Sunday, November 30, 2008

c1840 Figured Maple Paddle

A Fine Northeastern Woodlands Native American Maliseet or Micmac Maple Wood Single Blade Canoe Paddle. Old smooth and dry patina – the letter ‘Y’ carved to one end. Circa 1840. Size: 203cm long – 80 ins long. Beautifully crafted from one piece of figured maple wood this paddle was made to be used with a birch bark canoe. It is generally considered that Micmac and Passamaquoddy birch bark canoes were the finest of all bark canoes and were built for use on both rivers and the ocean.

The maple looks to have darkened considerably with age, almost to a cherry colour, but the paddle seems sound. I really like the elongated grip and spined blade. If you look carefully at the bottom of the the grip area, you'll see a carved drip rings. This is definitely a design I'll consider replicating in the future.

Dec 7, 2015 Update: This paddle is no longer on the site but re-appeared in 2015 as part of Woolley and Wallis Auctions in the UK. See updated link and additional photos HERE.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Japanese Canoe Paddles

It seems that Native canoe paddles aren't just part of the North American psyche. Hidenao Matsubara of Indian Canoe Craft in Hokkaido, Japan has a page on some of his carved paddles. The Google Translated page reveals some info in typical computer translated english, but the paddle pics are gorgeous. Here are some samples below:

The grips on the last three paddles are quite unique and the eloquent chip-carving on the last paddle is something I'd like to try with some of my future attempts. Matsubara also has a fantastic page on Aleut Paddles which are far more beautiful than my attempt at this design earlier this year.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pin-Up Girl Paddle

Came across this painted paddle with a 1940's era pin-up girl (rather scantily clad for times I suppose) posted at the Cherry Gallery's website

Pin-up Girl Paddle

The gallery also has a page documenting a birchbark canoe model. It's not to scale but has an interesting lashing technique - the continuous lashing around a round gunwale giving it the illusion of a stronger bind. This is the style of lashing often seen on Mi'kmaq canoes. This method requires many holes piercing the bark in close proximity and apparently weakens the bark. Ferdy Goode mentioned to me that it is kind of the equivalent of perforated notepad paper that's easy to tear off.

Canoe model with continuous lashing

Close up

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More Alternative Bark Canoes

Johan, a reader of my blog from Belgium, took the liberty of emailing me more photos of Hans-George Wagner's fantastic plywood bark canoes to post on the site. Here they are below:

Johan also mentioned a kids school project where the youngsters built a canoe using hardboard panels and nailed gunwales. The gore lashings are different is that the kids used a cross pattern rather than a parallel stitch commonly seen in other boats. Curious that the stitches don't seem to the sealed with any pitch while the panels look to be oiled/varnished. In any case, a fantastic school project!

Many thanks to Johan for these shots and if any other readers have canoe related info that would like to share, I'd be willing to put up some posts on the topic. Feel free to email me.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Historic Passamaquoddy Paddle - Part 2

My last paddle project was temporarily put on hold after the birth of my son. But in an effort to resume a little bit of normalcy in our daily baby routine, I finished off the grip section during a brief respite from diaper changes and burping duty.

Incomplete grip area; Completed burning

I was actually working on the decoration of this paddle the night my wife's water broke and will always associate it with the panic and excitement of my son's early delivery. As such, I decided to dedicate this one to him and burned his full name, date and time of birth in the empty triangular space on the grip. I'm hoping it'll be a family heirloom and he'll appreciate it when he's old enough.

The Dedication Inscription

To seal it, the paddle was oiled rather than varnished to give it a more natural, matte finish. The fact that oiling is so much easier than varnishing is a plus. A quick 15 minute job for a single layer rather than the much more time consuming affair with varnish, solvents, safety gloves and a wailing baby in the background. Over the last few days, I've been adding additional layers of 1850s Circa 1850s Tung & Teak oil to give the paddle the desired sheen I was looking for. Here is the final result posing with Toronto's first snowfall in the background.

1849 Historic Passamaquoddy Replica

I really like these abstract scroll designs on certain paddle blades and plan to do more of them, hopefully eventually getting enough detail to replicate the c.1878 Maliseet Paddle I posted on earlier.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Alternative Bark Canoes

One of the most interesting canoe projects I've seen is the construction of a replica birchbark canoe without the all-important birchbark. Two builders in Germany have overcome the shortage of appropriate bark in their area and have instead resorted to using 3mm (1/8" thick) birch plywood which apparently can be shaped like bark around a canoe building frame. Hans-Georg Wagner has a page that documents his construction process, including authenthic spruce root lashings, cedar gunwales, ribs, and pitch for sealant. The plywood on his replica 2-1/2 fathom Tetes de Boules (Attikamek) boat is eventually stained to look like a bark canoe. Fascinating stuff although the final weight of the canoe is a whopping 72 pounds, pretty hefty for a 15 footer. Here are some shots from his site:

Soaking the plywood sheets

Folding up the plywood panels

Lashed up plywood hull

Wagner's Canoe

Another site I found was Wolfram Kaukars' Pantarhei Canoe which similarly uses plywood for the hull. Kaukars' son has uploaded a YouTube video of photo stills that documents his dad's work. This 14 foot Abnaki Hunter's replica is around 64 pounds.

Gunwales clamped and pegged

Kaukar's Plywood Canoe Replica

The plywood adds quite a lot of weight to the craft, in addition to needing a sealant varnish coat for protection, but it's great to see traditional bark canoe techniques being adapted to modern materials.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Paddle Art at the Abbe Museum, Maine

The Abbe Museum in Maine apparently held a Paddle Art auction in August of this year as part of its 80th anniversary celebrations. Nearly 2 dozen full sized paddles (all with ottertail style blades) were decorated by local artists. Some were quite over the top with a modern art flair. Below are three that I particularly enjoy - I guess I tend to favour the more traditional types of motifs. Clicking each image will take you to the info page on the museum's site:

David Moses Bridges, Passamaquoddy

Stanley Neptune, Penobscot

Jo "Hugga" Dana, Penobscot

Monday, November 10, 2008

Another Online Bark Canoe Book

Found another birchbark canoe source posted on the web at Bob Bear's Paddling Club. This one is an out-of-print Bulletin of the Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee (1950) entitled The Building of a Chippewa Indian Birch-Bark Canoe by Robert E. Ritzenthaler. I've seen it referenced in other books before but could never get my hands on it. The book documents the construction process of Bob Pine from Lac du Flambeau Reservation in Northern Wisconsin building a 13ft, 4" Chippewa (Ojibwe) style canoe.

Though not as detailed as the The Weymontaching Birchbark Canoe by Camil Guy that I posted about earlier, this book is still a fantastic read which documents some of the challenges faced by this builder. Particularly funny was how he couldn't collect enough gum to seal the canoe so he "stole it" from trees tapped by his "best friend". He then would quickly hide the gum if his friend happened by so as not to ruin their friendship. Not full of too many sketches or diagrams but there are plenty of black & white photos documenting the standard construction process.

Sample photos from the book including Bob Pine sealing the canoe with "stolen gum" taken from his best friend's trees

Thanks to Bob Bob Bear's Paddling Club for taking the time to document and post this on his site.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Mini Decorated Cherry Maliseet

Given that my full-scale paddle making has come to grinding halt with the ever present needs of a newborn at home, I spent some quality "me-time" getting back into the hobby with a tiny 1/5th scale Cherry Maliseet. The blank had been cut many months ago and with some bright sunshine on the balcony, I set to work carving with the spokeshave. Twenty minutes of work resulted in a cute little paddle for my boy.

Mini blank; Carved paddle & tools

For the decoration, I tried to free-hand some scroll patterns similar to the chip-carved Maliseet & Penobscot paddles I've been researching lately. The paddle was then sealed with melted food-grade coconut oil in case the little one starts nibbling on the edges. While lightly asleep in his colourful bouncer, I quickly snapped a shot in his first paddling pose. When he started to squirm, it actually looked like he was doing a forward stroke.

Decorative Scroll Patterns; Paddling in his dreams?

I think he has what it takes to be Canada's next Top Infant Model, but maybe I'm just gushing with parental bias.

Friday, November 7, 2008

McCord Model Canoes

In addition to the McCord Museum's collection of paddles, they've got a nice set of model BirchBark canoes of various design. Here are three examples with some details. Clicking on each pic will forward you to the Museum's info page on each item

Model canoe |  | M2005.151.5.1-3
Algonquin or Atikamekw Model

Model canoe |  | M2006.48.36
Atikamekw model circa 1930-1960

Model canoe |  | ACC4916
Passamaquoddy model circa 1900-1910

These ones aren't built to scale and don't have the appropriate number of ribs but they are nonetheless attractive pieces of canoe art.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Stunning Steve Cayard Canoe

DarelGabriel has uploaded a bunch of photos on his Flickr page showing off a stunning Wabanaki style birchbark canoe made by Steve Cayard. The winter bark etching is just beautiful! Etching out this negative image from the whole hull must have taken a very long time.

Steve Cayard built canoe

If I'm not mistaken, Darel is the brother of another well known Passamaquoddy bark canoe builder, David Bridges and who's got a fantastic album on his page documenting his gorgeous canoes. My boat looks extremely crude and very fragile compared to these canoes, which really show the beauty and workmanship of bark canoe construction at its finest.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mi'kmaq Bark Canoe

Todd "Waterdancer" Labrador is a seventh generation Mi'kmaq who builds birch bark canoes in his native tradition. Mi'kmaq canoes have a very unique design, included very blunt, rounded ends, a lack of a stempiece or headboard support, and a tendancy to use continuous lashing around a single round gunwale. It's interesting to see all the various tribal adaptations to the basic design of the bark canoe.

Adney's plan for a Mi'kmaq Canoe

Setting the ribs

Finished hull with continuous lashing

Upright paddling

More of Todd's creations can be seen at

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Aleut Kayak Paddle - Part 2

One incomplete paddle project that's been haunting me lately was the attempt at an Aleut style kayak paddle made with some left over walnut and maple stock (see the Part 1 post). The blank was cut out in the fall of '07, but the actual carving didn't being in ernest until the late Spring of '08. With the frustration of working with a a wavy grained wood that I shouldn't have used in retrospect, the paddle has been sitting and collecting dust in the locker room for months now. So in an effort to finish what was started, I decided to forgo any major pyrography decoration (wouldn't show up will with this dark piece of walnut anyway) and simply sanded it down and oiled it.

Aleut kayak paddles tend to have an interested off centered grip area with a spine ridge running the length of the blade. Here are some pics to illustrate this:

The offset laminated loom

Two shots of the blade powerface

Backside and Powerface pics

I'm not much a kayak paddler anyway, but intend to give this one a test trial in the spring and will report back then.

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