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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 23 May 2009

It takes a long time time to sand the paddles properly. After the final shaping, then there is the sanding with 100 grit, then 220 grit, then detail sanding by hand.

Here is the first group of paddles sanded and with the logo applied. Ready for the first coat of varnish.

Two coats of varnish, two more to go. There are also two historic model Voyageur paddlesin this batch, they get the blades painted red. The voyageur brigades had paddles decoratively painted in "team" colours.

The work on the Boreal slowed down due to all the dust from paddle making. Dust is the enemy of a good varnish or paint job. I did get the final coat of varnish on the gunnels done, and now the thwarts are in.

And now the first coat of paint is on!

Thursday 14 May 2009

I feel so guilty...

Ok, not so much. Carving a lot of paddles is tough work. It uses aggressive power tools that requires a lot of attention, makes a lot of dust, and you have to do this for hours on end.

So, I need to space this demanding work out some. This week I did that by Making a new guitar neck.

I made the mold over the winter, I prepared the sides while I was preparing stock for the SE117s, and I had the soundboard and the back prepared a couple of years ago. So, if it looks like this one gets built fast, remember that it's just an illusion!

This one is special. I am making a new classical guitar, but this one will have a double cutaway much like a Gibson ES335. The body uses the Fleta plantilla. I have got it in my mind that I should do an elevated fingerboard, too, and that the action should be adjustable. That's a lot of challenges all at once!

What makes this neck challenging is how to make the elevated fingerboard and the adjustable action. I could have done it by having an adjustable neck angle as famously done by Stauffer, but on this one I decided to work out a way for the whole neck to raise and lower.

Above you can see it in the lowest position, which means that the strings will be highest. Below you can see it in the highest position, which will mean that the strings will be lowest. Possibly overkill, but I have about 4-5mm travel.

The wood work conceals some of the hardware. The joint is basically a sliding mortise and tenon joint. There is a large headed Allan key screw/bolt in the heel of the neck, and an anchor in the neck block, just like the one in the foreground.

Each of the paddles gets the tip placed into a little mold, into which is poured tinted epoxy. A little silica is added to thicken it, but also because the silica seems to help prevent the colour from wicking up the end grain of the wood.

I use black because black just goes with everything!

After the epoxy cures, the mold is removed and the paddle blade is carved. I use an angle grinder with a 5", 24 grit disc. I have a LOT of practice with this tool and can get the results that I want pretty fast. I do not recommend it to beginners. Fast tools make fast mistakes, and it can be dangerous.

Once the blade is shaped, I cut a slot across the paddle tip and then insert a fiberglass plate. This holds the whole thing together and prevents the wood from ever splitting. If it ever does, then the plate keeps it from splitting off. The epoxy looks messy because I smear some of it around on the epoxy tip to fill in any small air bubbles that were trapped in the pour.

A bunch of paddles looking pretty, waiting for more attention!

A detail shot of the grips awaiting sanding.

Saturday 9 May 2009

One of the most critical steps is to draw out an accurate center line along the side of the paddle. If this is not done well the paddle will have twists and crookedness built in.

It looks very simple, and it is, but developing this little pencil holding jig required a lot of paddles to be made using less effective means! A proper pencil sharpener and a very flat surface are essential.

To establish the blade taper, I take the bulk of the wood off using the jointer. Other methods will work, but you need to evaluate the workability of the wood, the type of tools available, and your skill level. Fast tools make fast mistakes.

Once the taper is complete, I have to cut the paddle tip to make the protective tip. Step one is to trace out the cut line.

Step 2 is to cut to the line. This reduces the amount of wood that the router has to take off.

A flush trim router bit and a pattern clamped to the paddle.

And simple dams are clamped to the paddle blade. Made from MDF and specific for each blade shape, the molds are covered with packing tape as a mold release to prevent the epoxy from bonding the whole thing together. This is as far as I got on this batch of10 paddles this week.

One of the paddle making techniques that I use requires a laminated shaft. To get a good glue-up lots of clamps are needed. Sometimes all of them!

My usual paddle is made from a central shaft and book-matched wood for the blade and grip. The shaft is first cut over large, the internal tensions of the wood are allowed to be released, then it is milled perfectly straight. Doing this ensures that the paddle shaft will remain straight. Using book matched wood for the blades and grip make the paddle look more attractive than random pieces.

Once the glue cures, the patterns are laid out and traced, then the paddle blank is cut out, ready for the next steps.

Friday 8 May 2009

Last shot of the Chestnut. Now that spring is here I can open the big shop door and get some sunlight in. At least when its not grey and overcast like has been recently.

Smiley faces are everywhere! I found this one on the inside of the lid of a frozen juice concentrate. Really!

Saturday 2 May 2009

Finished the old Chestnut with the final coat of paint and varnish. first you can see it midway through the process.

And finished.

Started to make a new batch of paddles. Sometimes it feels criminal to cut up a nice big piece of Cherry, this one is 2" thick, 9" wide and about 10' long, but it it is the most efficient way to make paddles. I can make 6 paddles from this lumber.

All of the thwarts are being getting varnish at the same time as the canoe interior. No, they are not sitting in fresh varnish!

Two important tools when preparing for varnish: the vacuum and tack cloths. Dust is the enemy!

I use a custom made rubber stamp to put the logo onto the bow deck of the canoe. To do a clean job it is important to use a print making ink, not the kind that is usually used with rubber stamps. Also, you need to use a printmaking brayer (roller) to apply the ink to the stamp so that it is only on the design of the stamp. If you just dab the stamp into the ink it will smear into the hollowed out areas and make a mess when you apply it.

Bow deck prior to the logo.

Bow deck with the logo and first coat of varnish.

Time to trim the canvas off the new Boreal. I always leave this till after the filler is on so that the extra keeps the wood work clean.

All trimmed and the gunnels are on and sanded. The tape is to make it easier to varnish the underside without getting a mess of varnish on the filler. Its not the end of the world if you do get some on, but why make more work sanding it smooth?