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Building a Birchbark Canoe over a few years time . . .

Discussion in 'Birchbarks, Dugouts and Primitive Craft' started by gmreeves, Aug 7, 2008.

  1. gmreeves

    gmreeves Curious about Wooden Canoes

    I am interested in buildig a birchbark canoe but am wondering how fast one must accumulate and use the materials while building. My parents have a cabin and some land in Ontario that I visit every year on an annual fishing trip. I was thinking it would be fun to try and gather materials over the next couple of years. And then, once everything has been gathered, try putting it together the following year. Is it possible to harvest the bark one year, gather roots the next, get the cedar the next, do as much preliminary work as possible, and then put it together? Or do you need to gather the materials and build the canoe as quickly as possible?
     
  2. beaver

    beaver Birchbark CanoeingBuilder

    It is possible to harvest the bark one year, gather the roots the next, get the cedar the next, do the preliminary work, & then build.
    Yes, this works very well.
     
  3. OP
    OP
    gmreeves

    gmreeves Curious about Wooden Canoes

    That's good news. I had been thinking about trying to build a wood strip canoe for a while and never really thought about a birchbark canoe until a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, I also returned home from my annual fishing trip only days before I stumbled on the idea. Now I have to wait for a whole year before getting started. Do you have any recommendations no what I should gather first or an order of how to preserve the roots, bark, planks before building?
     
  4. beaver

    beaver Birchbark CanoeingBuilder

    I would recommend gathering cedar and then split & shave all the pieces necessary to build a canoe. That will keep you busy for some time eh.

    By the way, how did you stumble on the idea to build a bark canoe? It is a world away from a wood strip.
     
  5. tostig

    tostig Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Gather the roots last so you don't have to worry about storing them.
     
  6. OP
    OP
    gmreeves

    gmreeves Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Well, recently I have gotten the bug to build everything I can think of. I play the mandolin, and thought "why don't I try and build a mandolin?" So far it is coming along but I don't have all of the necessary tools right now so it is on hold. I do a lot of fly fishing and already tie my own flies, so I thought "I should try and build a rod myself, why not bamboo?" I ordered my first bamboo last year on my 30th birthday which is Aug 15th. So far I have made 9 and counting. When I got back from Canada, I thought about how nice it would be to have a canoe to fish from and started researching the building process. I stumbled across this site and others with info on birchbark and here I am. I plan on building making another canoe before the birchbark but that is only because there isn't a whole lot of spruce and birch in Alabama. I figure it can be a long project during my trips to Canada over the next several years. The idea really intrigues me because I like to say I "grew up" in Canada because my parents have taken me every year since my birth to the same lake. I have done a lot of exploring around the area fishing, portaging, hiking, picking blueberries, etc. I think the idea of having an authentic birchbark canoe to paddle on the lake would be really special. To harvest all of the materials from the surrounding land and put them together to form a functional water craft to further explore really says something to me. I tend to over do things I am interested in and can tell this will be one of them. You may not here from me for a while. Probably closer to July when I star preparing for my next Canada trip. Then I will start asking about the cedar more in depth. Thanks for the info.
     
  7. Blue Viking

    Blue Viking Wooden Canoe Maniac

    Have you given some to the use and skill of using the "Crooked Knife"?that is the true secret to working with the cedar....Cedar will talk to you and tell you how to carve and shape it. FInd someone who has the skill of using one and I believe there lies the secret the native builders used and still do today...Check out Beavers site...there lies the whole story in the art of building one....NO....creating one! I am fortunate to have a friend here in Maine who has been teaching me how to "read the wood" and using the crooked knife.....Of course there is the easier softer way and just buy cedar and mill it....but then you have built one and didnt create it...Also, there is the art of gathering, splitting and using spruce roots...I would go to Beavers private message site and have him explain it all... I just got to paddle one 2 weeks ago....unlike any canoe I have ever been in.... In my humble opinion, it is a "living" object.

    "Its not how many strokes of the paddle it takes to get there, rather it is the Joy that is in the journey."...........Blue Viking
     
  8. OP
    OP
    gmreeves

    gmreeves Curious about Wooden Canoes

    I'm thinking about getting the knife and practicing on some cedar around here. I could get some and begin working with the knife and wood prior to actually putting the canoe together. I could also practice with other roots as well to learn how to harvest, debark, and split the roots into useable lashings. The build is a long way off but it is fresh in my mind.
     
  9. Kathryn Klos

    Kathryn Klos squirrel whisperer

    It's cool to witness a passion emerging... thanks for sharing what's been brewing in your mind... and please keep sharing!

    Kathy
     
  10. Blue Viking

    Blue Viking Wooden Canoe Maniac

    PS!.....If you go to moreairphotos.com ..a professional photographer in Millinockett Maine. and go to his photo gallery and click on "building a birchbark canoe" you will see photos of my friend Chuck Harris actually building one from felling a tree to paddling one...also on the homepage is a photo list of the ones that are available for sale...Like Beaver, he is a master craftsman in the art and skill of "creating" a birchbark canoe...not a nail, or tack, incorporated in it!
     
  11. OP
    OP
    gmreeves

    gmreeves Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Yeah. I've already checked out those photos. I'm what some people call OCD when it comes to new hobbies. I tend to put in a lot of internet time and reading on a subject and then dive in. I may be a little naive in my belief, but I feel if someone else can or has done it, then there is no reason that I can't. I realize that I may not be able to do it as well but with patience, practice, and time I should be able to do just about anything. We will see how it turns out in the end. If it is a failure, I can always put two grooves in it and call it a large ashtray.
     
  12. rakwetpaddle

    rakwetpaddle paddle dipper

    building a birchbark canoe

    I had that same dream since I was a very young lad. Three years ago I took 5 weeks and built my one and only. No easy task but well worth it. I kept a daily journal throughout the building process. The most grueling part was working the cedar down to sheathing (planks) with a drawknife. I never did master the crooked knife but used it alot. Most of the material that went into the canoe was already harvested, thus condensing the time in creation. I would be glad to share my journal with you if you wish. I will need address information to send a copy to you.
     
  13. Dave Wermuth

    Dave Wermuth Who hid my paddle?

    Hmmm

    Sounds like an article for the Journal.
     
  14. beaver

    beaver Birchbark CanoeingBuilder

    Ahh yes the MOCOTAUGAN (crooked knife).;)
     

    Attached Files:

  15. Blue Viking

    Blue Viking Wooden Canoe Maniac

    NICE ONE!.....Chuck's are wood or bone handles and he has adapted the design to fit his hand and wrist into a more relaxed postion for him...Love the way he splits the logs also...wooden wedge and a piece of fire wood!...LOL He follows the grain as he splits the wood into workable slices...great way to get the wood to cooperate! Post more pics...love to see them;)
     
  16. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

  17. beaver

    beaver Birchbark CanoeingBuilder

    Here is one of my favorite working knives; file blade, birch bark-on handle, simple, and very comfortable to use for many hours of shaving wood for canoes, snowshoes, and paddles.
     

    Attached Files:

  18. Blue Viking

    Blue Viking Wooden Canoe Maniac

    Design is almost identical to his...closed fist, palm up at a 45 degree angle the right for the right handed* person in the natural relaxed position of the wrist for HOURS of carving,shaving, and shaping! One of the most important things he showed me. Also taught me that cedar trees on the river edge that the roots have given way and that are in the water looking like dead trees are excellent wood to harvest...they do Not rot and are great to use. When I go back, will have him bring me to one of the largest standing cedar trees I have ever seen..both of us with arms wrapped around can NOT touch hands.:eek:
     
  19. beaver

    beaver Birchbark CanoeingBuilder

    High quality canoe cedar may be split very thin & then shaved to perfection:cool:
     

    Attached Files:

  20. OP
    OP
    gmreeves

    gmreeves Curious about Wooden Canoes

    You guys aren't helping my OCD. I wish I could get back to the great north woods before July but it just isn't going to happen. I guess I will have to build a stripper in the mean time to help take my mind off of the bark!
     

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