Collecting and Working the Materials

Posted on January 21, 2012



In the old days it was estimated that around one-third of the time it takes to build a birch bark canoe is spent in harvesting and processing the materials.

The ultimate canoe birch is a very rare item in this day and age. Many hours are spent in the forest to locate that perfect tree that will yield the quality bark necessary for canoe building.

The Ultimate Canoe Birch

Once it is located, the canoe builder waits till mid June or early July when the tree is willing to give up its bark. The birch is then cut down to make an easy job of it.

Peeling the Canoe Birch

The alternative to cutting the tree down is peeling using a ladder.


White Cedar, (the tree of Life) is the main wood used for ribs, sheathing, gunwales, head boards and stem pieces. Only the straight grain wood without knots may be used. The cedar is split out using axes and wedges, hewn with the axe to a smaller dimension and finally shaved with the Mocotaugan (crooked knife) to achieve the finished pieces.

Rough splitting the cedar in the woods

Many intimate hours are spent hewing with the axe and carving with the crooked knife to finish all the wood parts for the canoe.

Splitting out cedar gunwales using the axe and wooden wedges

Hewing cedar with the axe

Shaving cedar with the crooked knife

Buried in Shavings

Butternut Thwarts

Finished bundles of cedar ribs and sheathing

Roots from the spruce tree are collected from the swamps by rolling back the moss and pulling out roots from under the trees. After they have been split and peeled, they are used as the binding and sewing element for the bark canoe.

Spruce roots

Finished Roots

The final material to collect is pine or spruce pitch. It is scraped from a wound or gash in the bark by using a knife or axe. It is the sealing element that renders the seams and ends of the canoe water tight.

Spruce gum in the rough