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Hitchcock Paddles

Discussion in 'Paddles and Paddle Making' started by Peter Hitchcock, Nov 25, 2017.

  1. Peter Hitchcock

    Peter Hitchcock Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Hi: This is Peter Hitchcock. I am planning on making 2 paddles this summer which will be for sale. If you have interest you may call my cell @ 716-598-0236. I will make some postings discussing wood selection, why I do it the way I do. It will take multiple paragraphs to do that and I hope that is appropriate for this venue, never having done this before. Any comment on that would be appreciated.
     
  2. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    Looking forward to seeing how you make these fine paddles, as I’m sure many others are, too.
     
  3. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    Yes, what Dave said... If the article's really long, you might consider writing it for our Wooden Canoe Magazine?
     
  4. OP
    OP
    Peter Hitchcock

    Peter Hitchcock Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Hi again: About a month ago I started to look at every site I could see on utube about paddle making. I did not see one single site that understood the way in my opinion wood should be selected to make a paddle. In the way of a disclaimer I do not wish to criticize anyone or any other maker. There are certainly all sorts of paddles out there, for many different applications. If you want a paddle for racing with an 8" wide blade, something glued or bent you don't want one of mine. I am trying to make a paddle that you can hand down to your son, and grandson, that came from a tree that grew perfectly straight and will remain so even when grandson takes it on a canoe trip. wears all the varnish off the end of the blade, leaves it out etc. You cannot make a paddle like this by going to a lumber yard and buying a piece of wood. You very likely cannot even buy a maple log and have it quartersawn if you do not know that the tree will split straight for 6 ft. anyway. Many fine things have always been done this way for centuries. Fine violins are all vertical grain from pieces that were split. If you want to understand more about this go to utube and look at Taylor guitars, sourcing spruce. You will see them harvesting Sitca Spruce for there fine guitars. They are the 5000.00 variety. Now keep in mind that finding a Sitca spruce that will split straight is much, much easier than finding a maple. You can also see harvesting of Tone Wood, spruce in Europe for expensive violins. The principle is the same. Tomorrow I will post how I select the wood for the paddles that I make.
     
  5. OP
    OP
    Peter Hitchcock

    Peter Hitchcock Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Hi again: I want to backtrack a bit from the how to the why as posted before. First, there is no question that time has passed me by and with it this type of paddle. When I was a kid in the 1950's learning to canoe there were no decent paddles, at least that I ever saw. Today there are hundreds as you all know. I went to camp for canoe tripping and when I became a young man I found that 3 or 4 local people had in their possession the split maple paddles of incredible beauty and quality. None were able to make or duplicate them and they were not for sale. I suspect they were made in the 1930's and 40's. None that I know of were made in the mid 60's and beyond. So now for the why. Go look at, or do it in your mind any firewood pile. The kind of wood does not matter. You will see that every piece is pie shaped and split from the bark to the heart. Then look at the ends of each piece and you will see that many if not most have started to check and split again, the ends drying faster as well as stresses at play. Now take a marker and draw a line across one down from and parallel to the bark. That is a flat sawn board and it is also the blade of your paddle taken from a board. So the only thing standing between your blade and a check up the middle is about 1/4 inch which is bound to get wet and dry and will in time split just like every other piece in the woodpile. Now on a split paddle, a wedge for frow is driven from the end and a piece is split from the bark to the heart about one and an eigth inches thick. The stress is relieved and will not check again. If little checks appear now in the end to the blade or the handle they would have to travel through the entire width of the blade, not through the thickness. I had one paddle that I acquired, before I began making them, that was made in 1931. The man who made it knew this because it was the first he ever made. This was in 1969 and I used that paddle for 30 more years on canoe trips including tying to the thwarts for portages. I have given that paddle to the museum in Dorset Ontario and it looks as good today as the day he made it in 1931. Next post later today will discuss how I find the trees, or better put, how I try to find the trees. My apologies to Dave, you are right these posts are too long for this forum but I think I will do a couple more posts anyway then you will know what these paddles are in if anyone is interested.
     
  6. Dan Lindberg

    Dan Lindberg Ex Wood Hoarder

    Peter,

    Thanks so much for posting this. It is very interesting.
    I would suggest completing all of your articles/work here, and then combine them into a single article for the Wooden Canoe.

    Dan
     
  7. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    An article could include captioned pictures, showing the froe set to make the split, etc... but keep posting, and if an actual feature-length article seems too daunting, we might be able to find someone to help edit them all into one article for the Journal (I know this guy...)... Or maybe Part 1 and Part 2, you never know...
     
  8. OP
    OP
    Peter Hitchcock

    Peter Hitchcock Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Sun afternoon: Hi again. Now for the how. I have been, off and on, buying pristine large straight maple logs for the last 50 years. Back in the 60's when admiring the split maple paddles of a local man, just south of Algonquin Park Ontario, he told me that he only knew of one person who could look at a tree and tell weather it would split straight. No specifics were discussed, but he said that they always came from low lying protected areas, usually in among Hemlocks. For me, trying to get a tree this way would be riskier than selecting a log already cut, even though I do not know where it came from, than not knowing how big the heart is, or the size and spacing of the growth rings. I had only made 1 or two paddles since the 1990's when a lady wrote to me who has posted on this forum and wanted one. She has purchased three from me in the last 2 years. So the summer before this one past I began looking for a log and found a very good mill who conducted frequent veneer log sales. I spoke to the manager and he said pick out anyone not tagged from his buyers. I found one I liked, and had a truck pick it up and bring it back to my home. It split as straight as an arrow and I was thinking how smart I was. The only problem was that the tree was sort of a plain jane for lack of a better word. The Medullary rays were not prominent. These rays by the way are a characteristic of hard maple and they do bind the growth rings together tangential to the growth rings. To show you just how straight this tree was I proceeded to make a paddle for the customer out of a piece split from a tree that was growing in the forest 2 weeks before, without making any attempt to dry the wood other that the air it was exposed to over the 2 weeks it took to make it. Bye the way, this log was six hundred dollars, plus 200. transportation and help splitting. I think it was one of nicest paddles I have made, but plain. I got my friend who is younger and stronger to go down and hopefully find a prettier one. This one would be split on site so if it did not work it wouldn't be as costly. We picked a log, it did not even split straight for 2 ft. So we tried another. That one was worse. There was one quarter of the first which we brought back and I had a local man saw off one slab from each side of split face. One of these pieces made a paddle for the lady of whom I speak. That trip cost another six hundred for the two pieces even though the seller took pity on me and only charged less than half for the second. Now we come to this past summer, again in search of the tree. I went down to the veneer sale and picked out my log, the manager said he would help me split it into quarters. We got about two feet in and it split off to the right, probably the worst I have ever picked. Mind you these veneer logs are the best of the best. That tree looked flawless. Again he felt bad for me, he cut off the 3 feet or so we had started to split, and sold the rest of it. Oddly enough his wife picked the next and as it turned out it split straight as an arrow. He delivered to local man to saw pieces off the split faces. Unfortunately this tree as well is a bit on the pain side, but I have four pieces that are straight and true and will make a couple of paddles this summer whether sold or not. There were only a few pieces because I continue to pick trees which are not quite large enough. Going forward I will pick a larger one and have him cut 6 inches off, split it an inspect the grain. So going forward I think we can come up with some very nice wood. Well than effort cost another several hundred dollars. I guess this would be a good time to tell you how much the paddles cost. They are 500.00 each, plus shipping. That nets me about 10.00 per hour to make it and varnish it, plus hopefully one day enough to cover material costs. The next post I will tell you how I make them, tools etc. which don't amount to much,drawknife, different spoke shaves, block plane and sandpaper.
     
  9. OP
    OP
    Peter Hitchcock

    Peter Hitchcock Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Hi again: One more post will do it I think. I make paddles the same I think as many others as far as cutting away the shape from a piece of wood. The handle and the blade have concavities which cannot be produced however with any kind of power sanding device as I have seen many made on utube. I take off most of the excess wood with drawknife and then spoke shave. The final shape is made with a cabinet scraper of various shapes. It is a lot of work to get the balance and weight just right. There is something I do at the beginning before carving which I will guarantee is not being done elsewhere. Having arthritis in my hands I do what many old time makers did with older split pieces they had that makes the knife and spoke shave much easier to remove the wood. I soak the piece of wood under water for 3 weeks or so till it is totally saturated. It dries back out over the 2 weeks for so that I make it. If you question what I have said in the posts try this with a board and see what happens to it when it dries out. If anyone reads these posts and is interested you may reach me at my email- peter030947@hotmail.com . As previously said I plan to make 2 this summer for sale. If you order one and don.t like it , send it or bring it back and you will only be out the shipping. Will be working on Grandson's Adirondack Guideboat this winter, but will start paddles this spring.
     
  10. OP
    OP
    Peter Hitchcock

    Peter Hitchcock Curious about Wooden Canoes

    A post script. Did not tell you about finishing the paddle. Maple by itself with a few coats of varnish is pretty white and not too much to look at. I use Mohawk stains and solvents, deep penetrating stains with very little pigment to hide the grain. They are very flammable and if you order or use them you must treat it as you would gasoline. The solvent is methyl alcohol and acetone. I use 3 different colors to come up with a pleasing maple type color, dilute what I perceive as the correct color my at least 50 percent, and put a light application to give a bit of color. Next comes a mixture of linseed oil, mineral spirits and about 15 percent genuine Stockholm pine tar. This gets into the wood fiber and offers excellent protection. I put on 2 or three diluted coats of varnish, either Captains, or recently Lust varnish from Jamestown Supply. Put on another 3 or 4 coats of varnish, sanding each between, sometimes just 3 M pad. I wet sand then with 400 and 600 grit. 4 more coats with sanding in between, then wet sanding again. I rub out the finish with Rottenstone and then polish with Imperial Hand glaze. The result is smooth and very blemish free. Any questions feel free to contact me, best Peter
     

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