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Archive for the ‘Canoes’ Category

Well, it’s December 22nd, 2011. The Fiddlehead is done, all my hand tools have been sharpened and tuned up again and I have a couple of weeks off work and some precious free time. What better way to end the year and look ahead to 2012 than to think about what boat I should build next?

Three possibilities have been going through my head for a while. Back in the mid 1990s when I worked at the old Marine Museum of Upper Canada with Peter the Boatbuilder (see last post), we taught a workshop course called “Introduction to Lapstrake Boatbuilding.” The boat we used as the example was Pete Culler’s 13′ lapstrake canoe, a design he called Butternut. This is a lovely little boat, weighing about 35 lbs. We liked it because it showed you everything you needed to know about traditional lapstrake boatbuilding in a nice small package that didn’t go through a whole lot of materials, and was also small enough that we could have two of them underway in the shop at the same time. We told the students it was “the original personal watercraft,” a boat you wear more than use. Here’s one of the completed Butternuts:

As usual with these projects, I didn’t end up with one for myself, so maybe now it’s time? Something this light would also fit on top of Wendy’s little Nissan, and be light enough for her to get up and down easily. Butternut is featured on pp. 23-25 of John Burke’s book Pete Culler’s Boats. The original book is out of print but WoodenBoat have reprinted a catalogue of Culler’s designs. A simple lines plan can be ordered from the Ships’ Plans Department at Mystic Seaport.

Another boat I’ve had in my head even longer than Butternut is the late Bob Baker’s lapstrake canoe Piccolo. He designed this for WoodenBoat back in the magazine’s early days, and a comprehensive how-to-build article appeared in issues no. 36 and 37. It’s an exquisite little sailing canoe, a boat of thoroughgoing charm and modest windward ability (but gentlemen don’t cruise to windward anyways, right?). I liked this boat as soon as I saw her and have always wanted one. Plans are available from The WoodenBoat Store. I’ve gotten as far as lofting Piccolo and starting to pile up some cedar to plank her with (sorry for the grainy photo, hard to take a picture of pencil lines on lofting!):

Two little lapstrake canoes, two worthwhile projects, and eventually I’ll probably build one of each. I’m still thinking about the 16-30 sliding seat canoe, though. One of the ideas I’ve been mulling over is turning the 16-30 into a how-to-build book that also includes some of the history of canoe sailing. I’ve made a couple of false starts on this, but they’ve always come up short. I think one of the things holding me back has been the fact that, much as I love the 16-30 and the sliding seat era of canoe sailing, it was a relatively late development, and isn’t really representative of the whole 1870-1900 era when recreational canoeing first flourished.

An idea came to me in the shower a while ago (often happens there, perhaps the water hitting my head shakes loose a thought?): what about developing another historic canoe design for construction in modern materials that could be a companion to the 16-30? The aims of that project (see the 16-30 page on this blog) were to capture the decked sliding seat canoe sailing experience in a boat that could be built by one person with average tools and skills, in a garage, in a winter, using readily-available parts and materials. Could I find an original design for a cruising sailing canoe that could be adapted the same way? If I did that, then the book could feature these boats as “bookends” exemplifying the range of canoe sailing types, with some history sandwiched in between, and complete plans and building instructions for both.

On to the search for a suitable design. One of the things that made the 16-30 work was that the original boat I was inspired by was a hard-chine hull. I don’t mind turning hard-chine cedar on oak into hard-chine stitch and glue plywood, but I’m not as interested in rendering a round-bottomed hull into a multi-chine stitch and glue boat. Then I came across a design while browsing through Forest & Stream, a treasure trove of canoeing, yachting and other 19th century sporting history. Called Isalo (which is a town in Madagascar, not sure of the connection to canoeing), the boat is a hard-chined hull with a removable sliding seat and two sliding gunter rigs: a cruising outfit of 60 + 18 square feet and a racing rig of 100 + 30 square feet.

This design looks as though it has some potential, so the first step is to do a feasibility study by scaling the design up, re-drawing the lines, generating offsets and thinking about how she might be built. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the mean time, here’s an interesting development for those interested in the history of small craft. Isalo‘s lines were originally published in The Model Yachtsman and Canoeist, a British magazine which appeared from 1884-1894. It wasn’t what you’d call a mass-circulation piece, so original copies are very hard to find. The Albert Strange Association has just announced that the whole run of 2000 pages has been digitized and made available on two CDs in a searchable pdf format for the very reasonable price of 15 pounds sterling. You can order your copy from the Association’s web site. Perfect Christmas gift for the boating historian on your list.

Best wishes of the season to you all.

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 The history of the canoe building companies that were a significant part of the economic life of Peterborough, Ontario, for more than one hundred years is as rich and tangled a story as you’re likely to find in Canadian business history. Invention, entrepreurship, patents, lawsuits, rivalries, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and catastrophic fires: it’s a tale that has all this and more. It is also a complicated story, and those who are interested in canoeing history, Canadian history, Canadian business history and the story of how the city of Peterborough, Ontario came to be synonymous around the world with the canoe will have a much easier time figuring it out after they have read Peterborough author Ken Brown’s new book: The Canadian Canoe Company & the early Peterborough Canoe Factories.

This isn’t Brown’s first crack at the subject. In 2001, The Canadian Canoe Museum published published his book The Invention of the Board Canoe: the Peterborough stories from their sources, which compiled primary source material to explore competing claims for the origin of the Peterborough area’s unique wide-board method of canoe construction. This first book was a modest pamphlet, which did invaluable service in clarifying an important part of the local canoeing story. It wasn’t, however, a book that you would be likely to leave out on your coffee table, or give to anyone but the most hardened canoe-head as a Christmas or birthday present (don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a criticism. I’ve read and enjoyed and used it, and I’ll be forever grateful that he wrote it.) With the publication of this new volume, which has been more than fifteen years in the making, Brown has really raised the bar. Now we’re definitely in gift and coffee table territory, and several people I know will be getting one for Christmas.

Reading through this book and learning about the challenges that faced these entrepreurs as they developed their businesses, we are reminded that although the canoes they built are revered today for their craftsmanship, they were originally made in an un-romantic, hard-headed commercial environment. Brown has done an excellent job with the business history of this industry, not surprising considering that his working life was spent as a chartered accountant. This is an aspect of maritime history that is often neglected, and it is refreshing to see it treated in such detail. It also helps to bring the story out, for we see both the sucesses and the failures of these companies, both the good decisions and the bad.

The book is amply illustrated and visually sumptuous, and publisher Karen Taylor and graphic designer Louis Taylor have done a fine job bringing the story to life. The 16 pages of colour plates at the end are a real treat, as is the back inside cover, which identifies the sites of companies connected with Peterborough’s canoe industry from 1858-1961. This map is particularly valuable because few of these structures are still extant today and these industries which were such a prominent part of downtown Peterborough for so many years are now invisible.

Highly-recommended and just in time for Christmas, The Canadian Canoe Company & the early Peterborough Canoe Factories is available from Cover to Cover Publication Services and from The Canadian Canoe Museum, which also carries The Invention of the Board Canoe: The Peterborough stories from their sources.

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In this shot, the covering boards have been varnished on the underside and permanently screwed to the boat. Where they cover the watertight compartment of each end, they’ve also been bedded in sealant. I’ve also taken the outer stem off, buttered it with bedding compound, re-attached it using all of the screws and epoxied a tapered wooden plug ineach screw hole which will be trimmed flush later.

The inwales receive a coat of bedding compound on their backs before being screwed in place for good.

With all of the decking and outwales permanently fastened, it’s time to start building up the finish. The first coatis usually thinned at least 50% to penetrate deeply and raise the grain.

Even a thinned coat begins to bring out the nice warm look of the cherry.

The next step is the cockpit coamings. Because of the way Harry has designed the ends, they don’t have to fit together closely, but it still takes a couple of tries of clamping them in place dry to get the fit right.

It’s a good idea to use clamping pads on the inside of the coaming to avoid marking it with the c-clamps. It’s also a good idea to not press too hard on the portion of the coaming that extends above the deck, or you might split it and have to get out another one in a hurry (this last sentence was written by the voice of experience!).

With both sides trimmed and clamped in place, the coaming can be fastened. You’ll need to measure carefully from the bottom up to make sure the screws hit the carlin and not the deck.

At each end of the coaming, a triangular block of cherry fastens the two ends together.

The block is fastened in place from the outside with four screws through the coaming.

After the block is fastened, the top and bottom are faired into the coaming.

Now is a good time to stand back and look at the coaming. For this boat, I decided that it was a little too high in the middle, so I got out the plane and gave it some more sheer. Do this carefully, and don’t forget to sight from each end as well as each side as you’re working.

The coamings in place.

The designer has come up with an ingenious solution for finishing the coamings which avoids what can be a tricky raking beveled cut. It begins by sawing off the rough ends of the coaming and the triangular block.

This leaves a blunt surface at each end.

This is finished with another triangular block that sits on the deck cap.

This little block ties everything together nicely.

This is attached with a little thickened epoxy.

And left to dry overnight.

Then it’s back to sanding, fairing the coaming and blocks together into a pleasing whole with smooth transitions between the different pieces.

And then it’s back to varnishing, building up a good solid surface.

Because I was in a bit of a hurry, I used a quick-drying acrylic enamel on the exterior hull and the interior bottom.

The last step was to make some nice cherry floorboards that go in in two sections. And here we are, a finished Fiddlehead.

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Here’s a shot from above showing how the beveled end of the outwale fits against the stem.

With the end of the outwale cut and beveled, the outwale is clamped amidships.

It’s important to make sure that it’s clamped so that this end fits tightly, and to make a centerline hash mark so you can find this position again, because now comes the tricky part: fitting the other end.

Before the bevel from the other end can be transferred to the stock,we need one other important mark. Bending the outwale in as far as it will go, transfer the intersection of the outer stem and sheer plank to the stock.

Now transfer the bevel using the mark just made as the origin point on the inboard side.

Check that midships hash mark again, then cut the other end of the outwale. I usually cut it at least 1/8” too big and then gradually fit it into place.

The screws that fasten the outwale on are highly visible, and it looks terrible if they’re not lined up evenly, so I clamped a block to the drill press along which the outwale slides, ensuring that the countersunk holes are in a straight line.

Here’s the finished outwale fastened in place.

Here’s a long shot. The outwale makes a dramatic improvement in the appearance of the boat because the shadows cast by it on the sheer plank really define that important curve.

Now you can see what a nice effect the deck cap gives: the lines of the outwale, deck edge and deck cap edge all converge on our nicely-finished stemhead.

Once both outwales are fitted, the combination of curves that make up this little canoe is visible. This is a stage where taking your time really matters, because these are the details people will notice on the finished boat. It took me a whole day, for instance, just to get out and fit the outwales.

Now that everything has been dry fitted, it’s time to take off the decking to varnish the underside side before final assembly.

Until next time. . .

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The rough-cut covering board is clamped in place to check for fit, and the inside edge of the carlin is traced on the bottom.

Back on the bench, the inside edge is planed to the traced line. By skewing the block plane, it can cut the inside curve, even though the sole is longer than the radius of the curve.

On the boat, the centreline ends of the covering boards are carefully trimmed to make a tight joint.

The covering boards dry-fitted. The outer edges are still rough, and won’t be completely trimmed until they’re fastened for good.

With the forward ends fitted and clamped, the midships butt joint is carefully marked and trimmed square.

The first pair of covering boards fitted and fastened.

With the covering boards fastened, the coaming support knees can be fastened in place.

Just for fun, we brought the museum’s c. 1905 Rushton double-paddle out for comparison with the Fiddlehead. With the exception of a little bit of epoxy and the fact that the Rushton boat is round-bottomed and has steam-bent ribs, there’s not much difference at all between the two.

When the second pair of covering boards is fitted, the midships butt joint is finished before the final trimming takes place elsewhere to ensure a tight fit.

The final covering board clamped in place for trimming.

I usually centrepunch fastening holes with an awl to ensure that the bit doesn’t skate sideways when the hole is being started.

With the covering boards fastened, the tops of the coaming support knees can be dressed down flush—because of the angle at which they meet the carlins coming down from the bulkhead, there will be a little bit to take off.

The final step before the second layer of decking is to add three trim strips to bring the top of the bulkhead and carlin up flush with the surface of the covering boards. These have been taped in place for now and will be glued later.

All of the main decking and framing dry-fitted, ready for the next level.

You may have noticed in earlier post that when we were making patterns for the covering board and decking that the decking stopped short of the bow. After thinking about it some more, we decided to go with a more Peterborough-style deck. So, I made a new pattern for the deck so that it and the covering boards converged at the stem. The final step will be to cover the long centre deck seam that runs from the forward end of the coaming to the stem with a long narrow deck cap. There are several advantages to this style, not the least of which is that the long seam between the deck halves doesn’t have to be tight. If you put your hand under the deck of an old Peterborough canoe, chances are you will feel a gap between the two halves of the deck planking.

The two halves of the deck meet at a slight angle owing to the crown of the deck. In order for the deck cap to lie flush, this crown must be taken off the centerline with a plane and sandpaper.

The deck cap is just a long, straight-grained cap which tapers from just under 2” wide at its inboard end to just a bit wider than the inboard face of the outer stem at the outboard end—the final trimming will be done once the outer stem is in place.

One end of the deck dry-fitted, showing how the three levels work together.

An inboard view.

Ready for the coamings.

The pleasing shape of the deck and cockpit are beginning to emerge.

Until next time. . .

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The canoe in the Canadian Canoe Museum’s Living Traditions Workshop, where I’ll finish it off in time for the raffle drawing on October 15th.

Beginning to install the deck framing. We didn’t have any nice spruce around, but did have some white oak, so we wentwith that. The centre carlin butts up against the aft face of the stem at each end.

I made a little stop for the carlin to sit on to simplify fastening it to the stem.

The centre carlin in place at the stem.

The side carlins, which support the and the side decks and the cockpit coaming, die into the centre carlin just aft of the bow. This means a beveled end, which I’ve scribed off the boat and cut on the bench.

One of the side carlins in place, notched through the watertight bulkhead.

The carlins are screwed down into the bulkheads.

They are also fastened into the deck supports of the midships frame. Because the screw is going in cross-grain, it’s a good idea to clamp the deck support before drilling, and make sure that the drill is going in dead straight.

The side and centre carlins fitted and fastened.

The covering boards, or side decks, butt together near the middle of the canoe, so we’ve made a little oak butt block to go underneath that joint and fastened it in place through the carlin.

The butt block is also fastened in through the sheer plank.

With all of the deck framing in place, we can clamp on some deck stock and begin to take off the shape. The museum has lots of cherry left over from paddle-carving classes, so we’ll give this Fiddlehead an upgrade to cherry decks, coamings and rub rails. Because we’ll be building this boat again, I’m using some leftover cedar planking to make patterns first before I cut the cherry.

The edges of the carlins are traced on to the bottom of the pattern stock and it is bandsawed to approximate shape, as always leaving the line.

Once it is cut out, the pattern is placed back on the boat and trimmed to final shape. I also took the precaution of trying it on the other three quarters of the canoe as well to make sure there wasn’t too much variation in the finished size.

The carlins make good guides for trimming the inside edge of the pattern to final shape.

The covering board pattern trimmed to final size and taped in place.

On this canoe, the deck laps over the covering board, so another piece of pattern stock is put in place to trace off the shape of the deck.

I wanted to get the fit between the deck pattern and the coaming just right, so I mocked up the bent coaming from a scrap piece of planking.

The patterns for the covering board and the centre deck in place.

Since this boat is the same at each end [and, depending how well it’s built, the same on each side!], one pattern for each piece of deck should suffice. It’s wise to leave a generous margin when first cutting them out, though.

With the patterns in hand, it’s much easier to make efficient use of your stock and make sure you avoid knots and other irregularities. Here I’m tracing the first pattern on the cherry stock, which has already been planed to its finished thickness of 3/16”.

Until next time. . .

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One of the most useful tools for beveling the laps  is a bullnose rabbet plane, here a Stanley #90. Unlike a regular plane, the iron of the bullnose rabbet plane goes right out the edge of the sole, so you can keep it right on the pencil line. Its sole also just happens to be close to the same with as the lap bevel on this boat.

At each bulkhead/frame, wood is removed until the straightedge lies flat with its upper edge touching the penciled lap line. You need to be careful not to take off too much, which you can see I’m just on the verge of doing here. The thickness of the bottom edge will depend on the shape of the boat’s hull. Here, the bottom becomes a feather edge. If you do that at each known point, it’s then a relatively simple matter to connect these bevels with a smooth transition. Unless you’re making a boat with flush-lap or guideboat-lap planking, all of the beveling takes place on the lower plank.

We’re back to spiling now. The middle planks will go on in one piece, so the spiling batten goes full length.

The second plank is clamped in place to check for fit. If you’ve done a good job ofspiling, it will just touch the lap line and the marks on each frame/bulkhead showing the lower edge. The next round of fastenings will go in the upper edge of this plank, through the 5/8” lap of the plank below it, and be clenched on the inside of the boat.

In order to do the clench-nailing, we need to clamp the plank in place, but the edge we need to clamp is about 5 ½” away from the lower edge, and most clamps don’t have a deep enough throat to reach. We need lap clamps. These may be for sale somewhere, but everyone I know makes their own. I took a couple of hours one afternoon and made up half a dozen from some scrap cherry left over from the paddle project. They’re hinged at the butt end, sometimes with leather but here with little metal hinges, and the middle is just a carriage bolt with a wing nut. These are a medium size with a 6” throat, but you can alter the pattern to make whatever size you need.

Here are some lap clamps in place on the upper edge of the plank. As well as holding the planks together for clench-nailing, they also let you make a final check of how well your laps are beveled.

A lap clamp in action from underneath the boat.

Before fastening the middle plank, we need to mark out the fastening line.

It’s easiest to do this on the bench, using the same gauge we made to mark the plank laps. The laps are 5/8” wide, and we want the fastenings more or less in the middle, so here we’re marking a line 5/16” in along the upper edge of the plank.

The middle plank is fastened. This time, there are screws in the hood ends at the stem, but all of the other fastenings are clench nails, once again driven from the outside and clenched inside.

2 planks on, one more to go.

Until next time. . .

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At the end of the last post, we were ready to start planking. This is the part where lapstrake canoe construction gets really interesting.

“Spiling” is the process of deriving the shape of a plank from the boat itself. It’s one of those things that you can read about over and over again and not be sure how it works, but as soon as you see it in practice it all becomes clear (sort of like lofting). Fiddlehead‘s designer Harry Bryan has helpfully provided dimensions for plank patterns on the plans, but using those presupposes that we’ve built a framework that’s exactly the same as his. Spiling is a good thing to learn and practice, so we’ve decided to spile for the planks instead. To do this, we need some key pieces of information. When we made the stems, we picked up the heights of the top edges of the three planks on each side of the hull from the plans and marked them on the stems. We also know where the plank edges cross the frame and bulkheads because this boat has those flat faces pre-dressed so there’s a definite point where one plank begins and another ends, and they’re also shown on the plans (on a round-bottomed hull with steam-bent frames,  you would need to “line out” the hull for the planking, but that’s another project).

To pick up the shape of a plank, a 2 1/2″ wide masonite spiling batten is stapled to the bulkheads and frame between the bottom edge of the plank and the marks showing the top edge of the “garboard,” or first plank. The shape of the spiling batten is NOT the shape of the finished plank, but rather a tool to help you derive the shape of the plank.

Using a compass set to a consistent width (here 3”), the point is placed on the edge of the bottom and the pencil end traces an arc on the spiling batten. There will be quite a number of points on the upper edge of the batten (which will define the lower edge of the plank—are you still with me?) but only three points on the bottom edge of the batten at the frame, bulkhead and stem.

The batten is temporarily stapled on to a piece of plank stock large enough to accommodate the full shape of the plank once the measurements have been expanded back from the spiling batten.

Now the marking process is reversed to re-locate the edges of the space the plank will have to fill on the boat. Each arc traced from the boat on to the batten left a partial circle. The compass point is placed where one side of that circle crosses the edge of the batten and an arc is swung on the stock. When the compass point is placed on the other side of the circle where it crosses the batten edge and another arc is swung, their intersection marks the edge of the plank—ain’t geometry wonderful?

If you look closely you should just be able to see the penciled arcs on the batten, along with a notation as to the width of the compass.

A finishing nail is driven in at each intersection, and a batten is sprung.

Here you can see the spiling batten and the shape of the right-hand edge of the plank, which is (hopefully!) the shape of the space on the boat that the finished plank will occupy.

Here the other edge of the plank has been de-spiled (yes, that’s a word, a least in the boat shop) and a second batten sprung to show the other edge of the plank.

Once everything looks fair, the battens are held down and traced to show the final shape of the plank.

The rough-cut plank is clamped in place to test for fit.

Quick-clamps with large, rubber heads are perfect for working with the soft cedar planking. They can also be opened and closed with one hand, which is a great help to the solo boatbuilder.

A bow view shows the significant twist in a garboard plank, which must make a transition from nearly horizontal in the middle of the boat to nearly vertical at the stem. The white cedar planking is limber enough to make this twist without steaming, but only just, and needs to be handled carefully at the stem.

With the plank clamped temporarily in place you can check to see how good a job you did with the rolling bevel and tune it up where necessary.

The excess planking is trimmed off about 1” beyond the stem.

These garboard planks will be scarphed together near the middle of the boat. Measuring back 2 ½” from the end of the plank will give a 10:1 scarph joint, which can be cut with a good sharp chisel.

The scarph can also be cut with a low-angle block plane. This is the kind of work which will quickly let you know whether your tools are sharp enough or not.

This boat is truly double ended, so the first plank can be traced and cut out to make the second, and then if you do it twice more you’ll have the planks cut for the other side, too.

As always, bandsaw a little outside the line (“leave the line!” the old craftsmen say) and then dress right down to it with a sharp block plane.

There are many nice features of a low-angle block plane, one of them being that it’s light enough to hold in one hand, so you can either push it away from you or pull it towards you, depending on which way the grain wants you to go.

Here’s the scarph joint being fitted on the boat. Traditionally the scarph faces aft on the boat, but since you don’t decide which end of the Fiddlehead is the bow until you put the backrest in, we’ll just make them all face the same way.

The first pair of planks dry-fitted and ready for fastening.

Garboards are the trickiest planks to fit, so a couple of friends dropped by to help. Beth Stanley and Jeremy Ward both work at the Canoe Museum.

Between the stem and the bulkhead, the garboards are fastened to the bottom with #6 x ¾” screws. The holes are drilled and countersunk first, and the screw heads will finish just below the surface so the holes can be puttied later. Beyond the bulkhead, the garboard is clench-nailed to the bottom. At the scarph joint, half of the tacks go from the outside in, and the other half go from the inside out, which means you get to hammer blind, but it’s not as hard as it sounds. 5 more planks to go!

Until next time. . .

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I’ve always been intrigued by old things–I guess that’s what led me to the museum business where I make my living. What is it about old things that interests me? It’s partly the challenge of understanding them, of coming to learn why that object looks the way it does, and how it w0rks, and what we can learn from the object about the knowledge embodied in it.

When you consider an object from a time when more things were built (made one at a time, or in small batches, often by their users) than manufactured (made in great quantities by someone other than the user), there’s often a great deal of character embodied in them. You can understand some of that character by using one of these objects, but you can learn even more by making it and then using it. This is what has led me to build some old/new boats, to rehabilitate some old boats, and lately to carve what I’ll call a new (old) canoe paddle.

I’m not 100% sure what to call this paddle–“replica” sounds too exacting, claiming a precision that I don’t have. “Reproduction” sounds banal, as in “only a reproduction.” It is just a canoe paddle, but it’s also more than a canoe paddle in that it’s the product of a deliberate reaching back to an earlier era in a search for a design and a style. I rather like the phrase “spirit of tradition” which some of the classic yacht people coined to describe, say, a new build of a Herreshoff schooner that wasn’t a complete copy in terms of materials and techniques but was nonetheless built to the original design and embodied some of its character.

Sometimes these spirit of tradition projects of mine are prompted by the experience of using something old. In the case of the St. Lawrence Skiff I built a number of years ago, I had a chance to row an original one and decided right then and there that I had to build one for myself. I’m rowing the original on the left, and the owner of the original is rowing my new skiff on the right.

In other cases, just seeing an original item makes me want to build one. Earlier this year, staff of the Canadian Canoe Museum were looking through the workshop of Walter Walker. Walker, who passed away in 2009, was a near-legendary canoe builder in the Peterborough/Lakefield area who, over the course of a long career, had worked for just about every canoe company in town, and also for quite a while on his own. As well as building canoes, Walker carved paddles, and he had a favourite shape that featured small shoulders at the top of the blade and the bottom of the grip. In Walker’s workshop there was a late 19th century pattern from the Lakefield Canoe Company that his stepson says was the basis for his own favourite paddles:

Here’s a closeup of the grip on the pattern:

And the top of the blade:

Walker’s workshop also yielded another interesting piece in the form of an old, weathered paddle with a big split in its blade. Though well past its prime, this was a quality piece of work. Carved from birdseye maple, it too had shoulders at the top of the blade and the grip, but was altogether more delicate in its scantlings. The shaft was distinctly oval, especially at the top of the blade where your lower hand would grip it. The story goes that this paddle, dating from the end of the 19th century, had been given to Walker by someone in Burleigh Falls, north of Peterborough. He appears to have made some of this shape for himself, for there were masonite patterns in his workshop. This one really caught my attention, so I traced off a pattern, took it home and found a suitable piece of cherry.

Several months and a car accident later, I’ve carved one for myself. The only changes I made were to add a few inches to the shaft, but leaving the blade length unchanged, to make it the right length for me to to draw out and square up some details on the original that seemed to have been worn down over the years. Although I took a 2-D pattern tracing, I didn’t make any other measurements or templates to use when I carved it. I wanted to see how close I could come to the shape of the original working just from the pattern and  my initial impression of it.

It was an interesting piece to carve. Several times I felt like I’d gone too far, and taken off too much, especially where the shaft meets the bottom of the grip, but when I compared the old and the new I felt like I’d gotten it just about right (except that looking at this photo now, I can see that the “horns” at the bottom of the grip are a little asymmetrical–funny that I never noticed that until now).

And what is it like to use? A real treat. It’s light, subtle and just a little whippy in the water, perfect for an evening solo paddle. As pleasant as it is in and of itself, though, for me the enjoyment is greatly increased by its being a new (old) thing. I just might have to make another one.

PS: Until April 2012, you can get a first-hand look at Walter Walker’s canoes, tools and workshop, and learn more about his long career as a canoe builder, in the CCM’s exhibit “Walter Walker: A Life in Canoes.”

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With the bottom shaped, it’s time to get everything we’ve built so far set up on the strongback.

The plans show a baseline above the midships frame and the bulkheads that represents the top of the strongback. Using this, temporary legs are cut from scrap and fastened with drywall screws. The frame and bulkheads are plumbed and aligned on the strongback and the legs are fastened to cross-cleats.

The stems are fastened to the bottom with screws and glue.

The bottom/stem assembly is placed on the frame and bulkheads and carefully aligned. The bottom is then glued and screwed to the frames and bulkheads.

The stemheads are extra long, extending beyond the sheerline. When the boat is turned upright, these will each be trimmed and shaped into a pleasing curve. In the mean time, the height of the stem and the height of the legs on the frame and bulkheads affects the curvature, or rocker, of the bottom. When the bottom is fastened to the frames and bulkheads and the stems are pulled down tight to the strongback, it introduces a (very slight, for this particular boat has almost no rocker) curvature.

At the moment, the edges of the bottom are square, just as they came from the bandsaw. The bulkheads and the frame, however, are angled so the planks must meet the bottom at an angle and the bottom must therefore be bevelled. How do you find the correct angle? By playing “connect the dots,” or rather “connect the bevels.” Where a bulkhead meets the bottom, you can lay a straight piece of scrap along it and see how much wood must be planed off to make the scrap lie flat.

If you do this at each intersection, and also where the stems meet the bottom, you will have four known points on each side to guide you. The bevel “rolls,” or changes between each of these, so your job is to join these areas up with a fair curve to create this rolling bevel.

Here are four of the most useful tools for doing this kind of work, and in fact four of the most useful tools in a shop that builds traditional small boats. From left to right, they are: a jack plane; a low-angle block plane; a bullnose rabbet plane and a low-angle spokeshave. In the backgound is an awl, useful for clearing chips and shavings from the throats of the tools.

The next pieces to be added are the sheer clamps, which define the upper edge of the hull. These are important elements that join the sheer plank, decks and stems together, so they’ll be gotten out of white oak. I couldn’t find any stock long enough, so I ripped a shorter piece of white oak and scarphed it together with epoxy, using an 8:1 angle.

Ripping this long, flexible piece takes careful preparation, so I’ve made some temporary supports to hold before and after it passes over the saw. As usual, the preparation takes about 5 times longer than it does to make the actual cut. Once the sheer clamps are ripped, they are planed to the final dimensions.

The clamps fit into pre-cut notches in the bulkheads and frames. At each stem, they must be cut so that the planking will flow smoothly off them and on to the stem bevel. This is pretty easy at one end, using a bevel gauge to lift the correct angle and cut the end of the clamp. At the other end, though, the untrimmed end will be in the way of an exact measurement, so it requires some careful thought to cut the correct angle at the correct length.

With the bevels cut in each end, the sheer clamps are screwed to the frame, bulkheads and stems.

Everything is now in place for planking, where we’ll pick up next time.

Until then. . .

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