Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Paddling Partner Welcomed to the World

What a crazy last few days! I'm extremely excited and proud to announce that my wife gave birth to a healthy son on Sunday (Sept 28th) after a very rapid labour progression. The doctors were amazed at how quickly her labour advanced, especially for a first time mom....0 to full 10cm dilation & birth within 5 hours. Guess he was impatient...that's definitely from his mom's side.

So far he's been a quiet but very responsive little baby. He seems to actively observe and study people & the surrounding sounds. May be too early to tell yet, but he seems to be soothed when I softely whistle different birding calls especially the repetitive "po-tat-o chip, po-tat-o chip" call of the American Goldfinch and the "Oh Sweet Canada Canada Canada" call of the White Throated Sparrow. I'm hoping he'll equally enjoy these real bird sounds in a nature when he grows up a bit.

Welcome to our beautiful world, son!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Unique Paddle Grips

While browsing on Fickr, I came across Smiley518's set on the 2008 Indian Summer Festival held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She took some fantastic pics of the event, including some shots of Voyageur Canoes, an Eastern-style Ojibway Birchbark Canoe, and a unique paddle design that caught my eye. Unfortunately, the name of the artist isn't known but it's a beautiful piece of work.

The paddle; The carved grip

I'm no expert, but it reminds me of a slender Maliseet-style beavertail with an nicely carved grip. At my request, Smiley518 graciously provided a zoomed image of the grip with its beautiful decorations and permission to post it. Along with the floral motif, there's a central medallion carving with what looks to be a beaver. Although decorative wood carving isn't my forté, I'm going to try and relief carve something like this with a future paddle blank I have on hand.

Back when I met Rick Nash at the 2008 WCHA Assembly, I took a photo of one of his chip carved grips, including one made for our canoe loving Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau.

Some of Rick Nash's paddle grips

I'll probably have to practice on many wood scraps before I attempt to do anything like these carved grips on a fully completed paddle. Perhaps the carving can be combine with pyrography to get a sort of 3-dimension woodburning effect. So many ideas - not enough TIME!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More Gum Refining

Since my last post on the gum harvest, I've been actively collecting more oozing pine & spruce gum for sealing the canoe next year. This time however, I've kept my collecting exclusive to my city neighbourhood. The harvest has been absolutely amazing. I never really noticed all the red pines and white spruce trees in my neighbourhood and over the course of many days, I've been trekking around with my gum knife and some containers, stopping to investigate and collect the globules of precious resin. In the end I ended up with another 3 containers full (about 8 lbs) of raw gum (with debris, bark, needles, etc) that would need to be purified.

I set up a little camp in a local park and used some discarded bricks to support a cheap pot purchased at Goodwill for $1.99. The heat would be supplied by a simple empty can filled with Methylated Spirits - crude but effective. My pot wasn't big enough for all the gum, so the whole load was done in 4 batches.

A container of raw gum; The outdoor setup; Melting in the pot

Once each batch was thoroughly melted, I ended up pouring it through a cheesecloth filter with the ends tied to sticks to form a loose basket. All the video's I've seen show two people twisting the gum out with a filter, but I was alone, so I did my best to squeeze out as much as possible before the gum began to set. The purified gum with its deep amber colour was collected in an aluminum baking tray.

Pouring out the hot pitch

Lifting up the cheesecloth filter

Twisting in opposite directions to squeeze out

Tray full of purified resin

I've saved the used, resin soaked, twisted cheesecloth with the sticks to be used as great firestarters for the campfire next year. Back at home, the tray was put in the freezer for a while and then the frozen and brittle mass of gum was cracked into chunks for storage into a ziplock bag. With this haul and the previous load back at the cottage, I've got about 6.5 pounds of purified resin. Should be enough to make the quantity of pitch I'll need for sealing the canoe in the spring.

Frozen mass of gum; Broken chunks; Stored away

Friday, September 19, 2008

Carving a mini Bushcraft Paddle

Ever since I saw a Ray Mears Bushcraft Episode (Canoe Journey on the Missinaibi River) where he carved a bushcraft style paddle from some fallen cedar with an axe and crooked knife, I've wanted to try it out. Before expending the energy to source out a full-sized log and hacking away vigorously, I thought I'd try my hand at a mini version for my yet-to-be-born baby boy. In reality, I've just needed a healthy distraction while the clock nervously ticks down to the delivery date.

I found an appropriate piece of recently cut cedar in the adjacent hotel property's scrub pile (where I had salvaged stakes for the canoe build earlier) and proceeded to split it. Even though one side of the log was branch free, the split revealed some knots within. Obviously not the best piece for a working paddle, but this whole thing was a fun experiement anyway. Using my axe, I started to chop away and end up with a rough paddle shape.

Chopping out a mini paddle from a split log

The paddle blank would need to be finely taken down with my mini crooked knife blade - a perfect tool for this bushcraft style carving. Much to my delight while working by the shoreline, a mommy duck with her ducklings hopped onto the shore by feet and kept me company. At first, they took the many wood shavings for food but quickly realized they were inedible and just hung out by my feet

Working with the crooked knife

Duckling company

As much as I tried however, my crooked knife technique left many indents and gouges so the paddle wasn't very smooth. Back in the city, I sanded it down and was left with a mini ottertail with my favourite Maliseet style grip.

The final mini bushcraft paddle

I haven't decorated it yet, but am thinking about burning some ducklings onto the blade and tell the little one about how this paddle came to be when he's old enough to understand.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Making Stem Pieces & Final Stitching

Here are some shots of making & stitching the ends of the canoe. First, some stem pieces were prepared from cedar stock that had been soaking in the lake overnight. One end was split carefully multiple times to about 80% of the length and then the cedar was wrapped in some leftover leather lace. With plenty of boiling water on hand, they were bent to form the modest curved end of the style of canoe I was aiming for. Even though I've used Adney's plan of the Attikamek Hunter's canoe, I've decided on a canoe with less sheer and stems with less curve, similar to the ends of a St.Francis Abenaki canoe also listed in Adney's book.

Starting the splits

Working the ends

Bending with hot water

My first attempt resulted in a cracked stem piece, but luckily I had prepared an extra bit of stock in anticipation of some mistakes. The next two stems didn't crack and were held in place in a jig I made with scrap pine board and some nails.

Broken attempt; 2 stem pieces drying on form

Once the items were dry a few days later and after most of the gunwale lashing was complete, I clamped the pieces into place and began stitching them into place.

Temporarily clamped; Hull inverted; Stitching into place

Once these were in place, I spent some more tedious time stitching the lap joints, gores, and any other minor cracks that appeared in the boat. For 2 large knotholes in the hull, I ended up stitching extra pieces from the inside that I'll end up gumming up tightly when the time comes.

The completed bark hull

Inside look

Even though canoe looks hogged at the moment, this is apparently normal after it comes off the building bed. There's a lot of "flex" in the bark at the centre of the canoe, so it'll pop into proper shape when the ribs are in.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Carving & Decorating Permanent Thwarts

So far, the inwales have been spread apart with temporary cedar thwarts loosely tied to the structure. Once all lashed in, the inwales needed to be spread with permanent thwarts mortised into the inwale structure.

I've seen some beautifully carved thwarts and I wanted them to be both functional and decorative, rather than just plain horizontal braces. I managed to find some online plans from the 1948 article "Canoe from the Penobscot River" by Wendell S. Hadlock & Ernest S. Dodge reprinted on the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association's website. Using photoshop to adjust to appropriate width for my smaller hull, the patterns were traced on onto some 1-1/8" yellow birch cutoffs from previous paddles and cut out with a handsaw.

Birch cutoffs; Thwarts cut out

Following some guidelines from Adney's book, I intended on shaping to the centre thwart to 7/8" thickness tapering down to 1/4" at the tips; the intermediate thwarts would be 3/4" thick at the centre tapering to 1/4" at the tips; and the end thwarts would be 1/2" thick tapering to 1/4". All this involved some marking with the combination square and carving down with a spokeshave - skills easily adapted from making paddles.

Carving with spokeshave

In the end I was left with some decent thwart blanks whose ends will be further shaped when it comes down to mortising them into the inwales.

Sanded down; edge view

Given that yellow birch lends itself pretty well to pyrography, I thought it would be a nice personal touch to add some woodburning images to the centre thwart. I decided on a simple wildlife scene with a black bear and a bull moose confronting each other with a familiar boreal forest shoreline in the background. Who knows, maybe when it's finally installed and I take the canoe paddling, I may come across this very scene on one of my paddling trips.

Bull Moose; Black Bear

Completed centre thwart

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Harvesting Gum for Sealing the Canoe

While taking a break from the monotony of lashing the gunwales, I've been eagerly collecting any pine or spruce gum oozing from trees in my area. At first the process was frustating as I could only find tiny droplets of gum that didn't seem worth the effort. But after I started paying closer attention, I began noticing several large gobs of gum on these trees, typically emanating from below a branch wound.

The most gracious source was a white pine under which we BBQ all the time! A copious amount of gum had accumulated under a branch wound and had already begun to dry out and turn grey. Using an old broken knife, I harvested the gum into a can and scraped off other sources

Gob of gum; Harvesting with an old knife

When I started harvesting from these sources, I would notice a large grub wiggling around in the bark. Further research has pointed out that I've been getting assistance from the Pitch Mass Borer (Synanthedon pini), a type of moth that deposits eggs on the bark of the host pines and spruces during June and July. The larvae bore in the inner bark and sap wood excavating tunnels and cause copious amounts of sap to flow as a defense mechanism. Usually a single larva is found in one glob and don't damage tree extensively.

Apparently removing the larva causes the wound to seal off completely and stop flowing so I've been careful to ensure that I don't kill the delicate larvae while also leaving some protective gum on the wound as well. Afterall, these little guys have made my harvesting sufficient quantities of gum much easier and the trees are supplying me with a fantastic waterproof sealant.

At anyrate, with all plenty of pines and spruce in the vicinity that have been trimmed for landscaping purposes, I've been able to collect a whopping load of gum. I ended up transferring all the collected stuff into a plastic bag and then stuffed it into a 1kg tub (formerly containing some fantastic Medjool Dates). After softening a bit in the summer sunshine, the 2 pounds or so of softened gum has taken on the shape of the container.

1 Kg of gum in the container

The unsightly mix needed to be filtered to remove bits of bark, soil, needles, and other debris. So I rigged up a cooking station with an Trangia alcohol stove, used an old cheapo pot to melt the gum and poured the resulting brew into an aluminum foil lined pan topped with a cheese cloth "filter". The pitch melted easy enough into a bubbling brew and occasional flared up like a flambe so doing this outdoors with a lid nearby to smother the pot was a must. After thoroughly boiling to cook off the bulk of the pitch smell (apparently making the gum less brittle), it was poured into the cheesecloth and the clean gum squeezed. This required some quick work because the cooling gum would solidify rapidly.

The set-up; Melting globs of gum

To reduce the extreme stickiness of the gum and limit the mess, I put the pan into the freezer for a while and that allowed the resin to break off the aluminum foil quite nicely. The chunks were then stored in a zip lock bag. After repeating this process a few times, I ended up with about 500 grams of purified resin (from the original 1kg amount). This isn't enough to seal the boat so I've been actively collecting more gum from any and trees I come across (eliciting strage looks from passers by).

Purifed batch of gum; Putting it in the freezer

Purifed Pine Resin; The total harvest

I also found that the cotton cheesecloth tended to trap too much liquid gum, so my filtered yield wasn't as much as I had hoped. Both Jim Miller's DVD and Cesar's Bark Canoe video show the gum filtered with a burlap bag whose woven fabric seems to allow much more liquid gum seepage. After searching for burlap bags in vain, I posted an ad on Toronto's Freecycle and Bill responded to me request with plenty of burlap bags. I intend to use this with the next batch of gum preparation and expect to get better results. Thanks Bill!

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