Sunday, September 20, 2009

Walnut Laminated Voyageur

A common paddle design marketed today is the so called "Voyageur" blade, essentially a straight side paddle with a wide, squarish tip, and recurved shoulders at the throat. Despite the persistant occurance of this design in modern stores, there is little evidence that it resembles anything that the real voyageurs may have actually paddled. Certainly in the paintings of Frances Anne Hopkins, the paddles don't resemble this blade design. The only other time I've seen the recurved shoulder design is with an early Mi'kmaq design documented by Adney.

Graham Warren refers to this design more precisely as a "North West Voyageur" simply because it appears in the voyageur art of Howard Sivertson. For some examples, I checked out a book of his entitled, The Illustrated Voyageur: Paintings and Companion Stories which has some delightful anecdotes and illustrations, although probably not entirely accurate.

Cover of Sivertson's Voyageur themed book

In any event, I had made this blank many months ago from scraps of black walnut and a 3/4" wide strip of yellow poplar. Given the small width of the poplar, the walnut was laminated from the grip all the way to the blade resulting in a neat contrasting look in the shaft area. Walnut and Yellow Poplar are both very easy to carve and the simple, straight edges meant that cutting out and shaving down the blade and grip was very quick. This was one of the fastest paddles I carved out from a blank. Here are some pics of the job.

Unfinished paddle; Blade Closeup

Since I was using left over cutoff scraps, the grain pattern isn't perfectly symmetrical on the blade. There's also point on the blade where the grain reverses suddenly giving the appearance of a horizontal "scratch".

I've read plenty of criticisms of this blade design on canoeing forums with many paddlers literally calling this blade shape a piece of junk. Personally I found it an acceptable design although the larger squarish tip certainly made for a noisy entry and the recurved shoulders tended to cause some cavitation and loss of power when paddling with a quick pace. But I found that if I slowed down and relaxed the pace it handled well with underwater recoveries. The walnut-poplar lamination also resulted in a super-light paddle and there's no denying the rich-chocolatey appeal of the wood. Instead of adding any additional pyrography to this one, I've settled on simply oiling it and using it as an occasional light use paddle

Final work all oiled up

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