Friday, October 30, 2009

Exotic Paddle Series (4) - New Zealand Hoe

A beautifully carved Maori paddle (Hoe) from Steve Pyne. The blade is stunning of course, but check out the hollowed loop on the shaft. Never seen anything like it!

Details & Description from his site:
Hoe is a canoe paddle. The highly decorated versions would normally be used for ceremonial purposes by the Chief's. Decorative work in which notched ridges run parallel to one, two or three plain ridges is termed Rauponga. Within the design the plain ridges are known as Patapata and the hollows between the ridges as Haehae, while the notched ridge itself is termed Pakati. Each individual notch is an Arapata and they form a diamond pattern called Tuara-kuri. The eyes are inlaid with paua amore colourful relative of the abalone. The spirals serve as points of movement or joint marks, for the jaw, shoulders, elbow & hips. The "three fingered hand" is found on many ancestral figures, some also show a back-bending thumb or spur. This shows an avian feature superimposed on the human image.

Length: 1660mm
Width: 155mm

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Canoe Tump Project - Part 1: The Design

One fascinating bit of traditional gear is the tumpline, basically a strap that placed across the crown of the head transfers weight to the person's frame rather than placing it on the shoulders allowing one to carry more weight with supposedly less effort. Many people curse the humble tumpline and cite that modern advances in building technology have made canoes and gear much lighter, thus rendering the tump system obsolete. Maybe so, but with my summer plans of tripping with the cedar canvas canoe and upper shoulder pain being a constant bother for me, I thought I'd revisit this piece of gear for my own canoe and try to make one for myself.

Cliff Jacobson's book on Expedition Canoeing writes about tumplines but his contracption involves sewing a canvas strip and securing it to the canoe with rubber straps and steel S-hooks...not appealing. Call me a nostalgia freak, but I wanted something a bit less "modern".

This Abnaki or Penobscot tump from the American Museum of Natural History is a woven from basswood cordage shows a typical native design although its construction is way beyond my current skill set.

AMNH Catalog No: 50.1/ 7611 - Tumpline

The forums at have some replica designs of traditional tumps, although nothing I could spot that was meant for canoe portaging. Another design I came across was that on Bob Abrames' voyageur gear page pictured below. A combination of rivetted leather with woven cordage.

Bob Abrames' Voyageur Tump

In the end, I got the inspiration from one of my favourite sites about wildnerness canoeing, The Northwest Woodsman, which has some fantastic videos showing some wonderful backcountry. The emphasis on this site is on basic, traditional bushcraft rather than modern, ultralite techno. This page describing his tumpline has some fantastic pics and details of the general construction. I also came across Don Merchant's Pole & Paddle Company site which also has a page on leather tumps.

NW Woodsman Leather Canoe Tump

Strapped to the centre yoke

Ends can be used to lash in paddles too

The construction looks straight forward enough. I've already got a piece of latigo suitable for the headpiece will have to obtain some 3/4" latigo strips for the ties as well as getting some rivets. Update on this ongoing project soon.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rick Nash Maliseet Paddles

Master birchbark canoe builder and artisan Rick Nash recently sent me an email and thoughtfully attached pics of his latest paddle creation for a client. An absolutely gorgeous Maliseet (or Maliceet) style paddle made from hand split cherry and rubbed with red ochre. The stunning chip carving was done with a jackknife and a nail. The delicate spined blade comes complete with a carved drip ring at the throat. Wow!

Rick's Beautiful Paddle

As some of you might have noticed, I've become more interested in tribal decorative patterns recently. I find the curved motifs and geometric designs really stunning. The patience and artistry required for such delicate carving is a testament to the maker's skills. My attempts at chip carving have yielded results too embarrassing to post online. A few readers of the blog have inquired about commissioning chip carved decorative paddles from me and frankly, for the time being, this sort of decoration is out of my league. If any of you are interested in paddles like this, Rick is the man to contact.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Crooked Knife Project - Birchbark Sheath

Came across some forgotten photos from the summer (on a different memory card that had been misplaced) of the birchbark sheath I had made for the Olive Wood crooked knife. Pinewood Forge has a nice little page documented the steps of a wrapped sheath for a small carving knife. I also found this set of instructions on Wilderness Rythyms which show a larger sheath for a knife. Here are some pics and my own instructions for anyone wishing to replicate this sheath.

1. Cut a strip of bark aproximately double the width of your blade and 4 times as long. Best to cut the strip from a thicker piece with the eyes of the bark parallel to the blade or they may crack open. For my knife, this meant cutting the strip from a large piece of bark left over from the canoe build. It had a natural split in it so I just continued the cut and cleaned up the edges with the sharp crooked knife.

2. Soak the bark in water to soften it and fold in half, then bring the the ends to the centre fold line.

3. Cut another narrower strip about the same length for the wrapping. To prevent cracking, I thinned this piece out by delaminating a couple of layers. This also lightened the colour to add a nice contrast.

4. Now the tricky part. The whole sheath is held with the tension of the wrap agains all these folded layers. Beginning at the bottom of the sheath, insert the wrapping strip on an angle and wrap around the main piece pulling tightly. After a single wrap, insert the end into the opposing folded slot and continue. You should end up with an alternating pattern that places the wrapping strip on the outside of the sheath then on the inner fold. Hopefully the pic shows this clearly

5. Trip the excess bark around the top of the sheath and tuck into the centre fold. Once the bark dries (quite quickly) it'll hold its shape quite nicely.

6. The sheathed knife. If you've selected healthy bark, it should not crack even when dry and have a little bit of springy give when removing the knife, sort of like thick leather.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Paddlemaking Book - Adirondack Guide Paddles

In my never ending quest to learn more about unique paddle designs, I stumbled across the page of Dr. Gordon L. Fisher describing his recent (2008) publication, Guideboat Paddles: An Adirondack Treasure. Available online is a PDF format excerpt from the book that shows some black and white photos documenting grip carving. Intrigued, I ordered a copy and recently received it in the mail.

Single blade Adirondack style paddles are quite a speciality in the paddling community. Their usage and history localized to the Adirondack region of New York state. My knowledge of guideboats in general was quite limited having assumed that they were exclusively rowed with oars rather than propelled with single blades, but an informative opening section in the book describes how many guides would silently maneuver the guideboats with single blade paddles as their sporting passengers would hunt deer and other game. Often, while one person powered the craft with oars, a helmsman would steer the boat with a single blade from the stern. Single blade paddles were therefore quite functional with guideboat touring.

The truly interesting feature of the paddles, however, are the circular grips. The book details some of the surviving historical paddles now at the Adirondack Museum and provides plenty of computer generated sketches and technical details necessary for reproducing the unique handle designs. Offset data as well as fullsized portions of the blade curves make reproduction a breeze. From a canoeing persepective, the narrow, straight sided blades would serve well for solo paddling, although the length of the paddles (and proportional blade lengths) would need to be reduced , especially when kneeling. Other than that, these are some designs I intend to replicated soon.

What I thoroughly enjoyed about the book, besides the plentiful illustrations and photos, was the historical context of each of the museum paddles described in the text. To many, a paddle is just a utilitarian object until a story is attached to it and its history revealed. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Gordon's contribution to the paddle making community and hope to make a trip to the Adirondack Museum one day and check these unique designs out with my own eyes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Child's Cree Canoe Paddle

From the Cherry Gallery's current products page...

Child's Cree Canoe Paddle
This petite birch paddle has a very narrow blade characteristic of Cree Indian canoe paddles that were suited both to the available raw materials (small boreal hardwood trees) and traditional paddling style.
Circa 1870
3" w, 53.5" h

Friday, October 16, 2009

c. 1839 Minnesota Historical Society Paddle

Here's a beautifully carved paddle from the Minnesota Historical Society Collection found via this page on the Fur Trade.

Some research on the MHS site revealed the following details:
Wood paddle has a long slim tapering blade. The flat grip has a concave indention at its base and elaborate carving on its remainder. Carved design includes a curved cross, a shield with a diamond and scroll band, and diamond shapes filled with cross-hatching. There are also the carved initials "W. D.", which may not be original. Donor states that the paddle was found near Stillwater, Minn., following a battle between the Ojibwa and Dakota, ca. 1839. Paddle is purported to have belonged to a voyageur.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Canoe Trip Plans - Summer 2010

As rewarding and enjoyable as this past summer was, I never had the chance to take the canoe out other than some local daytrips. With the return back to the city and the paddling season effectively over, I've decided to start planning for a 7-10 day solo trip with the Cedar Canvas canoe next summer. This won't really be a true, extreme wilderness trip. Given that my wife will need access to our sole car, I've decided the most appropriate trip is in neighbouring Algonquin Park, 30km west of our summer cottage. I've camped in the North end of the park years ago, but have never seen the "jewel" of the southern part, Lake Louisa. So this is the area I'm intending to visit.

I've already started some basic planning with Jeff McMurtrie's absolutely stunning and free Algonquin Map. Getting to Louisa from any direction requires many portages (something I don't mind to get away from the crowds). I'm hoping that the descriptive names of some of portages - "The Devil's Staircase" and the "Double Devil's Staircase" - will intimidate other paddlers from the area...wishful thinking, I'm sure.

Louisa on Jeff M's Map

Algonquin Adventures has fantastic trip logs documented from all of Algonquins Access Points. In particular, this recent pic heavy posting by Mike Burns sealed the deal that I wanted to check out this area. Many thanks for the details Mike! So as another welcome distraction over the winter, I'll be gradually planning my route and preparing my gear, including some new paddle designs to test out.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mike Connelly's Canoe Art

While searching for more paddle related artwork, I came across a site called Connelly Photo documenting the canoe art of the late Mike Connelly (set up by his daughter, Sarah). Connelly's skill with the paintbrush is quite evident - lots of rich colours and details that only a patient hand could portray. I've never really been able to paint very well despite years of lessons as a kid. If I could paint, I envision Mike's style as the type I'd emulate. My favourite work is entitled Rusty's Canoe Camp, pictured below. The beavertail paddle with the rich grain pattern (looks like ash, perhaps?) and a worn canvas pack in camp reminds me of wonderful canoe trips from my past. Much more of Mike's online gallery of art can be seen here.

Rusty's Canoe Camp
Mike Connelly

Monday, October 12, 2009

1882 Duluth Poirier Pack - US $100,000

For those traditional canoeists who want a piece of historic gear, I came across this EBAY listing for a circa 1882 canvas Poirier Pack, the predecessor to the modern day Duluth # 3.

The pack may not look like much, but it has an interesting history, hence the $100,000 price tag. Hopefully it'll go to a good home, a museum perhaps. Some info from the seller.
Up for auction is the holy grail of camping/ hiking equipment in this patented in 1882 Duluth "Poirier Pack Sack" Backpack Rucksack Bag. (Actual Date on this Camille Poirier Strap Pack is "PAT'D NOV. 10. 1882.") The application for the "Pack Strap" at the US Patent Office was filed on October 11, 1882. Handmade in Duluth, Minnesota by Camille Poirier himself, who pioneered the company (today known as Duluth Pack, Duluth-MN).


October 11, 1882 - Camille Poirier, himself applied/filed for the patent.

November 10, 1882 - On the metal plate on this Prototype Strap Pack, in this auction.

December 12, 1882 - Actual Letter of Official Patent.

More info on the history of Duluth Packs can be read here. Also, Lesli Larson's wonderfully distracting blog,, has some great posts about canvas canoe packs as well.

Dec 2013 UPDATE: The working theory is that this is a prototype pack made by Camile Poirier himself before his patent was granted on Dec 12th, 1882. The oxidized copper plate is marked with the date of Nov 10, 1882 somehow making this specific pack special.  I did some digging however and found that all Poirier packs have the metal plate stamped with the date of Nov 10, 1882 and were made until 1911 when Poirier sold the company to Duluth Tent and Awning (i.e. Duluth Pack today). Here's another example in better condition with the same metal plate:

Photo Credits: Wary Meyers

Saturday, October 10, 2009

NMAI Decorated Algonquin Paddle

A decorated Algonquin paddle from the National Museum of the American Indian. First time I've seen this decoration pattern and no idea about its significance but if the date of this paddle is correct (1780-1820) it shows that the flat extended grip has been in use for many centuries. This corroborates the circa 1770s Cree Paddle design I posted on before. Unfortunately there are no dimensions provided, but from the general shape of it, it would seem to make a beautiful solo paddle.

Date created: 1780-1820
Place: Eastern Canada
Collection history unknown; formerly in the collection of the Peabody Museum of Salem (now the Peabody Essex Museum); acquired by MAI via an exchange with the Peabody Museum in 1963.
Catalog number:23/2290

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Black Creek Village Birchbark Canoe

During a recent family outing to Black Creek Pioneer Village, a recreated 1800's community in northwest Toronto, we stumbled upon a birchbark canoe on display. It was found hanging from ceiling beams in the village's fully functional water-powered flour mill. Here's a shot of the boy and I gazing at its beauty.

I spent some time examining the workmanship. Nice clean lashing and a graceful sheerline with quite steep stem curves. What immediately caught my attention was that some sort of sealant (varnish perhaps?) must've been applied to the hull bark and interior woodwork. A closeup of the bark shows the aging sealant drying up giving the whole thing a cracked eggshell appearance.

The centre yoke was carved in the traditional manner with notches for a tumpline. I also noticed what looked like leather lace used to lash the yoke into place.

Centre yoke and lashing

The richly sealed interior had some very neatly spaced ribs and an antique looking paddle lashed up for a portage carry. The straight sided blade with recurved shoulders is an example of the so-called voyageur design, the first antique version I've ever seen first hand. I couldn't gather the wood type given that the grain & original wood was masked with a faded blueish grey paint on the blade and red paint on the shaft. The grip was just a small, squarish bobble which looked like more of a stopper than an actual grip.

Paddle stashed away

Blade closeup

Bobble grip

After unsuccessfully trying to get some info on the canoe from the on-site staff, I received a courteous a detailed message about its origins. While the exact date is uncertain, it was made by the Algonkians at Maniwaki, Quebec between 1951-1977. The single piece bark hull has some additional side panels and the lashing apparently included deerskin rawhide in addition to spruce root. Sure enough, it had been varnished at a later date to "preserve it" and prevent leaks.

All these years living in the city and I never knew a bark canoe was on display locally.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Last Trapper's Bark Canoe

The 2004 French film about the bushlife in Alaska the Yukon (thanks for the correction FrozenFella), Le Dernier Trappeur  - The Last Trapper has some wonderful cinematic shots of a birchbark canoe in whitewater. I came across footage of the film on google video

Around the 5:15 mark, there's some picturesque canoeing in a canyon with the white water run beginning around 11:30. Maybe its just me, but the main character in the film, an actual trappeur named Norm Winters, doesn't seem to be an avid paddler, especially after he rams the bow of the canoe into rockface in calm water just to pick up his pet husky. A simply back ferry would've prevented the cringing collision but the canoe seems no worse for wear.

Some screen shots

It turns out that the exciting whitewater run was paddled by a "stunt double" from Tatshenshini Expediting. Here's a little writeup. Brave stuff!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Crooked Knife Project - Part 3: Carving Handle

Part of the whole fun of making a crooked knife is customizing the handle to perfectly fit your own hand. Allow me to indulge you with a little side story about my knife's handle. During the early summer, our family took a trip back to Turkey to visit our extended family and introduce our boy to his elders, including his 90 year old great grandmother.

She's lived in the same mountainous region all her life and our family made their living working the land and tending to their many small olive orchards dotting the countryside. Her elder brother (my great uncle), known for his physical endurance, was apparently in charge of some of the more rugged orchards that clung to the mountainside. While taking a break from his responsibilities one day, my great uncle went rabbit hunting in the adjacent foothills and suffered a stroke and died. As a sign of mourning, the family decided no longer to tend the orchard in this area and the olive trees simply aged and returned to their unpruned, wild state. Despite the encroaching urbanization of the area, the isolated location of the plot has allowed it to retain its wilderness feel.

With my grandmother's recollected memories of the location, I hiked through this hilly region to find some of the neglected trees in this family plot. The small goat path I followed eventually led me to a cluster of olive trees at the base of the Nif Mountain range's foothills where my great uncle passed away.

The "mourning" orchard - olive trees are the pale green cluster

Olive trees are beautiful and even give off a faint resinous aroma of their precious oil. Near the back of the plot where the old orchard gives way to tall pine trees, I spotted a tree with a curious broken branch whose shape seemed perfect for the crooked knife blade I had been working on back home.

A broken branch crook; Fit my hand nicely

I didn't have any tools with me, so returned back to the village and borrowed a neighbour's saw to cut this piece and a few other branches as samples the next day. Olive wood is a very dense hardwood, with a tight grain that makes it ideal for carving and shaping.

Once back home and continuing with the crooked knife project, I cut out and roughly shaped a few handles from scrap wood to get a feel for the best design. Below are some of the templates I had prepared. A cherry handle, yellow birch, and two olive branches brought back from Turkey. Lots of deliberation and second guessing, but eventually I settled on gently curving olive wood branch (3rd from top) rather than the naturally bent crook that had originally caught my eye as the former seemed to feel the best in terms of weight, shape, and grip comfort - although I flipped it around from the orientation shown in the picture below.

Handle choices

Once I decided on the handle and the blade orientation (angled off the centre line), I proceeded to mark and chisel out a slot for the tang to fit.

Underside of handle with chiselled slot

Using a piece of white birch from a log destined for the firepit, the shim piece was carved to also fit in the carved groove. The tension of these pieces held tightly with waxed whipping thread would hold the blade into position

Carved shim; Nice fit; Beginning whipping

To end the whipping a stitching needle was used to pull the excess line under the whip. The shot below gives you the idea, but I wrapped it several more times.

After a bit more sharpening on some wetstones and honing on a strop, the knife was holding an edge nicely. Here's a picture showing it in action shaving down some scrap cedar.

Action shot

Haven't decided if I'll decorate the handle with some pyrography or leave it as is. But I now have a working crooked knife with a bit of special family history.

The completed crooked knife

UPDATE: April 6/10: A post on improving the crooked knife lashing and securing the blade has been published.

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