Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bushcraft Style Cedar Paddle - Lessons Learned

Last summer I attempted a bushcraft style paddle hewn from a log with an axe and shaped with a crooked knife. It was a mini paddle meant as practice and it turned out to be a nice little toy for the boy. Earlier this year, I endeavoured to make a full sized one to go with the bark canoe. I wasn't going to post about this attempt due to the fact it ended being an utter failure, but figured maybe the lessons learned could be useful to someone attempting the same thing. So here goes...

Sourcing out the cedar proved to be a hassle again as most of the cedar in my area grows on very uneven terrain and tends to have a pronounced twist. I managed to find some downed trees at the top of cliff-face and decided to try and cut out a log from the knot free section of the tree in the foreground.

Tumbled cedar mess

Cutting with the one-handed crosscut

The terrain was quite hilly and with diffult footing I managed to cut the portion out with a 32" one handed crosscut saw, albeit on an angle. I figured I could clean up the ends after the log had been removed to more secure ground. A giant boulder behind the scenes served as a perfect area to support the log for various extra cuts and splitting the wood. At one point, I climbed up on top of the rock and then could easily split the log with old axe heads and a froe. Despite the pronounced twist on one side, 4 planks were salvaged that seemed to usuable to work with.

Splitting by the boulder; 4 usable pieces

The most suited piece was selected and roughly hewn into a paddle shape with a distinct blade and shaft area (piece of the far left of the photo above). I wanted to "freehand" this paddle to end up with a cedar replica of the Attikamekw paddle I've grown quite fond off. After sufficient axework in the bush, it was brought back to the cottage lakeside to finish off with my newly made Olive Wood crooked knife to do the final shaping. The knife worked great and the whole thing was evenly shaped very quickly.

Shaping with the crooked knife

A tripper-style grip with a mushroom head design was selected and shaped quite easily with a knife and rasp. Although as it was worked more and more, large chunks split off resulting in a thinner and smaller grip than intentioned. Despite being from the lower end of the tree, there were large internal knots to contend with which weren't visible when the log was being cut. Fortunately, I arranged these into the blade and grip areas.

Blade worked down; Blade closeup with knot; Final shape

I excitely took the paddle out to try with bark canoe and it worked well enough. Cedar is a springy, ultralight wood and it felt great using it with boat. I thought the blade could've been thinned out a little more however, since it didn't have the flex I desired. Once back in the garage, I tried flexing it to get a feel for it and SNAP...the blade ripped off right below the throat.

Snap, Crackle, POP!

The cruel fact is that I should've been more selective about the original cedar log. The pronounced twist in the grain resulted in a bowed, uneven shaft and the knots would've certainly weakened the wood. Perhaps leaving the whole thing thicker than usual would've prevented the breakage. In any event (I'm trying to be more positive lately), it was a fun way to spend the afternoon, some lessons were learned, and a fantasticly aromatic, cedar fire was had that night. But I haven't given up on making a bush paddle yet.


Anonymous said...

Checking back in on the site, too bad about your cedar paddle, but fantastic outlook on the situation! Glad you got a nice fire out of the bargain =D

P A D D E L B L O G said...

I always enjoy reading (and watching) your blog. Thank you for posting such interesting reports from your workshop.
This bushcraft-paddle-project reminds me of a project I initiated this summer with a couple of friends (http://paddelblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/nnotpaddelprojekt.html). We will do such a workshop again in 2010 and I would like to use one or two of the pictures in your blog for the announcement. May I do so?

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