Friday, December 30, 2016

Miscellaneous projects using up scrap paddle wood

I've been using up the many scrap cutoffs from paddle making for a variety of projects.

Came across a neat idea for a sanding tool which seemed useful for handling the contours of a paddle, especially the shaft and throat area. It is my version of a "MacFarlane Bow Sander". I ended up purchasing a set of three 1" by 30" strips meant for a belt sander and used some walnut scraps along with a flexible strip of sassafras for the crosspiece. Also shaped some sassafras pieces into squarish dowel square to wedge and hold the sanding strip in place. Here are the pieces laid out for a visual.

The springy sassafras cross bar provides enough flex to bend and hold the sander under tension. While cutting out the slots in one of the walnut handles for the cross bar, a chunk chipped off so the slot became slightly too large. A thin wedge of sassafras must be jammed in to prevent any wiggling but the whole tool is pretty solid. It'll get some usage in the spring when I can start sanding outside again.

Also decided to use additional scraps to make some camping tools for my boys. Rather than learning proper technique with sharp tools, thought it would be proper to make some wooden toys so they could play and practice safely first. A piece of sassafras looked like an axe head to me and a cutoff of cherry had the contours of a handle. So they were put together but I couldn't find the camera to take pics at the time.

Then I read about a way to artificially accelerate the oxidizing process to turn the wood into a dark grey colour. It involves a mixture of rusty nails, vinegar and black tea.  Found the camera for this step and took pics of the natural sassafras turning into a dark black stain using this natural method. Might be a neat trick to artificially age some future paddles as well.

 Side of wooden axe head before staining

Surface oxidized with vinegar and tea mixture 

Also used some more sassafras bits to make a toy bucksaw and decided to stain "the blade" in a similar manner to look like metal. A canvas and leather case was also stitched up with some scraps.

Sassafras bucksaw

Disassembled  with case

Also still had various handle blanks cut back in '08 when making some custom carving tools. Just couldn't bring myself to burning these bits of hardwood. So these were used to make some toy tools similar to my own set for making the birchbark canoe. There's a basic belt knife with walnut handle and sassafras blade as well as a crooked knife with the same blade / handle combination

Belt Knife

Crooked Knife

Used up more bits to make a chisel, a triangular awl and even a little firesteel rod replica.

Here are all the goodies spread out on the table. Planning on making a kid's sized pack basket to put them all in so we can have some camping / bushcraft fun next season.

Camping & Bushcraft Tools

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Red Pine Paddle and Canoe Cups from Luc Poitras

Paddle maker Luc Poitras has submitted more photos of his work, including this paddle made from Red Pine:

Here are some of Luc's canoe cups made from various woods...

A crooked knife with etched handle and copper wire wrapping.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Canoe Winter Blues? Give this a try...

With most of Canada now frozen under a "Polar Vortex",  paddling season is very much done. Here's a wacky idea for canoeing freaks that want to continue their addiction through the winter. Brought to you by the folks at Historic Images.

Historic Images

The back of the photo contains a caption describing the scene:
MARINETTE - WIS. "Dare Devil" Jack Boyle guides his snow-going canoe to a landing after making hair-raising slide down Marinette ski slide. Mr. Boyle doesn't recommend it as a winter sport for novices, but claims it's easy if you know how. 1-18-41

Friday, December 16, 2016

New Tom Thomson Canoe Photo: Pre Fire Chestnut Cruiser

2017 will mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Canadian Artist, Tom Thomson. Probably every Canadian in the art & canoeing world knows of Thomson's mysterious death on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. Many books have been written, documentary films have been made, statues adorn town halls and local artists have added their own touch to Thomson's artistic legacy. 

Wood Canvas canoe enthusiasts have often wondered about Thomson's personal canoe, said to be purchased in 1915 from Chestnut Canoe Co. It has assumed to be a Chestnut Cruiser dating from before the 1921 Chestnut Factory fire and was distinctive in its colour - a slate grey colour mixed with one tube of the artists cobalt blue paint. Up until now, the only photo showing the canoe's graceful lines has been this one below, mistakenly dated to 1912 by some books.

However, a new website ( has put up a few newly discovered photos which includes a clear view of this canoe resting on a dock. The provided caption is below.

Thomson painted his canoe a distinctive dove grey, so it is easy to spot on the dock in front of Mowat Lodge. Proprietor of the lodge, Shannon Fraser is in suit. Across Canoe Lake, on the left, is Hayhurst Point, a favourite campsite of Thomson. The canoe disappeared after Thomson died. What happened to it is another mystery.

For another writeup of a pre-fire Chestnut Cruiser find, be sure to check out Andre Cloutier's post here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Fixing an old failure - scarfing a grip onto a sassafras northwoods - Part 2

When working on the old busted sassafras tripper, a scarf repair was attempted on the shaft so that the paddle could be salvaged into a user again. 

A joint  was cut and a sassafras cutoff was successfully glued up.

A new centre line was drawn on the upper portion and a squarish grip similar to a design at the Maine Hudson Museum was sketched out. After cutting out the profile, the grip was worked on vigorously with a crooked knife and rasp to get the desired  "grip bumps" and angled edges.

The new grip

The blade had weathered after being exposed untreated to the elements for years. It had been positioned upside down in the garden along the east fence line. The back of the blade facing the yard hard had weathered to a light brown colour while the more exposed face weathered into a greyish black patina. 

Different sides of the weathered blade

After the successful glue repair, the shoulder and shaft area of the original blade revealed that the underlying sassafras has turned its golden brown. Between the blade weathering, the darkened sassafras and the light creamy new sassafras grip, the paddle now has 3 distinct colour tones. Not sure at this stage if I'll leave the paddle as is or attempt to lightly stain the new sassafras to at least darken it a bit. 

March 25, 2017 Update: Paddle shaft has been wrapped with leather and is now complete. See the final post HERE.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Circa 1890 Bark Canoe photo: Five Canoes Starting from Island Portage

An now expired Ebay ad featured  a circa 1890 albumen stereoview image. Captioned  as "...Five canoes Starting from Island Portage", it shows a group of men with their bark canoes loaded with gear. Publisher T.W. Ingersoll was located in St. Paul, Minnesota but there is no additional information on the specific location of the shot. There must be thousands of Island Portages out there.

Unfortunately, no clear views of the paddles being used are visible (unlike a similar scene from an 1895 Canadian Geological survey photo - post here). But a guide in the foreground is tumping a large pack cloth roll along with sacs of supplies thrown on for good measure...

Pack Cloth Roll closeup

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Celebrity Paddles: Sigurd Olson's Canoe Paddle

Most wilderness canoeists certainly know about the paddling exploits, wilderness writings and environmental advocacy  of Sigurd Olson (April 4, 1899 – January 13, 1982).

1942 photo of Sigurd Olson in a Border Lakes Outfitting Company Canoe

Well known on both sides of the U.S. / Canada border, he was instrumental in the establishment of today's Boundary Waters wilderness parks as well as being the most famous member of the "Voyageurs", a group of hardy canoeists that retraced historical Canadian trade routes in the 1950s & 1960s.

There is a quaint 2 part wilderness film on Vimeo entitled "Wilderness Canoe Country" featuring Olson in some beautiful vintage footage.

Turns out the online collections of the  Minnesota Historical Society has a paddle belonging to Olson. It's a graceful hardwood paddle but unfortunately cannot be specifically dated. Here is a pic with details below.

Hardwood stern paddle is long and made of single piece of wood. Belonged to Minnesota Nature writer Sigurd Olson. Date unknown.
Length: 71-1/2 inches 
Blade Width: 6 inches 
Shaft diameter: 1 1/2 inches 
Dates Creation: 1900 - Not later than 1978
ID Number 1978.81.3

As an aside, there are some more posts on the site about other "Celebrity Paddles" like Bill Mason's Clement paddle sold at auction or this writeup of Archie "Grey Owl" Belaney's paddles.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

c1880 "G.W." Etched Maliseet Paddle

The good folks at The Cherry Gallery have once again posted another vintage paddle find.  I always look forward to a new month in order to check out their lovely current selections postings. This one is utilitarian birch paddle with a simple flattened grip. Photos and their detailed description below...

Maliseet Canoe Paddle
Circa 1880
6" w, 66.75” h

This birch canoe paddle has the characteristic details of Native paddles including a wide, flat handle, chamfering along the edges of the neck, a square-to-round profile transition at the throat of the shaft, a center ridge extending from the lower shaft to the upper blade, and a graceful beavertail-shaped blade. It also has two incised lines on each side of the handle which is a minimalist decoration seen on other Maliseet paddles. It retains its original dark, worn surface. The blade is chipped along one edge. There are incised initials “G.W.” on the back side of the handle.

Grip closeups

Blade closeup including chipped side

The Cherry Gallery's new find reminded me of another "user" paddle that was also authenticated to be a utilitarian Maliseet item. Back in 2011, I was contacted by someone wanting to post about a circa 1900 paddle for sale in their collection (read full original post here).

Circa 1900 Maliseet Paddle

Diamond shaped secondary grip

This paddle had been appraised in 2007 by Donald Ellis, one of Canada's renowned experts on native art. It had also been identified as 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 which the curator mentioned likely preserved the piece. Not sure about the fate of this one, but hopefully both paddles have gone to a good home.

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