Thursday, October 30, 2008

You Tube Paddle Making

A fellow paddling enthusiast and blogger, Bryan, informed me a of YouTube posting documenting the manufacturing process of canoe paddles by the Grey Owl Paddle company. Apparently it was part of a TV show called How It's Made. I've been living for 10 years without cable TV so tend to miss out on these things.

The video is actually divided into 2 separate posts. Part 1 starts at 3:45 in this video and finishes with Part 2 at the start of this clip

Part 1 & 2 of the Videos

Pretty interesting to watch the industrialized side of paddlemaking. Using all those power tools sure makes the process quick but there's still something to be said of paddles handcrafted with time, patience, and sweat. I was nevertheless surprised at the amount of basic human involvment, from the tracing of the pattern with a pencil, to cutting out the blank with a bandsaw, and sealing the paddle with varnish. The whole endeavour looked like a highly efficient, but pretty standard woodworking shop

I especially liked the documentation of cutting a slot on the blank edge and filling it with thickened epoxy to form a more rugged tip. Until now, I never really knew how the expoxy tip was so well formed on the blade.

Thanks to Bryan again for keeping me in the loop! And if any readers out there have more info on paddle related stuff, feel free to email me

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Interesting Epoxy Laminated Paddles

I came across a page on the MAS Epoxy site documenting the work of Doug Roberts from West Virginia who uses the adhesive in making his many laminated paddle designs. The writeup mentions his use of various woods including butternut, white cedar, spalded beech, curly maple, and cherry. Also interesting is that he used epoxy with food dyes for an interesting colouring effect. I like the inlaid look of his paddle tips as well as the pattern of the checkerboard paddle. Might be a great addition to a back-country trip where a relaxing game of chess or checkers could be played after a hard day of paddling

Shots of Doug Robert's creative laminated paddles

Epoxy is tough on blades and handtools but it is more gap-filling than the polyurethane glues I've used on my paddles. I might consider making more paddles like these with all the accumulating wood scraps in the future.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Elm Bark Canoe

Ancient Pathways Cultural Resource Group has some great photos & info about various native crafts including an interesting album documenting construction of an Elm Bark Canoe.

These canoes, according to Adney, tended to be more fragile, temporary craft used by Iroquois tribes of the northern U.S. before their incursion into more northern lands where birchbark canoes were predominant. There are some similarities with birchbark canoe construction, although one major difference is the use of crimping with elm bark in order to maintain the hull shape. This is apparently a necessity since elm bark cannot be cut with longitudinal gores as birch bark can. This boat also needed fewer ribs, no sheathing and has functional, but more crudely formed lashings on the square-edged end pieces. The builders, Kevin Finney and Erik Vosteen, did a great job with it so thank you to them for posting some of this native knowledge.

I've posted a few pics below - the full album has many more shots.

Bark Foldup

The completed end lashing

Installing Ribs

The completed elm bark canoe

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Iconic Canoe Pictograph at Risk

The September '08 newsletter from the Canadian Canoe Museum had a brief blurb about an Iconic Canoe Image at risk from property development. The image found on a granite rock face on tiny Pictured Lake, near Thunder Bay Ontario is one of the clearest and best preserved native pictographs of a canoe and served as the inspiration for the Canoe Museum's Logo

Pictured Lake Pictograph; Canoe Museum Logo

Location of Pictured Lake Pictographs

The image is also pictured on the cover of the book, Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes by Selwyn Dewdney and Kenneth Kidd. The Royal Ontario Museum has acknowledged them to be some of the most striking, detailed and well preserved pictographs that have been found in Northwestern Ontario.

The Thunder Bay Field Naturalists have begun a fundraising drive to acquire a 108 acre parcel of land southwest of the City of Thunder Bay. The site is owned by a developer who has given the TBFN until December 8th, 2008 to raise $170,000 to purchase the property to keep it undeveloped. More information about the project is available from

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

McCord Museum Paddle

Montreal's McCord Museum has a fantastic collection of native items, including some beautifully made full-sized and model-scale paddles. The site allows you to zoom on the images and get a virtual tour of some of the collection. One such piece is a late 19th century Maliseet or Passamaquoddy paddle with a painted scroll pattern on the blade. Clicking on the pic below will send you to the info page on the Museum's site with more details

Paddle |  | M5470

Sunday, October 19, 2008

YouTube Bark Canoe Footage

In my never ending search for more material on birchbark canoes, I've assembled some notable YouTube links below:

The most comprehensive video is telemarkfreak's fantastic video on his bark canoe build. Absolutely spectacular boat complete with beautiful winter bark etching and a technique I'll definitely be using - duct tape on the seams while gumming to give a clean, crisp seal. In addition, he built his boat in his garage on a building platform like mine and seems to have used a propane stove to boil water for the rib bending process.

A preview video of Earl Nyholm, an Ojibwe Elder, shows him and his colleagues wandering through the forest on Madeleine Island, Wisconsin in search of perfect canoe bark. Intersting for me was the harvesting a single sheet from a standing tree using a huge ladder and a helper on the ground to prevent it from buckling. It's part of a documentary entitled Earl's Canoe that I haven't fully seen, but looks interesting.

This one by tigertensing shows the maiden launch of an Ojibwe longnose style canoe. Great footage of the clean lashings and the gumming of the underneath of the hull. Like my boat, this one is made of panels rather that a single sheet so this video gives me confidence that my canoe can still be watertight with this construction technique. I had to chuckle at the actual launch at the end though because the the stern passenger nearly tips the boat as he plops himself down right as a wave slams against the side of the canoe...not the most graceful entry I've ever seen. Though they save the day with some creative back paddling for a pass by the shore. Shouldn't be one to jest however, as I'm sure I'll be the laughing stock of the lake if I flip my boat on the maiden voyage next summer.

Destination Nor'Ouest was historical documentary that aired back in 'o6 on French Canadian TV. It recreated the Voyageur experience as the group of six men and three women, with authentic period clothing and equipment, journeyed 2,500 km in authentic bark canoes from Montreal to Winnipeg. Haven't seen all 8 episodes but the trailer looks amazing. Watch for the shot when the massive Canot du Nord splits in half while caught up in some modern-day channel with a horrendous current.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Historic Passamaquoddy Paddle - Part 1

About a month ago, I decided to get back to paddle making using a wood I hadn't used in a while - black cherry. The design I wanted to try came from Adney's book - an 1849 Passamaquoddy paddle decorated with a double scroll pattern on an elongated beavertail blade. In Canoe Paddles, there is a rough hand drawn sketch by Liz Regan of this very same pattern. A search revealed that the Peabody Museum also has a version of this paddle in their collection

Adney's sketch - Decorated Passamaquoddy on top

Peabody Museum paddle; Peabody Number 99-12-10/53655

I'm not the first person to try and replicate this paddle. Doug Ingram of Red River Canoe documented his version on his page on historic canoe paddles (UPDATE 2012 - unfortunately the original article is no longer online after switching internet servers). I ended up using Doug's image of the painted blade for my basic pattern.

Adneys's Illustration; Doug Ingram's paddle; Closeup of Blade
courtesy Doug Ingram -

Instead of colouring the beautiful cherry wood with bright green paint however, my intention was to burn the negative image onto the blade, resulting in a look similar to the Fusion Paddle made last year. I also chose a different grip pattern than Adney since I had already put this style of grip on the Omer Birch. Instead, I used a stretched out Malecite grip that I've begun to favour. I free-handed a similar scroll pattern on the grip area. Burning the whole negative pattern on the paddle with just a tiny flow-point tip took a while, but I'm happy with they way it turned out.

Carved out paddle; Initial pattern; Completed blade

I was actually working on filling in the remaining portions on the handle section when my wife's water broke and the chaos of the little one's birth left this paddle in limbo. It's been in my den nearly complete for a while now and I'll always associate this paddle with the early delivery. Below is a shot of the incomplete paddle posing on a glorious Autumn day with the fall colours beginning in Toronto.

Incomplete paddle

Part 2 will be posted whenever I find the time to finish this one off.

UPDATE: November 20, 2008:: Paddle now complete - read Part 2

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hibernating for the Winter

I've had to accept the fact that I've run out of time to complete the bark canoe this season. With the birth of the little one, my immediate priorites have obviously changed. With one last trip up to cottage before winter set it, I prepped the incomplete canoe for storage.

I was really concerned about whether all my work on the bark canoe to this point would be ruined if a stitched, unsupported hull was left to sit in a barely heated garage over the winter. None of the readings I had come across mentioned builders who made their boat over two paddling seasons. That is until I came across an article in Wooden Canoe (Edition 43: 1990, pp.3-9) written by James Dina previewing his now out of print book, Voyage of the Ant. The article was fantastic especially given that Dina also built his own birchbark canoe (an 11 footer like mine) but did so with extreme devotion to the craft - using only stone age, pre-European contact tools the natives would have used. His article discusses stone axes, bow drills, flint carving knives, etc. Given that he was working alone as well, the hull wasn't finished over the summer season so had to let his canoe "hibernate" over the his case leaving it outdoors though protected from the elements with tree coverage, etc. The key point I gathered from his article was the use of temporary ribs to strengthen the hull during the slumber, so I set out to bend some for my boat.

While I respect Dina's dedication to authenticity, I was willing to use some modern equipment to get the job done. In my case, I wanted to use whatever scraps and free stuff I could get of off Toronto's Craigslist. With a 5 ft long piece of discarded PVC pipe (ABS would've been better but no luck), some 3/8" dowels, wood scrap supports, plastic tubing, a kettle and a hot plate, I rigged up a steaming chamber for bending some temporary ribs.

Setting ut a steaming tube with scraps

The rig set up outdoors

I fashioned a few ribs and sheathing out of some scrap red cedar lying around and after an overnight soak in the lake, the ribs were put into the steaming tube for 20 minutes. PVC has a tendency to soften and sag with heat, but I made sure it was well supported and it held its shape. The exterior & interior of the bark hull were thoroughly softened with some boiling water and temporary sheathing layed. The ribs were placed in 3 positions (basically under the thwarts) and were pressed into place with vertical struts jammed under the temporary thwarts. Once finished, the hull stiffened up nicely.

Stiffened hull ready for winter slumber

This temporary stretching of the bark has added some needed rigidity to the hull and although it looks quite rounded (and extremely unstable) at the moment, I'm confident that the hull will flatten out when the bark is softened again in the spring and the real ribs are bent into place. Here's the final shot of the bark canoe resting and packed away for the season (found space above my blue, fiberglass canoe, Marge).

Hibernating Bark Canoe

Over the winter months, I plan to finish off carving the necessary parts of the boat - the ribs, sheathing, gunwale caps, etc. if I get any free time.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

c. 1878 Maliseet Paddle

While searching through Artefacts Canada's site, I came across a fascinating paddle, apparently located at the Fredericton Region Museum (formerly York Sunbury Museum) in Fredericton, New Brunswick. It's been dated to at least 1878, made from maple, and is ornately carved with a stylized fiddlehead design. The description mentions that it was presented to Col. John Saunders (1792-1878), who served as High Sheriff of York County for many years and befriended many local Maliseet. The grip is incised with the builder  dupskodegun (pictorial signature or private mark) and is made of curved motifs with a stylized depiction of fiddleheads, apparently a very common design of the time. Below are some closeups of the blade and grip area. For the full Artefacts Canada citation, click here.

The decorated blade & grip

The whole paddle

UPDATE - See more detailed pics of this paddle HERE

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ferdy Goode's 61st Masterpiece - DONE

Birchbark Canoe builder Ferdy Goode graciously sent me some pics of his 61st bark canoe build. With his permission, I've posted some of his pics so the readers of my blog can see another bark canoe being born. The bark was harvested from a standing tree using some wooden braces and clamps on the cut edge to prevent the bark from tearing. Simple but brilliant idea. Had I thought of this, I might've been able to salvage my bark piece whole instead of tearing it into 5 ft. long panels and eliminated the need for lap stitching the hull. Live and learn I guess.

Ferdy harvesting bark with clamped edge

This one has ash gunwales that are nailed - a technique that many native builders adopted for speed of construction and strength. Given how long it took to lash my canoe's gunwales, I can see the definite time advantages to this method.

Bark folded up & staked

Nailing the ash gunwales

I've always admired Ferdy's artistic flair with the winter bark etchings. These curved motifs are mesmerizing. It looks like there are different patterns on each side. A decorative way of identifying the starboard side from port side I guess.

Winter bark etching

Winter bark etching

Ferdy's Ash Bark Canoe

Apparently Ferdy also built the Eastern Algonquin canoe on display at the Indian Summer Fest that I blogged about earlier. He's been gracious enough to answer my questions and share his wealth of knowledge about the construction process. For more birchbark canoe eye candy, check out his site Beaver Bark Canoes for more pics of his prolific building over the years

Monday, October 6, 2008

Paddle Making Workshop Dates

The Canadian Canoe Museum has updated their adult artisan page with upcoming dates for their 2 day Paddle Making Workshop. This was the very workshop I attended in May of '07 that started this fun and rewarding hobby for me. See my first post about here. Jeremy Ward, Hal Bowen, and Don Duncan are fantastic instructors that spent enough time with each participant to thoroughly assist throughout the carving process.

• Nov 29th and 30th, 2008 (Sold Out)
• Feb 21st and 22nd, 2009
• May 30th and 31st, 2009
• Sept 26th and 27th, 2009
• Nov 28th and 29th, 2009

Time: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Location: The Canadian Canoe Museum, 910 Monaghan Rd., Peterborough (Google Map)

Cost: $175 Includes tax, instruction & all material. (Museum Member Price - $165)

Who?: Adults, all skill levels welcome.

Contact: Beth Stanley or Jeremy Ward
Tel: (705) 748-9153
Fax: (705) 748-0616
E-mail Beth:
E-mail Jeremy:

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ray Mears Canoeing in Canada

The local canoe buzz is that Bushcraft guru Ray Mears was in Canada with Canoe expert (and full time wilderness comedian) Kevin Callan filming for an upcoming series on how the canoe shaped canadian culture. Kevin wrote a blurb about it on his blog and posted some pics on his gallery.

Apparently the event included Ray tackling Class II rapids on the French River in birchbark canoe. with a helicopter overhead documenting the footage. Gotta see that! Also couldn't help but notice that the sheerline and ends on Ray's bark canoe resemble my yet incomplete Attikamek Hunter's canoe.

The Canadian Canoe Museum's 36' Canot du Maitre built by Manager Artisan Jeremy Ward was also part of the filming. Jeremy and the Museum's set of modern day Voyageurs look absolutely perfect in the Upper French's calm waters. I can't wait to see this TV series from Ray apparently due out in about 1 year.

Newer Posts Older Posts Home Page