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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

Friday 30 January 2009

After the canvas is finished being closed in at the stems, the nap is burned off. The novice is fearful of this step, fearing fire, but canvas is surprisingly fire resistant. You have to hold the flame quite awhile in one spot before the fabric starts to burn. Little threads are more likely to smolder along the weave than the whole thing is to catch fire.

Done! Here they are with their filler applied. They will be sitting aside in the shop until they are set enough to receive other work. That will be Monday.

Meanwhile I've been cleaning and organizing; tedious, but necessary.

A little more done on the Telecaster necks. I've got all 9 necks routed for resin reinforced fabric beams, about 1/2" X 1/2". This first one will be Carbon fiber. I think that the others will be straight fiberglass, as I already have plenty of strand prepared from another job.

Step one is to prepare the work area. The mixed resin is spread over the fabric, which is then squeegeed of excess resin. The idea is to have enough resin to coat all the individual strands, but not have them drowning in it! Its the Carbon fiber that will provide the beam strength, not the resin.

The fabric is folded or rolled up, and excess resin is squeezed out. The roll is placed into the routed groove, and pressed into place so that the strands are really packed it. A piece of wood is clamped over top to held it all as flat as possible. The wood has packing tape on it to act as a mold release.

The resin is left to cure overnight. No point in rushing it, just work the cure time into your schedule. The wood caul is removed and this is the result. A little clean up sanding...

...and this is the result. The neck is ready to receive the fingerboard now. Once that is one, then final shaping and fret work is left.

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Canvassing day!

Sometimes it feels like it never comes. This is one of my favourite steps in the canoe repair/building process. After all that taking apart and dusty, noisy work, finally some relaxing, clean work where you feel like you've really gotten something done.

I've got two canoes to canvas today: the 100 year old Chestnut and the 30 year old Chestnut PAL that I just finished doing the repair work on.

After I get the shop arranged for the canvassing, the canvas clamps are hung, and the canvas is pre-stretched. You can't see it from this photo, but the canvas is folded lengthwise with the open side on top, then, after the tension is released, the canoe is placed inside.

The blue pole is used to press the ends down into the bottom of the canvas fold. I wish that I had these extending poles years ago! They are really great to have. Notice the foam triangle in the end that the poles press against. There is also a plywood plate on the ceiling.

Two canoes done today! Tomorrow the get the filler applied. Then they wait for the filler to cure. I don't get a break, though. While the filler cures I will be making a new canoe seat for the old chestnut, caning it, sanding the trim, getting it on, starting the varnish for the trim...

My Telecaster project is moving along, too. I managed to get the necks routed to finish profile and routed for the reinforcement. I also played around with stain, trying to get just the right look for the wood that I'm using.

The photo doesn't show the colour very faithfully, but I'm after a deep wine red which shows the grain of the curly maple that I'm using on the guitar body face. This sample of three variations on red, is just one of the samples that I tried.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Today's view across the road. It's been bitter cold here the last few weeks, but the cold broke over the weekend and winter weather like this, only about -9c, is wonderful. Anyway, I was finishing off a few things in the shop when I looked out of the window and the setting sun was just catching the tops of the snowdrifts. Beauty.

Now that the old chestnut is in the varnishing stages, I have to have other projects going while the varnish dries. so, I brought in the next old Chestnut canoe. This one only dates from the '70's. Still, that's at least 30 years old. The wood is still in pretty good condition, as is the interior varnish. Not great, but all it requires is a sanding and one or two top coats.

In order to save some money, the owner will be doing that, as well as the trim, and painting the outside.

That's the old canvas folded up and sitting on top.

Here's my new favourite tool for sanding the planking between the ribs. I's a flap and brush sander that fits onto a drill. Different grits are available. I bought this one from Lee Valley.

The new tool in use. It makes dust. Lots and lots of dust.

As you can see, lots of dust. This is Travis, my intern, discovering the joys of this kind of work. trust me, I was dusty, too.

A little reminder about how far this canoe has come. Here is the before and after of old varnish stripping, sanding, and first coat of varnish.

Time to sand out the interior of the 100 year old chestnut. Oh joy! You can see on the left the condition of the wood after being stripped. the wood on the right is after the first round of sanding. Much cleaner. There is still more sanding left to be done.

The new planking requires some staining so that after varnishing it all blends together. SOme experimenting is needed to get the right hue. Here you can see some of the stain applied. Yes, it looks a LOT darker, but its a water based aniline dye that hasn't yet dried. The goal is to have it blend together after the varnish is all done.

Interior of the Chestnut showing some of the new planking with stain applied, and dried. I'm just about to start varnishing.

This is what one coat of varnish does ot the canoe. And just in case there was any doubt about that stain, this is the same section of the canoe as shown in the previous photo.

Here's the long shot. I'll have to post a photo showing the before and after.

My wife has always wanted a dog, and she's always wanted a Pyrennes. 20 years of marriage later, she's brought a dog into our life. Meet "Patou" a 10-11 moth old Great Pyrennes. Patou was found as a stray, picked up by animal services, brought to an animla resuce that specializes in this breed, and then introduced to us. She took to our children right away and has proven to be a very good dog.

I didn't really need a dog in my life, I have a wife and children to keep my busy. but now I have a dog. On days where no one else is home, Patou comes into the shop. She loves scroungin up scrap wood and chewing on it. Couldn;t be bothered with the chew toys that my wife bought...

Saturday 17 January 2009

One of the last things to do on the Mad River is to transfer the seat webbing from the old, broken, stern seat, to the new one. The original seat has the webbing secured into a groove on the back of the seat with a spline and resin. There is not enough of the webbing to do that, plus I really don't like that method-it's not reversible. I've secured the webbing, which is seat belt material, with a couple of stainless steel staples in each end.

And here is the finished canoe. The refinished trim looks great. Some would call it "road worn". The exterior of the hull is still pretty beat, but if you start redoing it, where do you stop? the owner was not prepared to pay for that, he wants a canoe that is he can keep working hard.

Thursday 15 January 2009

Just wanted to add that I got the Panormo guitar closed up last week. I've been wanting to build one of these for years. I've had the tone wood and the neck made for quite awhile, just waiting for the right time.

Its a little bigger than the Torres SE117's that I'm building, but still smaller than the Torres FE17, and a lot smaller than a modern "concert" guitar.

A close up of the Panormo rosette. The original would have used pearl for the rosette, cut in diamond and squares and set in mastic. Mine is using figured maple set in black epoxy, surrounded by walnut and maple veneer lines.

Now that all three are closed, its time for binding. I have the binding made, but the surfaces need to be cleaned up and then they need to be bent to the guitar shape. Then the binding channels need to be cut around the perimeter of the guitar. After all that, then I get to put them on.
An update about my electric guitar project. I've decided that I'll be building a Telecaster style. Telecaster were the first real production electric guitar put out by Fender. They developed out of the Esquire, which had just the bridge pick up, and were originally called the Broadcaster. The name had to be changed because Gretsch was already using it for one of their products.

I found a great forum dedicated to the Telecaster here:

So, being undecided about exactly how I want the guitar to look, I decided that I'd just build a bunch of components so that I can try bunch of approaches. Its far easier to make some of these parts in batch runs than it is to do just one a time. Set up time is far more time consuming than actually doing the work. This way I'll have seasoned bodies and necks ready for when I need them

Here, you can see my master template sitting on a pile of Pine body blanks. Alder and Southern "Swamp" Ash are the traditional woods, but Pine was used on the early guitars and is seeing a renaissance with some builders these days.

Here are four body blanks of Elm

In addition to preparing some body blanks, I've been developing the drawings, templates, and some of the jigs. Oh, and doing lots of reading, research, and parts sourcing!
The stem and gunnel tips on the old Chestnut were failing. These spots are always prone to rot and just wear and tear. All in all, though, this 100 year old canoe is in great shape.

So, to do this, the planking in the stem tip area has to be removed to provide access. Then the Ash stem is cut down, the cut is made at an angle so that the new wood can be glued on using a scarph joint. The same for the gunnel ends. I always pre-fit the mortise and tenon joint that Chestnut used. Its a lot easier to shape the wood before gluing it in place, than after. In the early days of my work, I shaped the wood in place, but this way I can get all the pieces shaped and in place in one shot.

Epoxy is used as an adhesive for its waterproof capacity as well as its ability to bridge any small gaps that may be present in the joinery. The new wood is treated with boiled linseed oil prior to closing it back up with planking.

The new Spruce is very white compared to the old Spruce. It will need some staining to get a better colour match before varnishing. The same thing will need to be done to the new planking that is going in today.

A couple of the ribs ends had deteriorated quite badly, so they needed a splice as well.

Its not very apparent from these photos, but the deck is significantly crowned, and this crowning is carried over to the gunnels.

Old and new canoes, side by side. I wonder what shape that Mad River canoe will be like when its 100 years old? And who will be caring for it? And will they want to bother?
I started getting the gunnels back on the Mad River canoe. These were caught just in time, much longer without attention and rot would have really set in and they would have gone past the point of no return. The steel screws that were used sometime in the past definitely did not help. It was no fun getting the seized screws out, and less fun getting out the ones that broke in the effort.

You can see how the finish has worn significantly. This is one of the better spots.

I have an intern who comes out once a week to work alongside of me. He's learning some techniques and approaches. He's at the point where his contribution of effort balances out the extra time that I have to put in for instruction and guidance. Here he is working my new, my 4th, Porter-Cable sander (remember my mention of my 3rd sander failing while working on the kayak?) Its nice to have the company.

Decks glued back together, installed, sanded, and first coat of varnish. Now I just need a couple more coats of varnish on the trim, seats, and thwarts. I had to make a new stern seat, I'l have to transfer webbing to the new seat. There is some fiberglass repair work to do where the has been a lot of wear and tear. I'll have it all back together tomorrow.

Tuesday 6 January 2009

I need to get started on some smaller projects that have come in. There are stages in working on wood & canvas canoes that require you too wait, and this is one of those times.

I pulled in a Mad River kevlar canoe that has its trim in a pretty sorry state. One of the seats had part of its frame broken and was secured to the gunnels by rope. The decks had a center seam and the adhesive had long ago let go. The varnish had seen better days, and not recently. The stainless steel screws that Mad River usually uses had been replaced with standard steel screws which were rusting in place. Fully 1/3 of them broke while trying to remove them, the rest were very hard to get out.

There's more, but you get the idea.

I have a fair bit of planking to replace on the century Chestnut. Not lots, but enough that I'm looking forward to getting some new band saw blades tomorrow. All my present blades are now dull. I keep some to re-sharpen, but they are waiting to be picked up with the new blades.

I had the components made for this guitar a long time ago and used some of the time of the Christmas break to get started on assembling it. This a sort of copy of a Louis Panormo guitar. Panormo lived and worked in London during the late end of the 18th century, and the beginning of the 19th. I'd have to look up the dates to be more precise. His work clearly anticipates that of Antonio Torres, but also clearly stands in an older tradition. There are so many small differences that all add up to an altogether different kind of guitar. I'm looking forward to stringing this one up and playing it!

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Friday 2 January 2009

It's a little slow in the shop over the Christmas holidays.

My wife works in the schools, so she gets school scheduled holidays, and the kids are obviously off. So I take a couple of days a week off, and some of the shop time is used for personal projects, such as the guitars for my daughters.

I did get the Baidarka finished. That frees up a lot of shop space! I also started getting the planking back on the century Chestnut, some of it is so banged up that it will have to be replaced. Big surprise there...

Wednesday I pulled in a Mad River kevlar canoe that needs some work done on it. That's the white canoe that you see beside the kayak.

Nice and shiny! It was very difficult to varnish the deck on this kayak. I couldn't remove all the fixtures and tie-downs as they had attachments inside that were unreachable. So I had to work around them and struggle with the tendency of the varnish to want to sag around them.