It was a big day today. We write that a lot, mostly because every day we see just how much progress is being made. It’s been an amazing journey watching the canoe take form after having harvested the materials so long ago.
But today was an especially big day. The canoe is finished. In fact, there were quite a few finishing touches that were made over the course of another long day in the woodshop. The day began by putting the topwales in place and ended with the cooking and eventual application of the pitch to the various seams. In between, a 3-D Design class came by to check out the canoe.
The topwales, or agowaatig, are made of red cedar and are held in place by wooden pegs. The agowaatig protect the root lashings from damage while paddling. Each piece of red cedar is placed upon the gunwales to protect the root lashings and are then bent to fit the form of the canoe. The cedar has been soaking for several weeks in a local lake and is then steamed and heated with boiling water to make the wood more pliable. With the agowaatig in place, Wayne lashed them down using roots and then drove wooden pegs through the agowaatig to secure them. That rootwork was the last of the rootwork on this canoe. Everything securely in place, the pegs were trimmed and made flush with the agowaatig. At this point, it’s just the pitch that needs to be applied.
The pitch, as we explained yesterday in Fine-tuning ribs, preparing pitch, begins as a solid, raw pine pitch. After preparation, it results in a thick, black liquid. That thick, black liquid is then mixed with oak ash and animal fat, known as bimide, to create a pitch that will seal the canoe. It’s important to get the right mix of oak ash and bimide to ensure that the canoe can withstand the heat of a Wisconsin summer and not begin to melt, but also the cold of a Wisconsin winter and not begin to crack. Before applying the finished pitch to the canoe, Wayne tested each batch.
The pitch, with a slightly sweet smell, is warmed so that it can be spread across the different seams. Wayne applied the pitch with a cedar spatula called bigiw-jichigan. Between each application, Wayne smoothed the pitch across the seams using his thumb.
And with that, the canoe is ready for launch on Thursday at 3:00 pm in Lake Mendota at the future site of the UW Alumni Park beside the Memorial Union. See you all then!