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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

Sunday 27 June 2010

The Peterborough Lake Queen that I was working on last year is finally back on track. The client ran into some unexpected expenses and had to put the canoe on hold. Now that the Kildonan is done and the Esprit is just about done, its time to get a move on with this one.

The gunnels need to be sanded down to bare wood and the old thwart is seriously in the way. If the bolts had been bronze or brass it would have been an easy thing to remove the four bolts. As the were steel, well, the ravages of time kept the nuts on pretty tight.

I've run into this situation a number of times so I have a repertoire solutions. What worked this time was to take the side-cutters and grab the head of the bolt and twist it enough so that I can use the next tool.

Which happen to be vise-grips. Its hard to hold the side-cutters tight enough to spin the stubborn bolt out, these hold on tighter!

And, of course, the gunnel is broken...

So another gunnel repair. Same story as on the recently repaired Kildonan gunnel.

The old Kildonan is done and ready for pick-up. The client is doing all of the painting and varnishing so that is saving me a lots of time!

Here it is before I bolt the seats and thwarts back in, as well as the stem bands.

And a close up of the bow deck showing the aluminum name plate. The Decks are maple

Painting always gives me grief.

Not because it is so difficult to do, but because the the feeling that the customer is always expecting a flawless finish, perfectly smooth and super shiny. I am moving more and more towards providing a consistently very good paint job and not getting hung on "perfect". I just need to ensure that the client is expecting the same as what I will deliver.

Anyway, back to the boat at hand!

I give the dried filler a basic sanding and then apply the first coat. I sand and paint three coats of paint before I work on the final coats. If all goes well then four coats will be enough. Sometimes I need five. More costs extra.

This canoe will be the traditional Chestnut green. I had a formula worked out for this colour, but the company, ICI, that made the tint base discontinued that paint base, so out the window it goes. I had to start all over. Fortunately the paint company that I go to has an excellent colour service and they came up with an excellent match. The new paint base is from Para. You can see the matched paint chip taped to the end of my sample.

My sample was from an original can of paint from Chestnut, so I can say with absolute certainty that this is the exact colour that Chestnut used.

Here's a shot of the Esprit canoe before and after first coat of paint. Just a little more paint, some varnish on the trim, and the metal bits to go. Almost done!

I had some time to work on the carving for the viola da gamba. I had the design pretty much worked out but had a little tweaking to do. So after the drawing was finalized I taped it in position and used carbon paper to transfer it to the wood. After that is done the lines need to be incised and then the background is cut away.

After getting a little of the background carving done I can testify that this is going to be a LOT of work! Slow, delicate work.

Thursday 24 June 2010

I've been experimenting with something called Natural Planted Tank aquarium keeping. I've keep aquariums since I was young and have always been interested in keeping plants. NPT is a new approach for me utilizing soil under the gravel and various other low tech approaches. is a great place to go for info.

Day one. Cloudy water.

After one week the water is clearere and everything is settling down.

After two weeks the water is pretty clear and the plants are starting to show new growth.

A put in a few helpers. I scooped some of these (which I'm pretty sure are) Great Pond Snails (Lymnaea stagnalis) out of the river out back of my place. They tirelessly scour all of the surfaces. And they breed prolifically! Good new for me is that when I have too many I'll just throw them back into the river.

I also bought some of these freshwater shrimp to help clean. This is my first time keeping shrimp. neocaridina heteropa var. yellow

Every once in awhile a canoe comes in and you just shake your head. This is one of them.

This is an old Chestnut Pal that has seen better days. It has suffered a hard life and been the subject of some poor repairs. I won't go through the litany of ills, suffice it to say that the old canvas was the least of them

The hull is very, very lumpy.

Previous repairs attempted to alleviate the lumpiness by sanding them down. In places they pretty near sanded all the way through the planking.

And Bondo! Everywhere Bondo...

All is not lost for this canoe. The owners who brought this canoe in have decided to sell it to another party who wanted it as a display item for his cottage.

Rustic was wanted! Rustic was provided!

Here's how I get the logo onto the canoe decks, its the same method as for the paddles in case you were wondering.

Some years ago I had two rubber stamps made with my logo, one large and one small. I use printmaking ink and a hard brayer (roller) to apply the ink to the stamp. It does not work to push the stamp into the ink as it will just smear into all the crevices and make a mess when you try and stamp it. A brayer just applies the ink to the design.

Carefully position the stamp and press firmly.

And this is the result.

A few more photos of the Kildonan as I prepare it for canvas. Aside from the gunnel break this canoe is in excellent condition. An interesting side note on this canoe, it was last canvassed by Daryl Perry. Daryl used to do canoe building and repair but has since gone on to be an internationally recognized builder of fine classical guitars.

This canoe has an interesting planking pattern. I include the photo for anyone who might be interested. For everyone else, just enjoy the nice photo.

Ready for canvas.

Slipping the canoe into the canvas sling.

While the varnish on the trim of the Esprit is drying I really have to get other work done. That work is the old Kildonan canoe.

Step one is to get that broken gunnel repaired. Its difficult to tell if the gunnel stock is Spruce or Fir. It looks like Fir, so that is what I will use. The wood for these gunnels is quarter sawn with the flat sawn side up.

The old gunnels are cut with a long taper on either side of the break. Because its very difficult to fit a new piece to take the exact curve of the gunnel as it sweeps along the canoe, I clamp on a heft piece of hardwood to the outside of the canoe the hold that section straight. I fit the new piece in such a way that I am fitting a straight piece of wood into a straight gunnel. The wood is glued with epoxy to take care of any irregularities in the fit. Once the epoxy cures I remove the clamps and all of the wood takes on its natural curve.

The two pieces of wood going across the canoe are there to hold the two gunnel sections in line. You can see the new piece of gunnel stock waiting to be glued in.

New wood glued in and the clamps removed waiting only to be shaped flush.

The new Esprit is getting a kneeling thwart instead of a seat. If you've never used a kneeling thwart then you have no idea how comfortable it is!

I make mine so that the surface that supports the paddlers back side is angled about 30-45 degrees. Often I make them from fairly thick lumber, but this time I only had 4/4 stock sot I had to glue on some additions to the ends to get more angle. With the grain oriented the right way they look pretty near invisible.

This is how this kneeling thwart is mounted in the canoe-on risers. These risers are longer than is required for just a kneeling thwart, but if the owner should ever decide to put in a seat the canoe is ready for it. The extra length also allows for variable positions should it be required.

All the trim made and ready for varnish.

Hide (Heeday) was the second international visitor this week. He is a Japanese photographer who who has been coming to North America for quite awhile is is very enamored with our wilderness and canoe culture. He knew more about wooden canoe history than most people who live here!

Hide was working with a Japanese TV crew to put together a documentary on the Boreal forest. He got in touch with me while shopping for a wooden canoe that he could get right away for the production. In particular he was interested in the Bob's Special that I had in, he wanted to get some photos of what the Bob's looked like in 1948.

Its been an international week here at the canoe shop in Lorette.

First, Anders just returned from Sweden to pick up his canoe. His Boreal has been ready for over a year, but he's had to tend to family matters back in Sweden. He arrived with three of his friends, also from Sweden, and the will be joined by 6 more Swedes for a 10 week canoe trip from northern Saskatchewan to Baker Lake, Northwest Territories.

I went through a lot of screw piloting drill bits before I settled on this combination. The tapered drill bit is sold by Lee Valley, and the countersink is by Dimar. This is THE best countersink that I have ever used. It uses carbide cutters that last and last and last. The whole unit is made in two parts that clamp around the drill bit. This allows the depth of cut to be easily adjusted and it allows for the cutter to bit used on many sizes of drill bits.

The filler needs to cure only a few days before it is hard enough for me to continue working. The first step to do is to give a quick sanding to the filler along the gunnel line before trimming the excess canvas down. Its a lot easier to do this now before the gunnels go on.

The gunnels are made from stock 1" tall by 3/4" wide. This allows for a 3/16" rabbet along the backside and for a 1/2" radius round-over router bit to shape the outer corners.

The ends of the gunnels are tapered for about 18"-24", depending upon the particular canoe. It doesn't really matter how long the taper is as long as all four of the ends are shaped the same.
For me, this also allows the 1/2" radius to reduce to a 1/4" radius, a detail which will be important later on. Stay tuned!

There's an old saying that "You can never have too many clamps!" It's true, and its taken me a long time to have almost enough clamps. I don't need this many just to clamp the gunnels in place but I do need them closely spaced in order to hold the gunnel snug while I get the screws set exactly where I want them..

What is not seen is that I establish the screw spacing and mark each rib/screw position with a pencil mark. I usually put the screws on every other rib, some canoes are every rib, and often you will see them on every third rib. What matters more is that you don't mess up your pattern! That just looks sloppy.

Here you can see how the tapered rib ends allow the gunnels to fit flush at the stem. The gunnel ends are cut with a little extra room for refining the fit.

Friday 11 June 2010

Now that the Esprit is under control its time to get started on this old Kildonan canoe. I've never seen one as old as this one. You can tell that it is older because the decks are crowned and the rest of the trim is obviously "nicer" in detailing.

It really is in pretty good condition, one gunnel break and basic re-canvassing. The owner will be taking care of the paint and varnish.