Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New Paddle Blanks

After picking up my new batch of wood last week, I've been eagerly anticipating carving another set of paddles. There are still plenty of blade and grip designs yet to try, and in a fury of creativity, I quickly chose and drew out the designs for 7 new paddles.

Earlier today, I ended up spending 3 hours at The Carpenter's Square DIY workshop cutting out the blanks with the bandsaw. In addition I learned the use of a Jointer and Table Saw to square the edges on cutoffs and rip some of the stock into 1/4" strips for future laminated paddles.

New Blanks lined up

The designs (left to right) are Cherry Passamaquoddy Blade with Maliseet Grip; Cherry Passamoquoddy Blade with Athabascan Grip; Birch Attikamek (Tetes de Boule); Birch Beothuk with bobble grip; Birch King Island Single Kayak Blade (a commission piece); Walnut-Poplar Voyageur with tripper grip; Cherry-Poplar-Walnut Beavertail with an Assymetrical grip of my own design. I also cut out a Basswood double bladed kayak for another commission but it just wouldn't fit in the photo. This might be the 1st paddle I work on as there's a deadline for its completion (more photos in another post)

In addition, I still have some blanks left over from that I haven't gotten to yet. These include a Maple-Walnut Whitewater with Battenkill grip; Soft Maple Northwoods; and Poplar Diamond Passamaquoddy. The Walnut-Poplar blank (second from the left) eventually became the Adirondack Owl Paddle made back in March

Older blanks still waiting to be carved

The process of cutting out these single piece paddles created a bunch of offcuts that I saved for use in further laminated blades and other projects. In fact, I ended up using some of the previous offcuts in my growing scraps pile to make miniature paddles for decoration with my bark canoe model. I also used pieces that weren't suitable for paddle making anymore to cut out some spoon blanks. I'll probably end up carving these when I'm back up North and need a TV/Internet/Mass media break.

Spoon blanks and quarter-scale paddle blanks

Looks like there will be flurry of wood-working activity in the weeks to come.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Pegging Gunwales

With the canoe hull folded up and the sheerline set with height posts, I turned my attention to pegging the gunwales and setting them permanently. This would involve wetting with boiling water, piercing the outwale + bark + inwale with an awl and inserting a hardwood peg (round birch toothpick at this scale).

I was really looking forward to this step because after it was done the excess bark protuding above the gunwales could be trimmed off and the lashing could begin. Well, 2 minutes into the work...another mishap. The outwale on one of the sides snapped off. Gidmark's book, Building a Birchbark Canoe: The Algonquin Wabanaki Tciman documents this happening even with Jocko Carle, a master Algonquin canoe builder. So I didn't feel that bad. Jocko apparently spliced another piece of outwale with a scarf joint and lashed it so well with spruce root that there was no indication of the break taking place. Initially I tried this but found that at this smaller working scale, the flimsy outwale would break further under the tension of the lashing.

Broken outwale (light coloured cedar strip) towards the bow

Instead, I used a less than ideal piece of left-over gunwale stock to make another outwale, so problem I thought. When I first decided on this make of canoe, I read about how many builders simply cut linear gores in the bark and simply folded up the panels to form the hull. This method resulted in overlapped panels which form a small ridge that typically faced the stern. In this manner, the hull had a definite bow and stern and should only be paddled one way to prevent the ridges from catching edges and seeping in water. Famous builders like William & Mary Commanda whose canoes grace the Canadian Canoe Museum made boats with this technique.

Other builder were more elaborate and made the panels flat by cutting V-shaped gaps in the bark resulting in a flush joint. I wanted to keep it simple and decided on the former method for fear I would screw up the V-shape cuts and ruin the bark. What I hadn't figured is that that at full scale, the bark is relatively thin compared to the actual 1" gunwale width and the minor ridge would be easily sandwiched between the outwale & inwale without any gaps. In this reduced scale model however, the relatively thick bark is sandwiched between thin, flimsy gunwales totaling 1/4" and that left gaps in key areas of overlap. The gunwales would simply not hold the bark properly when pegged & lashed. The pic below shows what I'm talking about.

Overlapping panels causing spaces in the gunwale structure

To remedy the problem, more boiling water was poured over the bark and very carefully, the gores were shaped into V-shape cuts so that the bark panels would be flush. A very tense procedure because if I ripped the bark, more repair would ensue. Luckily all went well and the result is a hull with panels that are all flush and should be quite easy to stitch & seal

Flush seam

Next up, thoroughly wetting the gunwales and bark again, piercing a hole with an awl, and jamming half a round toothpick to tightly peg the gunwales together. Most books mention the need to only peg every 2nd lashing site but I decided to go overboard and peg every lashing site (with the exceptions of the thwart locations) from the centre to just inside the end-thwarts. The end pieces will be formed later once the bulk of the hull is lashed.

Piercing the gunwales with an awl; Pegging with birch toothpick

Once the whole structure was pegged, I cut the toothpicks flush with the gunwales using my wickedly sharp Mora Knife. In another brief moment of carelessness, I grazed the tip of my index fingertip (nearly shaving off the fingerprint I'm sure). It was so painless that I didn't even notice any discomfort as I dragged my finger along the inwale smearing blood along the way until I peered into the inside of the model and noticed my decorative bloodspots along the inwale.

View of pegs; Cut flush with blood smears

With lesson learned and a new bandage on the finger, I could move onto shaving away excess bark. Don't know why, but I was very eager to get to this step so that the final shear and profile of the canoe could be easily seen. This required more wetting with boiling water to soften the bark and slicing thinly with the Mora. Here are some pics of the progress, keeping in mind that I've left the bow & stern ends to finish later.

Now I can move on the next step, apparently the most laborious and time-consuming of all - lashing the gunwales with spruce root and stitching up the gores. Many books mention this part of canoe building accounts for half of the total build time. I've counted 52 lashing sites on the gunwales, 14 gores lines and 2 bow & stern panels that need to be stitched. Long and tedious but at least I won't be using any sharp objects for this one and can give my fingers a needed break.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Carving Permanent Thwarts

The gunwale assembly has been held together with temporary thwarts lashed to spread the hull. Time had come to carve permanent thwarts which would eventually take their place. Another piece of broken gunwale batten shaved to 1/4" thick was used as the source.

The centre thwart tends to be functional as well as decorative and I wanted that authentic flare with this model. Similar to the stem piece, I simply traced the half images of the thwarts from the enlarged 1/4 scale "blueprint". These were then transfered to my piece of cedar. The intermediate and end-thwarts for the Attikamek Hunter's Canoe are simple cross pieces with tapering ends that were easily shaped with my knife. The center thwart, on the other hand, needed to be specially shaped and following a tip by Ted Behne, I decided I would use a coping saw to get the rough shape.

Stock for thwarts; Images from blueprint; Marked out centre thwart

In a full size canoe, the thwarts would be made of hardwood - typically ash, maple, or birch and I had some stock left over from paddle making. But I decided on using up the scrap pieces of cedar from the kit rather than using these hardwoods - something I very quickly regretted. I had clamped the cedar lightly into a vise and started cutting out the pattern.

Cutting out with a coping saw

Within moments, the whole thing split along a grain line and ruined the thwart. Instead of carving out another piece of cedar, I salvaged it by simply redrawing the thwart image towards the edge and beginning again. This time with more delicate sawing strokes, the centre thwart survived the process. But when I tried to use the Mora knife to thinly shave and clean up the sawcuts, I ended up splitting off the decorative part of the thwart. Not wanting the experience to be a total waste, I deviated from my "authentic model" by glueing the broken piece with some Gorilla glue.

Split thwart; Resawn with broken end; Glueing repair

Once it was repaired, the ends were tapered with a block plane (gently). The photos below show the finished thwarts from the front and profile view.

2 view of the permanent thwarts

Ultimately these will be fixed to the gunwales with a mortise joint and lashing but it'll be a while before that stage.

Friday, April 25, 2008

New Batch of Wood

Picked up another batch of lumber stock from Century Mill yesterday to prepare for a vigourous summer of paddle making...including some wood for my first two commisions. Now the locker room is really getting packed with wood, but here's a run down of my inventory that's been dressed to the usual thickness of 1 ⅛".

• 2 x Yellow Birch stock (7" wide)
• 2 x Yellow Birch stock (4½ " wide)
• 2 x Cherry stock (6½ " wide)
• 1 x Basswood stock (6" wide)

I also got them cut up strips from other shorts to end up with:

• 3 x Cherry shafts (1⅛" square)
• 3 x Yellow Poplar shafts (1⅛" square)
• 6 x ½" wide cherry strips (1½" thick) for laminating edges & accents)

Also found was a damaged piece of walnut 4" wide that could still be salvaged. I had them rip it down the middle and intend to laminate it with a thin central piece of Poplar left over from ripping strips for shafts. With this and all the other scraps from before, I should be able to make some colourful laminated blades soon too.

L to R: 2xCherry, Narrow Birch, Walnut+Poplar to laminate, Wide Birch, Basswood

Maple offcuts, Cherry shafts & strips, Poplar shafts & shorts, leftover Maple shafts

Stacked temporarily in the locker room - getting tight in there!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Creating Stem Pieces and Headboards

After the canoe's ribs were done, I set out to shape another of the canoe's key structural components - the stem pieces. In my model, I purposely chose a very simple stem piece style with a slight curve in the bottom and a nearly upright vertical rise. This is in contrast to a lot of old style Algonquin, Ojibway, and Fur Trade canoes which had elaborate stem pieces and required much more skilled craftmanship. Both Jim Millers's DVD and C├ęsar's Bark Canoe film show old school Algonquin recurved stems and seemed a bit too intimidating.

Instead, I elected to go for an Abenaki syle that was quite similar to the stems of modern touring canoes. A nearly vertical stem profile would mean better tracking ability and the limited curve of the stem would mean less likely breakage - a concern after my disappointment in attempting to carve the gunwales. Adney's sketch for this stem also revealed that it is inverted compared to most others. In otherwords, the solid end of the stem (white part) protudes slightly above the gunwales with the split end (dark part) of the stem is embedded on the bottom of the boat all supported with a thin headboard under tension squeezes below the gunwales. Most stem pieces feature the solid portion on the bottom, with the laminated part of the stem at the top, cut flush with the gunwale cap.

The process started by using my poster-sized, quarter scale bluprint from Adney's book and crudely tracing the image of the stem piece on paper. This was then transfered to a corner of the building bed with transer paper and ¼" holes were drilled around the shape to fit some spare dowels provided by the kit. This would be the "form" around which the stem pieces were bent into shape.

Marking the dowel holes; Completed bending form

The stem pieces were scavenged from strips of broken gunwale stock that snaped during the early carving process. I was able to use a piece of appropriate dimension & horizontal grain to make 4 stem pieces in case any broke during bending. Each would be split nearly 2/3rd of its length into 4 laminations to accomodate the curve. Once these were done they were soaked in boling water to soften the wood and begin the bending.

Scavenged gunwale piece; Near horizontal grain; Split stem pieces in boiling water

Carefully, a selected piece was bent around the frame and the bottom tied off. In a full sized model, the traditional material for this is basswood bark. Since this wasn't provided by the kit and I didn't want to use any split spruce root (in case I ran out for lashing), I ended up using non-traditional waxed linen thread from left over leather-craft projects. It worked perfectly and helds its knots easily without slippage.

Wrapping the stems and bending on the form

With the two stem pieces drying out I turned my attention to making other structure - the headboards (aka manboards, shoulderboards, struts). Various styles exist, some straight, some curved. I wanted to keep mine simple so carved a basic vertical structure similar to most old style Algonquin canoes. The bottom has a rectangular "legs" that fits over the stem piece tightly while the top has "shoulders" and a round "head" to squeeze under the inwales. The whole structure gives the ends a rigid structure while also helping to lift the gunwales at the ends. I decided to try a practice one first in case I had more cedar distasters. With that ok, two more quality blanks (1/8" thick) were prepared and carved out.

Practice headboard and two cedar blanks

I won't be able to insert the stems pieces or headboards for a while (at least until the bulk of the canoe a sewn up with spruce root), so in the meantime I'll be carving other parts like the permanent thwarts and sheathing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Recycled Tlingit Style Paddle - Part 1

As bit of a distraction from the bark canoe project, I decided to revisit the growing wood sraps pile in the locker room and see what could be salvaged into another paddle attempt. Early on in my paddle making hobby, I learned that one-piece paddles produced a lot of "waste cutoff" that could be re-used to make laminated paddles. Such was the case with the Ottertail Jay, Adirondack Guide, and this latest attempt. Back when cutting out the blank which eventually become a one-piece Maple Sparrow, I actively attempted to saw out the off-cuts with as little error as possible. I was left with 2 very usable pieces which are featured in the shot below when many of my paddles were still in the raw, blank stage.

Laminated Kayak, Solo Sparrow, Cut offs, Ottertail Jay

When the the maple cutoffs were aligned with each other, it reminded me of some of the West Coast native paddles from BC, but together the shaft area would be too narrow...a mistake I did not want to repeat as with my Nootka Raven. So I decided to laminate this with a narrow 1" square piece of walnut left over from the strips preparing the Greenland style kayak paddle. The first order of business was to square the edges of the cutoffs with my newly purchased power plane - an easy couple of runs set at 1/64" and the edges were smoothed evenly.

Planing the edges

The centre strip was cut to the length of the cutoffs (58") and aligned on a rigged laminating beam (wax paper on another planed board). By now, the glue-up and clamping are pretty old hat for me.

Aligning the strips & clamping the pieces

At this stage, dressing the blade was simple enough, but the grip area was now too wide for a proper circular shaft. On my last visit to the Canadian Canoe Museum back in February, I came across a new display of West Coast paddles (poor lighting for proper photo) referencing a book entitled Cedar : tree of life to the Northwest Coast Indians by Hilary Stewart. After my return to the city, I checked out the title at the Toronto Reference Library and made a photocopy of pg 58, which illustrates seven different styles of West Coast native paddles (not posted for copyright reasons). The style that most resembled the curves of my frankenstein paddle was the Tlinglit - although I wanted to add a cutout for the shaft reminiscient of the Kwakiutl illustration as well. So I measured out a 10" long shaft area and proceeded to cut it out with the hand saw. The resulting blank (with a has a very long blade (33") that will need to be shortened when I work with it along with an extended sloping upper shaft forming a triangular grip area.

Recycled Tlingit Style Blank

With sunshine and warm weather already in Toronto, I'm looking forward to carving this one out on the balcony soon.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Carving the Ribs

While the gunwales waited to dry and set, I turned my attention to making other structural components for the canoe, beginning with the ribs. Most readings mention the ribs taking a while to prepare properly and the warning to make extra ribs to account for normal breakage during the bending process.

The half-image Adney plan for the 11'8" Attikamek hunting canoe illustrates 3 ribs between the stem piece and end-thwart; 6 between the end thwart & intermediate thwart; and another 6 between the intermediate thwarts & centre thwart. This means means that for the full canoe, there will be double this amount - a total of 30 ribs.

At quarter scale, the ribs would need to be ⅝" wide and 3/32" thick. Following Ted Behne's suggestion, I first tried to make a single rib as practice using a broken piece of cedar from my earlier frustating attempts at making the gunwales. This way at least the materials wouldn't be a waste. The actual ribs would be carved from a single, large chunk of cedar provided in the kit. The practice rib I carved was placed on the soaked cedar piece and lines were drawn at a little wider thatn ⅝" intervals to serve as guidelines for the splits. Luckily, this piece split rather evenly so I was left with 6 pieces around the perfect width for ribs.

Carving a rib from broken gunwale batten; Sample rib on soaked cedar stock; 6 split cedar battens

These split cedar battens were about ¼" thick so in theory they could be split a few more time to form neat and tidy ribstock...that's in theory of course. I'm no master splitter and while I tried to learn from mistakes in shaping the gunwales, the cedar would not split evenly along its thickness. For many of the battens I was only able to split the thickness once, some of them allowed for 2 splits, and one even allowed 3 splits. This was not without its consequences however - my crazy sharp Mora Canoe Knife sliced into my fingertips twice and the tip slightly punctured my thumb leading to more bloodletting and band-aids. But a rough pile of ribstock continued to grow. These were then thinned to 3/32 thickness with a blockplane - a non traditional tool in canoe making, but necessary in my case. I've got a new respect for those master builders who could split and shape cedar perfectly with just a crooked knife. Each of the ribs was checked for appropriate thickness - a time consuming process.

Pile of rough ribs; Shaping with blockplane; 3/32 thickness (the red spot is blood from my punctured thumb)

In the end, I separated my finished ribs based on whether they were of decent quality or low-grade (defects in my splittling). I was left with a total 26 decent ones and 6 not so good ribs. By this time, I was pretty much out of stock to make ribs and was really on the edge in terms of the necessary numbers. Then I realized I needed temporary ribs (not part of the normal ribstock) when preparing and laying the sheathing in the boat. Clearly I didn't have enough ribs. Another executive decision was made to slightly deviate from Adney's plan. Instead of spacing ribs & lashing every ½", I redrew the lashing spots at ⅝". This reduced the number of ribs between the thwarts to 5 each instead of 6, resulting in 26 ribs for the boat...the exact number of quality ribs I have on hand. Let's hope this compromise and the bending process works out well.

The last thing I did was lay out the ribs (on the plywood box packaging of the kit) and numbered them in pairs starting from the centre thwart towards the ends. They all have relatively random lengths now but will be cut down to size after the bending process.

Ribs layed out and numbered

Next up, prepping the stem pieces & headboards as well as carving permanent thwarts.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Carving Gunwales...near disaster!

Next up in the build, I attempted the challenging job of carving the gunwales. Adney's sketch for the 11'8" Attikamek Hunter's canoe had a thinner gunwale assembly than most others - the cross-sectional dimensions for the inwale were ⅝" wide by 1" thick (most others were 1" x 1⅛"). This smaller inwale at quarter scale meant 5/32" x 1/4" and at nearly 3 ft long it would mean a thin delicate piece of wood that would need skillful carving.

Given my confidence in building the kit so far, I was up to the challenge. The kit came with a suitable-length piece of cedar which required multiple splitting and shaping to the inwale's delicate dimensions. First the cedar piece was soaked in warm water in the bathtub overnight to soften the wood further (apparently making it easier to split). When the actual splitting began, I used my trusty Mora Canoe Knife with its razor sharp edge to begin the split.

Splitting the soaked cedar

The provided piece of wood split easily enough but I noticed that the grain was quite curvy in the middle resulting in an uneven curve when split along the natural lines. In a full scale model, more care would be taken to ensure the gunnels are carved from the straightest length of cedar possible. Anyway with more splitting, an acceptable plank batten was obtained.

The batten for the inwales; cracking the precious cedar

Readings suggested that the inwales and outwales be carved from the same batten so that they would naturally balance in terms of tension and this is what I tried to do. Unfortunately the curvy grain meant the the split seriously wandered to one side and I simply couldn't contain the split to bring it back to center no mater what I tried. The battens kept cracking and breaking with my attempts or they would wander and split with one piece two short for the inwale length. No problem...lots of wood I thought, until it happened again and then again. With less & less wood and more & more panic, I finally was able to split 2 pieces of appropriate length but their curvy grain resisted accurate carving. They ended up quite warped and unsuitable for inwales in my frustrating!

At this point, an executive decision was made to save this project for near failure by using the provided sheer sticks (long, 36" pieces of thinly carved cedar meant to measure the angle of the canoe lines) for the inwales. Quite fortuitous that they happened to be exactly the dimensions of my model's necessary inwale dimensions while also having the angled notch for the ribs pre-cut onto them as well. These were probably low-quality reject gunwale pieces from another kit, but for my purposes they were what I desperately needed. The pics below show the provided sheer sticks with my sorry carved inwales for comparison.

Split inwales from a single batten; comparison of sheer sticks with my butchered gunwales

With this lucky gift, I could proceed to form the inwale assembly. While the precious inwales were soaking in the tub, I turned my attention to making the temporary thwarts that would stretch the assembly apart to the necessary dimensions. These pieces came from the broken gunwale attempts and were carefully measured from the Adney plans. A center thwart measuring 6¾", two intermediate thwarts measuring 5½", and two end thwarts measuring 2". The edges of the middle and end thwarts were angled to fit the curving inwales and holes were punched in the wood with an awl (provided as part of part of Ray Jardine's Knife Sheath Kit).

Temporary thwarts

After tying the ends with wet spruce root, the soaked inwales were placed side by side and the thwarts locations marked. At this stage, the lashing points were marked as well. In a full scale canoe, lashings are placed at 2" intervals, meaning ½" for the model. The lashings marks started at the centre thwart (¼ " on either side of the center line) and then continued at ½" intervals until the end thwarts. These marks were marked with a pencil and will be covered when the whole gunwale structure is lashed with roots.

Marking out lashing points

The temporary thwarts were carefully placed in the streched frame and tied into place with some waxed thread left over from the Knife Kit project. Tied with slipknots, these temporary thwarts will be replaced by the real ones when the gunwale assembly has been pegged and lashed.

Tying the temporary thwarts; final inwale assembly

So far so good, with the inwale assembly ready, I made the height posts (shearing posts) which are place on the bottom of the frame and support the inwale assemble at the proper height. Calculations from the Adney plans as well as John Lindman's Tips page meant I needed 2-1/16" high posts at the centre thwart, 2-3/8" posts at the intermediate and 4-3/4" posts at the end thwarts to get the desired sheer. These posts were cut from leftover 1-1/8" square poplar pieces from a discarded piece of paddle shaft. In the end, I cut two many end thwart pieces without thinking that these couldn't fit in the tapering ends of the canoe anyway.

Cutting the height supports from scrap 1 1/8" poplar

Finally the moment of truth, setting the inwales into the canoe. This involved removing all the cross-ties and inner staves while delicately positioning the assembly perfectly centered on the height posts and clamping. My horrible inwales could still be used however, shaved down more delicately to the less important outwale structure. These were then placed on the outside the boat effectively forming a sandwiching layer holding the bark in place. After clamping with the provided clothes-pins the whole structure must now dry for 2 days before pegging and lashing can commence.

Setting the inwale assembly; Laying the outwales, Sandwiched bark between the gunwales

All in all, a frustatingly tense but rewarding day. Next up, carving the ribs, stem pieces, and permanent thwarts while the gunwales dryout and set.

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