Adirondack Guideboats-Making the Cary Guide’s Paddle

Last time, we heard about Reuben Cary, one of the most renowned guides and woodsmen the North Country has ever known.  Reuben was so proud of his skill in hunting from a guideboat that, after a successful hunt, he wanted his photograph taken with his paddle, not his rifle. I’ll show him once again posing with his paddle.

Guide Reuben Cary with his guideboat paddle.

Guide Reuben Cary with his guideboat paddle.

I decided to reproduce his paddle.  To my knowledge the original does not exist.  But, because there are two views of him with his paddle, I was able to rather accurately reproduce the upper portion of his paddle, the motif and grip.  For the shaft and blade, I had to guess that they were similar to the Adirondack Murray paddle.  The Murray paddle is on permanent display in the Guideboat Hall of the Adirondack Museum. Indeed, it could have been Cary who made the Murray paddle.  Adirondack Murray certainly knew Reuben and touted him as a highly sought after guide.  Anyway, by lining off the shaft and blade of the Murray paddle and using it for reproducing Cary’s paddle, I couldn’t go too far wrong.

The first thing I did when making the Cary paddle was to making a template of it.  The template is of 1/8″ stock and is used to trace the outline, or silhouette, of the paddle on to the stock selected for the paddle.  The stock I used was Spanish cedar.  Now Spanish cedar is neither Spanish nor cedar, but in fact is a relative of the mahogany family.  It is fairly lightweight, is easy to work, gives forth a delicious aroma when you plane or sand it, and is quite attractive.  I started with four quarter thick Spanish cedar stock and surface planed it down to 7/8″ thick.

On my template I mark off the thickness of the center of the blade at 6″ intervals.  I then transfer these thicknesses to the paddle blank.  This saves time later on when you are milling the blade down to its final shape.

Here is the template, on the right, and the blank.

Cary paddle blank, on the left, and template.

Cary paddle blank, on the left, and template.

In the above photo I have already milled the blade down to its final shape.  I did the rough milling using my jointer, then followed using “elbow grease” applied to a bench plane.  I also rounded the shaft using a spoke shave and contour planes.  I did this step by eye but some like to mark off the shaft in eights using a compass.

Guideboat paddles are know by their motifs, which usually take the form of an arrowhead, and their lollipop grips.  Execution of the motif gets a little tricky. It has to be sculpted.  In the photo above I have begun sculpting the motif using a chisel to remove excess material so that the motif slopes downward towards the grip.

The next step is to layout the arrowhead shape of the motif.

Marking off the arrowhead shape of the motif.

Marking off the arrowhead shape of the motif.

Note that I have already laid out the centerlines before starting to remove any material. I then use a variety of hand tools to sculpt the motif.  They are shown below.

Tools for sculpting the motif.

Tools for sculpting the motif.

They include a chisel, contour planes, tri-square, compass, sanding long board and cabinet scraper. Here I am shaping the arrowhead with a contour plane.

Sculpting the arrowhead of the motif with a contour plane.

Sculpting the arrowhead of the motif with a contour plane.

All the above tools are used as the need arises.  No one tool can do it all.

Finally its time to do the lollipop grip.  I draw an inner circle around the lollipop about 3/8″ in as a guide as I round the edges using a contour plane.  I do a final sanding and, except for several coats of marine spar varnish, the paddle is finished.

Here it is:

The finished Cary paddle.

The finished Cary paddle.

By the way if you want to reproduce some of the famous guideboat paddles, you can do so using the plans and instructions in my book, Guideboat Paddles An Adirondack Treasure.

Next time, Reuben Cary’s guideboat.

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2 Responses to Adirondack Guideboats-Making the Cary Guide’s Paddle

  1. Shane Watters says:

    Spanish cedar appears to be a perfect material for paddles. I’m currently finishing up a otter tail style canoe paddle from a very nice piece of spanish cedar for canoe tripping. I normally use a power planer to remove most of the stock from the blade but this time I switched to using a hand rip saw to make a cut on either side of the blade of the paddle. i plan to use 1.5 oz fiber glass on the blade and oil the rest. Can’t wait to use it.

    • Shane:

      Spanish cedar is a beautiful wood. Easy to work and has a distinctive aroma when you plane or sand it. It often has a marvelous figure that pops out when varnished. To add to its charms it is quite light.
      Enjoy your paddle

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