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This Saturday (Oct 20th) is our annual Fundamentals of Fléchée: The Basics of Finger Weaving workshop here at the Canadian Canoe Museum!

Colourful finger woven sashes (photo from the Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America)

Finger weaving has a long and interesting history.  You may recognize the pattern of the sashes above as the ‘Assomption Sash’ pattern.  This was typically the style of finger woven sash worn by voyageurs and labourers during the peak of the Fur Trade era.

Student learning the ‘arrowhead pattern’

Workshop participants spend the day in the Museum’s beautiful Preserving Skills Gallery starting small and working our way up to more difficult designs.

A selection of woven samples

Want to give finger weaving a try?  Sign up for the workshop this weekend, check out the finger weaving kit in our Gift Store, or buy Fingerweaving Untangled!

There are many talented finger weavers practicing their art today.  Two artists with fabulous websites are Michelle Beauvais and Carol James.

Upon arriving to the museum this morning, Russ and I were both surprised to see that all of our ribs had turned black! The ribs, which had been soaking for a week in a container made of galvanized steel, had turned black as a result of the chemical reaction between the tannins in the red oak and the galvanized steel.

Ribs soaking in a galvanized tub

Although the issue was merely an aesthetic one, a simple solution was to eventually stain all of the ribs of the boat so that they were consistent in colour (you’ll see that in the next post).

Since beginning this project I have been eagerly awaiting the day when we would get to steam and bend the ribs into place. That day had finally come. There is something rather fascinating about manipulating the wood so drastically. Apart from having to be mindful of the short window of opportunity that exists in regards to shaping the ribs while they remain hot (once they cool off, it is more difficult to shape the ribs), shaping the ribs is actually quite simple.

The steam box set up with timer on top to time the 10 minute ‘steam time,’ the two plastic boxes underneath with hoses running out of them are creating the steam.

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This week we wanted to establish the desired length and shape of all the ribs necessary for building our Greenland skin on frame kayak. To accomplish this we made temporary thin flexible ribs to establish the correct length for each of the permanent ribs needed.

fitting thin, flexible temporary ribs where the permanent ribs will eventually go.

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Today we began by selecting a piece of straight grained red oak suitable to serve as our keel stringer (aka keelson) and proceeded to plane all faces smooth and round the edges. We needed to determine whether the chosen piece of wood had any curves in it as it is important to work with the natural curves of the selected piece in order for it to be oriented in the same direction as the curve of the bottom of the boat (moving slightly up toward the bow and stern). Luckily the piece of wood that we had chosen was ideal for use as a keel stringer.

Here you can see the temporary braces holding the keel stringer in the correct position. You can also see one of two Velcro straps discussed later in this blog.

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Our first task today was to shape both the bow and stern stem pieces. The stem pieces form the sharp edges at the bow and stern ends of the hull and position the ends of the keel stringer in relation to the ends of the gunwales. There are a variety of different designs for stem pieces that we could have selected; however, we chose to follow the design suggested in our guide book – Building Skin-on-Frame Boats (available in the CCM gift shop).

Paper stem piece pattern

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Russ and I are both encouraged with the progress of the kayak. It’s exciting to see the kayak really start to take shape. In fact, we no longer have to explain to patrons what we are building, as it is rather obvious.

This week we put in place both the bow and stern deck stringers. The deck stringers are the thin pieces of wood that run between the two deck beams behind the cockpit and from the knee brace to the deck beam ahead of the foot brace. We first needed to cut and shape the pieces that we selected to serve as our deck stringers.

Shaping one of the deck stringers

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Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3Part 4 and Part 5.

Now that our deck beams and masik are pegged into place we are ready to begin lashing them together.

Using artificial sinew to lash the first deck beam

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Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3,  and Part 4.

Finishing work on the deck beams

We set to work today by installing the last of our decks beams. We had only the deck beam closest to the bow to shape and fit into place. The deck beams and gunwales meet at a compound angle which can prove to be difficult to work with. Properly shaping the deck beams to fit flush with the gunwales can be time consuming and requires a bit of trial and error.

The masik sitting on top of the frame where it will be installed

Our next task was to shape the masik. The masik lies towards the bow just ahead of the centre line and will eventually help anchor the cockpit into place. Like the other deck beams, the masik joins the two gunwales together; however, the masik differs in that it is a bent deck beam that needs to be shaped accordingly. There are various ways of shaping the masik: steam bending, laminating and/or cutting it out of a solid piece of wood. Pros and cons are associated with all three methods; however, we opted to laminate numerous thin strips of red oak together.

Checking to make sure the masik has been trimmed to fit properly

We first had to build a form reflecting the desired shape of the masik. Once the form was built we simply coated the individual strips with glue and clamped them around the form. Once dry, the masik was ready to be fit into place.  We had hoped to begin lashing the deck beams into place this week but ran out of time.

Installing the masik using wooden dowels

The museum was busy with patrons exploring the various galleries and engaging us in conversation. It was a welcomed distraction. As much as we enjoy working on the kayak, sharing our enthusiasm for this project with the patrons of the museum is equally enjoyable. It was great to see so many children enjoying the various activities set out for them throughout the museum. We did our best to provide hints and clues for the scavenger hunt.

Next week… We start lashing for real this time!

Lapstrake decked double-paddle canoe, built c. 1915 by J. Henry Rushton Inc. in Canton, N.Y. Length: 3.5m (11’ 6”); Beam 66cm (26”); Weight: 27.2 kg (60 lbs). Decks and planking white cedar; ribs red elm; stems and coaming white oak. (Gift of Paul Thomas)

Using simple tools like levels, rulers and a plumb bob, along with some basic geometry, it is possible to measure an existing canoe by “taking its lines.” Over the next few months, Museum staff and volunteers will be measuring and drawing this historic lapstrake canoe in the Preserving Skills gallery.

At the beginning of our project, we were fortunate to have the assistance of Dr. Kimberly Monk, a maritime archaeologist from the University of Bristol, who was on her way to the Caribbean to document sailing fishing craft. Here, she is recording details of the measuring set-up prior to beginning work.

The Rushton canoe set up for lines-taking. To the left is the drawing board on which the canoe’s lines will be re-created at full size.

Sometimes, the original plans from which the canoe was built have not survived, and all we have is the canoe itself. It is also possible that the canoe wasn’t originally built from plans. In either case, measuring and drawing, historic canoes, through a process known as “watercraft documentation,” is an important part of a museum’s stewardship of its artifact collection. By drawing plans, taking photographs and making notes and sketches of particular details, the museum can assemble the information necessary to build a copy of the canoe for use in on-water programming.

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Saturday April 28th was our spring Woodland Pack Basket Workshop here at the CCM.  It was a great, hard working group and they all ended up leaving with a beautiful basket that is fitted with a harness so it can be worn like a backpack.  Here’s a peek of the finished product:

Two participants with their finished baskets.

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