using the orbital sander. All this while Toronto experienced another massive snowfall with -16 Celsius windchill. So I bundled up and did some work outside.

Initial sanding with the ROS

This revealed a major crack with soft dead wood in the walnut when I sanded down part of the flattened grip. I had some left over Epoxy from the knife making kit and figured that by filling the knot with epoxy and then sanding it down, it would prevent the crack from spreading and the dead wood from chipping out. Time will tell if I made the right decision here.

Epoxying the crack to strengthen and prevent weakening

This is where I am sanding, shaping, and repair. Stay tuned for the second part of this post which will have to wait until I can remove the bandaids on my three injured fingers.

April 1/08 Update: Part 2 of the post now online.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Omer Stringer Birch

One of the best canoe-related deals in my opinion is the fantastic booklet, The Canoeist's Manual, written by the one and only Omer Stringer. Any serious solo paddler knows about Omer, born and raised in Algonquin Park, master of the solo paddling technique now known as "omering" in his honour. Bill Mason, another canoeing icon, apparently refered to Omer as the King of Flatwater. Anyway, this gem of canoeing knowledge is sold for the unbelievable price of a 1 Canadian Dollar at the Algonquin Park Bookstore.

I first read about Omer's bio and intriguing technique online - a reprint of the 1999 Canoe Journal article written by Jeff Solway entitled "Omer Stringer - The Father of Modern Canoeing". Jeff had a paddle making business for a while, Nashwaak Paddles, with a downloadable copy of the article, but the site is no longer operational. For those of you still interested, the site and some of its contents are available through Web Archive. In particular, some of Jeff's informative PDF articles are still available for download by clicking here. Don't know how long these archives will last. I also just picked up the 2008 CanoeRoots Magazine Buyer's Guide edition which has a one page article on Omer written by the prolific paddling author, James Raffan.

Omer's technique is essentially what modern classic solo is about...heeling the boat so that the gunnel nearly reaches the waterline allowing the solo paddler to control the boat with subtle underwater recoveries and leverage strokes.

Anyway, back to the paddle making. The Canoeist's Manual has a sketch and paddle details of Omer's preferred design on page 6...basically a straight sided, narrow ottertail (5 inches at its widest) with a circular tip (2 inch radius). Instead of using photoshop, this paddle involved sketching the blade directly on the stock by determining the centreline and copying the dimensional info from the booklet. I wanted to try a new wood type and a different grip style, so decided on using Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis), a common local hardwood.

Marking out stock & Final Blank

The marking out and sawing out of the blank went as usual...about 3 hours of handsawing on and off (this was before I had discovered the Carpenter's Square DIY woodshop and had access to a bandsaw). As for the grip section, I wanted to try an artsy style grip not attempted yet...the carved Passamaquoddy grip Adney described on a decorated 1849 paddle and documented on Doug Ingram's fantastic webpage of Historic Canoe Paddles. Doug makes amazing paddles and I've been a silent admirer of his work for years now. This elongated grip is hollowed out along the centre so as to fit the palm when held along its longer edge. I believe the chipcarving pattern is Doug's own work and his site mentions his selection of Basswood (Tilia americana) for its ease of carving, but my paddle is the much harder Yellow Birch. Soon into shaping the grip, I realized that this wood would be challenging for delicate carving as it teared out easily and the grain would change direction frequently. So the grip would ultimately not match the intended design.

To carve out the centre of the grip, I used the spooning (hook) knife like in shaping the Northwoods Grip from the Walnut Passamaquoddy paddle. The birch really didn't carve out well, but tore out leaving an unsightly series of ridges. I also ended up using a round rasp to create a decorative indent along the edges. All this was eventually cleaned up using some Cabinet Scrapers purchased at Lee Valley. The curved scraper is particularly effective at shaving tight areas and helped to smooth the rough ridges from using the hook knife. The edges were sharp though and at the end of the day, my hand contained a bunch of superficial sliced cuts (like paper cuts) all over my palm and time I'll be using work gloves when handling this versatile tool. The pics below show the progession of the grip.

The blade was thinned down quite extensively as I was unsatisfied with the flex in the blade. Don't know if Omer used a flexy paddle, but given the larger area of the blade, I certainly wanted some give. Despite thinning it down extensively, the paddle is still not that flexible, something I'm assuming has something to do with the wood. Interesting to note that while re-reading the chapter on Native Canoe paddles (written by David Gidmark) in Warren Graham's book, there's a comment that Yellow Birch is unsuitable for carving with a crooked knife because the grain reverses frequently. This I certainly experienced this, but would still consider using birch again.

For the decoration, I was inspired by the fact that I've seen plenty of Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers that seem to target the yellow birches around the Cottage, leaving behind parallel rows of woodpecker holes. Unlike other woodpeckers that eat grubs, these guys lick out the birch sap with elongated tongues. Thought it was funny that a group of them is technically refered to as a slurp of sapsuckers. So for this yellow birch paddle, a Sapsucker image was in order. I burned the bird image first and then tried to fill in an appropriate background in perspective. I tried to give the forest a scratchy layered look but eventually the darkened background overly camouflaged the bird so it was sanded down with 220 grit sandpaper leaving it purposely lighter with and unfinished look. Compared to some of the work in the Galleries, I've got a lot of improvement to do in my background technique 

Burned Sapsucker Image without & with background

I had also marked out tiny spots on the main tree where I intended to burn woodpecker holes but then had an idea to make them more realistic...why not drill real holes? At first I was reluctant to drill into the blade of a paddle that was a real chore to carve, but wanted to experiment, so the drilling began with a 5/32 bit set at the slowest speed. I ended up drilling deeper holes at the top of the blade where it was thicker and then more shallow indents as the blade thinned toward the tip. My intention was to reveal the fresh wood under the burning and then highlight by scorching the outer rim of each hole, giving it a natural shadow effect. Turned out ok although it looks better from a distance than a closeup. Now the brainiac in me is wondering if I've increased the efficiency of the paddle by adding these dimples (more surface area within the same dimensions), kind of like how dimples make a golf ball fly straighter and farther.

Drilling holes & highlighting job

For the grip, the original carving idea was out of the question, but I did like Doug's carving of a sprig of vegetation. So did the obvious and burned a twig of Yellow Birch leaves from one of my father's Forestry Textbooks from the 1970s (amazing illustrations). Here are some shots.

Yellow Birch leaves on grip face

Close up of the blade

Here is the final paddle posing under a few brief moments of sunshine with my wife's prolific orchid (4 blossoms already on March 14th). Spring is around the corner and soon it'll be paddling time again!

Finished Paddle

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