Contact me at: or by phone 204.878.2524

Join in the conversation on our
Facebook page

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 28 February 2009

A little ego boost, put my name on the head of the Tele neck. A little gold acrylic paint and some India ink outlines. Used good old carbon paper to transfer the letters. Now I just have to wait for the hardware to arrive. Patience, patience...

The third of the three Torres SE117 style guitars is getting the back one. While it may look like I've put in a lot of work on these recently, bear in mind that most of the parts have been made over a long period of time. For example, the sides were milled 2-3 years ago. The tops and necks were prepared a long time ago, too.

It looks fast because I'm just assembling all those pre-made components.

Here is a nice shot of the inside, you can see the open lower harmonic bar. I am also trying out an old technique of fitting the back braces to the sides before the back. I used to glue them to the back first, then fit the whole thing to the body. This is actually easier than I thought it would be.

Time to glue the back on. There are many ways to do this, but sometimes its just easier to wrap the whole thing with a cut up inner tube.

Time for the big reveal!

First, here is the new bow seat looking suitable old. Not really old, but it does look like it belongs.

And the old stern seat for comparison. Its rare to find old cane seats without broken cane, this one is excellent.

A little peak at the stern deck looking pretty under lots of new varnish. I took a tracing pattern off of this deck and compared it to a newer deck, it is practically identical.

A nice feature of the old decks is the significant undercut which follows the crowning of the top of the deck.

And, finally, the long shot showing the old girl all finished and ready for the water.

Thursday 26 February 2009

A couple of shots of the old stern seat, for the record.

Seat caning time. There is only the stern seat that came with this canoe, so I had to make a new bow seat, and it had to look a little old, not brand new. So I applied some stain, did a little sanding so that it wasn't to uniform, and varnished it.

The cane come in a large bundle of about 1000 lineal feet.

Untied it gets a bit unruly, but it's folded and tied at the fold. If you do any caning yourself, never, ever, cut loose that last tie our you have on giant, tangled, mess.

Take one strand at a time and coil it. This makes it easier to manage without getting tangles, as well as making it easier for soaking. Soak the cane in water fo about 20-30 minutes. the moisture makes it more supple. Don't soak it much longer or you risk it going grey. Keep it moist by placing all your cane in a Ziploc bag. It can keep in there all day, or longer, if need be.

I won't go into all the details of caning, that info is available elsewhere, but I want to show one detail that I feel is important. Traditionally, the holes are 3/16", but with all the strands that pass through, it gets pretty tight getting the last ones through! So I drill them to 1/4", which helps. They are on 3/4" centers. I also put a slight bevel on the edges bu putting my coutersink cutter on the drill bit. This relieves the sharp corner, hopefully prolonging the life of the cane strands.

The finished result. I had to make a choice on this seat. The cane on the stern seat, w hil in good condition, wasn't woven quite right. Almost, but there were some strands that just weren't in the right place. So, do I copy the poor weaving of the original, or make it correct? I made it correct. Nobody else will notice this detail. It doesnt take a lot more effort to do something correctly.

Monday 23 February 2009

Time to go green! Two coats of green paint on the old Chestnut and she's looking like this. Time for a good sanding and two more coats. I'll be installing the stem band today, and the new bow seat is ready for caning.

Get the paint done, the stem bands on, the seats and thwarts in and she's all finished up and ready for the water!

Thursday 19 February 2009

This old Chestnut has some interesting screws.  Slot head, obviously (slot heads are an abomination), but what distinguishes these screws are the wide, shallow "oval" head.

A view of the bow deck  You can see the repaired inner gunnels,  not a perfect colour match, but close.

Two coats of varnish on the gunnels.  Looking a lot better than when I started.  Two more coats of varnish to go.  The filler is just about ready for paint.

I have a new bow seat to make today, and new stem bands to prepare and install.

I got the Telecaster neck fretted and finsihed carving it.  One coat of varnish reveals this beautiful flame figure.

I wasn't thrilled with how the front turned out.  The grain was "out of focus".  So I sanded the front down to bare wood and started over.  Much better now.  No matter how I photogaph it, its really difficult to photograph well.

Now, I just need to save some more pennies for the hardware...

Sunday 15 February 2009

Got a little more done on my Telecaster guitar. Body cavities are routed, perimeter is routed, body is sanded, stained, and pore filled.

Here with the neck in place to check the fit.

Body before stain.

Base colour to bring out the grain contrast and to deepen the red.

And the final red over coat. Some of the detail of the grain is lost, but that's OK because there will be so much going on with the rest of the hardware, etc, that a too busy look would be distracting.

Got the gunnels on the old Chestnut. Now its time for sanding and varnishing. You can see in this photos the old wood on the right, and the results of the first sanding on the left. I have it all sanded now, and it looks great, but no photo today.

Long view prior to sanding.

Thursday 12 February 2009

I finally got around to bending the bindings for the SE117 guitars. Two of these are for my daughters, one for me. They are being held to shape on a drying rack until I am able to install them. Now I have to route out the corners of the guitar bodies to receive them.

Here is a shot of what the gunnels can look like before sanding. Actually, I just started cleaning off the old paint. This gunnel goes on the 100 year old Chestnut.

You can see the before and after for the '70's Chestnut. Before is in the back ground. Some paint is left on the bottom of the gunnel. The bottoms get painted when the canoe is painted, helping to seal the seam from excess moisture.

What a lovely sight! The inside face of the keel. Nothing short of a grinder with a 24 grit disc will clean this up.

This is the '70's era Chestnut. The filler has been curing for quite awhile now, and its hard enough to turn the canoe over to work on. The canvas is left untrimmed till this point so that the filler does not make a real mess on the wood. It now gets trimmed down to the planking level.

Then the gunnels are re-installed and sanded thoroughly. The keel gets put back on now, too. Here you can see both Chestnuts done. The 100 year old one is in the foreground, ready to receive the gunnels. The gunnels are pre sanded along the bottom because there is no safe way to do this once they are installed.

On this '70's era Chestnut, one of the outer gunnels had one end that was pretty rotten, so cut it off, glue on some new wood, and shape to match.

This is new spruce, so it will have to be stained to come close in colour to the old wood.

This year I started trying to maintain a steady 50% relative humidity in the shop.

The dry shop air during the winter months shrinks the wood on the old canoes, which opens up the planking gaps. Building with very dry wood just means that the planking wood will swell when it picks up moisture later on. Both situations are problematic. Working with a steady 50% RH helps.

The only problem is that some of my windows were never intended to deal with this sort of situation, they are still only single pane glass, something that I need to remedy. This does create some fascinating frost patterns on really cold days.

Here is one.

Friday 6 February 2009

I came across this offering from Nova Craft canoes.

I have no real problem with someone making a canoe that is supposed to look like a birchbark canoe, but would it kill someone to actually LOOK at a photo of a real birchbark canoe? There is so much wrong with it, don;t get me started.

I'm sorry, it's a bit of a sore point as it happens so often.

I did this to an old canoe a few years ago, prepping it for a screen appearance. This is what an imitation birchbark canoe should look like, if you've ever bothered to look at a real one.

And this one, too. 20' voyageur style canoe restoration for Red River Outfitters:

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Ever wondered just how painful the classic "Wood splinter under the fingernail" torture really is?

Well, as of yesterday, I can tell you that you can jab a 2mm wide piece of wood, about 1 cm deep, right under your thumbnail, and hardly feel a thing!

That is, if you do it fast enough. You have to do it really, really, really, fast. Like instantly.

Do it slow and it will hurt like hell.

It's also best if you have absolutely no idea that its going to happen. The anticipation will make it hurt much more.

So there. Now you know.

And so do I.

Monday 2 February 2009

My wife and I took our family on a 6 week trip to Europe last summer. We saved for quite a few years for this trip. No cottage, no motorcycle, no snowmobile, no motorboat, no big screen TV, old cars, old computers, etc...

I took a lot of photos that I'll share over time, but I'd like to start with a few from Venice. Venice is a feast for the eyes, and is like no other city that I've ever been to. While everyone else was busy photographing the buildings, etc. I took particular notice of the water.

Here are a few reflections of Venice.

I've been selling plans for home canoe building for a few years. The most popular plans are for the Elan and the Red Fox.

Recently, I sold a set of Elan plans to a fellow in Brazil. It seems that he is working very hard to establish North American open canoeing in his home country, and is developing a special interest in Freestyle paddling.

You can see his work here:

Mark Molina went over to deliver a Freestyle course, and recommended the Elan as a suitable canoe for building. Thanks,Mark!

Mark and Becky Molina:

Freestyle canoeing:

Both canoes are 14' length with 30" beam. The Red Fox is a copy of an old Chestnut Fox, and is a great all-round solo canoe. The Elan is my own design, is a good general purpose canoe for a skilled paddler, and a great Freestyle canoe.

This is Mark paddling an Elan of my construction. I wish that I could paddle as well as he can, he's one of the best!

Below are photos of canoes built to the Elan plans. Nice job, all.