birch bark canoes

In 1996 I took my lathe to demonstrate turning as part of the Mary Rose Trust stand at Bristol Festival of the Sea. My lasting memory of the weekend was not the tall ships, wonderful though they were. I stayed with fellow green woodworker Gudrun Lietz and one evening watched a video called Cesar’s bark canoe, it was the most fantastic woodworking film I had ever seen, truly inspirational and if you have not seen it before I urge you to make some time this weekend because it is available online for free here.
57 minutes of the most wonderful woodworking, simple tools, beautiful design, tradition handed down through the generations to make a wonderful craft straight from the forest.

And to whet your appetite here are some finished canoes. This one was recently finished by Jarrod Stonedahl a talented woodworker in northern  Wisconsin.

And another from Henri Vailancourt, there is a nice piece on Henri in green woodworking by Drew Langsner. It was reading about Henri years ago and his Trust for Native American Cultures and Crafts that first started me thinking that we should have an organisation for our traditional crafts.

Birch bark canoes for me are one of the pinnacles of the world of greenwoodworking. If you watch the video of Cesar Newashish you will see what I mean. Look out for the crooked knife or mocotaugan, back in 1996 I went straight home, ordered the video and before it arrived I had forged some crook knives out of old car springs. I then adapted the design slightly and still use one of the first I made for finishing the bottom of every bowl I make.

4 Responses to birch bark canoes

  1. Brian September 24, 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    Another great video.Its in my favorites already cheers :)Brian(:

  2. Alfred September 24, 2010 at 9:27 pm #

    I was similarly impressed by the craftsmanship, knowledge of materials, and ingenuity on display in 'Earl's canoe'. In fact, there seem to be several documentaries on this topic:

  3. Robin Wood September 25, 2010 at 8:17 am #

    Yes there are quite a few films out there Alfred, I like Cesar partly because it was filmed 20 years before all the others and is probably the inspiration of many. Partly I like it because of the way it is filmed, no need for text or commentary, just watching patiently as he goes about the job. And partly I like it because I get a feeling that it is still connected to a living tradition of making the things for use. 20 years later canoes were sold for many thousands of dollars and so making them was somehow different.

  4. Tom Cookson September 26, 2010 at 2:55 pm #

    you should check out ray mears canoe on youtube heres the link