Lacing snowshoes is, if you haven't guessed, a passion of mine. I love the final step—varnishing. The shoes metamorphose from a chunk of wood and some lacing to a final product.
The trouble this time of year is finding a warm place to varnish. It was below zero when I got up yesterday, but the shoes were laced and the idea of them sitting around unfinished until it warmed up was anathema to me. So I went to work early and fired up the salamander heater in the workshop.
It's a messy process. You don't delicately brush varnish on the shoes, you sorta pound it in after warming the varnish until it's more like maple syrup than honey. That way it penetrates the lacing and seals them up good. Nylon wicks water and it can be a bummer if you don't get everything nicely soaked. So I spent a good fifteen minutes per shoe slathering spar varnish on the whole thing, picking up the drips and reapplying them.
The shop was really cool, still. It was 70 degrees plus at head level, 40 degrees at knee level, so I hung the shoes up high to take advantage of the heat from the salamander. After a second coat in the afternoon, I hung 'em up again and asked Scott if he'd turn the heat off when he left. They would slow cure overnight. At least that's what I told myself.
They were mostly dry this morning. They weren't tacky but they were still a little soft, and the drips here and there had sticky gooey centers. It's not about fine furniture, they're snowshoes, and drips and such don't bother me—they'll wear off in the abrasive snow, and I'll have to varnish them again someday anyway.
I learned a ton on these since they were the first pair I did by "feel" rather than by a pattern. There are certain guidelines and procedures that determine the structure of the pattern, no matter how many crossings you do—they always work, you just have to train your eye to see things that don't look quite right.
I recently read a book by John McPhee called "Irons in the Fire," about the Nevada State Brand Inspector, who could spot an altered brand from fifty yards in a pen of a hundred yearlings swirling a cyclone of beef on the hoof. Where McPhee could not even spot a brand, the Brand Inspector saw everything. While I can't compare lacing snowshoes to spotting a brand, there is a certain level of staring at something over a long period of time that creates the ability to see what others cannot. Whether it's a State Brand Inspector or a radiologist spotting a suspicious shadow on a mammogram, it's all a matter of time staring at something until it becomes second nature.