Thursday, April 30, 2009

Morning in the Northwest wallpaper

Another Canadian fur trade themed production I found is Morning in the Northwest. They've got some info about the 2 x 60 min episodes regarding the fur trade in addition to some video clips on their site. Also avaialble are some downloadable wallpapers, including this beauty shot below captured after the point of no return...

It seems as though this show has also aired, but because I don't have cable I missed out on this show too.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Inserting Ribs & Sheathing

A big day! Time had come to insert the soaking cedar sheathing and custom fit the pre-bent ribs into the canoe. I couldn't help but remember my frustrating experience with setting the sheathing in my model canoe. Try as I might with temporary ribs, the sheathing kept slipping. This time, another procedure was tried. Strips of sheathing was placed in the hull and held in place with the tension of the headboards squeezing them against the hull. The top layer of sheathing close to the gunwales was held with trigger clamps. The system worked well enough to hold the thin cedar in place but still allow for some movement and adjustment.

Soaked sheathing layed out; Stacked sheathing at the stern

The tied rib bundles were put into position and marked at the height of the gunwales. The tops were cut with a saw and then carved to a chisel shape with a knife. Forgot my crooked knife this time around, so ended up using a Farrier's (Hoof) knife I had picked up a while back.

Rib bundle; Sawing the tops; Carving tip to chisel point

The ribs tips were squeezed under the bevel of the inwale. I've read of horror stories of some people forgetting to carve this all important bevel or carving on the wrong side of the inwale and having to carve it after the stitching of the hull. Can't imagine having to do this after the fact. With a piece of scrap cedar rib and some hardwood scrap as an mallet, the ribs were slowly pounded in (not to vertical) all the while soaking the bark with plenty of boiling water to prevent it from splitting. After getting the ribs on either end soundly installed, I had a pleasant visitor swing by and pose with the work so far.

Tapping in ribs

My boy enjoying all the action

After letting the bark stretch for a few hours, the whole thing was soaked in hot water again and the ribs pounded home to their final position. The canoe was then laid out to dry out in the brief sunshine. Here's the final result...

All ribs in

Another angle

Still a few cosmetic things to get done like making bark decks, carving and pegging gunwale caps, and of course gumming the seams, but the major stress of the build is behind me.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Rib Shaping and Mistakes

The successfully bent ribs have been drying out and it was time to remove them and prepare to insert them into the canoe. To maintain their shape, the tops of the rib pairs were tied off and the each rib brace knocked out.

Rib tops tied off

It was at this point I notice a few, superficial mistakes made. To prevent the braces from excessively marking the soft cedar, I had cut some scrap cardboard to place over the rib. I ended up using a box that had blue ink on the face and some of this colour bled into the wet cedar. So a few ribs have a weird blue tinge to them. Also, I made a few mistakes by marking the bending point on some rib on the wrong face, so now there are some permanent ink marks these ribs too. These blemishes should easily come off with sanding.

Blue dye from cardboard; ink mark from initial marking

In the meantime, the cedar sheathing is soaking, so if all goes well, the final challenging part of inserting the ribs & sheathing will be over soon.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Exotic Paddle Series (2)

Here's the second post in my Exotic Paddle Series. Some interesting carved designs from Papua New Guinea.

This rare paddle comes from the Papuan Gulf area. Canoe paddles from this area are few and far between and this example has striking ancestral faces carved on each side of the blade. The piece was collected by George Craig in the early 1960s. The paddle is 75 ½" in length with the blade being 27" long. The piece dates to the 1940s. Sold

From the Mossgreen Gallery (via The Australian Art Network)

artist: Unknown
Painted and Carved Paddle Circa 1940’s, Papuan Gulf, Length 133cm

Monday, April 20, 2009

Maliseet Photo paddles

From the Associates of the New Brunswick Archives...

Title Maliseet First Nations people at Kingsclear near Fredericton, late 1800's / Personnes des Premières Nations Malécite, à Kingsclear près de Fredericton, fin des 1800

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rib Bending Stress!

The weather warmed up to the minimum temp I felt was safe for rib bending so this critical day in the canoe's birth had arrived. The Mrs. took the camera on a day excursion with the baby into town, so no action shots unfortunately. Wouldn't have been possible in the dimly lit and steam filled garage anyway - so all these shots were taken after the fact.

The canoe was set on the building bed and positioned with some left over stakes. It was thoroughly soaked with hot water to soften up the bark. Some pieces of temporary sheathing were also laid into the hull. Not sure about the best method for heating the ribs, I rigged the steaming tube used last fall to bend temporary ribs for storing the canoe through the winter.

The ribs were collected from their soak in the lake and began to soften up under the full steam of the boiling kettle. I've read and seen various ways of bending ribs, with some books mentioning bending two at a time to minimize breakage so this was what I tried. The process didn't proceed very well as I ended up breaking 6 of the initial ribs in a row! Suddenly a flood of panic ensued and all I could think of was David Gidmark's comment that builder Jocko Carle once broke 22 ribs as part of canoe build. At this rate, I was on track to break his record!

Broken Ribs

Even though I had made 10 extra ribs, things were getting too close for comfort. So the steaming tube was dropped in favour of the more monotonous but effective technique of ladling boiling water over the ribs and bending them up one at a time. Things went much better after that with only one more rib breaking.

The soften ribs were then placed in the boat and using my feet (in neoprene paddling socks to not mark up the ribs), they were pressed into the hull and temporarily clamped. Kind of tricky footwork with the cross braces stretched across the gunwales to limit the outward force of the ribs pushing against the bark hull.

Even though the ribs were bent singly, I adopted a method of securing the ribs from Ferdy Goode's photo gallery, where the ribs were stacked two at a time and spread with a single rib brace to push them flat against the hull. These were recut pieces of the staves used earlier in the build. Despite the stressful start, the final end ribs with their extreme bend didn't break so I guess it was all in the technique.

View towards the bow; the final bow ribs in position

The ribs and temporary sheathing have stiffened up the hull nicely and the bark was weathered the tension of the outward rib force well so far. Now the ribs have to dry out in the hull for a few days before they will be cut down to the gunwale height and the real sheathing and ribs can be permanently inserted.

Ribs pairs in and waiting to dry out

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Chip-Carved Mini Paddle

Francois Rothan recently made a 1/3rd scale model Malecite paddle complete with some beautiful chip carved motifs. Here's a shot below

It's carved out of maple, a pretty challenging wood to do etching work on, so I've been told. Great workmanship. If you didn't catch my post on Francois' full scale chip carved paddle, you can read it here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Bark Canoe Sealant Dilemma

While up North for a short vacation (aka canoe time), I had to make another (regretable) decision regarding the sealant for the canoe. I had collected and purified plenty of spruce & pine gum last summer which had been stored in my city freezer all winter for this moment. Well I forgot to bring this vital item up and needed to seal the interior of the canoe while I had the time.

As a compromise and so as not to delay the build even further, I communicated with a few other builder who mentioned that they've used polyurethane sealants with much success in their bark canoes. It has many "advantages" over the natural sealants since it is apparently more flexible and isn't prone to running or cracking with temperature fluctations. It can also be applied in cooler temperatures when tree gum may set too quickly...another reason why it appealed to me at this time. Gidmark's books talk about Algonquin builder Jim Jerome and others using roofing tar as opposed to tree gum as well. Given that the bark quality isn't the best, I figured as much sealant assistance the better to keep this sucker waterproof. Still it pains me to use these synthetic elements in a boat made from natural, harvested materials - so as a compromise, I'll be gumming the exterior with my collected gum but decided to seal the interior with a synthetic agent.

The gooey tar was worked into the lap stitch seams as well as any other weak spots in the hull. In particular, the centre panel had many pin sized holes that I identified by shining a spot light on the underside of the hull and marking the locations where the light seeped through. These were sealed with single globs of sealant. The whole thing has made the interior pretty ugly, but of course it will be covered with beautiful cedar sheathing soon enough...

Interior "gummed" with synthetic sealant

Friday, April 10, 2009

Decorating Headboards

Winter weather returned over the last few days preventing any hope of bending the ribs, so I made use of the time working on decorating the bark canoe's headboards that were roughly carved out a while back.

Apart from the structural role, the headboards have another practical aspect in the canoe's hide the end stitching and stem structures from view while paddling. Often the headboard is decorated with etchings or paint that have symbolic imagery meaningful to the paddler. A caption from James Dina's Voyage of the Ant describes his headboard decoration as follows:
"The headboard is a vertical piece of wood that encloses the open space where the canoe's gunwales sweep upward to meet the stem piece. Its position is such that the canoeist's gaze falls naturally upon it as he propels his craft. It is the last visual symbol between himself and the waters beyond. As such, it is properly decorated with a figure that holds special meaning. I had searched in vain for a design. Then I considered the temperament required of a traveler about to undertake a strenuous yet monotonous voyage upstream against current and wind. Without hesitation, the Ant suggested himself. He is a patient, tireless worker who keeps his eye on the immediate duty without losing sight of a distant goal. With my stone knife I etched a nameless ant on the headboard, hoping he would be up to the tasks ahead. "

Personally, I've always been attracted to birding imagery, so thought I would extend some of my paddle artwork to these pieces. For the bow headboard, I chose a Great Blue Heron wading through some reeds and for the stern a Barred Owl watching my back. Both of these birds are quite visible and local to my paddling area.

Heron & Barred Owl Headboards

Cedar isn't a very good wood for shading detail in pyrography. Far too soft and open grained with the natural oils interfering with consistent shading, but I'm still happy with the way these turned out. Along with my Moose & Bear decorated centre thwart, the whole canoe should have a nice woodlands feel. This isn't the first time I've seen a pyrography decorated headboard. A while back I came across a pic on Flickr showing a silouetted wolf burn. All the parts are slowly coming together, now I just need some co-operation from mother nature for warmer temperatures to start bending ribs!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The White Canoe - Book Cover

Another canoe book find on is Elizabeth Monckton's The White Canoe, and other legends of the Ojibways (1904). The book cover has some decorated paddles with some etched style motifs that add a simple but attractive touch to the blade. Maybe something to replicate on a future paddle.

I'll admit I never heard of the White Canoe legend, but the downloadable PDF (12 MB) version was a pleasant read.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Soaking Ribs

I'm back up North for another brief break during the height of the "off" season. Too cold for spring/summer activities but with insufficient snow for winter sports. I'm planning on keeping busy however with plenty of stuff still to get done with the bark canoe.

The forecast calls for the the weather to warm up in 2-3 days, sufficiently enough I'm hoping, to get the rib bending process started. Before this however, the ribs need a thorough soaking. When I carved the ribs over the Christmas break, I made sure to make plenty of extras in case the rib bending didn't proceed well. Here's a shot of the 3 bundles.

Rib bundles ready for soaking

By the shoreline, I found the same old cement anchor used last summer to secure the bark rolls in the lake and tied off the bundles to its rusted metal ring. Another large piece of lumber also drifted ashore (probably from the new cottage construction across the bay) and along with some very large rocks, was used to submerge the delicate cedar below the waterline.

Even though the perimeter of our cottage lake is already open, the majority of the lake still has sheet ice and the water was obviously frigid. But with neoprene boots and paddling gloves used on my '07 Artic trip, the temperatures were certainly manageable.

Submerging the bundles

Cedar is amazingly bouyant. It took the combined weight of the heavy cement anchor and two huge rocks to weigh down the ribs all the while standing on the lumber to keep the bundles from rising to the surface. But for now, they're fully submerged and should stay put ok under the murky, spring lakewater.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Maliseet "Grandfather" Canoe

Thanks to Bushcraft poster Mungo and another reader of my blog (thanks John C), I was forwarded a link from The Globe & Mail newspaper regarding one of the world's oldest surviving birchbark canoes.

It's a six-metre long Maliseet freight canoe that ended up, of all places, stored above a damp staircase at the National Univerity of Ireland, Galway. Apparently, the unusual location (and predictable dampness of the Irish climate) allowed the bark, ribs and spruce root lashing to remain moist and intact. Makes me think I should build a giant humidor to store my bark canoe if it is to survive beyond me

NUI Galway staff and postgraduate students moving the 180-year-old birch-bark canoe in 2005

Here's another link documenting its history and initial restoration 2 years ago at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. Never got a chance to see it back then but it seems that the canoe is currently being loaned out to the New Brunswick Museum. Hopefully they may put up some pics on their online gallery soon. There's also talk of the canoe being repatriated to the Maliseet people of St.Mary's First Nation who've dubbed the artifact the "Grandfather Canoe".

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Carving headboards

An interesting part of a birchbark canoe's structure are the headboards. My understanding is that these components serve to strengthen the hull ends where ribs cannot be properly inserted. While some are attached to the stem pieces with horizontal struts, they can also be held in place by the tension of sitting them upon the stem piece and jamming carved "shoulders" under the inwales. It seems these end pieces come in varying designs, with thin bellied headboards in East Coast Abenaki canoes and thicker, vertical boards used in traditional Algonquin style boats. I opted for a design similar to one illustrated in James Dina's (out of print) book, Voyage of the Ant on the right

This part of the construction process is really trial and error as each custom made canoe tends to have its own unique measurements. To get a rough guide for the shape, some scrap cardboard was cut and loosely jammed it into the bow and stern. After bending the cardboard to fit the curvature of the hull, it was removed and cut to shape. The bark had dried out unevenly at the bow and stern creating a lopsided, irregular curvature. By pushing the bark out delicately with one hand, the hull stretched out sufficiently to form fairly symmetrical headboard templates (which got crushed again when I removed my hand to take the picture). Ultimately, the templates were traced onto cedar boards, shaped with an axe & saw and then cleaned up with the crooked knife.

Cardboard template; Tracing onto cedar plank; Shaping with axe

Crooked Knife work - don't know how my hat got covered in shavings!

Given the fact that the inwale tip at the stern broke during assembly resulting in an assymetrical hull, the stern headboard is slightly wider and shorter than the bow headboard. I also purposely left the headboards wider than actual so that they can by shaved down to proper size to compensate for the sheathing thickness as well when it comes to fitting them in later.

Stern & Bow headboards

Like Dina's headboards, I plan on decorating mine as well but haven't come up with any ideas yet.

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