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Hitchcock Paddles

Discussion in 'Paddles and Paddle Making' started by Splinter, May 1, 2016.

  1. Splinter

    Splinter Wood Girl #1186

    Mr. Hitchcock of Snyder, NY is mentioned in a chapter in Jerry Dennis' book, "From a Wooden Canoe". Anyone have one of his paddles? Does anyone know if he still makes them?
     
  2. Giiwedin

    Giiwedin Gouvernail

    I do. Peter carved three lovely maple paddles for me in 2000-01, for solo work. Thin, flexible, light, and beautifully finished. Almost works of art.

    I went back for more about five years later, but his website was down and I didn't get a response to my emails.
     
  3. OP
    OP
    Splinter

    Splinter Wood Girl #1186

    Oh dear. Good for you but, it might be too late for me.
     
  4. Jan Bloom

    Jan Bloom LOVES Wooden Canoes

    You could make your own, it really isn't that hard to do.
     
  5. OP
    OP
    Splinter

    Splinter Wood Girl #1186

    From Jerry Dennis's book, page 101-103: The key to these remarkable paddles is the wood-both it's quality and the way it is handled. They are made of maple but, not just any maple. Hitchcock considered finding the right tree the biggest challenge to building his paddles. It must be very large at least two feet in diameter at the trunk, and it must grow in dense, sheltered woods and have no limbs for the first forty or fifty feet of height. The trick is to find a tree in Hitchcock's words, "that splits perfectly straight for six or seven feet. Even in a hardwood forest full of fine trees this is literally a one-in-a-thousand shot. From the stories I have heard from the old men (from whom he learned) there was only one man in the area who could look at a tree and tell that it would split straight, or, as they would say, "it was a paddle tree." They honestly believed these trees "growed to be made into paddles."
    Hitchcock gets his trees from a pair of hardwood sawmills near Buffalo, NY. Occasionally, from the thousands of maple logs processed, a prime log is set aside to be made into veneer (something I know quite a bit about myself-MF). When a particularly fine one shows up, a foreman calls Hitchcock. If he likes what he sees, he buys the log and immediately splits it lengthwise, using wedges and a maul. If the log splits straight, he splits the halves into quarters, then takes them to an Amish sawmill, where they are rough-cut into planks an inch and a half thick.
    At this point, the lumber differs dramatically from most used in paddle making. Ordinary boards are "flat sawn" from a log by running it lengthwise against a circular saw blade, slicing it into equal widths from the outside in, resulting in boards with flat grain. Hitchcocks's planks are "quarter-sawn" cut from the bark to the heart of the log. This is time consuming and difficult, because after each cut the single plank remains and the large remaining piece falls away-just the opposite of conventional milling - and the larger piece must be set up and adjusted again before each cut.The result is that the grain of the wood is never crossed during the sawing, and the plank ends up patterned with the tight, striated grain of the tree.
    Each plank is air dried for a couple years, then the general shape of the paddle is cut out with a band saw. Hitchcock has a friend do this since he owns no power woodworking machinery. Once he gets the piece back he submerges it in water for a week to make it easier to work with and to make sure it does not split or check. All the remaining work is done entirely by hand with drawknife, spokes shave and sandpaper. Each paddle requires about 25 hours of work to carve and make ready for finishing.
    The finish is the most time-consuming process of all, requiring an initial rubdown of linseed oil thinned with mineral spirits, followed by 15 - 20 coats of French polish (consisting of equal parts of shellac, linseed oil, and alcohol), and concluding with several coats of marine varnish, sanded and steel-wooled between coats. The finish is allowed to dry for a month, then hand rubbed first with pumice stone to remove imperfections and finally with rottenstone to bring out the gloss.
    Mr. Dennis goes on to describe a paddle that is light as a feather, the color of a palomino and can hold the weight of a man sitting on it that weighs 120 pounds.

    Frankly, I don't see myself doing this regardless that I am in the wood industry. Meanwhile, per some detective work, I have found a street address and have written a letter. Stay tuned . . . .
     
  6. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    From that detailed description, I can see why you would want a Hitchcock paddle. I want one too! Anyone have a photo of the blade shape? It would also be nice to see a close up of the finish and patina.
     
  7. Craig Johnson

    Craig Johnson LOVES Wooden Canoes

    sounds beautiful, piece of art, hang it on the wall. For most woods I would prefer plane sawn over quarter sawn to avoid splitting. I think this would be less of a problem in maple though. I would love to see one. Any of you guys out there weigh 120 lb.:)
     
  8. Dan Lindberg

    Dan Lindberg Ex Wood Hoarder

    Sounds like an interesting paddle,

    but why the following:

    sounds like he's looking for rail material only in maple, ie, long, straight, tight grain.
    and it's just quarter sawn, a normal process for a small mill.

    can someone post a pic of these paddles?

    Dan
     
  9. OP
    OP
    Splinter

    Splinter Wood Girl #1186

    Small saplings have lots of small branches which continue to drop off as a tree "self-prunes" as it grows taller and each annual ring grows around the outside. The place where the branch (limb) connects to the trunk (the bole) is muscular wood that is harder to work. The knots are not desirable nor is the wood surrounding the knot. So when a tree is really tall, the first 40 or 50 feet with no branches would mean the juvenile knots and muscle would be well inside the heartwood and possibly avoidable in the making of a paddle. The larger the DBH, the better the chance of the wood being clear of knots and muscle. Of course, every tree is different as each has it's own responses to their own environments, competing circumstances and climate conditions. You can see this when you look at the annual rings, wider on the south side of the tree, narrower on the north side, etc. narrower in drier years and higher altitudes, etc. Also, the figure can show up (if any) on the aft side of the prevailing wind! Who knows? If a tree could talk to us we could understand more. But, the basic characteristics and properties would be the same.
     
  10. Dan Lindberg

    Dan Lindberg Ex Wood Hoarder

    Thanks Splinter,

    That explains it.

    Dan
     
  11. Giiwedin

    Giiwedin Gouvernail

    Here is one of my Hitchcock paddles, quarter-sawn curly maple.

    001  Hitchcock.jpg

    002  Hitchcock.jpg
     
  12. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    That is striking! WOW!
     
  13. OP
    OP
    Splinter

    Splinter Wood Girl #1186

    I have made contact.
    He is only making Adirondack Guide Boats now, one for each of this children.
    That is all.
     
  14. MGC

    MGC Scrapmaker

    I have been following the recent thread about paddle bags and frankly I was wondering why anyone could possibly need a bag for one.
    After seeing this maple paddle I almost understand. Almost.
    A paddle that nice would probably be kept in our family room and never get used. It's just too damned nice.
    That is the work of a hors category craftsman.
     
  15. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    Wooden "Sunday Best" paddles get beaten up worse in the car than they do on the water. Bags fix that. Mine are fleece fabric from the local fabric store, sewn by a friend. They're cushy, and quick-drying.
     
  16. OP
    OP
    Splinter

    Splinter Wood Girl #1186

    I sewed a paddle bag for my son for a cheap Christmas Present last year or the year before. I believe I can be motivated to sew one for myself, too. At least my hands still work well enough to do that. I still have fabric scraps from canoe restoration to make it out of. Anyone know how to wax canvas?
     
  17. Jon Bouton

    Jon Bouton Sucker for an Indian Girl

    Nice Paddle. Is that Sugar Maple or Red Maple? I've been very casually looking for some stock to carve a paddle since making one with Caleb's guidance at an Assembly several years ago.
     
  18. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

  19. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I have waxed several canvas garments, backpacks and carry bags using a mixture of parafin (canning) wax and beeswax. The more beeswax, the more flexible the end product.
     
  20. OP
    OP
    Splinter

    Splinter Wood Girl #1186

    Well, I know beeswax has to reach 140 degrees F in order for it to become liquid like water. Do you have to ADD some kind of liquid or solvent to it as well? Like maybe glycerine or something?
     

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