Monday, February 29, 2016

Shaw and Tenney - Paddlemaking Video Series

Paddle and Oar company, Shaw and Tenney, recently released a 5 part Youtube series showcasing how their products are made, from rough cutting to drum sanding to final branding. Here are the embedded videos below...

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Chris Lowry's Painted Paddles

Chris Lowry of Ecotone Productions has a Flickr album of his woodwork, including some carved and hand-painted paddles.  Chris draws the designs in pencil freehand and then uses sharp tip wood burner to etch. The paddles are then painted with diluted oil paints and protected with spar varnish.

Photo Credit: Chris Lowry 

Included in the set is a lovely painting of a Heron and realistic image of a snake wiggling its way up the blade.

Photo Credit: Chris Lowry

Readers of the blog might notice the scroll pattern on one of the paddles as the famed c.1849 Green Passamaquoddy paddle in the Peabody Museum. Chris based this pattern on the hand drawn sketch by Liz Regan which appears in Warren and Gidmark's Canoe Paddles: A Complete Guide to Making Your Own. Below is the original paddle blade catalog photo...

Canoe paddle, elaborately decorated. Blade painted green, double curve motif.
Peabody Number: 99-12-10/53655 
Dimensions: Length: 180.5 cm, Width: 17.6 cm, Dep: 3.3 cm
Provenance: Donor: Heirs of David Kimball (1899)

Anyone interested in seeing this paddle in person are reminded that it is currently on display (until April 2016) as part of the Peabody Museum's exhibit, The Legacy of Penobscot Canoes: A View from the River. For those of us that can't make the journey to the museum, closeup photo's of the paddle blade and carved grip can be view in previous posts here and here.

Thanks to Chris for permission to repost his photos. Looking forward to future paddle art projects.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Additional Photos: Eldred Folk Art Paddle

More photos have been posted of the "Folk Art Paddle" from Eldred's Auctioneers (see original post here). The original listing only showcased the blade, but there are now more pics of the entire paddle, including a closeup of the decoration on the grip.

Late 19th Century
With polychrome geometric decoration, pyrographic acorn decoration and a découpaged image of an American Native's bust. Length 66." 
Update: December 2, 2015: Sold for $325 

Grip Closeup

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Chris Fisher's new paddle creations

Archaeologist and paddle maker Chris Fisher (previous posts here) has sent in a few more diagrams and images of his latest paddle creations.

The first is a Sassafras paddle loosely based on the MHS paddle posted on many times before. Chris altered the grip design to his preference and carved some decorative rings around the grip base and throat.

Chris F's Sassafras Paddle

Blade and Grip Closeups

Chris mentioned his error of carving the throat area too thin so the paddle has excessive flex for his liking.  I've got a sassafras paddle nearly complete with just a 1" thick shaft so won't be too surprised about the flex when it gets water tested in the spring.

Having said that, Rick Waters' article "The North Woods Paddle" in Wooden Boat Magazine (Issue #67, November/December 1985) mentioned having a 1" thick shaft with these ash paddles precisely for the flex utilized in with the North Woods stroke or when paddling standing up.

Chris also carved a custom basswood ottertail from a combination of designs - a mix of  traditional and modern makers. It weighs 22.8 ounces with a blade length of 28.4" and an overall length of 60".

Custom Basswood ottertail

Blade and Grip Closeups

The lower portion of the grip has an interesting hand motif that Chris chose as his maker's mark related to his archaeological background...

The motif comes from a famous Mississippian site called Moundville in Alabama and is believed to be a transformation symbol - helping a shaman move between realms - or a representation of that happening.  The bar and dot numbering system is common throughout Central and South America. A bar is five, a dot is one, and a shell is zero. The two bars and 4 dots on Chris's signature mark tallies up to 14 (meaning 2014) which is when he first started carving the paddle. Fascinating and creative stuff!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Musée des Abénakis - Paddle Decoration on Wall Mural

While trying to do more research of the paddle on display at the  Musée des Abénakis (see previous post here), I came across the museum's YouTube channel. Their introductory video  is quite the production showcasing their fine collection and facility.

What really got me excited however was the extremely quick frame at the 1:53 mark. It is a closeup of the art panel behind their canoe exhibit. Some words in the native language are front and centre, but behind them is a shot a canoe paddle blade finely decorated in a painted motif. Here is the screen shot...

A zoomed in image along with some photoshop adjustments revealed a very interesting pattern. You can see a distinct cross-like checkered pattern with each quadrant painted in a unique style. Dots, cross hatches and what appear to be snake-like figures adorn the blade.

I've sent word to the museum regarding the painting in the background wondering if it was done by an historical artist or a new interpretation by a modern artist. Hoping to hear from them and update soon.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Max Neukäufler - Woodsmans Finest Paddles

There's a new, talented craftsman here in Ontario who has started to make some unique  paddles while keeping in spirit with Native traditions. Max Neukäufler is originally from Austria and has been travelling around the world crafting and studying. He is currently living in the prime canoe area of Bobcaygeon for a year crafting full time.

Max's specialty is to carve spoons, bowls and kuksas the old Swedish way using only a carving axe and several straight and bent knives. He also makes knifes and does the accompanying leatherwork. His business is called Woodsmans Finest. His Instagram feed and Facebook page have some lovely shots of his rustic workshop and quality products.

Recently,  Max also has begun carving paddles 100% by hand, carving his selected green wood by axe and drawknife until finishing up with a crooked knife. No sandpaper or machines. He has been experimenting with designs and decoration and am very glad this little blog site has been a source of some inspiration.

Max will be exhibiting his wares at the upcoming Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show, starting tomorrow Feb 19th - 21st. Anyone with an interest in traditional carving should drop by and visit him at booth 553.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Voyageur Paddle Artifact vs. Modern Paddle Makers

Responding to the previous post on the voyageur artifacts found during the Grand Portage excavations, Archaeologist and paddle maker Chris Fisher (see post here) got in touch with some interesting observations regarding the blade shapes of these historic finds compared to some modern paddle makers today.

Chris has been using software to properly scale and compare dimensional info of various paddles featured on this site, as well as other notable sources like Adney's Bark Canoes and Skin Boats and Graham Warren's 100 Canoe Paddle Designs book. As part of his ongoing personal research, he has noted that that the intact blade artifact (NPS GRPO 16122) with its roughly 5-1/4"x27" blade dimension is most common to a paddle design by another well know paddle maker here in Southern Ontario, Bruce Smith. Here is an graphic of some of his comparisons.

Here's a captured pic and writeup from Bruce's paddle designs page showcasing the aptly named blade in question - "The Classic":

The Bruce Smith design is a classic multi-purpose paddle, popular with canoe instructors. It is a blend of the Ottertail and Stern with the greatest percentage of surface area in the middle of the blade. This efficient design is excellent for long days of trip paddling but also style paddling in a variety of settings. Designed for solo paddling, lake travel, general tripping.

Chris also extrapolated the blade shape from the surviving paddle fragment with a pointed tip (GRPO -  16123 ) and found some similarities with a model paddle made by Tappan Adney when adjusted to scale. This model paddle is currently in the collection of The Mariner's Museum and a full-sized blade plan with offset data is found on p. 28 of 100 Canoe Paddle Designs.

Paddle Fragment - GRPO -  16123 
Credit: NPS Photo by John Reed

This paddle design lacks a "proper" grip which I've mentioned before wasn't always needed when observing indigenous paddling techniques from old vintage photos. Not having to spend time with a bulbous grip would also allow this design to be carved pretty quickly too. In my mind, it would make a very effective bushcraft / survival design to carve out in an emergency case...or in a paddle addict's case, just for fun!

Many thanks to Chris for sharing his graphical comparison info with myself and the readers. Now he's got me tempted to spend some more time in the woods sourcing out some downed cedar to replicate this design.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Voyageur Paddles from the Grand Portage Excavation project

Surviving authentic paddles from the Voyageur Fur Trade era are few and far between. Paintings, like those of Frances Anne Hopkins give a clue as to the various shape and styles used by these hardy canoemen.

Sometimes, archeological excavations add to the knowledge base of paddle shapes. In the 1970s, the National Parks Service undertook a series of underwater excavations around Grand Portage. Until recently, I was only aware of catalog descriptions outlining some of the interesting finds, including some partial fragments of paddles.

However, now some of the finds have been posted online in this Photo Gallery of Tools from the excavations. Included in this gallery is the full blade of a late 18th, early 19th century voyageur paddle made of white cedar. It looks to be a simple, straight sided blade with a subtle taper from the shoulders to a rounded tip

White Cedar Paddle Fragment
Description: 18-19 cent. voyageur;  87.5 cm long; 14 cm wide; 1.9cm thick.

Another partial fragment (also white cedar) reveals another blade pattern, this one with an angular tip...

.Credit: NPS Photo by John Reed
White cedar paddle blade fragment, straight-sided with dihedral-cross section and angular tip. The paddle fragment measures 49.5 cm long, 10.5 cm wide, and up to 1.8 cm thick

Finally, a last paddle piece of the shoulder area shows a similar angular profile to the first photo in the series.

Paddle Fragment - GRPO 16119
White cedar paddle 40.1 cm long 19.3 wide 1.5 thick.

Found it quite interesting that all three bits are made from white cedar. A lightweight wood but quite soft and prone to breakage. Still, given its ease of carving, one can picture voyageurs quickly making a functional paddle from the abundant cedars dotting the the shoreline of the trade route waterways. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Mi'kmaw Paddle Artist - E. Benham

Edwin Benham is a Mi’kmaw Artist and self-taught woodworker. Found this photo of a pair of beautiful paddles carved and decorated for the White Point Lodge in Nova Scotia. The shaft has a fascinating spiral carving and the shoulders have some delicate fiddlehead scrolls on the shoulders

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cree Cultural Institute - Crooked Knife

Another beautiful artifact in the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute online exibit is a beautiful looking crooked knife with an fiddle head handle. The webpage features a little artifact applet that lets you rotate the image to get a 360 degree view. Here are some screenshots.

Cree Crooked Knife
Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute

The page also has a quote by canoe builder John Kawapit that highlights the importance of this critical tool...

"In the past they used a rock or bone to make a crooked knife but today we use metal. A file that is worn out and unusable is what we use. We put it in the fire so that the threads melt off, and then we hammer it and mould it into a crooked knife. When it’s heated, we bend it. As it heats some more and becomes white-hot, we put it in cold water, and it hardens.… I’ve heard it said that of all their belongings, the snowshoes were held in the highest regard because they created mobility in the winter, and in the summer, the canoe was the same. But I think the crooked knife is the most important because you use a crooked knife to make canoes and snowshoes!"
– Job Kawapit, Whapmagoostui

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Bark Canoes and Skin Boats -

Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America by Adney and Chapelle is now out of copyright and has been converted into various e-versions by the good folks at Unlike a many other sites that use text recognition software to render into electronic forms (resulting in plenty of formatting and text errors), the ones on Gutenberg are prepared and edited with real eyes. This version even has all the wonderful illustrations and photos of the hard copy, although at a lower resolution and size.

Here are the links to the page where you can view online in your browser or download the epub or kindle versions. Of course, this book has been instrumental in my own paddle making journey. Many of the paddles illustrated in the book have been starting points for replicas carved over the years. Here are just a few of the wonderful illustrations...

Being a fan of print books, I'm still very happy having a hard cover version. If anyone is interested in getting a hardcopy, consider ordering from the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association bookstore. For a long time, they were one of the few sources you could obtain the book long after it went out of print.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Historic Paddle Illustration - New Frederick Verner Paintings - Indians Fog Bound

Found some more images of the artwork of Frederick Verner. Pevious posts here revealed that Verner illustrated some basic chevron style markings on his paintings of First Nation canoe paddles. This artwork below is entitled, Indians, Fog Bound and features some red markings on the ends of the canoe as well as the paddle blades.

Indians, Fog Bound
Frederick Verner, 1905
Masters Gallery, Vancouver

Stern Paddle Closeup

More decorations on these paddles

A earlier piece -  Misty Morning, Indians Crossing a Lake  - dated to 1896 features a similar pose showing that Verner re-used his subject matter and paddle decorations. Turns out this piece of Canadian art also fetched over the estimate at a recent auction.

Misty Morning, Indians Crossing a Lake
Frederick A. Verner 
watercolour on paper
signed and dated 1896 and on verso titled and inscribed "For R. Aldridge" and variously
12 1/2 x 24 1/2 in 31.7 x 62.2cm
Provenance:  R. Aldridge - Private Collection, Vancouver
Estimate: $7,000 ~ $9,000 CAD
Sold For: $10,620.00 CAD (including buyer's premium)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Shou-sugi-ban decorated paddles

Online paddlemaking friends, David G and Luke M have both attempted to decorate their handmade paddles with an interesting burning technique known as shou-sugi-ban. This traditional Japanese method of preservation was originally developed for use with cedar cladding on houses. Claims are that it can add another hundred years onto the longevity of the wood. Luke heard about the technique from another remarkable craftsman in the US, Nick Dillingham of Black Thunder Studios, who modified the technique to finish some of his remarkable crooked knife handles.

David and Luke were kind enough to send me emails about their experiences with this finishing method to share with the blog readers.

First, the paddle surface is scorched with a propane torch until completely black. After this burning period, the wood is scrubbed vigorously with an abrasive. Luke and David used  some Scotch-Brite(TM) pads to remove uneven remnants of the charred wood.  The complete surface burning / charring process obviously blackens the surface but if done properly, it still allows the grain pattern to peek through.  

Here are some shots of David's Sitka spruce paddle with reinforced ash tip. It's 56" long with a 26" by 5" wide blade. It only weighs 14 oz and has some etchings on the grip. Look at the beautiful contrast against that fresh Yukon snow!

David G's shou-sugi-ban Sitka Spruce paddle
Au Nord du Nord Woodwork 

The etchings reveal the lighter coloured wood below the charred surface, something known as negative pyrography in the woodburning art world. I've always had to resort to using a tiny electric pen to burn the backspace, so this technique is intriguing to me. Burn everything first and then reverse etch.

Grip etchings
Au Nord du Nord Woodwork 

David also uploaded a photo closeup of the blade's near perfectly straight grain. The paddle has not yet been oiled but David's great job with the burning makes it look like a pretty wood stain.

Sitka grain pattern
Au Nord du Nord Woodwork 

Over on the other side of the world, Luke made a paddle from fresh ash - a narrow bladed Maliseet style paddle to go with his nearly complete Maliseet ocean canvas canoe.

Luke M's shou-sugi-ban decorated Maliseet paddle

The grip area has been chip-carved after the burning resulting in a pretty reverse effect...

Luke's chip carving along the grip edge

Luke's chip carving along the grip edge
Facebook Album Link

Luke provided some additional details about his methodology. After scrubbing, the paddle was lightly sanded with 320 grit sandpaper -  the amount of sanding determines the darkness of the final product. He then carefully burnished the wood heavily with a piece of polished antler for that natural shine. The paddle isn't oiled despite that wonderful looking finish.

Luke mentioned a challenge with burnishing which resulted in some random patchiness despite careful efforts to burn and sand evenly. This is to be expected with any type of handcrafted work, but any "flaws" aren't visible to my eyes and the paddle look brilliant.

But as a warning to others who might try this method, he also wrote that the paddle blade started warping during the burning phase and notes that if both sides are burned evenly, the blade tended to straighten out. I found this very relevant as my intention was to try this out only on one side of a future paddle.

Thanks again to David and Luke for continuing to experiment with their paddle creations and share them with loyal readers of this blog.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Historic Paddle Illustration: Frances Anne Hopkins - Explorer's Camp

I've previously posted about the famous voyageur paintings of Frances Anne Hopkins which clearly illustrate the decorative styles of paddles used by these hardy canoemen. Here's another painting entitled "The Explorer's Camp" dated to circa 1891.

The Explorer's Camp
Accession Number: 952.168.1
Painter: Frances Anne Hopkins
Physical Dimensions: w31.1 x h27.8 cm
Provenance:Sigmund Samuel Collection
Type: Painting
Medium: watercolour on wove paper
Royal Ontario Museum - Google Cultural Institute Link 

A closeup of the paddles reveal the commonly used bright red paint on the narrow blades...

Paddle Closeups

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