Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spokeshaves and Maple Syrup, Welcome to Ontario

Rob Stevens and Roger Foster at Roger's Carlise Canoe Co ( wood working shed. Notice a red canoe in the background.

Ahhh, Snow. Finally back in my habitat. It was great to see the old white friend, crispy on the Canadian ground once, after so many months, I made it full circle around the globe back to North American. I'll be here for the next month with the Canadian Canoe Museum where ill be learning as much as I can about traditions from this expansive continent, particularly the birch bark canoes. 

Among the most important people to this incredible journey is Rob Stevens, Board Member of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association (, who connections, knowledge, and constant kindness has made my first week in Canada, essentially kickin' it with Rob, quite spectacular. 

Rob Stevens and Roger Foster looking at a restored wood canvass

For starters on this great week we went to visit the workshop of Roger Foster, and wood strip and canvass canoe building in Ontario. Roger's work and his willingness to teach is quite incredible. New inventions, paddle blanks and good dogs were abundant in the true sense of the word.

Rob, a knife, canoe pack, canoe, paddle, and toboggan maker spent a generous amount of time showing me his treasures and wonderful skills. We hand crafted a few paddles, my brain nearly flooded with unforgettable information in working with wood, varnishing, and designing a good paddle that will push the canoe forward with might.

Paddles from different parts of Canada except for an Amazonian on the bottom

The spokeshave is a double handed wood working tool that can carve a paddle almost on its own. Its all in the wrist. Whether locking it or letting it loose for a curve, the spoke shave is metal and wood meeting at their best. The cherry paddles that I was able to carve all have lessons in balance, strength and flexibility, and effective shape worked into them. Thank you Rob!

Spokeshaving  a cherry paddle, Rob's in-progress wood canvass canoe in the background.
My finished cherry paddle.

Rob gave me an incredible hunting knife and taught me to make a sheath treated with bee's wax. That was between our adventures making maple syrup. Rob and Bruce Farrand every March, when the maple trees are beginning to wake up from a wintery slumber, when their water blood is beginning to run again from ground to sky, and make something utterly delicious. They go to the trees and hang buckets, dozens of them. In a perfect partnership, as the men clear and maintain the forest below, the trees fill the bucks with a bit of their sap.

Farrand Land, Ontario, a gorgeous place to spend time
Steam the water out of that sap and it turns to syrup, the delicious kind with various maple flavours, perfect for your bacon and pancakes.

Bruce, Rob, and Don steaming the sap to syrup
A little teamwork to make harvesting easier

Bruce checking for the perfect consistency

That was my introduction to Canada, a massive amount of learning, meeting good folk, and making a delicious heritage product from healthy and happy trees.

Finished syrup from different parts of the season. Grandmother tree in the background.


  1. I love spokeshaves... they are the nearest thing I've found in fine furniture-making to a sable hair watercolour brush. I long to get the fluidity and spontaneity of a brush stroke into my furniture, and the responsiveness of a spokeshave seems to give the best chance.

  2. You may wonder how a famous acoustic guitar is being built and constructed. Here is an overview of the making of an acoustic guitar. If you are to do this for the first time, for sure, it is never easy. But when you do it over and over again, it will be a piece of cake the next time around.

  3. To Capitalize on your spokeshave's full potential, it must be razor sharp and tuned properly. There are basically two types of spokeshaves: Some have their blades bedded bevel side up and feature low cutting angles of between 20 and 35.