Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Pair of Side Chip Carved Penobscot Paddles

A gorgeous pair of Penobscot Paddles is up for sale on Dated to the 2nd half of the 19th Century, the paddles were varnished at one point in their lifetime and are now feature a heavily crackled surface. The seller cannot identify the wood species as it has darkened considerably due to age.

Length: 69 inches
Blade width: 6 inches
Date: Second half of the 19th century
Materials: Long grain hard wood.
Condition: Excellent. The brown varnish surface is deeply patinated with a beautifully crackled surface.
Comments: Both paddles are finely chip carved on both sides of the paddle handles and uniquely chip carved along the handle edges of each. The chip carved designs are classic, ancient, Algonquin symbols.
Source Link

The grip areas feature subtle carving symbols along the grip face, with one featuring the sun circular sun and and a crescent moon on opposing sides.

 Most unique are the geometric chip carvings along the thin edges of the elongated grips. Most certainly these were carved by the hands of a master paddle maker.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Trapper Canoe Restoration: Removing Fiberglass from the hull

Luckily, this canoe's experiment with fibreglass happened in the 1960's when polyester resins were used in the process. This meant that over time the glass would become more brittle and could (in theory) be easily removed by applying heat to soften the structure. Apparently epoxy resins used since the 80s are much more adhesive and stick aggressively to the planking making removal much more labour intensive if not impossible.

Over the course of a few days, I was able to use a 1500W gun and start removing the impregnated cloth. Videos I've seen online often show the glass easily coming off without leaving any resin remnants on the hull. This canoe was not so forgiving. It seems the application by the original owner was quite uneven and large sections of the hull left pockets of green-coloured resin in a weave pattern once the cloth itself was removed.

Here is a shot of the final bits of fibreglass covering coming off the other side of the hull. Plenty of resin left over meant that I had to go over it again with the heat gun and methodically scrape off the green plastic bits without damaging the planking

That process took a few more days but was quite enjoyable when the cedar hull began to reveal itself.

The resin had also soaked into the natural gaps in the planking. These were a bit of a chore to remove without splitting the planking edging but were cleaned out with a cheap dental pick obtained on Amazon. I could see how some of the planking had split down the middle, likely because there was no room for natural expansion with all the gaps filled with thick resin.

Here is the canoe finally free of its 50 year old fibreglass cloak...

All those removed bits were weighed and clocked in at 10.8 pounds. Next up an evaluation of the hull now that the glass is off and the start of the messy process of stripping paint and varnish from the interior.

Read the next post about the restoration HERE

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Historic Paddle Photo: Maine Guide George Spears standing in bark canoe

Found some more historic photos on taken by an amateur photographer, Ervin S. Hubbard sometime between 1893 - 1902. This scene captures two bark canoes and guide, George Spears standing with a paddle. Though undated accompanying text states it was taken on Tomah Stream in Maine

Tomah Stream, Maine, Undated
by Ervin S. Hubbard
Ervin S. Hubbard Glass Plate Negative Collection
Digitizing sponsor George Washington University Libraries

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Trapper Canoe Restoration: Removing Keels (took the whole day!)

 Closer inspection of the 14' Trapper's Canoe revealed a bunch of home-made additions and repairs.

This model of Peterborough Canoe (Mermaid) originally came with a wide shoe keel. When the canoe was fiberglasssed in the 1960s, the shoe keel was removed and the holes in the ribs plugged with dowels and covered with a little bit of resin. You can see them in the 1st, 3rd, and 5th ribs below:

After glassing the hull, three narrow oak were mounted to the hull, each with their own fastening system in an amateurish way.

One keel seemed to have re-used the old flat-head bolts and nuts from the show keel and some were mounted with steel washers. The centre keel used a variety of Robertson screws to attach from inside the hull through the ribs & planking. Rather than re-use the existing holes from the shoe keel, the owner opted to mount with new holes on alternating ribs. The final keel was attached the other way with the screw head drilled in from the keel side and the tips piercing the interior of the hull. The intention was likely to hide the tips by embedding them into the ribs, but the original owner missed and ended up leaving sharp, exposed screw tip in the planking. You can just see the rusted tip of one such screw where the awl blade is pointing below:

Each of these stainless fasteners was heavily corroded and/or covered in paint so removing each was a battle without stripping the head. In the end, I ended up patiently heating each up for about 5 minutes with an an electric soldering pen to break up the cohesion and it really did the trick. A heat gun was then used to soften up the resin and cloth applied to the keels. It took a while but slowly and surely the fibreglass layers were removed and the wood keels exposed. All three oak keels were heavily rotted under their glass layer and basically crumbled when pried off the hull. Definitely see why glassing a hull can accelerate wood rot with canvas canoes.

All this took a very long day of dealing with corroded fasteners and such. Ended up weighing all the discarded glass covering the triple keels as well as the oak remnants and rusted screws/bolts. This little canoe surgery took off 8.5 lbs of weight.

Update: Next post on removing fibreglass HERE

Friday, November 13, 2020

Late 19th Century Chippewa Paddle

Cisco's Gallery is featuring another unique antique paddle. Described as a "Chippewa canoe paddle with scroll carving at top", the paddle was apparently found along the Fox River, Wisconsin buried. Found along the Fox River, Wisconsin stuck in the shoreline mud. 

Chippewa Canoe Paddle
PERIOD: Late 19th Century
ORIGIN: Wisconsin
SIZE: 53"; Blade 5"

The lengthy flattened grip has a simple roll top and features a scroll pattern near the top, created by boring four holes and carving out curved spaces between them. The reverse spatulate blade shape culminates in broad tip that shows evidence of natural wear and chipping into a semi-rounded end. 

Grip and Blade closeups

The paddle features similar design elements to another piece (Lot 723) included in Cowan's 2004 American Indian Art Auction which was loosely identified as a "Great Lakes Maple Paddle".

Great Lakes Maple Paddle,
length = 66.5 inches
Provenance:Ex First People's Museum of the American Indian and Eskimo 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Historic Paddle Photo: Maine Exhibit - Boston Food Fair 1898

A virtual exhibit of the American Museum of Fly Fishing showcases the guiding life of Cornelia " Fly Rod" Crosby (1854-1946). A fascinating biography along with vintage photos can be seen HERE

Cornelia was instrumental in promoting the Maine backwoods to the American populace through a series of Sportsmen's themed exhibitions in New York and Boston in the late 19th, early 20th centuries. A particular feature was to construct a themed cabin scene complete with ornaments of northwoods life. These often featured some typical Northwoods style paddles. The photo below is from an exhibition in Boston. Two paddles are prominently displayed in this posed scene.

An additional, earlier photo showcasing Cornelia's first exhibit at the 1895 New York Sportsman's Show is featured in an article entitled "Glamour Girl of Maine Lakes" by Austin S. Hogan. It appeared in the Fall 1977 issue of The American Fly Fisher. Vol 4. No. 4. This issue is available online (.pdf format) courtesy of the AMFF here.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

New Project: Trapper's Canoe Restoration

Picked up a new boat that seems a perfect candidate for a restoration...

The canoe originally belonged to Richard "Alan" Reid of Otonabee-South Monaghan who passed away this year at 93. Reid was a full time fur trapper and utilized the canoe in the Kawarthas area. A few years ago, Richard gave the canoe to his neighbour & caretaker who intended to do a full restoration but had given up on the project. According to her, the canoe was originally picked up directly from the Peterborough Factory sometime in 1950s. Apparently he used the canoe extensively for trapping beaver and covered the boat with fibreglass sometime in the 1960s.

Dimensions and build look very much like a Peterbough Mermaid. It seems to be very similar is shape and dimensions as my Chestnut Playmate / Peterborough Mermaid hybrid acquired in 2015. It's a just over 14' long, quite narrow (30" beam) and a 12" depth. Ribs are the narrow "pleasure" style (1-1/2" wide). Unlike my existing boat, this one has outwales that are not spliced or rounded off so they appear quite bulky and squarish. The canoe must've been used pretty hard by the trapper as it shows signs of practical repair / alteration.

Over the course of its lifetime, the bow deck has been replaced with a new piece of black cherry and the tip ends of the inwale spliced with a different wood, possibly oak. The seat caning has long since disappeared but the original holes are there. Reid replaced the stern seat covering with a plywood plank and the bow seat with some sort of metal mesh. Presumably it was better for usage in the winter. The original center thwart is gone and replaced with a plank.

Most notably, the flat wide shoe keel standard on the Mermaid was removed and the ribs show that the original screw holes were plugged. In its place, a narrow hardwood keel with two additional bilge keels were installed each using different fasteners. The centre keel uses square Robertson screws driven from different alternating ribs from the plugged original holes. One bilge keels uses wide slot head bolts secured to the keel with square nuts. The other bilge keel seems to have been fastened with basic wood screws but from the outside of the hull towards the ribs so that no fasteners appear on the inside of the hull. 

All three keels are covered with a thick application of sloppy fiberglass but as this was likely done with 1960s Polyester formula, it is chipping off relatively easily and should be easy to remove with a heat gun.

Once I told the seller about the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, our local chapter and my intention to work local high school kids to help with the restoration, she graciously threw in 4 vintage paddles, including two very old ones that were heavily used by the original owner. More on these paddles in a different post.

Update: Read the next post about the restoration HERE.

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