« The Day The Earth Stood Still in Clintonia? | Main | One Belt, One Road (FB Ali) »

01 July 2016


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Mouth watering, but I have to Finish building my aircraft before I take on another project, besides, my Vertue class yacht is feeling unloved at the moment. I want to build something like a drascombe lugger to sail/motor on our lake and provide opportunities for camping adventures.


An almost lost art--true craftsmanship. Count me jealously impressed.

John Minnerath

One thing I do miss in Wyoming is an ocean nearby. The few close lakes are brutally cold. I've done some canoeing on high mountain lakes, but with soulless aluminum craft.

Babak Makkinejad


I am struck by your admiration for hand-crafted skiffs. I find it puzzling, just as I find the Cult of the Horse so puzzling.

There are better materials available today than wood and better construction methods to build skiffs or many other things nautical.

Likewise, the horse - like the donkey & camel & dog - has outlived its utility.

What is the source of this love of anachronism?

Do you know?

John Minnerath

Read The Survival of the Bark Canoe by John McPhee to begin to get the idea.

The Twisted Genius


"What is the source of this love of anachronism?"

This love is more widespread than you may realize. I think a lot can be attributed to one's experiences in youth. I grew up in New England surrounded by the northern forests. I lived in an old post and beam constructed house and played in a barn of similar construction. I studied and admired the old methods of mortised chestnut beams and oak trunnels. I've worked with wood ever since I had my first pocket knife. I recommend the writings of Eric Sloane for a better understanding of this love for anachronistic things. Here's a passage from his "Reverence for Wood."

"Gentle to the touch, exquisite to contemplate, tractable in creative hands, stronger by weight that iron, wood was, as William Penn had said, ‘a substance with a soul.’ It spanned rivers for man; it built his home and heated it in the winter; man walked on wood, slept in it, sat on wooden chairs at wooden tables, drank and ate the fruits of trees from wooden cups and dishes. From cradle of wood to coffin of wood, the life of man was encircled by it."

"One of the remarkable things about wood is its self-expression. Whether as the handle of a tool, as a dead stump, or alive in a forest where every branch is a record of the winds that blew, it is always telling something about itself. This is why man has an affinity with wood not only as a mere material, but also as a kindred spirit to live with and to know."

It may be presumptuous of me, but John Minnerath understands this when he talks of canoeing in a soulless aluminum craft. The tinny sound of water on aluminum, or worse, a paddle clanging on aluminum is a real turn off. The dull aluminum is hot to the touch in the Summer and cold to the touch in Fall. A cypress and fir skiff, on the other hand, is warm or cool to the touch. The sounds produced by a wood craft are melodical. If I was given the choice of owning one of those loud, fast and shiny top of the line personal watercraft or one of those Wright skiffs, I would take the skiff in a heartbeat.

This love for anachronism extends far beyond wooden boats and old barns. Just ask anyone who has refurbished an antique car or owns a 66 Pontiac GTO. I hope this gives you a hint of what makes us lovers of traditional old things tick.


I always felt "The Grey Seas Under" by Mowat regarding the Salvage Tug Foundation Franklin was his best book. If not already read give it a try but only on rainy day, you will know why when done.

John Minnerath

First book of Mowat's I ever read. Must have been 1956, I was about 13.
Never forgot it.


I will answer off the top of my head for horse, camel, donkey folk. Handling livestock is personal, intimate and on some level it is spiritual. It is life, need, and personality engaging with those same aspects in the animal. It sometimes makes me think of or feels like call and response singing. Performance is based on your own skill and ability to observe, learn, respond, and cooperate. It is the very stuff of life. You never know everything and you learn something important with each engagement. It is a relationship that is full or wonder and miracles. I suppose it is love and love cannot be explained or defined.

I cannot imagine a machine having a sense of humor and making me laugh nor making a tremendous effort to please me nor having a care to avoid harming me.

I doubt this explains the attraction to animals and certainly doesn't explain the willingness to invest significant time and effort into getting the desired performance from one's self and the animal.

Perhaps it is nothing more than left over primitive instinct.


I wish I could collect my thoughts and write as well as you. Then, perhaps, I could come closer to explaining to Babak the attraction to working with animals and the attraction to the old barns and houses of Appalachia built from trees harvested from the land and with the skill of hands that was so common among older generations. Not least in the attraction is the simple and lasting beauty of the structure.

The Twisted Genius

You're doing fine, Jill.

Babak Makkinejad


It must be that we/I lived in mud-brick houses only the roof beams and the doors were made of wood and sat on beaten earth floors covered with hand-made rugs.

Thank you all I will look into the books that you recommended.


What is the source of this love of anachronism?


Wondering what Makkinejadistan would be like - esp. how the utility criterion would be applied to H.sap.sap.?

Babak Makkinejad

"Makkinejad-istan"would be devoting herself to the construction of interstellar spaceships rather than medieval hobbies.

It is the difference between that Fox-Hunting man, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilbur & Orville Wright.


sounds good. nature was not mingy with that beauty stuff. be sure to post selfies once it's off the ground.


P.S. thank you for the first laugh of the day.


Actually, wood has unique properties not found in any other material.

Take a simple wooden pram vs. Fiberglass or aluminum.
A wooden pram is warmer than either on a cold day, cooler than either on a hot day, and if you drop something in the boat, much quieter.

Wood flexes in a manner other material's don't match.

In canoeing for example, a wood and canvas canoe can often strike a rock with out damage, ( the wood and canvas flexes) while a metal canoe dents, and a fiberglass canoe cracks. My 1908 Chestnut canoe is in perfect shape, where the 1980's Royalex ( plastic) canoe I inherited from my Dad, is hogged and misshapen, as heat and desert dirt roads has taken it's toll over the years.

In a rather interesting study, it was found that "exceptional" violin's, are partially exceptional by having a long history of being played by exceptional violinist's. The stresses of being played to "extremes" over hundreds of years, causes compression and vibrational forces to actually change the shape of the wood fibers.


There is a "feeling" you get in a wooden boat that just doesn't exist in any other boat, it's a feeling that the boat is shifting, changing and adapting to no only you, and your "style" of paddling, rowing or sailing, but that the boat is also shifting and changing because of the wind and waves.



"This documentary shows how a canoe is built the old way. César Newashish, a 67-year-old Attikamek of the Manawan Reserve north of Montreal, uses only birchbark, cedar splints, spruce roots and gum. Building a canoe solely from the materials that the forest provides may become a lost art, even among the Native peoples whose traditional craft it is. The film is without commentary but text frames appear on the screen in Cree, French and English."

Ray Mere's "Bushcraft" Birchbark canoe episode:


Mark Logan

"Ahh...wood! If it did not already exist we would have to struggle to invent it, and it would be a daunting task indeed!"

A comment from a master I-14 builder and all around expert in composites, including much experience at Boeing in Everett WA which was made in my hearing. To this day the older spruce/cedar skinned I-14's are sort of competitive, and a hell of a lot more pleasant to build. There is no matching the weight of Kevlar skinned racing canoes and rowing shells, the things are too long and thin, but whenever the structure allows for a bit of "box"...

William R. Cumming

Recommend John McPhee's CANOE about the last American builder of birch bark canoes.

The Twisted Genius


That film on the Newashhish canoe was excellent. I'm so familiar with César's beat up and stained fingers. Makes me want to start a project tonight. It's amazing what he can do with an axe, a pocket knife and a crooked knife. I think I'll try to get myself one of those. Seems like the most modern tool he has is a brace and bit. I remember chewing spruce gum as a youngster. You would tire of chewing it long before the flavor would go away. It also reminded me of the pine tar I would use to impregnate the bottom of my cross country skis. I would burn it in with my little Svea white gas stove. Thanks for those links.


Welcome, when I was younger, I had the opportunity of taking many canoeing courses from Bill Mason, and some of those courses involved multi day trips.

Ray Mear's Bushcraft series was on TV at the same time as Les Stroud's Survivorman, and Bear Grills's Man vs. Wild.

One week, just by coincidence, all the shows featured Alaska.

Survivorman faked a kayak accident, built a driftwood shelter that required a constant fire to keep warm, unsucessfully tried to find shellfish, crab and handline, wound up fighting a bald eagle for the carcass of a halibut, which was inedible as food and didn't work as bait.

Man vs. Wild showed how to cross the alpine safely, with the best of modern gear, but took a helecopter back to the hotel because it just wasn't safe at night.

Bushcraft, with nothing more than a knike, hatchet and crook knife, showed how to make wedges and split cedar planks, then build a lapped and dowelled traditional native small house, wove a cedar basket, gathered a spring mix/ seaweed/huckleberry salad, then carved a traditional salmon spear and lure, showed how you used the spear to push the lure to the bottom, and how it would whirl and flash on it's float to the surface, speared a coho, then cooked it on a cedar plank in front of the fire while drinking labrador tea.

Babak Makkinejad

But surely not all woods have these nice properties to which you allude?

Per chance, only dense, old-growth, fir, spruce, mahogany and teak?

Babak Makkinejad

Can they be used in space?

For example, if the wood is carbonized when irradiated in the space environment, would not those very thin layers of carbonized matter offer protection from radiation?

The Twisted Genius


You left out the oaks, maples, hickories, and scores more. Each has its unique properties, its weaknesses and strengths. As a youngster, I would make a long bow out of hornbeam (we called it ironwood) while chewing spruce gum and sipping sassafras root tea. Lignum vitae is used to make shaft bearings in ships, including the USS Nautilus. You're right about old growth wood. A modern pine 2x4 cannot compare with the old fir 2x4s I've found in my 50 year old house in New York. You almost have to pre-drill holes for nails and definitely have to pre-drill screw holes.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Blog powered by Typepad