Wood and Skin-More Snowshoes

As winter sets in, I'm finding myself working on more and more winter related projects. I just finished up a toboggan for someone. The last few posts have touched on snowshoes.  As I finish up a pair of custom made shoes, with rawhide (skin) I find myself thinking a lot about the world of snowshoes. This will be one of my first rants for the blog on the modern world of snowshoes and the effects of a loss of use (lifestyle) and modern marketing. 

A few months ago I gave a talk at a winter camping symposium titled " Using Traditional Gear in the Modern World" I began with a description of the things I had brought for visual display, wooden toboggan, wooden snowshoes, wooden skis and pole, and a wooden bowl and spoon. As I went on, I touched on the point that in not long ago, less than 100 years, folks needed these items for day to day use. They needed them to "survive", or "live" as I see it. Most folks knew how to make the items or they know who did and knew what quality was. They had to. Sometimes their very lives depended on the items holding up to hard use, in remote areas and in extreme weather. I then asked someone in the audience to come up and as I put my snowshoe across an open span of a step and the floor, asked them to try to break the snowshoe.  Well, things got interesting. My would be helper would not try to break my snowshoe. So I got up and tried....putting great force upon the shoe as it spanned the step with only it's tail and tip supported. It just bent.....didn't break. Because I make snowshoes I am also finding their limits....if they break I'll just make another pair. This is the trial and error the brought the snowshoe to it's state of refinement in the last century. I am reminded of a time when I helped a friend make a pair of snowshoes. He was from Califormia and a woodworker. He had never worked with White Ash. We milled up a few pieces of 3/4" square stock and were getting ready to steam. I got the idea to show him just how flexible ash is.....I proceeded to bend the 8' piece to an almost complete circle before it broke....and this was dry wood.  His eyes bulged out of his head. He now knew why ash was used for snowshoes. Ok, there is a point to all this.  If you know the materials you know what makes quality items that will last. Folks in the past knew good materials, because they had too.  Today we use these snowshoes for recreation and that's fine and all, but we don't depend on them as our ancestors did. We have forgotten what makes a good pair of snowshoes, let alone why we need a pair of well made shoes.  I have not even got into the weave of the shoe yet.....Now, present day...it's hard to find a wooden framed shoe. A few weeks ago I went down to the new local outdoor gear store. I asked if they would be interested in selling or displaying a pair or two of locally made snowshoes.....they would get back to me.....last week I was walking by and low and behold I spy a pair of "snowshoes" these are the aluminum framed plastic sheet filled riveted together shoes. Made 100% of industrial technology...metal....plastic.  The market of snowshoes has come to this.  I have to add that these shoes do serve a purpose. They were developed for mountaineering, climbing on pack. These types of shoes will not "float" you over the deep snows of winter. The traditional manufactured wooden shoes will to some degree, and the traditional native designed shoes will in most conditions. So today folks think that wooden shoes have no place, because nobody uses them?....its hard to find them for sale in shops, you have to go online for them. Most folks just don't care enough to find wooden shoes online do this....why? That's a whole other topic.  One another point folks have come to think that the wooden shoes will break, they are not as good.  Well I proved that wrong, good selection of wood makes strong and flexible snowshoes. Even in the manufactured wooden shoes today the wood selection is not that great. I can understand why. But, folks buy a wooden pair without knowing what good grain is and break there shoes. They then come to conclude that wooden shoes will break....no, bad wooden shoes will break....good ones will bend. Of coarse their are limits. I don't know if this all makes sense, this is the first try at trying to get to some of the things I think about while working on traditional snowshoes with nobody around to buy them.........or even use them. Let's learn what quality is again. Let's not let the marketing and manufacture process dictate to us what quality is.  I'm tired of writing. But this was good practice...I'll do it again sometime.
Learn something old.

bending the snow shoe!

newest pair

learning to weave patterns in 
jarrod6 Comments