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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 19 December 2009

Got my Panormo guitar finished last week, too. I've wanted to build one of these for years. It was worth the wait. This is a fun little guitar to play. Small body and short scale, but not a small sound! Good tone and plenty of volume. Different sound from a modern guitar, or anything built in the Torres tradition, but that's why I built it.

Got my double cutaway, Arias/Fleta/Selmer concoction finished! I put the strings on last week and I'm really enjoying the sound of this guitar. The bass is awesome-deep, crisp and resonant.

Gotta get an eagle onto one of the paddles, so same process as before.


One of the easiest ways that I have found to get text onto the paddles, as well as other artwork that I have drawings for, is to print it on paper and use carbon paper to transfer the design onto the paddle.

The carbon paper leaves just enough line for me to ink in and to paint.


I have a custom rubber stamp made up with my logo. Water based block print ink applied to the stamp with a roller is what I use.

Et voila! Done.
So the season is approaching Christmas and my daughter decides that she wants to give wooden bracelets to her friends. Of course its not just a couple of friends but over a dozen. And of course, she needs me to make them...

Simple, cut 14 circles out of plywood and sand them smooth, then varnish.

Spent a good amount of time finishing the current batch of paddles. This is how the look at the end of Friday.

Friday 11 December 2009

After rough cutting the paddle tip, I clamp on a router pattern and use a flush trimming bit to shape the paddle tip to exactly the pattern.

The I clamp on a mold that is prepared for each blade shape, and fill the void with epoxy thickened with milled cotton fiber. I pigment the epoxy blade because everyone knows that black goes well with everything...

A close up of the casting. After the mold is removed I am ready to shape the paddle blade. After the shaping is done, I cut a slot across the paddle tip, right down the middle of the blade, and insert a plate of fiberglass. This holds the whole tip together should the wood ever start to split.

Just when I had my first batch of paddles under control I had some new ones to start.

One of these is for my other daughter, one for a niece, and one for a friend of my elder daughter and niece. So, four of the paddles that I am working on now are for young women who will be attending Manitoba Pioneer Camp next summer. My niece and the friend will be taking their "LIT" Leader In Training course. I am mighty impresses that they valued a good paddle enough to order one!

Here the paddles are cut to shape, the grips are roughed out, and the bulk of the wood on the tip is cut away ready for routing for the epoxy/fiberglass tip.

Still making paddles! After a good amount of shaping and sanding, the cedar/walnut paddle ready for fiberglass. Cedar needs some extra cross grain strength when its worked this thin otherwise its very likely to split, and probably when you can least afford it! I used 2 oz. glass and epoxy resin.

Here is what it looks like after the second coat of resin. It will need to be sanded again before varnish.

And a look at the first batch of paddles. One Birch, one Cherry, one Walnut, and one Cedar/Walnut. All good paddle woods.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

A long time ago I started a Viola da Gamba for my wife. Lots of life got in the way, not to mention a bunch of guitars! Time to get to work on it. I had the mold ready to go, so I just needed to start bending the sides and getting them glued in place.

The "C" bout is the one to start with. I'll do the lower bout next. Can't say when it will be done, but everything adds up!

Paddle making time again!

Usually I make the paddles with a center shaft and laminated blade and grip pieces, but I have one order for a single piece "solid" paddle. When making a paddle like this it is important to cut the paddle over large, then let the wood "settle" prior to cutting it to final dimension.

Most of the paddle tips are routed for the epoxy tip.

One, however, is a cedar blade which requires a more durable edge treatment. Lately, I have taken to laminating thin hardwood strips around the perimeter. However, this one is having a black epoxy border. Later I will be applying 2 oz. fiberglass.

I prepare a plywood backer which has a cutout in the center to allow it to come in full contact with the shaped paddle edge. The plywood is covered with packing tape as a mold release so that the epoxy does not stick to it. Thickened epoxy is applied around the edge. When it is cured it will be shaped as the the paddle blade edge.

Monday 16 November 2009

Finish off the "Old Town". I use quotation marks because I am not convinced that this is an authentic Old Town. Everything about it says Old Town OTCA, but there is no evidence of a builder's marque, and there is no serial number stamped into the stem. And yet all the details are Old Town. Go figure.

Some years ago the owner's sister had repaired theseats using nylon string and there was some sentimental value to this. Anyway, the owner decided late to have the seats re-caned, this being the thing that would really set off the restoration.

Here are the seats prior to removing the string.

The seats with base coats of varnish and the cane done. I have applied some stain to the seat on the left, and am just about to do the other seat. New cane on an old canoe makes the seats look too "new" and out of place. A little stain mellows them out.

Bow seat and the two thwarts ready to install. You can also see the refinished floor boards. They are just some spruce slats attached to some cross pieces, and held in place by a small piece of brass stem band that is screwed into the hull over the keel.

Stern seat installed. These seats were usually installed much higher than current taste would dictate, and its not my call to change it now without the directive to do so. You can see the finish on the trim really brings out the wood grain.

And the finish shot of the canoe all done. Be sure to look at the earlier post that shows the canoe before I started work on it for a before and after look.

Progress is being made on my daughters' guitars, I'm at the finishing stages now. This is the guitar with the dragon rosette, and it has a lovely Ash body, but the daughter who this guitar is for wants a floral drawing on the back. I was conflicted about cluttering up the lovely wood, but this guitar is not for me, so...away we go.

I prepared a drawing, and in order to make the lines convincing and not cartoonish, I worked from some Lilies and other flowers that were on the kitchen table. Once I was satisfied, and go the thumbs up from my daughter, I took a tracing onto frosted Mylar, then used carbon paper to transfer it to the guitar. I used India ink to give the drawing a nice black line. I'll post a photo of that when I get some pictures of it finished.

Saturday morning November 14, the view across the road. Fall has been pretty damp this year and most of the farmers are late taking their crops off, everything is slow to dry enough to harvest. This field of Soy Beans was just cleared Friday evening.

Friday 13 November 2009

I chance meeting on an internet guitar building forum, a local man who has an interest in building classical guitars happened to work at the Kildonan Canoe Company. He didn't work there for very long, just one day, but that one day happened to be the day that an electrical fire burn the whole place down.

He was gracious enough to write down his memories of that day. Here's is his story:

"In early June of 1964, after my first year at University, I got a summer a job at The Kildonan Canoe Company. I worked there for one eventful day - the day the building and all its contents burned to the ground. As it happens, because of "the butterfly effect", it was a key day in my life, as I will explain.

Although I really don't remember much about the company, little details stick in my mind from that day, like hearing Barbara Streisand sing "People", maybe when I was getting off the bus that day to go to work. And I bumped into an old friend while watching the blaze out on the street - the kid who had broken my arm, explained the facts of life to me, and nearly got me into all kinds of trouble eight years earlier.

The Kildonan Canoe Company was located just off Main Street, on Leila. My recollection is that it was a two-story wooden building located on the south side of the street, and that it was probably immediately behind whatever store or business was located on the corner of Main and Leila. The yard was located at the western end of the property. In my mind's eye, I recall a mezannine level at the eastern end of the shop, although it could have been a full second story. There was a big door - probably double doors or a garage-type door on the western side of the shop, leading out to the yard. When I was first shown around, I must have seen some canoes, but I was surprised to find that most of the operation seemed to be in building motorboats. I remember drums of resin in the shop and I think I saw fibreglass being applied to hulls. But my job was to fasten screws into the boat we were working on, on the main floor at the eastern end of the building. Having no experience with using an electric drill as a screwdriver, I was good at stripping screw heads but not so good at sinking the screws.

But I still had a job when the end of the day rolled around - 4PM or 5PM - and I had been asked to work overtime that evening. I was looking forward to a couple of extra dollars, when somebody called out "Fire!. A fire had broken out in the wall to the right of the big doors leading to the yard. I heard later that it was an electrical fire. My first thought was to get the boats and canoes out of the building (I had probably been watching too many movies), but the fellow I was working with knew better, and said to just get out of the building. Since the fire was so near the door, I don't know how much time we would have had to get the boats and canoes out of the building, had we tried.

The next thing I can remember is standing out on the corner by Main Street watching a huge fire. I guess with all that wood and resin, it was a tinder keg. I left before the fire was extinguished, but from what I remember of the size of the fire, the building would have been razed to the ground, and the efforts of the fire department might have been to save nearby properties.

I never got my overtime, and my $10 pay cheque for the day never arrived in the mail. But my Dad later picked up my cheque at Kildonan's new offices somewhere on or near Pembina Highway. So much for my professional woodworking career. But my next summer job was in operating computers at the telephone company - and that sparked my interest in computing, which was my occupation for the rest of my career, and led to my marriage and kids. So that little electrical fire wasn't a bad thing at all, from my point of view."

Monday 2 November 2009

The first coat of paint always adds a splash of colour to the shop. There is still a lot of work left to do, and its always a challenge to get a great finish, and the higher the gloss the more it shows every little imperfection!

Sand down the first coat of paint...

The second coat looks a lot better. Only have to do this two more times...

Gunnels all on the Tremblay. The keel pieces are on, too, but not in this photo.

Halloween has come and gone. My wife's brother and his daughter are visiting. He is a lawyer in Paris, they don't do Halloween there like the do here. My niece had a lot of fun running house to house collecting candy!

I always knew that my brother in law was the Devil!

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Kildonan canoes were made in Winnipeg for some 30-40 years. I don't know exactly when they started, but they closed down around 1979.

This Kildonan had been in the same family since the 1930's, and was last re-canvassed about 30 years ago by Daryl Perry. Daryl is a Winnipeg craftsman who was building and restoring canoes during the late 1970's. During the early 1980's he switched over to building classical guitars

Sounds like a familiar story...

Time to put the trim back on the old Old Town (if that is what it really is...)

First, trim off the canvas.

Then repair the gunnels. One had a break, and the other had the rabbet lip worn out in a few places. I could have made new gunnels, but there is a charm in these old ones that cannot be replaced. They were in goo condition otherwise, and the repair work is almost invisible.

Before sanding:

After sanding: