Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Superior Barn Equipment.

At one time located in Fergus ON, Superior Barn Equipment was quite a manufacturer of Barn and shop goods. I came across their products while looking for a new stool for my workbench. I was looking for something like the Toledo Stool, but hopefully made in Canada. I cannot find to much info on the web regarding the company and its history. Perhaps some further digging and a later post in is order. You can tell that they were quite proud of the equipment, as looking at the stool, almost every single piece of metal or wood is stamped "The Superior Way". The stool has some great adjustable option (leg height and back) and fits a tall guy like myself perfect all while providing back support for those long evening at the bench doing some leather work. I was able to dig up a catalog from possibly 1915, it is from the Toronto Library. It has some great pictures and drawings. I am loving the "Made in Canada by Canadians" page from the Catalog, Its great to see that buying local was an issue back then as well. Also I found that the Wellington County Museum has a great archive of photos of their stools and chairs. They really are nice products, so please stay tuned for hopefully some more history of this company and its products. If you have any info you can provide shoot me a email or leave a comment.

Toronto Library Online "Superior Barn Equipment" Catalog.
Wellington County Photos. (scroll to bottom for pics)

My New Stool.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Field Trip: Blacklock Longboards.

What do you get when you mix a artist and graphic designer, who also owns and operates a tree farm, and has a love for longboards and skimboarding? You get Blacklock Longboards. Based in Norfolk County Ontario, Craftsman and Farmer Paul-Britman Rapai is into his third year of building longboards under the name Blacklock Longboards. Finding time to build during the Winter months while his 200 acre tree farm is resting. Paul starting building decks in 2005 as gifts for family and friends. Through 2006-2009 Paul laid the foundation for his reputation through word of mouth and selling to a few stores. Soon after Blacklock was started and production stepped up, as well as quality and design. 

Paul-Britman Rapai.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Paul and his property to hang out and to get a hands on tour of his shop and to see the process on how these decks are made. I arrived at their home earlier then expected and as I stepped out of my car I was greeted by Heather, Paul's partner in crime, Paul's Father, and the youngest Rapai; Heather and Paul's son Garyson. Paul was out in the field, marking trees to be sold in the coming weeks, and shortly came rolling up in his dusty pick up.

After a quick break and some introductions we were off to the shop to take a look at some of his completed decks and to see his set up. The shop is tucked in the back end of a large two level barn. The barn stores the typical tractors and other farm equipment as well as the stacks of wood for the longboards. The wood that Paul uses for the decks are felled and milled from his farm, as well as other locally sourced lumber. As we crack the door of the brightly lit shop, it had the unmistakably wonderful smell of cut lumber. I don't think one could ever tire of that smell, its so delightful. The shop is filled with grand work benches, and quite a array of power tools to help transform thin strips of wood into ride-able works of art. Laying across most of the workbenches were the finished glossy planks of pure handcrafted goodness. Paul showed me some of the new designs that he is debuting this year. The intricate "spotted" design is quite striking, using rich dark woods to speckle the light colour of the Ash base. As well, Paul has constructed new tapered stripped decks, some looking like backgammon boards and others looking like the Hot rod flames of the 50's. His third new design is the wicked "rustic" deck that uses wood that has gnarly knots and really nice unique "flaws" to it. While they are structurally sound these decks really possess that "backwoods" appeal to the rider looking for that.


We stepped out of the shop and back to their home to take a look at Blacklock's blank decks. Paul's Blanks are not just graphic-less decks that you might think with regular deck, they are finished decks that need there shape cut out. These are for people daring enough to design there own longboard. Picking "your" deck is no easy task when faced with the beautiful rich colours and grains of wood and the fact that the silkscreened logos are all unique colour-ways as well. It took me 15 min, but I thankfully narrowed it down to two, a cherry and walnut pin-stripe and a walnut and oak striped. I finality decided on the Walnut and oak blank. I am a huge walnut fan, and it was also a touch wider for my size 13 feet. From there it was back out to the shop to cut the boards shape out. We modded Blacklock's pintail design to a wider version, utilizing the full 9" of the decks width. Paul effortlessly whips the blank through the bandsaw cutting the board within millimetres of his original pencil line. The board feels good and the shape is balanced. The next step is sanding the edges smooth, bringing the edges right up to the pencil line. Paul starts up the belt sander and shows me that you need to keep rocking it to eliminate flat spots. As I work the deck back and forth the belt sander chews through the wood like a hot knife in butter. Just as I finish cleaning up the edges Heather and Grayson pop around the corner and call us for Dinner.

 After an amazing dinner (Thank you so much Heather!!) and some great conversation around their dining room table, Paul asked if I would like anything stamped into the deck. Again another touch of personalization offered by Paul. Each deck is stamped with a serial number and "Blacklock", but he will also stamp your name, nickname, or anything. I of course got "Damn Yak", and boy it looks sharp. I also asked Paul if he would be so kind as to throw his "John Hancock" on there for me. The last step for us in finishing up the deck is sanding out the wheel wells. Paul has made a one of a kind jig to hold the deck at and specific angle to lean into the spindle sander.  Its was pretty rad to see perfectly angled wheel wells sanded into the deck in about 30 seconds. As we peel the masking tape on the board back I grin ear to ear, the final deck is simply amazing. All I need to do at home is round and seal the edges and its good to go. With our work in the shop finished Paul takes me on a truck ride around the farm, showing me their pond and rows of trees. Quite the operation he has set up, Working the land in the summer and building with what he grows in the winter.

Raw decks that need sealing

Blacklock longboards are unique, and while there are other longboard makers in the world, how many of them have their hand in the entire process, from felling to final sanding. Blacklock boards are just as functional as they are eye-catching, Paul told me he's been up to 65km on his skate. Every deck is completely different, different grains and different stripes. Paul only makes so many a year, because as a proud craftsmen, quality over quantity stands true. I really dig the fact that you don't necessarily need grip tape on the board, allowing you to look down and see the beauty of your board with every push. With the skate seasons here in Ontario fast approaching, you might want to head over to Blacklock's website and scoop up your new summer ride. He just put up all of this seasons new designs and stock, and they do go quick. I just want to thank Paul and Heather for their hospitality and kindness during my visit. I was truly made to feel comfortable in their home and had such a great time during my visit. It really great to see such fresh, handmade, one of a kind products coming from Canada, let alone just a couple hours away from my home. If you have any questions about the boards or the process please contact Paul directly through Blacklock's website.

Laying masking tape to draw the shape on my new deck.
Modding the shape to accommodate the width.
Ready to cut out.
Paul ripping the board through the band-saw.
Sanding the edges square.
Sanding the wheel wells with custom jig.
All done, Tape comes off.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gone Buildin'.

This week I will be laying low, I might get to a "Enjoying The Outdoors" post for Friday. This week is packed to the tip. I am currently building a new work bench, and trying to get it done so I can move stuff around and get things settled before I leave for out East. Also I am traveling later this week to visit a craftsman/farmer to put together a fantastic story about him and what he does. So stay tuned folks and again any comments, questions, etc. shoot me an email or leave a comment.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Chippewa Ski Boots.

Last week I picked up these old Military Mountain Division ski boots made by Chippewa boots. Chippewa Shoe Mfg was started in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin in 1901. While their claim to fame was Logger boots they now produce a wide range of excellent footwear. I have been looking online for another pair of these as I am having trouble dating this pair. I don't think that they are super old, just well made. They came in the mail and reeked of shoe polish, which is good and bad. Good because it sealed them when ever someone threw them in the closest, however to "refurbish" them new oils will not reach the leather easily. First off I used some Naphtha to strip the wax of the polish, on the outside. Then a good boot oil to let it soak in and rehydrate, then to top it all off some Obenauf's Heavy Duty LP. The inside leather which is next to my socks etc, got treated with some Lexol, which is great for this kind of leather as its lanolin based and not waxy at all. They are not as good as new, but amazingly better than they were. The leather of the Kush-N-Kollar is perhaps to far gone, as the material inside the collar is brittle. The Vibram Depose Montagnabloc soles are like new on these puppies, all the lugs are pliable and unworn. They are glued, but also nailed on to the bottom of the boot, true craftsmanship here folks. The toes were made to fit into bindings, and there for pretty boxy. Since there was a couple chips from the binding, and I will not be using them as ski boots, I took a rasp and rounded the toe. Now they just look like great light hikers, built to last that is for sure. If you have any info on these please let me know, It would be greatly appreciated!


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Maple Sugar - Circa 1925.

Check out this public domain film from 1925, showing the process of turning sweet water into maple syrup. I love the yoke that they gentlemen are using, at first I thought it was a broken snowshoe over his head, but upon closer inspection its made similar, but clearly a yoke. It's a neat film as it show the back country way of manufacturing as well as a larger factory setting. I am really digging the concept of hanging a piece of raw pork over boiling anything to keep it from boiling over. I think tonight I am going to rig up a coat hanger with a wad of bacon to my overhead range for some protection. And FYI folks as the film says "All Canadian Maple products are genuine. The law forbids adulteration." Remember that!

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Field Test: Woolrich Declination.

Many good things from yesteryear still perform flawlessly in to our modern 2012's lifestyle. Canvas, leather and wool still fill the main part of my tripping kit and are only becoming more and more popular. Yes, we know there is lighter more waterproof fabrics available, but with the lighter is better mentality they are paper thin and are way less durable as the three I mention above. I was excited when asked to give Woolrich's new Declination Hoodie a shot at the outdoor experience.  Part of there newer "vintage inspired" collection, Woolrich has reaching back to the 70's and has brought back poly cotton as a outdoors fabric and some fantastic styling.

The Declination is an anorak shell, but they chose to use the term hoodie for some reason to describe it. The fit is great, not to baggy, not to tight. When wearing it for my test and during the pictures I have underneath a thick wool button up shirt and a base layer and there is still a bit of room to spare. My major concern with the hoodie is the lack of side access zipper. This would have been such a great add on to the jacket. The fact that fabric has no stretch, and due to the friction between the wool and cotton, getting it on and off that day was a bit of a struggle. Manageable, but if i was wearing this out somewhere "nice" I wouldn't want to be pulling shirt up over my head looking like I was just "jersied". The actual hood was big and roomy but could be snugged down if winds really picked up, as well the nice sized pockets when filled did not make the jacket seem tighter. I might also add that being at tall (6'5"), the declination sleeves were 100% acceptable, I was pleasantly surprised I could put my arms over my head and not have the cuffs at my elbows. and same goes with the overall length, the drop back made for reassurance that the small of my back staid covered while bending over.


As mentioned above that the Declination shell is poly cotton,  65% cotton, and 35% nylon to be exact. The shell is a light weight tight weave that really does block all the wind. While trying it out I was faced with 90km/h winds and snow, and the Declination broke all the wind and also kept the snow off my wool shirt. The lining of the hood is a nice Woolrich plaid cotton, which is super comfortable and soft. The plaid cotton does not just cover the hood but also extends over the bust and around the shoulders. The Talon brand zippers are a heavy duty metal, brass would have been nice as one would not have to worry about rust or any corrosion, alas they are not plastic which would throw the whole heritage vibe. A lot of the tabs on the Declination are made with oiled leather. When I saw pictures of the jacket before I received it, the leather looked raw. This concerned me as treating such small pieces of leather can be difficult as you might get waxy dressing onto canvas where it can stain. When I got the declination the first thing I noticed was that all the leather was in fact oiled. Nice touch Woolrich!  The anoraks front main pocket is lined with a nylon type satin and closes with a double velcro closure, snaps would be better and longer lasting for a area that will frequent open and closing. Behind the front pocket is a left and right hand pockets with zippers, which is perfect for the more valuable items you want to keep at hand and not worry about dropping. All in all the materials are good for its job, the poly cotton is a tough breathable fabric, the zippers are a known heavy duty brand, and the leather won't get brittle and crack prematurely.

When I gave thought as to the use for the Declination, I thought it would make a great campfire jacket, something to throw on after I set up camp and was just lazing around a fire at the end of the day. However, testing in such extreme winter conditions my feelings about the Declination has really changed tune. This jacket is an excellent windbreaker, and general use shell. Being out in the snow, back country skiing for 4 hours one could really appreciate the ease of breath-ability of the cotton, plus the front zipper is long enough to open up for even more ventilation if needed. If I was to be wearing a gortex shell or even a soft shell I know my back would be pretty gross with sweat, but because of the poly-cotton it was completely manageable.  All this "behind-the-scenes" ventilation happens while blocking out the cold gusts wind and blowing snow with ease. The huge front pouch and is big enough carry your favorite GORP,  a extra hat and gloves with some room to spare and have them all at the ready. One of the other pluses I notice and was quite thought out was the cuffs. They are snap closures, but they have a gusset, so when they are unsnapped, they are huge, perfect for pulling down your sweater that was pulled up while putting it on. Some of my other coats don't have wide cuffs and it can be very frustrating. Also I should note that while its does not really provide any water resistance, it could definitely fend off a small shower and in my case wicked snow, as it would dry fairly quick.

Skiing in snow storm 90 km/h winds.

The aftermath, but I was warm.
Retailing at $134 CAD at, the Declination is a solidly built "hoodie", although it is not made in the US, you can tell that Woolrich has strict standards about the quality of their garments and they want to remain true to their long history of durable outdoor goods. While skiing, I snagged it a couple times on some trees and nothing ripped, not even so much as a pulled thread. While it will be tagging along with me in the coming canoe season, I can't lie and say that I have not been enjoying the comfort and classic styling of the Declination while running around town in this transition period from Winter to Spring. Thanks Woolrich and to Michael at PME for the letting me give the Declination a run while out adventuring in the bush.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Damn Yak On Uncrate.

A good buddy sent me a email letting me know that my Damn Yak Axe Holster made it up on Super stoked! Thanks Uncrate, greatly appreciated! And again thanks for the heads up Matt.

Maple Syrup Season.

This time of year is one of many memories. I grew up on a 15 acre hobby farm in Rockwood, ON, My Dad and Mom were quite active in the "homesteading" lifestyle. We had livestock, a huge vegetable garden, our house was wood heated, and in the basement a huge cold cellar filled with preserved fruit, jams, potatoes and liters of maple syrup. Every year as the Winter was breaking my Dad would set the jumbo bathtub sized vat on some cinder blocks out to the side of our house. The cinder blocks provided just enough clearance for a fire to be built underneath. He then would gather the collection pails, and spigots for the sap from the wood shed. It was always a fun time riding in the tractor's trailer with all the pails as we tooted around the acreage tapping the trees. I remember for many years one buddy would come with us to collect sap, and it was always a laugh as my Dad would drive the tractor through low branches to try to clip us. Dodging the branches one of us would yell "Duck!" and the other one would scream "Where?" looking around for a flying duck. I was to young to probably appreciate the constant night and day fire feeding my Dad had to do to make the syrup, but I do remember always being outside and willing to grab the small pitcher kept beside the kettle and dipping it into the liquid deliciousness and enjoy a hot glass of maple syrup. My siblings and I would pass the pitcher around the fire sipping the smokey golden brown syrup, as my Dad poured more sap into the kettle.  In the end we would usually have in the cellar about 200L of syrup a season give or take.  So folks, take a look at your local Conservation areas website. They usually have some sort of maple syrup festival happening now and the coming weeks. Here is Halton Conservation schedule, they have a fantastic sugar bush, and shack to visit.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Snowshoes: Traditional, Modern, or Hybrid.

Hopefully, like me you've enjoyed some snowshoeing this season. If  your new to the sport and you are in the market for a new pair you have quite the decision ahead of you. There is so many options in the market today. There are specific snowshoes for different types of activities in the snow, different materials, and lots of different sizes and shapes. Within this post I am going to talk more about the different materials and types of snowshoes, be it traditional, modern, and or even new hybrid types. I will list some of the pros and cons to each, and hopefully help in some to way steer you in what your lifestyle might require.

Let me start by saying that buying a snowshoe that is manufactured in Canada or US is pretty easy, as there are plenty of them around. There is at least half a dozen big names for sure. I myself, have tried and will touch base on four types available today. They are traditional wood and rawhide, Aluminium tube and vinyl decking, the all plastic type, and a ski snowshoe hybrid. All of them can be easily purchased to fit the users weight and function.

The first pair of snowshoes I got were made of bent wood and rawhide. They were made in Canada and they work great( I still have them). They are classically styled, are definitely time tested and durable. However one major downside for some people is maintenance. Every year you have to give them some love by applying Spar varnish to stop the rawhide from absorbing water. While some people enjoy the extra "hands on effort" to be a part of their equipment, some people just want a pair they can pick-up and go. These snowshoes typically use old style harness' that in my experience function beautifully. There are two basic harnesses for these snowshoes, the first is a thick rubber slip on harness that makes it quick to put on or take off. The other is a strap and buckle style harness that cinches down tight. The major downfall in the performance of wood/rawhide snowshoes as opposed to modern ones is the lack of cramp-ons in their construction. Without our spiky friends, they can make navigating some hills and snow conditions difficult and very slippery.

The other popular and more affordable are the Tubular aluminum and vinyl decking type. I use the term "affordable" loosely, as these come in a huge range from very cheap to big time expensive. Most rental places I have seen use these, as they are durable and provide newbies with ease of use. They have built in cramp-ons to help in icy conditions and scramble up hills. They also usually use a "clicky" binding system similar to downhill ski boots. I am not a huge fan of this type of snowshoe, as I find the bindings tend to break quite easy, or hard to adjust with gloves on. I also tend to find that these snowshoes can be too light. I like having the extra weight on my feet, it makes me aware that something is attached to me and I need to pay attention to my footing when traversing obstacles. These aluminum snowshoes also tend to have an extreme or should I say Xtreme!!! technical / futuristic look to them, with bright flashy colours and patterned nylon straps criss-crossing every which way around your foot.  They are easy to use for beginners, with their narrow widths, making walking more natural for the first timers. This type of snowshoes fill up about 70%-80% of what is on the market today, as you can buy them from Wally World to high end outfitters.

Another type of snowshoe is the all-plastic models. Made from a solid plastic deck that is a composite that does not get brittle in the cold, and resists UV light. They have cramp-ons just like the aluminum ones, but also have toothed rails running the length of the snowshoe. They provide to be the best traction on any snow or ice. They usually have a binding system similar to the aluminum style mentioned above. My wife and I use MSR Denali Classics. We have had the best luck with these shoes. They use a cinch system to attach to your feet, and have had no problem with the compound of the straps and have had no breakages. They are very adjustable and the same snowshoe fits my Wife's size 8 to my size 12 with no problem. These MSR snowshoes have a customizable tail system that use of different lengths of tails on the end of the main snowshoe to add more or less flotation to them depending on your weight. With the tails off it makes a great general winter hiking add-on for icy conditions. All plastic snowshoes are very light and easily to strap to a pack while hiking in, and some can even be "broken down"a bit to put inside a pack if needed.  The only downside of the all-plastic snowshoes is the noise, as they are loud. The bottoms crunch and bang on ice and rocks, as swell they scrape on trees, possibly startling any wildlife in the area away. While durable, they make a bloody racket!

Lastly, there is the hybrid, products like Marquette Backcountry Ski. I was recently asked to put them through their paces against the typical snowshoes that I have been talking about above. These skis, that are made in Marquette, MI. are marketed as "70% ski, 30% snowshoe, 100% fun". These are a new item to the back country ski and snowshoe world, and are a viable option for winter activities. They are made of 100% recyclable material, and can be set up with numerous different binding systems depending how aggressive you want to take your ski/snowshoeing. They lack a metal edge, but come fairly sharp out of the box. Re-edging can be done with a razor and smoothed with a torch if need be. The manufacturers suggestion for maximum control is a hard plastic telemark boot and tele binding. I used what I had lying around, and in the end my set up was some lighter weight NNN bindings and my Alpina XC touring boots.

As a tester I want to be able to actually put the items in question through the ropes to see if they are everything that we are told, and I was fortunate enough to be able to try these new skis in some pretty extreme conditions. This past weekend I was in the Bala, Ontario and on the ground was over 30" of snow. When my brother in law and I left the camp for a 3 hour ski, up hills, through bush, along trails, and down some slopes we were amazing at how well they held me up on the snow. In the 30" deep snow I was sinking perhaps about 7".  I followed Andy and his metal edged backcountry ski's fairly close with decent speed in the damp snow . You could definitely tell there was excessive friction, but it was completely expected as the width is almost double the normal backcountry ski. As we made our way up some decent ascends, that is one place that this hybrid greatly flourished. I could whip up the hills with ease usually in a light jog, the fish scales grip amazingly well in the deep snow, and the couple times there was slippage, waiting a second for the scales to bite cured that right quick.  Once on top of the hills this is where the Marquettes take their place. Take a look, pick a line, and give yourself a nudge, and down you go. While the snow was very damp and sticky, the skis had no problem knocking me on my ass, as they slipped out from under me the first few runs. Due to the lack of control from the NNN system for downhill skiing (soft boots and all), the ski style best used is straight, fast and as little obstacles in front as possible. The ski's length of 140cm however made for some easy maneuvering while in the thick of the bush. It also made for easy get ups after a spill, as I didn't have to swing full length skis around to parallel to stand up. I did have difficulty using the edge of the skis to climb a packed icy hill that was maybe 6 feet tall, but again I think it was due to the boot binding set up and lack of rigidity. It took me about 5 min to get up this hill and I did wear the part of the edge down quite a bit doing so, and will have to be repaired at a later date.

I found that with these skis, I kept treating them as snowshoes. Rather than kick and sliding, I was tromping. Maybe I was doing it wrong, but it seemed to work just fine as the length and width makes this easily doable. It worked so well that I feel they should really consider changing their percentages to possibly 50% ski / 50% snowshoe. Chatting with Andy as we progressed along the trail and myself caring a 20lb pack, we could really see taking these into the deep backcountry and on weekend winter camping trips. Too big and bulky for the "slopes", but take them into some deep snowy forests and your golden. The plastic is tough and the hardware simple, two components that one needs to trust.  After a weekend of putting these skis to the test, I have a couple of tips for anyone considering purchasing a pair for themselves.

1. I would recommend them as snowshoes. Snowshoes with the bonus of a lot more fun getting to the bottom of the hill
2. Get telemark bindings, used ones if you have to. This will help if you want to take the descends serious and have decent turning control. My toes killed the next day from being torqued back and forth from the soft toe boots.

Snowshoeing has a long and loved history in North America, it's great to see innovative new ideas like MBS hitting the market. Whether you stick with standard snowshoes, or try something fresh and exciting like Marquette Backcountry Skis, rest assured that either way your going to have a blast. I realize I could keep going on about the small details of each, but if you have any questions about any of the snowshoe styles please let me know and I would be glad to assist.

Tips over the edge. One of my first runs.


The skis thickness, hollow but sturdy.

Climbing, Actually steeper than it looks!

Super wide keeps this guy afloat.

Jogging across terrain.

This is the nasty hill that took me 5 min to climb, and shredded the edge of my ski.

Trying to start my line down a 50 year old ski hill.

Too much flexibility in the boots can make this ski perform poorly for more then straight runs.

A great purchase for those seeking deep woods adventure.