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Lots of stuff goes on in this shop, located in Lorette, Manitoba.

Primarily it's the building and repair of classic wood & canvas canoes, and the making of premium canoe paddles. I also do custom boat building, composite fabrication, and special projects. A growing passion of mine is the making of classical guitars, I'll post about that, too.

I want to be able to share with my clients the progress of their commissioned work. Later I started thinking that there might be other people who are interested in what goes on inside a wooden canoe shop operated by an artist and a recovering teacher.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me by email, phone, or by post. My mailing address is:

Red River Canoe & Paddle
24249 River Rd
Lorette, Manitoba
R5K 0Z6

Saturday 27 December 2008

It's been a little slow in the shop with Christmas happening in the middle of the week. Nevertheless, I've got the Baidarka almost finished being re-varnished. It required a repair tot he forward cockpit coaming, a thorough sanding of the deck and the hull.

Of course, nothing ever goes so smoothly, my old reliable Porter-Cable sander bit the dust when I had only 1/4 of the hull left to sand. I love these sanders because I work them hard and the do a great job, but after awhile some of the parts simply wear out. This time it was the spindle that keeps the sander head attached to the main body. Its just about closing time Monday, and I need to finish so that I can start varnishing, so I drive into the city, deal with rush hour traffic, only to find that the store has moved. I have a half hour left before closing, I call them up to find out where they've gone to, but there is no way that I can get there in time, and the fellow on the line wasn't inclined to wait for me. So I stopped in a Home Depot and picked up a little Ryobi, which ois good enough to see me through. Its a great little sander for $40, but it won't stand up to the demands that I will put it to.

I got the two little guitars that I'm building for my daughters closed. There's still a lot of work left to do, but now they are starting to look like guitars!

They already knew that these were coming, so it was hardly worth wrapping them, but a nice bow really sets them off.

Future guitar heroes? Who knows...they've both been studying music for years and now specialize in voice studies. Every singer should at lease be able to lay a little guitar.

The bodies are of Ash, and the wood came from a tree that was growing in my In-law's back yard. My Mother-in-law passed away last February, of pancreatic cancer, and these will be great souvenirs of the time spent with her. The guitar on the right has a veneer inlay in a geometric pattern, the one on the left will have a black line art vine.

A close up of the rosettes.

And finally, ever since I was a little kid of about 10, I've wanted an electric guitar. Well, one thing lead to another, and I never did get one. So now, after 35 years, I bought my first amp! So now I have now excuse to build an electric guitar. My first will be a good old Telecaster style and I'm already saving my pennies for the parts. The amp I chose is a VOX Valevetronix AD15VT. Its a modeling amp that runs a 12AX7 tube in the power stage so that you get that good tube amp sound that is so desirable. I'm really looking forward to plugging this thing in and rocking!

But for now its sitting very quietly in the living room, waiting...

Friday 19 December 2008

What to do while your epoxy is curing and you still have a few hours in your work day? Well you bring in the next project.

This is a strip built double Baidarka that needs some repair work done to the coaming and then a re-varnish job. This kayak has an interesting history, about 10 years ago it was used for a circumnavigation of Lake Winnipeg is 4th largest freshwater lake in Canada, the 11th largest in the world at 425 km long and 40km wide, covering 24,500 sq. km.

Building a coaming is a difficult job for an amature woodworker to do well. Over time some of the glue joints have started opening up and the new owner wanted the kayak to not deteriorate any further.
Open up the joint, some surface preparation, some epoxy, some clamps, some clean up, and I'm ready for the varnish work. This is a lot easier than the Chestnut!
Here"s the "How-to" of doing a back side rib repair. As I've already got the slots cut, the next step is to prepare the splint material. I used White Cedar as it has the same structural properties as the original rib wood. Its important to prepare them quite thin, maybe 2mm maximum. Thicker than that and the splint will not conform to the rib shape, thinner and it won't have any ability to overcome any distortions that the fractures create in the old rib. 3 splints should be enough for each rib repair.

There are several ribbands held in place behind the ribs. These serve to generate some continuity of shape in the repaired ribs. Once the rib repairs are done and the epoxy cures, the shape is set forever, so we need to ensure that it sets to the correct, fair, shape of the canoe.

Epoxy is used for this repair as it is completely waterproof, strong, and with the proper fillers, has excellent gap filling properties. Its very difficult to achieve perfect joinery in this type of task, so everything that helps is used.

The splints are started to be clamped in place. Also not the stringer clamped in place along the keel line. There was a lot of planking removed for this operation, including the planking along the keel line. With that gone there is no structure left there to keep the canoe shape from distorting; the spaces between each rib can be reduced and made permanent if not attended to.

Some of the broken ribs had multiple fractures, so long repair had to be done.

Clamps! Lots and lots of clamps are needed for this job. The splints don't need to be clamped in super tight, but snug enough to be held in position well. Too often, beginners over clamp epoxy glued joints, squeezing out the epoxy and starving the glue joint.

I only had enough clamps to do half of the rib repairs at one time. So this job had to be done over two days. Its all done now, so the next task is to shape the splints down to the curve of the original rib, and then start putting all the removed planking back. Well done, this repair will be almost as strong as a new rib. I say almost because I haven't had the nerve to stress test the repaired rib!

Tuesday 16 December 2008

I also made some progress on the guitar for my daughters. These are Christmas presents, so some effort is required to make progress. All the body components are made for both of them, and the first one is ready to have the back glued on tomorrow. Then I will set it aside and start the second.

I won't be going into any technical guitar building discussions here. That sort of information is available on luthier forums and in any number of books for anyone interested.

I won't have them completed in time for Christmas, but they will be done enough to present as gifts. I'll have the body closed on both. Still to do will be the binding, the fingerboard, the bridge, and final set up including the saddle and nut. Oh, and applying the finish.

I other words, LOTS!
I finished cutting the slots and preparing the material for rib repair.

Quite a lot of planking had to be removed for the work but almost all of it is in good enough condition to go back on. If there were a number of rib breaks do attend to under one run of planking, I took off the whole piece instead of cutting a bunch of small sections out. Some ribs had multiple fractures, so they require a longer splint. When gluing in the splints, its important to not distort the shape of the ribs. You'll see how that is done when I post the pictures of that stage.

I ran out of time to glue in the repair material, today. That will be tomorrow's job. It's not something to be rushed through. Once the epoxy sets, the new wood will be permanently bonded to the old rib and ready to be shaped smooth the the original contour. Then the planking can be put back on the canoe.

What's great about this method is that the strength of the rib is restored and the interior of the canoe retains all of its original character.

Sunday 14 December 2008

Now that they nasty business of stripping out the old varnish is done, I can turn myself to the task of repairing the woodwork. First step is to identify all the broke ribs. Given that this is a rare and historic 100 year old (approximate age) Chestnut canoe, I feel that it is important to maintain it as original as possible. Therefore, I am going to use the back of the rib repair technique on all of the broken ribs, even ones which normally would be replaced. This ensures that the entire canoe maintains its historic look and feel.

To repair rins this way, first the planking in the affected area needs to be removed. As you can see, there are a lot of rib fractures. If I were to replace all these ribs, what of the original canoe would be left?And these aren't all of them, either.

Next step, tomorrow, is to cut out slots across the fracture, along the length of the rib. Into this slot I will glue new wood. I'll use epoxy for this.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

While it may seem that work has been going slowly, I've been busy. I had to take a few days off to continue work on my basement. I had gutted and rebuilt the entire basement, mostly to deal with some mould problems that were the result of less than great original construction. The last major portion of the rebuild was to remove and replace the stairs. The original builders did not leave me much headroom, so it took some clever figuring to get the best fit for good headroom and tread/riser size.

The old stairs were not well built, and on top of that, they were built right up to the cement wall, leaving no room for the insulted new wall to be built. So, to build the new stairs, I had to move them about 8" over, which meant that the floor/ceiling had to be cut. and on and on it went.

Now that that portion of work is under control, I am bale to get back to work in the shop. As the NRC is finished, I was able to put up some shelving to help deal with the eternal storage crisis that plagues every small shop. I also built a room air filter which cleans airborne dust by circulating the room air through a stack of furnace filter. I'll post photos of that when Its completed. Its close now...

I pulled the old Chestnut back into the shop to start stripping the old varnish. This is a task that you need to steel yourself up to. Wearing the vapour mask to deal with the fumes, and the gloves, and the tedium. There is no way around it, just do it.

Here is the before shot. Tools all at the ready: stripper, putty knife, brush, tin cans, mask, gloves, and plenty of coarse steel wool. I'd rather be doing this outside, but its December in Manitoba. I might be crazy, but I'm not stupid.

You can see how dark the old varnish is compared to the stripped portion

And finally a shot looking along the canoe showing all that remains to be done tomorrow. At some point, even with a vapour mask, you've just had enough and have to call it quits. I've stripped out plenty of canoes, If I never do another one, my life will not be lacking. I'm sure that there will be more...there always are.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Here is the finished NRC. Well, just about finished. I just have to get the foot pads for the foot braces onto the adjustable brackets and voila! Done!

Here is a view of the bow end with interior and seat. the seats are set on bars called "risers". This allows for future location adjustments, low seat height (the center depth of this canoe is 20"), and the seat also acts as a thwart. Slats are used on this canoe for solidity, and in anticipation of padding being used by the racers.

The bow seat may look like its set in backwards, but remember that these canoes are raced with the bow person rowing. There will be an outrigger assembly added to the canoe around the bow person. The stern paddles/steers. the races are 3 days long, 30km per day, and the crew switch position at the 15km mark.

Interior view of the stern

It's amazing how much there is to do on a boat like this that isn't actually part of constructing the boat. To the uninitiated, building the hull would seem to be "it". So much is devoted to getting the details right: the deck fit and shape; the seats solid, level, comfortable, and correctly positioned; thwarts shaped right and correctly located; transom; stem bands drilled correctly, fitted, bent, screwed, sealed; varnish the interior and trim; paint the exterior smooth and "shiny" if that's the look the client wants; keeping the whole finish clean and free of dust.

Almost nobody notices these things if you do it right, but everybody will be sure to notice if you do it wrong or sloppy!

Who doesn't like looking at a nice rear end?

Notice that the keel joins to an outer stem which meets up with the transom for a nice continuous shape. There is an interior, structural, transom, and an exterior transom cap.

Finally, an long shot showing the exterior of the hull from the stern.

Now I get to move this canoe out of the shop and get started on the next project. I have a couple of smaller jobs that I need to tend to, and then its back to the early 1900's Chestnut that I showed earlier.

Sunday 30 November 2008

I finished painting the canoe today. Its very blue.! I'll post pictures when I get back to work on Monday.

Meanwhile, I should start putting up a few photos and stories of 3 guitars that I am building.

I have the tops finished and the bracing complete. The sides are bent, and the backs are finished. The necks are almost finished, I just need to carve the heel and drill the holes for the tuning machines and cut the slots.

Two of them are for my daughters, and one for me. These are charming small classical guitars based very closely on the Antonio Torres SE117. I'll provide references for more info on Torres later, as well as post on my progress.

One of the girls, the older one, wanted a dragon circling the soundhole for the rosette. She had such confidence that I could actually do it. I knew that I could, but her faith is gratifying. Just in case anyone is wondering, that dragon is made of small pieces of wood inlaid in a background of epoxy. It is not a painted design, nor is it a decal. The green is a light stain that I applied as per the client's specifications.

My youngest is happy with a more traditional approach highlighting the natural beauty of the wood.

I'm really enjoying this project. I wish that I had more free time to work on them.

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Like I need another project.

My wife was inspired a few years ago to buy this truck from my uncle in Saskatchewan. Its a Ford f-47 1 ton. probably a 1950 model.

I could do it, but it will cost me a lot of other projects that I would rather be working on. I don't know if I have it in me.
Today's view across the road.

Even though I haven't posted very recently, I have been busy getting the new canoe finished. There is so much to do, from making the outer gunnels, thwarts, seats and foot braces, keel, and stern outer stem, getting them on, sanding, varnishing, sanding, varnishing. You get the picture.

The interior looking forward. You can see the risers that support the seats, and the bottom braces to which the foot braces are secured. There is a series of holes along the bottom braces so that the foot braces can have their positions adjusted.

A view along the outside bottom showing the filler. It takes two to three weeks for the filler to dry thoroughly.

Seats, foot brace supports, and thwarts after first coat of varnish.
I'm installing the keel today, and continuing painting.

I've also been making some shelving for the eternal storage issues. I recently inherited some older tools, and a bunch of fasteners from my father-in-law, as he closed down his home shop to move into an apartment. Just when I had managed to deal with my own junk! More or less.

I also started making a room air filter. Air borne shop dust is a major issue, both for health and for work quality. I have an older furnace fan, and it will be mounted at the bottom of a 4' tall column with furnace air filters set at the top. I got the panels cut yesterday.

I've also returned to getting some progress made on my basement renovation. Every so often I need to make a major push, so I' taking two days off last week, and twod days off this week to push the project. I'm doing this at the same time as the painting is being done, so my shop time is limited anyway.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

An ancient Chestnut

While the filler is curing on the new canoe, it gives me a chance to get a few other things done.

First, I made the outwales, the keel, and the outer stem for the stern. I still have the transom cap and the seats to make, but that will go pretty easy.

I brought in on of the more interesting restoration jobs to come my way. Its taken awhile to get to this canoe, its been here almost 1 year! This is an early era Chestnut. I'm not sure of the exact date of its building, but I did see one almost exactly like it in the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough. That one dated form 1910.

For such an old canoe, this one is in really quite remarkable shape. Aside from some wear and tear on the gunwale ends, there are quite a few broken ribs, most are just fractures. I'll be using the back of the rib repair technique on all of these as I feel that for this canoe in particular, it is very important to preserve the original character as much as possible. new ribs, even when well matched to the old wood, still look like new wood.

These old Chestnuts have a particular treatment for the decks. While the deck sahpe is the classic heart shape found on many older Chestnuts, it is heavily crowned and undercut at the exposed edge. This crowning is carried over to the gunnels such that is presents a continuous sweep across, from outer gunnel to outer gunnel.

Even though the trim is weathered a uniform grey, I'm pretty sure that the decks are Maple and that the gunnels are Spruce.

So, I've gotten the gunnel and keel screws out so far. These old canoes had slot headed screws used in their construction. I hate slot headed screws-they are an abomination!

Tomorrows job is to remove the stems and the keel so that I can get the old canvas off. The risk now is that the air in the shop is drying rapidly as winter sets in. The planking is at risk of shrinking more than I'd like.

I really need to buy a humidifier...

I'll post some more detail photos of this interesting canoe as I continue to work on it. I'm also planning on documenting it for posterity. This will include taking the lines off it, lofting them up to full scale plans, and making proper drawings of all the trim details.

Friday 7 November 2008

There is a tremendous amount of detail work involved in getting a new canoe to the point where the canvas can go on, but canvassing is always a most dramatic stage. The canoe really looks transformed with its skin on.

I won't go into all the details of how to canvas as that's technical information that is pretty widely available.

There is still a plywood panel that goes over the canvas flaps on the transom.

The filler is also on now, 2 coats and hand rubbed to a smooth finish. The filler is a mix of silica, linseed oil, enamel, thinner, and a few other things. It takes at least 2 weeks, sometimes longer, to fully cure into a rock hard base for the paint. A builder can use other fillers, but each has its balance of advantages and disadvantages.

While the filler cures, it gives me time to prepare the outwales, keel, and seats. In a few days, the filler will be cured enough for me to start getting the trim installed. By the time that I get the trim sanded and varnished, the filler should be ready for paint. Then the canoe will complete and ready to go!

Sunday 2 November 2008

Time for another view of the field across the road. It's pretty tricky catching a lightning strike, but here's a way to do it if you have a digital camera: set it to video mode, get the lightning strike, then pull out the still. You'll amaze all your friends with your great photographic timing.

Finished the varnishing, got the seat risers and foot brace brackets completed and ready to install, and sanded and oiled the outside.

Tomorrow the risers and footbrace brackets get installed, and the canvas goes on. While the filler is curing, about 2-3 weeks, I'll be getting the seats and thwarts, as well as the keel, finished, and getting the outside gunnels on. Once that is all done, I'll be able to paint. It will be blue, and the owner wants it "shiny"!

Monday 27 October 2008

I was able to get the new NRC ready for varnishing last Friday, but didn't quite have enough time to get a coat of varnish on before the end of the work day. It takes a full hour or two to brush on a coat of varnish.

Sure, I could slop on a coat faster, but its important to make sure that it lays out as flat as possible, that there is no debris in it, and that there are no runs or sags. It takes less time to work clean that it does to correct errors later. This is an important aspect of craftsmanship that is often lost on beginners: that its faster overall to take a little extra time early than it is to race through and have to spend a lot of time later, correcting.

There were a lot of details to get done before I could brush out a coat of varnish: clenching any tacks that were not quite tight enough, trimming down the top planking for the gunnel rabbet, cleaning sanding and picking out any little brass shards from the canoe tacks, and, finally, sanding all the ribs to 220 and vacuuming out the dust.

Scheduling the varnishing is a tricky time in the shop, you can't rush it, and dust is the enemy, so while its drying I have to be careful not to make more dust. Difficult to do in a wooden boat shop!


Tomorrow I get all the fun of hand sanding every rib and all the planking in between the ribs. This will take a couple of hours. There really is no faster way. I've tried sanding it with power tools, but on the first coat of varnish one a new canoe, power sanders leave all sorts of deep scratch marks.

If I'm lucky, I'll have the next coat done early enough for a second coat to be "hot-coated". Timed right, the subsequent coat will bond to the first without any more sanding required. If I'm not ready early enough to hot coat, then I'll get the next coat on the next morning.

Friday 24 October 2008

Just for fun, here's another view from across the road.

I've been interested in photography since grade school, like grade 8 or 9.

One of my recent projects is an ongoing study of the view across the road from my home and shop. I go to the same spot on the the road and photograph exactly the same view. Only the season, weather and sky change. Many days the view looks pretty much the same, but occasionally it looks quite dramatic.

I'll start with on that looks pretty much as it did this morning, and I'll add more as time goes on.

From time to time, I'm going to put up some photos of my paintings. I don't get a lot of time to paint these days, what with trying to earn a living, maintain my home, and care for my wife and three kids...

I have a lot of pent up ambition for more painting. It feels that if I start then I won't be able to stop. So, its safer for now to not start.

My son was involved in competitive swimming for quite a few years. As a parent, I had lots of time to wait and watch. At some point I figured that I needed to turn this into artistic inspiration. This is the first of a series that I plan on continuing.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Rare Red River canoe grouping

Most of my canoes get sent out as soon as they are finished. Recently, I had the opportunity to photograph three canoes together. One was just finished, one is being stored here while the owner is out of the country, and one was in for a little minor repair work.

The big pale green canoe is a reproduction of the Kildonan Canoe Company "Timber Cruiser", the middle sized canoe is a 16'"Boreal" model, and the smaller one is a 15', stretched out version of my Red Fox model, which I call the "Swift Fox".

I just finished the Swift Fox a couple of weeks ago and I'm waiting to hear how it is on the water. I really like how it turned out. I want one for my own!
I suppose that I have to start somewhere.

I wanted to be able to share with my clients the progress of their commissioned work, and then I started thinking that there might be other people who are interested in what goes on inside a wooden canoe shop operated by an artist and a recovering teacher.

Lots of stuff goes on in this shop, ostensibly operated under the business name of Red River Canoe & Paddle and located in Lorette, Manitoba ( . Primarily its function is the building and repair of classic wood & canvas canoes, and the making of premium canoe paddles. I also do custom boat building, composite fabrication, and special projects. A growing passion of mine is the making of classical guitars, I'll post about that, too.

I mentioned that I'm an artist. I attended the University of Manitoba School of Art where I did a pre-masters degree majoring in painting. I'll be posting about my art efforts here as well.

So, where to start? I suppose that I'll start with a current project.

I am finishing off the planking on an 18'6" canoe. This is the second canoe of a new model that I've been calling the "NRC", for Northern Racing Canoe.

This canoe will be going to Norway House, Manitoba, and will be used for racing in the Cedar Canoe Classic races that are popular in many northern communities. The bowman rows and the sternman paddles and steers. The race is run over three days for 30km per day, the crew switching positions at the halfway mark each day. The winners are determined based upon cumulative time. They've been converting a the remaining freighter canoes into racing canoes by pulling them in narrower, and other adjustments. The supply of adequate old canoes is getting small so some racers are looking towards new canoes. They are very competitive!