Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rick Nash Bark Canoe

While up north, I came across a beautiful 15 year old bark canoe hanging in the main store of Langford Canoe Company in Dwight. It was built by local craftsman Rick Nash. (Edit: NOVEMBER 5/09 - Recieved an email from Rick mentioning that the canoe was actually built by Ian Cameron of Dorset under Rick's guidance back in 1989)

Rick wrote the chapter on Birchbark canoe building in John Jennings' wonderfully illustrated text, The Canoe: A Living Tradition. I briefly met Rick and his wife Doris at the '08 WHCA Assembly in Peterborough where he had some fantastic models and photos of his work on display.

The fluorescent lighting in the store didn't make for the best photos, but this canoe sure is one heck of a beauty! What really caught my eye was the meticulous running lacing pattern under the outwale side and the pretty, decorative bow lacing. Here are the pics...

Hanging over the side door

Angled shot

Bow closeup

Narrow stitched and sealed gores

Closeup of running lashing

Friday, September 25, 2009

Crooked Knife Making - Part 2: Tempering Blade

When last posted, the rusty file destined to be my crooked knife blade had been softened and ground down by hand over many laborious days. The edge of the manufactured blade had also been shaped with a file to a more shallow cutting angle. After working on the blades, creating the angled edge, and polishing off as many toolmarks as possible (still left a few), it was time to finally temper them.

Filing off the teeth; Blade shaped and polished

This involved heating the file back up to a cherry red colour (in an outdoor firepit), quickly bending the tip to the desired angle with pliers, reheating to cherry red and then dumping it into cooking oil to quickly quench and harden the steel (the manufactured blade was already bent, so it was simply heated and quenched). I planned to do this at dusk so that I could see the colour of the heated file more accurately. Since the steps had to be done rather quickly in near darkness, all the required stuff was layed out in an organized fashion. I used a small metal vice/anvil place the blade flat while bending the tip with pliers; a tall & narrow tea can seemed perfect to hold the 450 ml of Sunflower oil to do the quenching. Taking pics of the each step was not an option while working alone, but I did manage to take one blurry shot of the bent blade right before it was dunked in the oil

Ready to go; Quenched in cooking oil

All went well. I was expecting the oil in the can to burst into flames when the superheated steel was immersed but all that ended up was sizzling and the smell of french fries. Once it cooled down a bit, the metal was quickly tested with a hacksaw (not in the pics) to see if it was still soft but the blade simply bounced off the steel without any bite. The quenching had worked. Next morning, the blades were examined and of course were covered in disgusting residue that would need to be polished off. Here are the before and after shots.

Grime after quenching; Quick polishing

These were going to be working knives so I didn't bother polishing them to a mirror finish, just sufficient enough to be clean. The other reason for polishing at this stage is because some of the temper needs to be drawn out otherwise the blades may snap under pressure. This involved baking in the home oven at 450F for about an hour until a straw colour appears on the blade. Baking without polishing first means lots of unnecessary smoke in the kitchen.

This stage went well and next up will be a post documenting the making of the handles.

Update Oct. 2/09: Part 3 on making the handle has been posted.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Steve Cayard Penobscot Canoe

Via Indigenous Boats Blog, some pics of builder Steve Cayard making another bark canoe masterpiece. Full gallery here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Walnut Laminated Voyageur

A common paddle design marketed today is the so called "Voyageur" blade, essentially a straight side paddle with a wide, squarish tip, and recurved shoulders at the throat. Despite the persistant occurance of this design in modern stores, there is little evidence that it resembles anything that the real voyageurs may have actually paddled. Certainly in the paintings of Frances Anne Hopkins, the paddles don't resemble this blade design. The only other time I've seen the recurved shoulder design is with an early Mi'kmaq design documented by Adney.

Graham Warren refers to this design more precisely as a "North West Voyageur" simply because it appears in the voyageur art of Howard Sivertson. For some examples, I checked out a book of his entitled, The Illustrated Voyageur: Paintings and Companion Stories which has some delightful anecdotes and illustrations, although probably not entirely accurate.

Cover of Sivertson's Voyageur themed book

In any event, I had made this blank many months ago from scraps of black walnut and a 3/4" wide strip of yellow poplar. Given the small width of the poplar, the walnut was laminated from the grip all the way to the blade resulting in a neat contrasting look in the shaft area. Walnut and Yellow Poplar are both very easy to carve and the simple, straight edges meant that cutting out and shaving down the blade and grip was very quick. This was one of the fastest paddles I carved out from a blank. Here are some pics of the job.

Unfinished paddle; Blade Closeup

Since I was using left over cutoff scraps, the grain pattern isn't perfectly symmetrical on the blade. There's also point on the blade where the grain reverses suddenly giving the appearance of a horizontal "scratch".

I've read plenty of criticisms of this blade design on canoeing forums with many paddlers literally calling this blade shape a piece of junk. Personally I found it an acceptable design although the larger squarish tip certainly made for a noisy entry and the recurved shoulders tended to cause some cavitation and loss of power when paddling with a quick pace. But I found that if I slowed down and relaxed the pace it handled well with underwater recoveries. The walnut-poplar lamination also resulted in a super-light paddle and there's no denying the rich-chocolatey appeal of the wood. Instead of adding any additional pyrography to this one, I've settled on simply oiling it and using it as an occasional light use paddle

Final work all oiled up

Friday, September 18, 2009

Northern Sound Ply Canoes

Came across the site of another builder of beautiful birchbark alternative (plywood) canoes. Check out Northern Sound for some more pics and video like the ones below.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Crooked Knife Project - Part 1: Salvaging Blades

An indispensible tool in the making of bark canoes is the crooked knife which is basically a one-handed draw knife used for shaving and shaping wood. It has a fascinating history with some of these knife handles elaborately decorated to become museum pieces. The Algonkian name for the knife is mocotaugan and a great site/online book documenting the history and usage can be found here

Even though my bark canoe is pretty much finished and I sort of "cheated" by using a block plane for most of the shaving, I've been intrigued with the design and functionality of the crooked knife and have been thinking about making one for "bushcraft style" paddlemaking for some time. Graham Warren's paddlemaking book has a chapter (written by David Gidmark) that shows the steps in making a crooked knife from an old file but discusses using propane torches and bench grinders for the bulk of the work - a little intimidating for me.

I had already obtained a manufactured crooked knife from John Lindman's model canoe kit, but the blade was horribly dull, the metal was wouldn't sharpen properly, and the rivetted handle was uncomfortable in my hands. The instructions that came in the kit mentioned that the blade was still soft and not really hardened enough to sharpen with a stone. It had to be superheated (to cherry red) and plunged into oil in order to harden it all the while not damaging the wooden handle. I figured since I disliked the handle, I would drill out the rivets, salvage the blade, rework the metal to a sharper edge and make my own customed knife.

Manufactured Crooked Knife

Then, as if it was waiting to be reincarnated, I stumbled upon a 6" rusted Mill Bastard file in my father's old toolbox. I vaguely remember him using such a file to sharpen old garden shears and the lawn mower blade back in 70's. Inspired by some illustrations in old texts as well as this posting of making a crooked knife without a forge or powertools, I set out to make a crooked knife from scratch. If my efforts failed, then at least I'd have the manufactured blade to rely on.

The file destined to become the blade

Illustration of making a crooked knife

First of course, the metal file needed to be needed to be softened by heating up to a bright orange colour and cooling softely. This was achieved lighting up the fireplace with hot burning hardwood on a rainy evening and heating the file on the coals. An empty juice can stuffed with cold ashes (obtained from a campfire pit that morning) would serve as the cooling medium, although I read that one could also use sand and vermiculite from gardening stores.

Heated file cooling overnight in ashes

The next day the file was removed and the tip tested for softness by cutting into it with a hacksaw. If the blade had not annealed properly, the sawteeth wouldn't have been able to bite and make a cut. Heating in the fireplace seemed sufficient as photo below shows.

Test cut with a hacksaw...metal now softened

Then the labour truly began. Using another identical file on hand, the metal teeth and ridges were filed off with hand grinding. This messy, tiring and boring job took a whole lot of time over the course of a week, but it did work. When both sides and the edges had been ground relatively smooth, an angled edge was begun. I marked up 1/4" line from the edge with permanent marker and ground the side down to a chisel edge with an angled motion of the file. This left some scratched tool marks on the metal which I tried to clean up with 400grit automotive sandpaper. By this point (with very sore wrists and forearm muscles), I gave up on trying to polish the thing to a mirror image. Here is the result after many (non consecutive days) of working the file.

Filing off the teeth; Blade shaped and polished

In another post, I'll be documenting the next steps, including tempering the blade and making a customized handle.

Sept 25 UPDATE - Part 2 has been posted

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Another Adirondack Guide Paddle

Another Adirondack Guide Paddle for sale by the folks at Summer Antiques. The grips on these paddles are so unusual. A previous post shows off some more of their selection which haven't been sold by the looks of things.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Summer's Last Paddle

Well, we're back from our vacation up north. Regrettably, my paddling season may be over with the demands of work and the real world taking over again. But at least I was blessed with a calm lake and gorgeous setting sun to take a couple of shots in the bark canoe before she rests again for another winter. The last shot was snapped by putting the camera on a neighbour's floating dock, setting up a 10 second time-delay and maneuvering the canoe into the frame.

With the nontraditional kneeling pad and stuff sack

Paddling View

Just in the frame

Despite the brief melancholy I'm experiencing right now, I've been busy with a few new paddle designs and other summer projects that'll be on the site soon.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cherry Edged Beothuk - Part 3

With all the fun distractions this past summer, I haven't sat down and worked on a paddle for a while. So I decided to get back in it and work on the Cherry Edged Beothuk that had been giving me problems since it was started back in July of '08. When I last posted on this different design, the cherry parts of the bobble grip were being laminated onto the main gripface.

The initial square grip with sketching; Cherry pieces, Glued up

With the glue long dry, it was time to start shaping the octogonal grip into something resembling a spherical bobble. Problem is that with time being limited resource as a new father, multi-tasking has become a necessity.

Lately our little one has been more finicky than usual and needed constant rocking during one of our little excursions to the small lakeside beach at the cottage. In an effort to sooth the boy while also making some time for the paddle, I set up a bushcraft-style nomadic hammock recently taught to us by a relative overseas.

Known as a "Gypsy Swing" in Turkey, this ingenious contraption is found all over the countryside and may be the saving grace for any parent. All that it requires is a rope (I had a 20ft line of cheap polypropylene), a medium sized Turkish Kilim (a large beach towel would suffice), and two sticks. After some experimenting with Evenk Knots and other hitches from a Ray Mears episode on Bushcraft the lines were all set. Some creative folding of the kilim and stretching out with the sticks and the little hammock was set up complete with a view of the lake. To control the swing, an extra line was attached to big toe to provide the foot power rythym.

Set up between the trees

Drifting off to nappy time

Toe powered with hands free to carve

He drifted off quite quickly and I was able to crudely shape the grip into a fair-sized bobble. While not exactly perfectly shaped, the amount of labour involved and the never-ending drive of attaining spherical perfection made me stop when the grip felt comfortable in the hands.

The Bobble Grip

Not being able to resist, I took the paddle for a quick test spin in the lake even though it had not been thoroughly sanded with fine grit. The blade, very similar to the cherry edged Kayak Paddle I made last year, handles well and the bobble is actually quite comfortable to use for basic forward strokes. As a solo paddler however, many correction strokes require quite different positioning on the grip and in this regards the bobble is limiting. Still it's quite logical (and an unusual paddling sensation) to use a spherical grip which actually fits the shape of a relaxed hand quite nicely. I'll be taking this one back to the city to decorate the blade over the winter.

Unfinished Beothuk Paddle

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