Sunday, May 24, 2009

Woods and Lakes of Maine (1883) Illustrations

Another great canoe related find on is Luther Prescott Hubbard's 1883 publication Woods and lakes of Maine : a trip from Moosehead Lake to New Brunswick in a birch-bark canoe.

I haven't gone through the whole book yet, but the downloadable PDF version(25mb) has some fantastic illustrations of the journey in a bark canoe.

Running the rapids (p.53)

Portaging the canoe (p.113)

Hunting Moose (p.155)

If my pyrography skills improve, I'm hoping to replicate some images like these are some paddle blades.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Attikamekw (Têtes-de-Boules) Paddle

With the bark canoe essentially complete, I figured I'd make use of some free time making a paddle to go with the boat. Given that it is based on a solo Attikamekw (Têtes-de-Boules) Hunter's canoe, it was only logical to carve an Attikamekw paddle with it.

The blank was cut out of some yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) stock, the off cuts of which had been used to make the permanent thwarts in the canoe a while back. Adney documents a sample Têtes-de-Boules paddle in Fig.102 of his book. It's a pretty no frills blade design with a round tip and gradual straight-lined taper to the neck. Pretty narrow blade as well, I made mine 4-3/8th inches at the widest point. Adney documents two alternative grip designs, neither of which I've found confortable in my paddle making experience so far, so I stuck with the elongated grip I've begun to favour for my style of paddling. Some decorative notches were added to the base of the grip as well.

Adney's Plan; My version; Grip Closeup

As for decoration, I wanted to experiment with some native-inspired scroll designs to go with the designs I may etch into the canoe's winter bark in the future. I checked out a great online resource - Frank G. Speck's Double-Curve Motive in Northeastern Algonkian Art (1914) available through In the end I settled on a Naskapi Cree double curve pattern (Fig. 12.) because the book source didn't have any documentation on Attikamekw patterns but stated that there was similarity between tribal groups of this region

Double Curve motif

From this basic pattern, a mirror imaged design was set up and burned onto the blade. Normally, such designs would be etched on, but I'm not confident enough with my chipcarving skills to tackle that. Pyrography also allows you to add some shading, and yellow birch is a great wood to take advantage of for subtle tones. One the grip, I burned some other free hand scroll patterns and designs.

Blade pattern; Grip decoration; Whole Paddle

Being a one-piece, I'll be oiling this one rather than varnishing but will likely do that once the extreme windy weather in Toronto settles down a bit.

Nov 29/09 UPDATE - A leather wrapping has been added to the shaft of this paddle which so far is my favourite design for solo paddling.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Historic Paddle Illustration - Unknown Source

From an unknown source, an illustration of Algonquin natives with a decorated paddle. It's painted in a simple pattern but the shape of it seems inconsistent with other historical images. The shaft seems too long and the blade length too short. Artistic license, I guess.

Unknown Artist

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Single Blade Kayak Paddles

Lately I've been trying to research the use of single blade kayak paddles from the net. According to KayakWiki site:
"Most modern kayakers associate a single blade paddle with canoes. However, single blade paddles have been used for centuries in kayaks, especially in the western arctic, Alaska and Siberia. Koryak, Chukchi, Aleut, Kodiak, Bering Sea, Bering Strait and Mackenzie Delta hunters used single blade paddles. Kodiak and Chugach paddlers used single blade paddles almost exclusively."

Tuktu Paddles has a great page on single bladed paddles. I especially liked the King Island designs. These plans for these same paddles is available in PDF form from David Zimmerly's page on Artic Kayak paddles. The 1st design with its recurved blade is interesting to me. I've already cut out two blanks with the this design - a one-piece birch and a walnut/cherry/laminated combo.

King Island Single-bladed Paddles UM #8565 & #8566

Hidenao Matsubara of Indian Canoe Craft has a photo of a single blade paddle with his baidarka. See below

Matsubara's beautiful carved Baidarka paddle

Finally, Harvey Golden's amazing pages on Traditional Kayaks contain some images of single blade kayak paddles

Eskimo Seal Hunter--Bering Sea.

Kodiak Three-Hole Baidarka

Yuit Kayak, likely taken at Nome.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

First Water Test

Even though the birchbark canoe is not fully cosmetically complete (still needs deckplates, gunwale caps, & winter bark decoration), I couldn't resist taking the newly gummed hull to the lake for its first water trial especially during a brief warm spell with minimal wind. Thought it was fitting that I'd use the very first paddle I made to go with it. My wife & son came down for the "launch" to take in the show and the lack of anyone else around this early in the season made it a very nice family affair.

The whole boat feels very sturdy with the ribs in and to be honest is a bit heavier than I imagined (probably because of the thicker rib size I opted to go with to strengthen the weaker bark hull). Despite this the boat floated quite high on the surface of the lake given the the cedar's amazing bouyancy. The hull's flattened bottom gives it decent primary stability but she still heels over quite well for solo paddling and responds just like bark canoes are supposed to, with an amazing delicate touch.

Action shot on the port side

Heeled over in the shallows

Final pose showing the starboard side

After about 10 minutes of paddling by the shoreline however, I felt some wetness on my shins and sure enough, the boat was taking on some water. Leaking on the first attempt is quite normal for a novice builder I suppose. But I'm a bit bummed out that I've run out of time to fully complete the boat and start paddling around the lake. Work and family obligations meant this was my last trip up here until August, so finalizing the boat would have to wait until then. Before packing the canoe up in garage, I let the outer bark dry up a bit, set it up on sawhorses and poured a bucket of water into the interior. The water eventually drained from the hull in numerous spots (mostly the 2nd lap seam and the stern end seam) and these were marked off with permament marker. When I'm back up again in August, I'll be repitching these seems and am confident the holes can be sealed off. In the meantime, I'll be thinking about designs to etch on the winter bark of the hull and fantasize about paddling it some more.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Erik Simula's Birchbark Journey

Johan from Belgium, who's generously provided some content for the site before, informed me of Eric Simula's current 1000 mile epic birchbark canoe journey across the Minnesota Arrowhead. He left from Grand Portage on Earth Day (April 22nd) in cold and windy conditions and will make a great circle route that will eventually take him back to Grand Portage for Rendezvous in August.

You can follow his journey online and there's also a great Flickr album with updated shots.There are also a few YouTube videos out there including one of his launch in a very packed canoe as well as a video of him re-pitching the seams before departure. He mentions that this chore may be a nightly affair depending on the conditions. I'll be following his trip with envy though am planning a much more delicate adventure with my nearly completed boat circling around our cottage lake.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Gumming the seams

Armed with the purified tree gum from last summer, I set out to make the pitch needed to seal the canoe's seams. Set up a little workstation by the garage using an alcohol stove for the heat source and an old pot to mix up the brew.

Workstation with chunks of purified resin

The recipe and method I used was the same as that for the pitch on the miniature canoe - basically about 5:1 ratio of Gum to Lard, although this time, I decided on adding in some ground charcoal. Apart from blackening the colour, the charcoal apparently makes the pitch a bit less advesive when working it with the fingers. Some blackened chunks had been collected last summer from the communal fire pit and using a simple concrete block and a rock, the chunks ground to a fine powder.

Collected charcoal; Ground up with a rock

Once the mixture was hot and bubbling, a test strip of bark was added and then quickly dunked into cold water. After a minute or two, the test strip was bent back onto itself and if it cracked, a little more fat was added to the mixture. Satisfied that the pitch was the right consistency, I applied some of the warmed pitch on the masked seams of the canoe and worked it in with wet fingers. Not sure if the charcoal thing worked because my fingers were still a gooey mess so didn't take many pics for fear of covering the camera with pitch residue.

Pitch ready; Applied to a lap seam

I've used up about a 1/3 of my gum supply and need to mix up another batch of pitch to seal the ends and some gores and should have some better pics of the whole boat in the coming days

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