Leaf Hunting and Preserving

I recall many days of my childhood in Ontario, Canada on school field trips where we were asked to identify trees, plants and animals. These were always great memories for me and helped opened my eyes to the natural world all around us…even in our very own backyards. Looking back now, I’m amazed at how much emphasis, the canadian public schools placed on educating their youth about nature. It has certainly left a lasting impression upon me and how I view the world. I try to pass this wonder on to future generations.

The weather this past week has just been perfect in the central and western parts of Virginia. Fall is certainly underway and we have been trying to get out as much as possible to soak it all in. This was a great opportunity to do some leaf hunting. My son has enjoyed watching the leaves change and he also loves tree identification with his trusty tree guide. We didn’t have to go far, we had enough species of trees in our neighborhood to keep him occupied with a good field activity. We were going to collect leaves and seal them up in wax paper.

We hunted for acorns of many varieties of oak: white oak, red oak, chestnut oaks. It appeared that sugar maples were still far from turning in our neighborhood. Gum trees were yellowing and so were sycamores.

Once you have found your collection of leaves, simply lay them out on kitchen wax paper. Cover it with another layer of wax paper and iron them. The heat will keep the two papers adhered to one another and your leaves preserved inside.

All in all, it was great way to get outside, feel the sun and admire nature. Enjoy and be safe everyone.

Wood Canvas Canoe Restoration – Part 1

It’s hard for me to believe that the last entry regarding canoe restoration was back in June. Our progress has been slow but certainly steady. Amidst the throes of this pandemic, things at my workplace seem to have gotten busier….I’m seeing more patients and doing more surgeries….meanwhile COVID cases in Virginia continue to soar. Wear your masks and get your vaccines people!

I’ve been finding some time every night, to go into the garage with my kids and work on something….anything….if only for 20 minutes at a time. Lately, I’ve been striving for more discipline, the practice of doing a little bit of work, everyday, in several different areas: exercise, work, learning languages, woodworking, music. It really is incredible what can be accomplished with just 30 minutes a day towards a goal.

Step 1: Building canoe cradles

We are grounding most of our work around the guidance of this book: “This Old Canoe” by Mike Elliott. It has proved very helpful so far.

The priority was building a stable platform for working on the canoe. Flimsy and old cedar planks were coming off the side of the boat and it was simply not safe to keep the canoe on saw horses with children about, not to mention the strain it was putting on this old canoe. I’ve been reading the book: “This Old Canoe – by Mike Elliot”, and used the plans inside to build some basic canoe cradles. Basically out of 2x4s and old carpet stored in the attic. The slings on the cradle allow for an equal distribution of forces along the hull. Also, you can rotate the canoe along its long axis so you can work on different angles of the canoe.

Once the cradles were completed, we could breathe easy. The canoe was in a sturdy and safe platform, and most importantly it was out of the elements and I knew that it would not further deteriorate. Psychologically, it was a huge boost, knowing that from this moment on, this thing will only get better.

Step 2: The Workbench

What we needed now, was a work area to launch our operation of repairing this canoe. We needed a workbench.

We decided to take down some old cabinets and free up some space for an 8ft bench. The cabinets found new owners through Facebook marketplace….they weighed a ton.

After looking at several different workbench plans on the internet, I settled on this one:

It was a very simple design and it seemed sturdy enough for our work. After many hot, summer day trips to Home Depot and a lot of sweating while sorting through lumber piles, I acquired all the wood that I needed. The cost of materials was less than $150. My son and daughter had a blast building this thing. My son, particularly enjoyed chiseling the half lap joints for the 2x4s. I didn’t have a table saw, so the cuts were actually just made using a compound miter.

We coated the table with a coat of boiled linseed oil. (Whenever you work with flammable oils like linseed, make sure your rags are disposed of safely. These can spontaneously combust. I generally soak the rags, and then leave them out to dry either in a metal can or on the drive way before disposing of them).

We subsequently had to paint the wall where the cabinets used to be and then replace the wall base vinyl which was easy enough.

Now we’re ready for the next phase……doing a thorough assessment of the extent of canoe repairs and figuring out a way to acquire the materials and tools necessary for the job. We are looking forward to working in a cooler shop now that autumn has arrived. Onward!


***As with all projects please make sure you wear proper eye protection. As an ophthalmologist (physician and surgeon specializing in eyes), I have treated vision threatening eye injuries from accidents in the workshop, construction sites and even in the gardens. In ophthalmology, it does not get more serious than an “open globe injury”. This is a scenario where the eyeball itself has an opening, either from a tear, blunt trauma or a projectile object. In the workshop, some of the worst injuries are from flying species of wood or metal that can penetrate the eye. The surgeries to repair these injuries can take hours and the visual prognosis often very poor. Prevention is key, WEAR safety goggles…PERIOD. ***

This is a photo of me repairing an “open globe injury” in the operating room. The eyeball in this case has been penetrated by a piece of steel. This was a high velocity injury. This occurred when the patient was hammering a metal stake with a sledge hammer. A piece of the stake broke off and went flying into the patient’s eye. The surgery was over 4 hours and the patient never regained meaningful vision. Wear safety glasses people.

Pine Needle Tea

A cloudy and muggy, Saturday kept us mostly indoors. The kids were both with stuffy, and runny noses. A mild cold was here to stay for the next few days.

I told my son that during these times, the perfect remedy was something we could easily concoct in our backyard…pine needle tea.

Ingredients:

  • eastern white pine needles (about half a handful)
  • honey (optional)
  • milk (optional)

A very simple brew that can be made on virtually any canoe trip, pine needle tea has so much to offer. It is loaded with vitamin c and A as well as anti-oxidative properties. While it can be made with several different types of pine trees, I think the classic pine needle tea is usually with eastern white pine. This tree can be easily identified from yellow pine by the fact that the needle clusters grow in clumps of five. A good way to remember this is that the letter “W” for white, has 5 points in it. (A pretty useful mneumonic). *whenever you are consuming plants or trees outside, please make sure you know exactly how to identify the species you are dealing with. There are several types of conifers, such as yew that is not suitable for consumption. Also, pine needle tree should not be consumed that anyone bearing children.

Once you have identified the proper needles, you can wash them to get off any dirt or bugs. You can cut the needles into smaller pieces or leave them whole. I generally do not boil the needles. I heat the water to the point before boiling as to slow the steeping process and not to release too much bitter tannins. The younger pine needles (lighter in color) are generally a little sweeter, although with less ascorbic acid (vitamin C). The darker, older needles contain more vitamin C but are more bitter. I generally let the tea steep for about 15 minutes. You can mix in a little honey or milk if you wish. In no time at all, you’ve got a warm, healing drink from your backyard that should help you get over your cold.

While we are no longer worried about vitamin C deficiency and scurvy in this part of the world, this trusty and simple pine needle tea recipe will hopefully serve you well.

Have fun everyone!

*Be careful once again when identifying trees and plants of all kind!

Victory Garden 2020

At the start of the lockdown in Virginia from the COVID 19 pandemic, we decided to grow a garden to get productive and hopefully have some vegetables to eat and share with our neighbors. I think this project was mostly started by our 2 year old son, who was insistent upon tilling the ground. At this point in time, we had no idea what the food produce situation was going to look like throughout the upcoming months. There were a lot of unknowns throughout the whole world and certainly still today. We didn’t want to ruminate….we wanted to get moving.

The first step was to remove all of last years tomato vines and to till the earth. We have a compost bin that we have been faithfully using to replenish the nutrients to the soil. It also helped that the previous owners, apparently had heaping loads of manure dumped into the garden.

By the first week of April we were already planting the first of the seeds. Strawberry, kale, etc. We also reseeded the lawn for spring time is probably the best season for our grass. The brutal Virginia summers pretty much just scorch the earth by July.

April 21, 2020

We spent the day reseeding the front lawn, there are stubborn sections of the front lawn that gets sun damaged every year and allows for the crab grass and bermuda grass to take root. Our plants are developing nicely indoors, it will soon be time to transplant them to the garden.

May 16, 2020

The garden has been coming along nicely. I do believe that this in large part due to a wonderful “normal” spring in Virginia. We’ve been hanging on to cooler weather and we’ve been loving it. It has still been in the 60s in mid May! We transplanted several of the seed bags to see what would happen. We put up some netting around the strawberries but it didn’t seem to do the trick. I think next year we will have to get a metal cage if we plan strawberries

May 23, 2020

We harvested our first carrots from the garden. Once again, the weather still remains pleasant. Our lawn is surviving and so far the temps are still just getting to the upper 70s. Today was a rare 82 F but it still felt very pleasant.

We have been picking from our rosemary and cilantro, some have already bolted. Bolting by definition is when the plant begins forming flowering stems in order to reproduce. Cilantro grows best in cool climates and moist areas. When it gets too hot, the plant anticipates that it will get too hot and dry and if therefore begins flowering and producing leafy stems that are no longer desirable as they lose their taste. It is a survival mechanism for the plant to reproduce as much as possible before it dies, but from a gardening standpoint, this is something that you want to avoid if possible. Plan to grow cilantro in early spring or fall when it is cooler.

May 30, 2020

June 6, 2020

We harvest our first beets along with another round of carrots. We’ve been working hard to diligently weed and water the garden. We still have yet to fix our irrigation system from the two cracked hoses. the hardest part is finding the right parts. Up until now, the weather has been excellent. We are starting to see some hot days. The lawn is beginning to show signs of yellowing.

June 9, 2020

Several of our carrots have fully developed and were eagerly picked by visiting cousins.

June 10, 2020

Spring showers cool off a hot June day. temps today in the high 80s. We got about 30 min of solid spring showers. the state of the lawn is as such, yellowing can be seen throughout. it’s trying to hang on. The maple tree in front is actually growing pretty fast. I think by next year it will be able to provide some pretty decent shade. sometimes I wonder if there are any treatments that can help the grass survive the brutal heat. This season has still been fantastic. Much cooler than averages in the past. This next week we are even expecting several consecutive days in the highs of 70s. awesome.

June 17 , 2020

We are getting one week of rain! We’ve got jalapenos coming in and green peppers and tomatoes.

June 27, 2020

July 3-5

July 10, 2020

July 15, 2020

The garden has been yielding a lot of veggies lately. It has been a lot of work to keep weeding them and watering them in this scorching heat. It has been in the mid 90s all week. Our son has been loving the garden and eating all veggies. The delayed gratification is something he is wrapping his head around. He also has a lot of pride in his garden. In a world of immediate gratitude and digital screens, a garden is the perfect way to fight all that.

August 1, 2020

This has been a brutally hot summer. Fortunately we are through July.

August 4, 2020

Summer showers have left our yard pretty flooded! It’s hot and the mosquito situation is bad.

September 19, 2020

September 27, 2020

October 4, 2020

Temperatures are consistently nice and cool. We do some lawn repair to try to grow some new grass.

October 20, 2020

With temperatures in the 60s, it is just glorious outside. the garden is still yielding eggplants, bell peppers, tomatoes, jalapenos, and kale. We did some light maintenance and trimming to keep the tomato plants at bay. We are heading to the end of the season.

By November we officially declared it the end of the garden season. Although even in the first week of December, I saw some green peppers and strawberries trying to grow. It was certainly alot of work and maintenance, but taking care of this garden has been a lot of fun, especially for our 3 year old boy. I can clearly see his new appreciation of plants and how food is grown, and how it eventually gets to the dinner table. Growing a garden is also a great way to get your child into eating vegetables. Even if the garden does not yield much, you’ll build great memories and hopefully learn something. We sure did. Stay safe and healthy out there.

Telephoto trial on the Piankatank River

We took the family to spend a couple of days on the Piankatank River. The water was calm and the wildlife was out and about. I was able to get a shot of the bald eagles that have been hunting our segment of the river for years. I’ve been breaking in the Sigma 100-400mm telephoto lens. I still have it attached to the trusty old Sony a6000 that’s been pulling it’s weight for the past 5 years now. Hard to believe it’s been that long. I still have much to learn about telephoto lenses, but it’s been a lot of fun. Happy Holidays to everyone. Stay safe and healthy out there…and keep those masks on! Cheers.

Shenandoah National Park – Black Rock Summit

October 18, 2020 –  It seems like the only normal thing in 2020 has been the autumn season. By late September, we had already experienced our fair share of chilly days in Virginia. This welcoming drop in the temperatures seemed to trigger the leaves to change color on time. Although tired from the busy work week, we needed to escape to the mountains, specifically to our backyard national park, Shenandoah National Park. We were going to take on what seemed to be a family favorite of late: the Black Rock Summit Trail. This easy 1.0 mile loop was where we took our son for his first hike, and now we were going to take our daughter there for her first hike.

We arrived at the park entrance to find a short line of cars. I think this was the first time I’ve ever had to wait in line to get into Shenandoah. It seemed like everyone wanted to escape quarantine madness and get outside. I don’t blame them. All along the way, people were pulling off at scenic outlooks to take photos of the fall foliage. The parking lot for Black Rock Summit was full when we arrived but we had no trouble finding parking on the side of the road. Our 3 year old son was able to hike the entire trail on his own this time which certainly helped! The paths on this trail are well marked and it is a short hike to get some amazing views, highly recommended if you have young kids in tow. 

 

Minh’s first hike in Shenandoah, Black Rock Summit. 3/31/2018
Our first hike up Black Rock Summit. Shenandoah National Park. 7/23/2016

Building a Canoe Paddle

From the moment he stepped foot in a canoe, my son has never been satisfied with just sitting and taking in the views….. He wanted to paddle! He was not even 2 years old and at the time there was not a paddle small enough for him. This was my chance to make him one. As with all projects, we both learned a lot and had a blast making it.

His first canoe trip.

Selecting the wood:

Traditionally, canoe paddles are made from hardwoods. The definition of a hardwood is a species of tree that will yield a seed that has a coating on it, either in the form of a fruit or a shell. (Oak, maple etc). Softwoods, yield seeds that do not have any particular coating. Example: many conifers. The terminology is sometimes misleading because there are some softwoods that are actually harder than hardwoods, but in general, hardwoods are usually indeed harder. These trees take much longer to grow to the equivalent size and as a result are usually denser.

For a project such as this, you will likely not find the board of wood that you need from Lowes or Home Depot. Your best bet is to go to your local lumber mill or wood working store. In this case, we were fortunate enough to find our wood from Woodcraft. If you haven’t spent much time in a lumbar yard, some of the terminology might be confusing. You will hear the term “board foot”. This is the unit for which wood is sold. IT is misleading because it is actually a unit of VOLUME not length. A board foot describes a piece of wood that is 1inch thick, by 12 inches wide, by 12 inches long. Hence 144 cubic inches. For our project, we used a 3′ x 1” x 4”  foot long piece of hard maple.

When you are selecting the wood, make sure that there aren’t any knots or wood defects in the areas that you will be using, ESPECIALLY in the shaft of the paddle. These knots can lead to weakness in the paddle and could eventually fracture down the road.

Equipment/Materials:

  • hand bench plane (I used a #4 Wood River plane)
  • spokeshave
  • jigsaw or bandsaw
  • sandpaper (120 and 220 grit)
  • woodburning pen (optional, if you want to add designs to the wood)
  • clamps
  • tack rag
  • spar varnish
  • woodstain (if you want to stain the wood)
  • linseed oil (optional)
  • orbital/hand sander
  • protective eyewear

Selecting the design:

When selecting the design of the paddle, keep in the mind where the paddle will be primarily used. Is it flat water? whitewater? tripping? leisure paddling? There are numerous types of canoe paddle designs to choose from. These mostly differ in the shape of the blade of the paddle. Different paddle shapes will move different amounts of water. I’ve always prefered the beaver shape paddle, it is not too wide and it is not too narrow.

The Woodworkers Journal: provided a template for one of their Northwoods canoe paddle. A beavertail shaped paddle. I didn’t use these exact dimensions because we are completing a scaled down version for my 2.5 year old son. But I was influenced by the overall shape. Notice how the design templates are for one half of the paddle, when you are finished tracing that half, flip it over and trace it again to create the complimentary side. This will allow for the most symmetrical template possible. If you’re going to making many paddles over the years, consider making this template out of wood for safe-keeping over the years.

Once the outline has been drawn on the paddle, use a bandsaw or a jigsaw to cut out the paddle. If you spend extra time making the cuts as precise as possible, this will save you time later with the hand carving, shaving and sanding. I used a Bosch jigsaw.

Here is the video of the northwoods canoe paddle making process.

2. Planing

The key point to make during the remainder of the carving process is to maintain symmetry through the axis as well as throughout thickness. Use a gauge to mark the very center of the board on it’s axis as well as its thickness. The line, will let you know how close you are to your desired thickness of the blade. You may decide to vary the wood thickness based on the type of wood as well.

When working on a project like this, I want to emphasize the importance of knowing your tools and how to maintain them and to keep them functioning at their very best. There is no better example than the bench hand plane. If your tool is properly sharpened, maintained and tuned, this part of the project can be the best part. If your plane is not set up correctly, this could lead to a very frustrating experience.

In addition to keeping your tools finely honed, it is crucial to take into account the wood’s grain direction. Ideally your board is free of knots, this will make for the easiest planing. If there are knots, just be cautious of the grain drain direction change in these areas which could leave to tear outs. One way to battle this is to take shallower cuts if necessary. There are numerous tutorials online about how to read grain direction on a board.

Here is a useful video on how to set up a hand plane.

The Handle

The handle is probably the most difficult part of the carving process. There are many different methods to tackle this portion. Some paddle companies will actually do this part all by a large drum sander. Others will use files to whittle away the handle. I prefer to use the spokeshave, although this can be a little, especially if you are making sharp turns. I sanded parts of the handle afterwards with a belt sander.

Watch this craftsman at Shaw and Tenney (an oar and paddle company based in Maine) shape most of the paddle using a large drum sander. Some people will say that this method is not truly “hand made”. Nevertheless, the precision is impressive.

Woodburning

This step is entirely optional; I really wanted to put a logo on our canoe paddle, with a maple leaf (representing our Canadian heritage) and an oak leaf to represent our currrent home, Virginia. Similar to the wannigan I constructed, the wood burning process is a very enjoyable part of the paddle making process. Now if you were a professional furniture or paddle maker, you could consider just getting an ironing brand. Who knows? Maybe one day we will start canoe paddle business. It certainly seems like there are quite a few out there. There is one paddle company in Minnesota named: “Sanborn Canoe Company” that appears to be doing well. They specialize in artisan paddles.

The finish:

There are different ways that you can finish your canoe paddle handle. While some people will varnish the entire paddle, others leave the handle unfinished. I opted for the latter. I left the handle unfinished and unvarnished. I later added 3 coats of boiled linseed oil on the handle. The decision to oil or varnish your handgrip is purely personal preference. I found that over long canoe trips, the feeling of a varnished hand grip can make your hand a little raw after thousands of strokes. Finishing with linseed oil, gives the handle a buttery smoothness, similar to an axe handle. Over the years of use, the grip will darken naturally.

Personal preference, but I left the handle, unstained and unvarnished. I used 3 coats of boiled linseed oil to give it a buttery smooth finish, that will feel much better in the hands. Over time, the wood will darken naturally from the oils on your hand as well as the elements.

In conclusion:

For the canoe enthusiast, I can’t think of a more rewarding experience than using a paddling that you’ve created. It is also a fantastic father son bonding experience. As with other projects, I always find that I learn so much from even the smallest of projects. In this case, the big take home point, is that maintenance of your tools and knowing how to calibrate and hone them is essential to getting a precision job done. The hand plane was a joy to use once sharpened and calibrated. This holds true for the spokeshaves as well. Obviously with any project, the use of a work bench with clamps to suspend your work also makes the task of carving your paddle infinitely easier. Have fun.

**This is the best canoe paddle carving I have found on the internet. It features Ted Moores (craftsman) and this video from the 1990s was produced in Ontario, Canada.**

Maiden voyage…..all smiles

Jockey’s Ridge State Park – Nagshead, North Carolina

In the middle of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, you would never expect to find the tallest active sand dune on the east coast. At Jockey’s Ridge State Park, you can explore these sand dunes and more. The park covers an area of 427 acres and is the most visited park in the North Carolina park system.

The temperatures can apparently be truly desert-like in the hot summer months. Reaching 110 degrees F and the sand can be up to 30 degrees hotter. Our visit was in late September so there was virtually no one when we arrived. For our son, this was the largest sandbox he’d ever seen and he was thrilled.

* Make sure to bring plenty of water on those hot days. Sunglasses help too even if it’s not sunny, especially on windy days