Sunday, November 27, 2011

Craig Johnson's Gorgeous Paddles

I met fellow canoe enthusiast Craig Johnson at the WCHA Northern Lakes chapter event at Killbear Provincial Park back in September. We got to talking about paddles and he wanted to try out a custom design based on the blade pattern from my Cherry Passamaquoddy Guide, a large bladed design itself taken from the c1849 paddle in the Peabody museum. I emailed Craig a copy of this blade design which he adapted for use by combining it with an Old Town grip style he prefers.

His post "Slippery Slope" on the WCHA forums mentions how he's caught the paddlemaking bug and has already churned out 6 paddles...check them out below...all stunning!

Left to Right: cherry, sassafras, Honduran mahogany, tiger maple, walnut

Left to Right: cherry, sassafras, Honduran mahogany, tiger maple, walnut

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tappan Adney Illustration - (Killer) Beaver Ways

Recently there's been quite a stir here in Canada regarding the comments of Conservative Senator who has launched a campaign to replace the industrious beaver with the majestic polar bear as Canada's national emblem, referring to beaver as nothing more than "a dentally defective rat."

Lots of healthy online debate seems to favour the graceful but deadly polar bear as a great symbol of strength and pride, but being an avid paddler who relies on beavers for building dams and irrigating waterways in the backcountry, I'm in favour of leaving our hard-working, furry little emblem alone.

Here's another image I found drawn by Tappan Adney which appeared in an article entitled, "Beaver Ways" in Outing - Vol XLI - March 1903. It clearly shows that beavers can have tough side too...check out the hilarious caption!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tappan Adney Illustration - Moose Call

Here's a beautiful colour image by famed Bark Canoe historian Tappan Adney which appeared in Outing, October 1902, to accompany a poem entitled "The Moose Call". It features a beautifully illustrated Malecite style canoe with etched scrolls in the winter bark panel as well as a nice angle of a paddle being held by the standing guide.


THE autumn sun sinks low
Behind the wall of sombre fir
And paints with yellow glow
The mirror’d surface of the lake.
With face upturned and ear
Attuned to catch the very breath
Of dying day and year
The Indian hunter stands and sifts
The stillness far and near.
Close to the hunter’s side
The trusty paddle’s season’d blade,
By rip and torrent tried,
Now steady holds the frail canoe,
While rests upon his knee
The rudely twisted coil of bark-
Himself so still the tree
Against the fading Autumn sky
Is not more still than he.

At the gloomy edge
Of the forest dark a muskrat,
Sporting in the sedge,
Chippers to its dusky mate;
From out the misty hill
A night owl’s lonesome cry is heard—
A cry that sends a chill
Of fear through beast and sleeping
Then all again is still.
Hark! the hunter starts!
A sound borne softly on the air
The mighty stillness parts
And makes the hunter’s heart beat fast.
Tender, low, it thrills
The listening hunter’s inmost soul;
Yet resonant, it fills
The valley with an echo from
The everlasting hills!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Paddles - Passamaquoddy Cultural Heritage Museum

Some paddles from the Public Facebook Wall of the Passamaquoddy Cultural Heritage Museum. Most look to be ash but a few seem like weathered maple with their blades painted a deep forest green. The subtle variety of grips tend to have that elongated feature I've begun to favour in my paddle carvings.

Variety of Passamaquoddy Paddles

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Peter Polchies Ash Malecite

After obtaining my recent batch of lumber, I've eagerly begun carving again. In this case I wanted to try carving a wood I haven't yet worked with...ash. While I've finally acquired an old 12" bandsaw (hand-me-down from my Dad's old shop), it's been setup up north in the Cottage garage. I'm stuck in the city until the Christmas holidays so figured I'd try shaping ash plank the old fashioned way with an axe. This creates a lot of waste chips from an otherwise usable board, but this plank was quite narrow (just a bit over 4.5 inches wide) and ash isn't too premium a wood around these parts.

For this paddle, I wanted to try and replicate Tappan Adney's Malecite paddle sketches which appear at the back of John McPhee's famous canoeing book, Survival of the Bark Canoe. Adney's scribbled notes mention the paddles were carved and decorated by a Doctor Peter Polchies and were 6ft long with a 6inch blade. I intend all my paddles to be users so the dimensions were reduced to fit my preferred length of 58" with a narrowed blade width to accomodate the ash board.

Adney's sketches of Peter Polchies' carved paddles

After marking out the shape on the rough lumber, I made a few stop cuts with the saw and commenced hacking away. Now that we have a backyard instead of a condo balcony there's much more space and enjoyment to be had.

Paddle waiting to emerge

Sawing stop cut

Chopping away

Still not totally competent to chop right along a fine pencil line, so I stopped with the edges of the paddle looking a little ragged. They can easily be cleaned up later. A little trick I learned is to leave a few inches on the top and the bottom of the blank until the very last minute. Makes it much easier to handle the blank when wielding the axe.

Chopped out paddle blank

After thinning out the blade face with more axe work, I set up my portable shaving horse made way back in '08 that's still serving me well. Quick work with the spokeshave and the blade & grip were coming along nicely. Ended up with a pretty nice piece of ash - the grain isn't too difficult to work with and the pattern on one side of the blade is quite appealing. The whole paddle was thinned out quite a bit with the shaft thickness reduced down to 1" to make the whole thing light & flexible.

Set up on the horse

Grain pattern on the blade

I've purposely left the grip area a bit bulky to be true to the sketch and because of the fact that bulkier grips suit my palm just fine

Carving done

Decoration post to follow...

December 12, 2011 Update: Decoration is complete...see part 2 here

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Paddle Tripod

From the New Brunswick museum archives is this photo featuring paddles rigged up in a tripod.

Snipe Shooting near Gagetown, Queens County, New Brunswick
W. Albert Hickman
c 1900
glass lantern slide
New Brunswick Museum Collection (X15566)

The rigged tripod is similar to what I've seen documented in an earlier
post about Canadian artist Paul Kane.

Detail from Eleven Studies of Indian Life, Southeastern Ojibway
Paul Kane (1810-1871)
August 1845

A full colour painting entitled, Indian Encampment at Georgian Bay (1850) features a similar paddle tripod on the left side of the image.

Indian Encampment at Georgian Bay
Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1995-215-1
ca. 1850

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Walter Walker Canoe Paddle Pattern

John Summers, the General Manager at the Canadian Canoe Museum, wrote a post on his blog about carving a paddle design by legendary Peterborough area builder, Walter Walker.

Apparently Walter had a favourite shape that was based on a late 19th century pattern from the Lakefield Canoe Company. It featured small shoulders at the top of a straight sided, narrow blade, as well as a pear grip with smaller shoulders at the base.

Walter Walker's 19th Century Lakefield Canoe Co pattern

Also found in Walter’s workshop was a split, weathered paddle apparently carved from birdseye maple. It had longer, curved shoulders at the top of the blade but features the similar style grip as the Lakefield Co. pattern. John ended up carving a replica of this (adjusted to his preferred length) out of cherry.

The museum apparently has a new display devoted to Walter's work - another reason to make the trip out to Peterborough again. Walter was actively building canoes until he turned 99 and carved his last paddle at 101!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Alternative Bark Canoes from Poland

Blog reader Tomas from Poland sent me a link to his website, which documents his boat building hobby. Included on his site are some images of a birch bark replica canoe made with plywood, not unlike the type discussed in these earlier posts. Tomas' canoe however doesn't have any interior sheathing or ribs.

My understanding is that Hans-George Wagner from Germany pioneered this building technique using thin 3-4mm baltic birch ply as a substitute for the bark. The chaps at Northern Sound in the U.K. are also building using this method. I'm seriously considering attempting a build similar to this perhaps next summer. Thanks for your photos Tomas and well done!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Finally back to carving

It's been a while but I'm finally back into the actual paddle making part of this blog. Recently picked up some nice lumber from Century Mill including some curly cherry, basswood, yellow birch, some ash, and for the first time, some sassafras. I've been staying up late excitedly planning out my upcoming paddle carving attempts in our new home's basement (a.k.a. man cave).

New lumber: Cherry, Yellow Birch, Sassafras, Ash, Curly Cherry

I'm planning this next batch to be primarily recreations of some of the historic paddles from the Northeast coast - Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, etc. More on some of the upcoming designs in future posts.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

c1900 Authentic Maliseet Paddle (for Sale)

Recently I've been getting some emails inquiring whether my paddles are for sale. The short answer is no. A few have been sold off, given away as gifts, or donated for charity auctions and the rest I use regularly when paddling. This whole thing is a hobby for me (fun!) and not a business (work!).

BUT for those who want a chance to own an authentic, antique Maliseet paddle, you might consider contacting Rose McNeilly of Hampton, New Brunswick who is selling a circa 1900 authentic Maliseet paddle. Rose sent me some pics of the paddle as well as some history...

Circa 1900 Maliseet Paddle

Diamond shaped secondary grip

The paddle was orginally acquired 30 years ago at a farm auction on Washademoak Lake, off the Saint John River. It has no etching decorations on it and was therefore likely meant to be utilitarian my mind, this makes it even more valuable since it was carved to be used and not just meant for the tourist trade. It features a short, diamond shaped secondary grip that isn't too common in northeastern native paddle design, but one that I could see would have a functional value.

Here are some technical details about the dimensions:
Length : 60 ¼ inches
Width of blade : 5 ¾ inches
Blade Length : 24 inches
Grip Width : 1 and 7/8 inches
Grip Length: 4 ½ inches
Shaft Thickness: 1 ¼ inches

The paddle was appraised in 2007 by Donald Ellis, one of Canada's renowned experts on native art. It has also been identified at a Maliseet paddle by the Curator of Cultural History and Art at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John. At one time someone painted it white, then green. But the experts stated that this by no means diminishes its value. In fact, the painting is what likely preserved this 110 year old piece which otherwise would've disintegrated with time.

Many thanks to Rose for letting me post these pics of this historic piece. You can contact her directly if you have more questions.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tomah Joseph Etched Paddle

From the Portland Press Herald comes this article which features a paddle made by famous Passamaquoddy, Tomah Joseph. No closeup of the grip, but the shoulders of the paddle have some nice etchings

Descendants of famous Passamaquoddy chief Tomah Joseph, from left, Joan Dana, Natalie Dana and Cassandra Dana show off a paddle made by Joseph and on display at the Passamaquoddy Cultural Heritage Center & Museum in Indian Township.

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