Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reshaped Birch Cree Paddle - Part 1

Just around the corner from home, I spotted an amateur "Antiques for Sale" sign pointing to an industrial warehouse. Intrigued, I went inside and found a huge haphazard collection of stuff that had seen better days. I was on my way out when I saw the shape of a paddle behind a pile of rusty tools. It turned out to be a half-completed, 57" paddle blank made from what appears to be yellow or white birch.

The partially complete Birch blank

The wood stock seems to have been 1" thick as this is the maximum thickness of the shaft. Not ideal for a heavy use paddle, but still workable for light use. At least the grain in the shaft is well contained and runs perfectly parallel down its length so the original builder was either lucky or knew exactly what was needed for paddlemaking. The bulk of the blade had been power planed down to about 1/2" with some noticeable areas of tear out but these should be easy to clean up with some spokeshave work. A small, crudely shaped pear grip had been rasped out. Basically the hard work had been done and now only final shaping needed to be completed. In pencil along the shaft was the name "Skyler". It seems someone started this project but then abandoned it. The paddle was mine for $5 and I immediately began visualizing reworking it.

Small Pear Grip

My first observation was how huge the blade area was relative to the length and this caused the paddle to be extremely blade heavy...not ideal. The 5.5" wide blade had a beautifully rounded tip and I wanted to preserve this feature. But to make the paddle more balanced, the blade area had to be reduced. After being please with the Attikamekw design as a favoured solo blade, I wanted to try another close style to this slender shape. In particular, I've been eager to try some of the Cree Style paddles I've posted on before.

Cree Paddles - Canadian Museum of Civilization

In the end I chose the sweeping, recurved blade design of the middle paddle. After marking out some of the basic points on the blank, I used some clamps and a flexible metal ruler to draw out the curves. Here is the result...

New blade shape marked out for cutting

The Mrs. did some planting and cleaned up the balcony last weekend. I can tell she doesn't appreciate the wood dust and shavings in her flowerpots, so in order to minimize any domestic disturbance, I headed to the nearby park with the paddle, a saw, and my two crooked knives. Rather than saw out the entire paddle shape, I thought I take a shortcut and make some perpendicular cuts, chip out the rough shape, and clean it up with the crooked knives. While I had brought both knives to the park, the recently completed Orien Knife outperformed by own homemade version, mostly because of the steeper bevel being better suited to the kiln dried hardwood, birch stock. Here's where the paddle stands now...obviously not an exact replica but I had to work with the limitations of the existing dimensions.

Chipping out the outline; Cleaned up with the crooked knife

The sharper angles will be eventually worked down. But it's a funky shape and I'm curious to see how it'll perform.

SEPT 21, 2010 UPDATE: Paddle is now complete and decorated. See post HERE


Richard Powell said...

Hey, cool story. I'm very interested to hear how you like this paddle design.

If you haven't already seen it you might be interested in my review of a Cree style paddle I have been using since last summer. It is my favorite paddle and received good reviews from other paddlers who have tried it. It is interesting to me that this style of paddle has not received wider adoption.

Here is the link:

Look forward to your next update...


Murat said...

Thanks for the link, Richard. Fantastic post with plenty of wonderful pics of your unique paddle. The "cree-style" design is definitely an interesting shape - it seems to have evolved from the shape of neighbouring Inuit double blade Kayak paddles. The design also seems very suitable to the narrow-width black spruce trees that grow in the region.

The experience you wrote about with the paddle performing very well with the Canadian stroke is exactly what I observed too. I'll certainly write a more thorough review about how this reshaped one I'm working on performs eventually.

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