söndag 19 april 2015

Ten paddles project part two

The third week has just finished and to be honest I'm really worn out.
This week I've laminated and cut out the modern design blades as well as started the tedious task of thinning down the blades. I realized I had to find a fast and effective way to take off material. But I'm set on not using machines for the rest of the project now. After experimenting with spokeshave, axe, jack plane (with a round blade edge) and travisher I settled down with first axing off as much as I could and then using a smoothing plane. But on some blades the grain direction was just completely wrong, and turning the paddle upside down and axing didn't work so I used the jack plane for those.

The little "backrest" on the chopping block really helped with the cutting.

I soon realized I needed a better way to strap the wood. Using clamps took too much time. After speaking with my teacher we got the idea to use a trough cutting plank. It's a thick plank with holes for plugs that keep the object in place. The trough plank is meant to be used standing astride and cutting with an adze. But I put it on a bench instead, so I could sit on the paddle while planing and use the plugs to keep it in place. This works wonders and I think I'll make one specifically for paddles in the future.

Now I'm taking one days rest then I'll thin down the blade on the last two then start working on the grips and smoothing the surface. There's still quite a bit left but I feel I can start seeing the goal on the horizon.

tisdag 14 april 2015

Bushcraft & canoeing course at Sjöviks folkhögskola

I've mentioned earlier that I spent 2 years doing a bushcraft course in Sweden with lots of canoeing and handicraft. Now it's the time of the year when people starts looking for a school and I thought I should let you know what this one is all about.

Building igloos in north Sweden (Jokkmokk)

It's official name is "Friluftsliv, hantverk och ledarskap" (Bushcraft, handicraft and leadership). It's a one to two years course mostly focused on bushcraft but where you make much of your gear yourself. The first year focuses mostly on the bushcraft and handicraft parts while on the second year the main focus is on the leadership.

If you take the course you'll very soon realize it's a very philosophical course, very far from the plastic outdoor life (or rather outdoor sports) most people do nowadays. You do it simple but not primitive. It's not a survival course, it teaches you how to live well in nature without hurting it. You don't use gas stoves and all food is made on open fire. And speaking of food, you buy raw ingredients and learn to dry them yourself before every trip. Since the fire is a central part of the trips synthetic materials won't work (and they hurt nature too). So it's all about natural materials in clothes, tarps/tents, and kitchenware. You'll notice this has many other benefits, you get closer to nature, your clothes are quiet and the rain don't sound like the sky is falling apart at night. Summarizing it you could say nothing new is taught at this course, what you learn is to live close to nature like your ancestors.

The course starts at the end of august, usually with a trip of up to ten days starting already the first day. During my two years this was a hiking trip in the mountains. This trip is prepared by the second years so you just have to tag along. After that it's about one trip a month (usually 5 day trips), 2 canoe trips in fall, then a few skiing trips in winter, one amazing skiing/hiking trip in the transition from winter to spring and then a wonderful canoe trip of close to 3 weeks in may.

You also get the option to live in a tipi during your year. I did this both years and it was an amazing experience. I fell asleep to the sound of the sparkling fire and woke up every morning to small birds flying into the tipi. And when I went outside the tipi the first thing I saw was the mist over the nearby lake. After my years in tipi I still can't sleep quite well inside and it happens that I just take my reindeer hide and sleeping bag and go sleep outside.

One amazing experience I had was an aurora at night outside my tipi. The only people who saw it was us living in tipi.

The handicrafts, as I mentioned are focused on natural materials. We built canvas canoes, paddles and skis, we felted gloves and socks, sewed sleeping bags, backpacks, anoraks, tarps and tents, knitted and much more, too much for me to remember it all. They give you very free hands to decide for yourself what to make.

There are two teachers, one is Bosse, who is the main teacher for the course. He's a very experienced paddler and canoe builder and a great teacher with lots of bushcraft knowledge.
The other teacher is Katha, a German woman full of energy who really knows how to lift the mood in the class. She teaches us the textile handicrafts and joins some trips here and there.

The second year is optional and gives a lot more freedom. During this year you focus on your own projects and work more independently. You also act as a leader for the first years during the trips. You make the important decisions and keep the group together. You might have to solve conflicts between group members, decide the path to take or when to make lunch. In my second year my big project was to build my own canvas canoe. But I also got time over to sew a backpack, make a hiking trip in Morocco and make many paddles.

The school has a very nice friendly atmosphere and also offers courses in music (folk, jazz, pop & rock and vocal), textile and traditional log house building among others.

At least during my years there, knowing Swedish was not a prerequisite. But an intention to learn is important and it makes your life a lot easier if you know some Swedish when you arrive.

If you are interested you can find some more information (in Swedish) and contact information here:

Some more pictures:

Me poling up a river

Foldable Swedish saw, I have no idea why it's called a SWEDISH saw.

onsdag 8 april 2015

Ten paddles project part one

I'm now nearing the end of my woodworking education and to sum it all up each student gets to make a final project. Some make spoons, others make bowls, a cabinet or wood burning. For me it came quite natural to make canoe paddles. And thinking practically I saw the chance to both make my paddle making more effective and hopefully make some money at the same time. So I decided to make this a serial production project. All in all I have a little less than 5 weeks. I calculated that I can carve a paddle from an ash plank in one day. So 10 paddles would be 2 weeks of carving. That gives 3 weeks for drawing the designs, writing the documentation and oiling and varnishing.
But the school I'm attending is not just a woodworking school. It's all about traditional woodworking (but they do let us use some machines). So I wanted some kind of twist and decided to make half of the paddles in a more native design aimed at deep water paddling and half in a more modern design aimed at whitewater. Though both are compromises of what I personally think is good.

I'm now at the second week, I have decided on 2 designs. The native one is an ottertail with a grip which is something like a merge between a pear grip and a northwoods grip. The modern one is a wide and short Sugar island with a T-grip. I differ the construction in them a bit. The native one is a one piece paddle which I will not sand and for finish I'll only use raw oxidated linseed oil. The modern one has a 3-piece grip and 5-piece blade to save material and lessen the chance for warping. I'll sand them till my hands bleed and give them an oil finish with a varnished blade. I'm gluing with polyurethane, I considered using epoxy but it blunts the tools really fast.

My paddle-forms with adjustable shaft length.
I made the designs in Adobe Illustrator as described in a previous post. I printed them and taped the papers together then glued them onto plywood. I was very careful here to get the forms completely symmetrical. I saw a track for the shaft in the blade to make them easily adjustable on the wood. I still needed a straightedge to keep them completely in line but it works very well and made the marking out much easier.

My initial idea was to make the modern blades in 3 pieces. But my planks were too narrow to get out 2 such wide pieces in one length so I decided to make it 5 pieces. But just gluing 5 pieces of ash together felt like it would look boring and amateurish so I wanted to make 2 small dark stripes along the center. But I didn't have any dark wood. But then I remembered something I learned a few weeks ago. Thermally modified wood. What I did was take the pieces and put them in the oven at 200 degrees for 1-2 hours. This makes them dark, a lot darker actually, and not just on the surface... all the way through. I'm not sure exactly how it affects the strength of the wood. But as they will be laminated in the middle of the blade I don't think it's a problem.

Barely fitting in the oven....
Before and after being in the oven. The dark one in the middle was on top and got a little too much heat. Also the side closer to the door is a bit brighter due to lower temperature.
So a summary of where I am right now: I've planed and marked out the 5 native designs. One of them is a stand up paddle I intend to use for myself. It feels insanely long... I give that one a thicker shaft to lessen the flex a bit.
I have cut out and planed all the pieces for the modern ones and glued one of them.
By the end of this week I intend to have glued up all paddles and cut them out.

My feelings so far for this project is that it's fun and I'm learning a lot. But I've used machines a lot this first week which is a bit depressing. I kind of regret not making the paddles by hand instead. Cutting my own tree, splitting it and carving it with an axe and crooked knife would feel much more satisfying and result in much stronger paddles. At least after I cut out the forms it's hand tools all the way till the end!