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 22 May 2010

I had a nice visit Tuesday morning with three crazy people who left southern Ontario, drove all of Monday, then through the night, to arrive at my shop. These are three of the four people who ordered the historic Voyageur paddles. They are meeting with the fourth latter on in the day.

Get this, they are driving north from Lorette, where my shop is (just outside of Winnipeg) to Gimli, on the western shore of Lake Winnipeg. From there they will be paddling two birchbark canoes, using voyageur period attire and gear, all the way to Tuktoyaktuk.

You can read more about it here:

Closer. You gotta love people who value their paddles so highly!

With their canoes.

Bob Abrames, the guy who got the whole thing going.

After the ribs are well dried, I have to fair the surfaces. I've tried all manner of sanding blocks, but the best, by far, is this home made on. I use a large belt sander belt, this one is 36 grit, and is from a 6" X 48" is belt. I made up a Styrofoam block for the inside and away we go.

The gunnel ends are shaped to a mortise to secure the tenon shaped stem end. This is the typical method used by almost all Canadian canoe companies. It works well and I continue to use it.

And here it is ready to start planking.

After the rough shaping is done I go over each of the four quadrants with a block plane to fair the surface and blend it with the rest of the mold.

Not only does each quadrant have to be fair within itself, it must also be an exact match to each side, and each end.

After fairing, the bare wood is treated with linseed oil, then the metal rib backing plates are put back on.
Just some of the shavings from planing the ends.

Once all is back together, the stems are shaped, the gunnels positioned, and the ribs are made and steambent on. Looks simple, but this was a weeks worth of work all told.

The new canoe that I am building is the 13' Esprit Freestyle canoe. There is not a huge demand for 13'Freestyle canoes in Manitoba, so I have only built the one canoe off of the mold so far, and there were a few things that I wanted to change based upon my experience with the first.

Primarily, I wanted to change the stem profile and how it flows into the main body of the canoe. I also wanted to use 5/16" ribs stock instead of the 1/4" ribs stock used previously. The thicker ribs will hold the desired bottom shape better, the thinner ones rounded out too much.

This is the mold before the modifications.

The new stem profile laid over a piece of plywood to establish the mold shape for the stem.

The plywood piece added onto the mold with epoxy. Now I need to adjust the shape of the mold for the last rib positions.

So I remove the ribbands and add on some Pine strips.

And rough shape them prior to final shaping.

The owner of the Peterborough Champlain came by to pick it up. Judging by the grin, I'd say that he's happy!

I have been concentrating on getting work done, so not lots of time available to post to the blog. Sorry.

The baidarka is off of the mold, finally! I took the stations down and put the strongback away. Just doing this freed up so much space, just in time for spring. I'm loving it. So next step is to clean up the planking on the interior.

With this.

I use the angle grinder for a lot of tasks, and have gotten quite good with it. I would not recommend it to someone not expert with it. It could make a disaster of all your hard work very fast.

So here is the kayak interior all cleaned up, sanded, and ready for filling and fiber-glassing - but that will have to wait till I have time for it.

Monday 10 May 2010

The Baidarka kayak is finally getting 'glassed! This has been a really long term project. I bought some cedar strips used about 15 years ago, and they've been hanging around the shop and getting in the way ever since. I drew up the lines about 12 years ago, and I cut the stations about 10 years ago. The mold has been assembled for about 4 years, and I planked it up last fall.

Now I'll be glad to to get the mold out of the way!

So, on goes the fiberglass.

And done. This hull will be painted so I'm really not worried about how "pretty" the woodwork is. I'll leave that effort for the deck, I prefer the look of a solid colour hull and bright finished deck.
Ahhh...Kevlar is indestructible, after all-they make bullet proof vests from it, right?

Um, no.

A word to the wise, do not ever treat your Kevlar canoe as indestructible. It is destructible.

Kevlar is mostly used to enable canoe builders to make lightweight canoes that are still adequately strong.

Emphasis on lightweight. There is only one way to make a lightweight anything, and that is to give up structure. When you give up structure, you give up strength and long term durability.

A canoe hull has to survive many kinds of demands upon its structure, one of those demands is impact. There are two ways to survive impact: one is to absorb it, the other is to resist it. The trouble with resisting it, is that once you reach the point of structural failure, it fail.

Case in point. Evergreen canoes make a pretty nice Kevlar canoe. The hull is fair, lightweight, and the trim is attractive. These are nice canoes for average use, but not hard use. The bottoms of the canoes are a sandwich composite of fabric, filler, and fabric. The filler appears to be a matrix of epoxy and microballoons that is applied over the canoe bottom.

Most of the time this solution works well, but if you take a hit the filler can crumble causing the whole structure to fail. Once I had to replace the entire bottom of one of these canoes due to accumulated impact failure, and the canoe was only one season old!

This impact illustrates the situation, and this is not as bad as that. You can see the bubble where the failure is.

Remove the inner fabric and you can see this.

Once the crumbles are removed I have to fair out the edges...

...and apply new filler and fiberglass over. I'll have to do the outside as well.

I have a saying, "Never paddle with someone who is afraid to get there feet wet."

This is one reason why. People afraid to get there feet wet ram there canoes ashore, scraping away the canoe every time. At some point, and it can come early, the canoe material just wears away till the water comes in. You can't see it too well in the photo, but there literally is hardly anything left in this spot.

So, clean up the worn fiberglass, build it up with new glass, apply some epoxy with appropriate fillers, then sand smooth and give it a shot of red spray paint to help it blend in. The canoe is not of a quality that a perfect mix is cared for by the owner.

A 1974 Brigden canoe came in for a little repair. It is actually in excellent shape, it just met a rock last season and needs to be readied for this season.

The Bill Brigden designed and built M3 really was a canoe that was ahead of its time. It had an efficient hull that no other fiberglass canoe was being like. It was not until the Jensen canoes of the mid to late '80's that canoe design caught up.

I had to move the Souris River out of the shop to make some space, so I happened to put it atop of the Brigden, that's when I saw this...(don't be tricked but the stem of the Chestnut poking out from behind)

Some fiberglass canoes have come in for some work. None with major work to do, so I am getting them all done and out before I star the bigger jobs awaiting me.

First, a Souris River Eugene Jensen designed canoe needing new outwales.



Here's a peek at the April harvest of new paddles.

I have a particular interest in the paddles of the Voyageurs. There is not much information available, at least not enough to make authentic reproductions, so I have worked out something with seems right. I'll get into the details at some future time, but for now here are the results: 4 for a client, and two for me (because it was made already and there was a check in the grip and I was going to paint mine over anyway...)

RRC&P for Red River Canoe & Paddle. To enable non literate workers to identify where the cargo is supposed to arrive, the fur trade companies had a series of symbols for each trading post, or Factory-the head of which is called a Factor. The grasshopper represented Red River Settlement-present day Winnipeg. the Crocus is for Manitoba. I have no idea what the symbols actually looked at so I came up with these.

Here are April's paddles.

Including the completion of two Freestyle paddles that I had started last year on spec but never got around to completing. One is walnut and dark Red Cedar, the other is curly Maple and White Cedar. Here they are hanging to allow the epoxy coating the 2oz. fiberglass skins to cure.

Two of the paddles are wedding gifts from the grooms parents. The image of the geese is based upon a graphic that appeared upon the wedding invitation, the date is, well its THE date.

That Edmonton walnut paddle came out like this. The client commissioned it for his son, just because he and his wife are proud of him. The Walnut came from the family farm, so it has significant sentimental value. There is just enough to get one more paddle out of it, and that will be for the client's brother.