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Birch Bark Canoe Restoration

Discussion in 'Birchbarks, Dugouts and Primitive Craft' started by Gary, Jul 21, 2020.

  1. Gary

    Gary Canoe Grampa

    As promised I am providing the first update on the restoration of a birch bark canoe I acquired through a posting on this site, see

    This was a canoe which had been originally hanging in the dining hall at Camp Norway, on Fairlee Lake in Vermont see picture. When the camp closed in 1988 it was taken down and stored by the former owner of the camp who then last year decided it should go to someone who'd restore it, I volunteered. All I know of its builder was that it was built in the 1950's in Manawan Quebec.

    After closer examination of this canoe I'm led to believe that it was never built to be paddled but as a show piece for the camp. The gunwales and rail cap were nailed together, which in itself was not that uncommon, but as you can see from the picture below, only the nails which protruded to the outside of the canoe were bent over. I'm not sure a canoe built to be paddled by children would have had these nails sticking out on the inside of the canoe? In addition, the gores were never stitched but just covered with pitch for show on the outside and would not have stood up to the action a canoe receives once on the water.

    It is however, a beautiful canoe, built with one piece of bark complete from bow to stern. The obvious repairs are the bow broken off, and the stern splits in the bark and one large split amidships right across the width of the canoe. In addition, it had no thwarts so over time the canoe has lost its shape and is quite splayed out.

    I have re-attached the bow, and spliced in bark to reinforce the other splits in the original bark. All birch bark, roots for stitching, and birch log for thwarts have been harvested here locally for the repairs. I have made new gunwales and rail caps as the old ones were dried out and had the ends broken off. Next up is the stitching, lots of it. I will re-use the original ribs and planking with some steam bending to the new shape of the canoe. I'll post some pictures as I get them.

    Cheers, Gary

    Attached Files:

    Benson Gray likes this.
  2. Andy Hutyera

    Andy Hutyera The Red Canoe Guy

    Looks like a great project. Keep us posted.
  3. OP

    Gary Canoe Grampa

    So I've been busy stitching with the root gathered, peeled, and split. The bow once broken off has been reattached. The splits in the stern and amidships have been repaired and 20 gores are now stitched together. I used a double thickness of the bark I harvested inside the canoe to reinforce these areas being stitched. Everything will be caulked (sorry not gummed) before I re-assemble the canoe which is still a ways away yet. I also used a split root as a spline stitched in to protect the edges of the bark in the big split

    Next up is making new stems as the old ones are too dried out to re-use. I have also began splitting the birch log which will provide the necessary material to make the thwarts and seats. Yes I am putting seats in it as my knees no longer allow me to kneel, sorry you purists out there.

    Attached Files:

    Dave Wermuth and Andy Hutyera like this.

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