Sunday, January 15, 2012

Yellow Birch "Mistake" Paddle

Everybody makes mistakes, right? I've often posted about some of my learning experiences (i.e. mistakes) in this hobby, some of which end in utter my attempt a bushcraft carved cedar paddle a while back. Here's another mistake in paddle carving, but one I think I've been able to salvage.

The backstory: Next up on my "to do" list of paddle replicas was the c1878 Maliseet Paddle from the York Sunbury Museum...see posts here, here, and here.

1878 Maliseet Paddle

This time I wanted to be as accurate as possible and didn't modify the blade or grip design, just the overall length. For the pyrography decoration to stand out though, I decided to replicate the paddle in Yellow Birch...a nice carving wood for paddles that burns very evenly as well. A suitable plank of Yellow Birch as obtained and the design all sketched out. But being impatient, I couldn't wait to head up north to the cottage where I have a bandsaw to cut out the pattern. Instead, it was back to old fashioned method of chopping out the paddle with axe and hand worked out reasonably well in Ash Malecite a few weeks before.

Big mistake. This board of yellow birch proved to be quite a challenge. I've never chopped yellow birch with an axe before and even though the grain pattern looked quite straight, it somehow kept "reversing" so that every few axe strokes, there would be a tremendous amount of tear out. Flipping the paddle over and over and and trying to chop out the paddle in this manner without causing tons of damage proved to be quite difficult and frustrating.

Along the way, I ended up tearing off a huge chunk of wood from the of shaft and the edges of the blade where horribly torn into jagged splinters... basically the original design was ruined! I was angry at myself for spending a day making nothing more than expensive kindling and never took any pictures as a result. Eventually, things cooled down a bit (thank you Elijah Craig Bourbon!) and I figured out a way the paddle could be still saved.

This meant narrowing the blade by nearly 1 inch and reducing its length by cutting off a new, flatter tip 2 inches higher. This would've made the paddle much shorter than I like, so basically the grip was extended to compensate for the blade reduction. I usually draw on on the design about 2-3 inches from the end of the board since the ends tend to have minor splits from the drying process and so there was a little wiggle room. The grip was brought up to the end of the board. To my makes the grip area look ridiculously long, but the paddle balances out surprisingly well. In order to smooth out all the mini tears and rough patches on the blade, I ended up power sanding with a ROS for a long time (sorry neighbours!) but it's a smooth as it is going to get. Here's the end result when I finally decided to take some pics...

Here are some closeups of the damaged shaft just below the carved drip ornamentation at the base of the grip. To repair, I basically mixed some woodglue with the abundant about of sawdust from the sanding process to make a putty. Filled in the gouges, replaced the broken splinter of wood, wrapped in wax paper and clamped it loosely into place overnight. After some more vigorous sanding, it's not looking that bad.

Shaft tear-out; repair job

The new blade design (4" wide by 26.5" long) isn't even close to the original Maliseet pointed tip of the orginal paddle. So I'm going to forget about making a replica with that pattern and try another attempt with some remaining lumber stock. I'll have to think about what to do for decoration on this one...

New blade design; Very long grip with drip ring carvings

April 15, 2012 Update: Paddle has been completed and decorated. Click HERE for that post

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