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These Canoes Carry Culture Project 2013-

scene of Wayne speaking to class in woodshop


Wayne with his canoe, navigation bar for construction process

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This canoe is not a historical reenactment. Rather, it represents the state of the art for Ojibwe canoe building in the year 2013. Read here for a step-by-step overview of the construction process, with videos of stages. In the North, East, South, and West quadrants of the Medicine Wheel, you can read about the harvesting and preparation of the giizhik (white cedar), wiigwaas (birch), waatabiig (spruce roots), and bigiw (pine pitch) used in the canoe. Here you can read about the overall construction of the canoe, focusing on the creation of its gunwales, the forming and sewing of its Wayne with his canoe, navigation bar for construction processbark shell, the creation of its thwarts, the lashing of its gunwales and ends with spruce roots, the shaping and installation of its ribs, the lining of its inner surface with pliable cedar sheathing, and its final waterproofing with pine pitch.

The presentation below groups the steps around each of the above-mentioned components, so it is not strictly speaking chronological. It matches the way that Wayne Valliere tends to describe the processes and work involved in making a birchbark canoe. If you would prefer to view the process in a simple (but potentially more confusing) chronology, Click HERE. This will reformat the page with all the steps in strictly chronological order. If you are serious about understanding the construction process, you may want to consult these pages in both forms.

Shaping the Gunwales


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gunwales bark thwarts ribs paddles lashing sheathing pitching


gunwale pieces tied to blocks to sink in lake

Long lengths of red cedar were purchased from a mill in the Pacific Northwest to serve as the bimikwaanaatigoon (gunwales). Each side of the canoe has three pieces that make up the gunwale assembly: an inner upright piece that runs along the inner top of the canoe (the "inwale"), an outer upright piece that runs along the outside top rim of the canoe (the "outwale"), and a top cap piece (the "topwale") that fits over the top and binds the other two pieces together, sandwiching the birchbark and lashing snuggly inside.

Wayne looking happy with all the side stitching completed

Inwales and outwales installed. (TD)

outwale piece showing dramatic upward sweep

The Lac du Flambeau canoe style features a longer outwale piece that sweeps upward at the prow and stern, giving the canoe a distinctive profile.

The cedar lengths to be used for the gunwales were partly shaped, tied together, and fastened to bricks to be sunk in a lake near Wayne's house for a month. A thicker piece of pine was included in the bundle to help support the cedar pieces and keep them from bearing the full weight of the bricks. The soaking made them sufficiently pliable to be bent into the shape of the top of the canoe. (TD)

The pieces of cedar for the gunwales being lowered into lake

The cedar pieces, pine length, and bricks are ready to be sunk into lake, late July 2013. (TD)


gunwale pieces are retrieved from lake

A month later, the gunwales are retrieved from the lake. Late August, 2013. (TD)

carrying the soaked gunwale pieces back to Wayne's house

The soaked pieces are now richly colored and very pliable, but there is always the chance that they will crack, and so great care must be taken when handling them. The piece of pine helps support the pieces druing transport back to Wayne's garage. (TD)

Slime accumulated on the pieces is hosed off

Lake slime removed so that the pieces are easier to grip. (TD)

plywood form and gunwale pieces on work table

A plywood form is secured to the work table with screws. The form is in two halves. Along its outer edges Wayne has made marks to designate where the braces and thwarts should be placed. The use of a table and of a plywood form is an innovation that Wayne and his brother Leon have made to the traditional method of building birchbark canoes by anchoring pieces in a bed of sand. See the TRADITION page for historical films that document past methods. (TD)

temporary thwarts and blocks form basis for fitting inwales in proper height and shape

Blocks and temporary thwarts permit the inwales to be placed at the height and in the shape they will eventually assume in the finished canoe. (TD)

securing temporary thwarts with string

The gunwale pieces are tied to the temporary thwarts and braces with synthetic twine. (TD)

stern manboard is equipped with slots for gunwale pieces

The cedar manboards (inini-bagoog) have slots on each side where the gunwale pieces will be fit. (These slots make the manboard appear to have a head and shoulders, hence the name.) (TD)

carving out slot with proper depth and angle

The slots must be cut so that they will exactly accomodate the inwale pieces in terms of height, width, and angle. (TD)

gunwale piece being fit into place at stern manboard

The gunwale piece is carefully fit into the manboard and tied in place. Wayne uses plywood to form the prow and stern piece. You can view the elaborate tradition for forming this nose piece in the archival films featured in the TRADITION page of this website. (TD)

the stern manboard and gunwale pieces tied into place and left to dry

The manboard and gunwales, now carefully fit into place, are tied and left to dry (TD)

Manboard and gunwale pieces complete on one end

Gunwale pieces completed on one end (TD)

checking height of gunwale pieces

Checking the height of pieces. By working on a table, Wayne can achieve a high degree of symmetry and straightness in the finished canoe. (TD)

gunwale pieces completed and left to dry with braces to help ensure even shape

Once both ends are fitted and tied in place, additional reinforcing braces are added alongside the plywood form to support the inwales at a proper height and curvature as they dry. The braces are secured to the work table with screws. A single screw anchors the inwale pieces to the braces. Temporary thwart pieces are tied in the five spots where permanent thwarts will eventually be placed, ensuring the correct width and shape of the canoe. Strings running above the temporary thwarts tie together opposite braces and reduce the chance that the braces will splay out under the pressure of the drying gunwale pieces. The assembly must be secure and stable so that the gunwales can dry in the ideal shape. WATCH HERE

The process had to be repeated in the woodshop in Madison, where it was important to ensure that the pieces remained in their proper shape and height. Securing the manboards again. WATCH HERE

Securing the gunwales with screws.

cutting mortice in gunwale for permanent thwart

Wayne carefully cuts out mortices in the gunwales that will be used to anchor the tenons of the permanent thwarts when these are installed toward the end of the building process. (CC)

heating and wetting the gunwales pieces

A combination of heat and moisture helps ensure that the gunwale pieces do not crack as they are bent into shape. (CC)

gunwales in place in woodshop, drying

The inwales and manboards back in place, with temporary thwarts inserted.

With this work completed, Wayne could move on to the next stage, which was the forming of the bark bottom and sides of the canoe. All of the supports were taken off the table, the manboards, inwales and temporary thwarts carefully set aside, and the plywood form removed. Once the bark for the bottom and lower sides had been positioned on the table, the form, supports, manboards, inwales and thwarts were restored, as you can see below in the section on Bark. Once the side panels of bark were added, trimmed, and sewn together, Wayne could return to the gunwale work by adding the longer outwale pieces and lashing inwales and outwales together as detailed below in the section on Lashing.


Wayne demonstrates flexibility of gunwale

Wayne demonstrating flexibility of carefully cut gunwale. (CC)

A key task in creating the sweeping rise of the outwale is a process of "laminating": cutting its ends into a series of narrow parallel strips, almost like long teeth of a comb. These strips then allow the ends to be bent more dramatically without as great a chance of cracking. Wayne took advantage of the tools in the wood shop to accomplish this and other painstaking tasks involved in the construction. At the same time, he was sure to explain to students the older ways of doing things and to demonstrate these as well. Nick Steeves, a talented student training to become a camera man, spent an afternoon filming at the shop. Watching Nick's film, you can see the bustle and activity of the shop as Wayne and associates worked to bring the canoe into being.

The busy activities of the wood shop. WATCH HERE

Sanding the gunwale ends. WATCH HERE

With the outwales thus prepared, they were transported back to the lake beside Wayne's cottage, where they could remain underwater until Wayne was ready to attach them to the inwales. In the meantime, Wayne and his assistants began the work of forming the bark bottom and sides of the canoe, which you can read about in the section below on Bark.

outwale end, carefully tied up, returns to shop after long period of soaking

The two outwales, carefully tied up at the ends to prevent the laminations from separating or breaking, are brought back to the shop after a long soak in the lake beside Wayne's cottage.

outwale piece is added at the center of the canoe and clamped in place

The outwales are attached first at the center of the canoe and then gently bent to follow the contour of the inwale.

outwale piece gently bent into shape

The bending entails careful manipulation laterally and upward, particularly as one works from the center of the canoe toward the prow or stern. Note the second outwale waiting its turn to be attached on top of the canoe. (TD)

outwale end is kept covered with fabric to remain moist

The end of the outwale is kept tied up and covered with a moist rag until it is time to lash it to the prow or stern. Wayne used screws to secure the outwale to the inwale. (TD)

Attaching outer gunwale pieces. WATCH HERE

At this point, it was time to lash to inwales and outwales together using spruce roots. You can read about that process below.

outwale ends are ready to be lashed to prow

With the outwales now lashed to the inwales for the main portion of the canoe, the final section is ready to be bent upward and lashed in place. Wayne has removed the temporary thwart at the end in order to ease the strain in the inwales and outwales while undertaking this bending.

Once the gunwale pieces had been fully lashed, it was time at last to add the third part of the gunwale assembly, a long piece that would cover the inwales, outwales, and bark sandwiched between them and protect the lashings from the wear and tear of daily use. This was the final step before waterproofing the canoe by applying the pine pitch.

Attaching topwale piece at center of canoe with clamp

Soaked topwale attached at center of canoe.

side view of topwale before being secured to other gunwale pieces

The topwale will be laid over the top of the lashings and be snugly pegged into place.

Pegging the topwale in space between lashings

Pegging the topwales with whittled peg inserted into a hole that goes through the topwale and into the outwale in a space between the lashings.

Wayne has progressed further along top of canoe with pegging topwale

By adding pegs, Wayne worked his way from the center of the canoe toward the edges, bending the topwale as needed.

Lashing on topwale, connecting it to other parts of the gunwale

The topwales were lashed at the sharp bend upward at the prow and stern.

Topwale connected to rest of gunwale top by lashing

The topwale is lashed again at the very tip of the prow.

Topwales fully installed

Topwales fully installed, pegged and lashed in place.

Forming and Sewing the Bark Shell

Wayne with his canoe, navigation bar for construction process

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You can read about the harvesting and initial preparation of the wiigwaas (birchbark) for the canoe in Lac du Flambeau during the summer of 2013 in a portion of the East quadrant of the Medicine Wheel: Click HERE. Wayne and his assistants harvested a sufficient quantity of bark with the proper thickness and pliability to be used for constructing a canoe. Rolls and flat pieces of bark were then transported to Madison, where it was a constant necessity to keep them well hydrated so that they would continue to be useable for the building process. The following images and text follow the bark after its arrival in Madison and trace how it became incorporated into the fabric of the canoe.

Some rolls of bark were kept in the wood shop in rolls. These were kept moist by spritsing them with water at least once or twice a day and keeping them covered in plastic.

Birch pieces on floor of wood shopWayne spraying rolls of birchbark to keep them moist


Pieces of bark for side panels were kept flat on the floor, covered in plastic to help retain moisture and weighted under heavier pieces of wood.



The pieces that would become the bottom of the canoe were kept wrapped in old blankets and floating in a lake beside the cottage where Wayne was staying.

roll of birchbark floating in lake

Floating roll of birchbark for the bottom of the canoe. (TD)

rolls of birchbark on table

The rolls are brought into the woodshop. Notice the plywood form standing to the left of the work table, which has now been cleared of all other objects. (TD)

Washing sheets of birchbark in wood shop sink

Bark pieces are washed to get off accumulated grime and to rehydrate them further. (CC)

Forming the bark was a tense but exciting process. WATCH HERE Wayne was not sure how workable the bark would be after having been stored in a roll for months between harvest and now. In traditional circumstances, Wayne would harvest the bark and use it in a matter of days. This bark was harvested in July (the time of year when it was best to harvest) but not used until late September when the university was in session.

Once the two bottom pieces were in place, the plywood form could be placed on top and the braces and inwales could be returned to the table alongside the plywood form.

forming sides of canoe with bark

Pieces of the bottom bark extend part way up the sides of the canoe.

bark that forms the prow of the canoe

The bottom bark is gently pressed together to form the prow and clamped in place.

adding additional side panel

Now, with the inwales reinstalled, side panels are added to extend the bark from the bottom of the canoe up to the gunwales. These side panels had to be very carefully placed: they should fit snugly against the plywood form and extend straight up to the gunwales. Once the canoe ribs are added, these side panels will be exposed to tremendous pressure, and if the bark is not of sufficient thickness or quality, it will simply split. Wayne took great care to select good side panel pieces that would prove durable, and he added further reinforcement pieces in coming days to ensure a lasting product.

side panels extend straight upwards

The side panels must extend straight up from the form to the gunwales. Once the plywood form is removed and the ribs are added, they will acquire a graceful bend. The rough surface of the bark, and its lichen, will be hidden behind cedar ribs and sheathing.

trimming side panels

Excess bark above the gunwales is cut away.

trimming prow bark

Trimming bark at prow.

additional strips of bark are added to top section

In order to further reinforce the sides, Wayne added additional strips of bark along the top gunwales. Ojibwe artists vary in how they decorate the bottom of such strips, sometimes cutting scallop shapes or half-circles. Wayne prefers a zig-zag pattern that stays flat when drying out and remains snugly against the canoe side as a result.

Wayne and Tom Loeser sewing side panels

Wayne and Tom Loeser beginning the sewing work. (TD)

Sewing is an essential and demanding process. Every seam on the canoe has to be sewn together with tight, durable stiches, traditionally made of spruce roots, as detailed in the Lashing section below. Regardless of the materials used, if improperly done, the stitching can tear through the bark, ruining the panel. Traditionally Ojibwe canoe building was a communal or family event, and lots of hands, young and old, joined in the sewing. This was the case with this canoe as well: Wayne was aided by students, faculty, and friends in the long process of sewing. In order to ease the work and ensure that the resulting canoe would be durable for many years, Wayne chose to use a synthetic twine for this work. He used traditional spruce root for the stiching and lashing that would remain visible after the pitching process.

Sewing gets under way. WATCH HERE Wayne uses a two-stranded harness stitch to tightly sandwich the different plies of birchbark together and to ensure that they do not pull apart over time. Holes for the improvized needles are made with a drill or an awl.

golf tee used to hold plies of bark together in preparation for sewing

The new and the old. Wayne made frequent use of his father's awl in making the holes for the stitches. But instead of whittling out small pegs to help hold the different plies of bark together once the holes have been made but before the stitching has occurred, he used sharpened golf tees.

Sewing side panels partly done on one side of the canoe

Sewing continues along the seam between bottom pieces and side panels of bark. (TD)

excess bark is trimmed away along side of canoe

Once the stitching was completed, Wayne cut away excess bark above the line of stitches. During the cutting, he inserted a piece of bark behind the layer to ensure that the knife did not damage the bark that remained. The stitched seams were then eventually covered in pine pitch to make them waterproof.

More sewing.WATCH HERE

winter bark pieces are cut and added to stern

Wayne added two outer layers of bark to the prow and stern. On the stern end, he chose to use "winter bark," bark that has been harvested later in the year and retains an extra layer of rind as a result. This additional layer gives the bark a deep, attractive color, which can be inscribed with an awl to make patterns as detailed in the BIRCH section of this website.

winter bark piece fitted in place at stern

Winter bark in place and ready to be sewn and lashed.

canoe end stitched up

The lower portion of the canoe end is stitched in twine; the upper in spruce root.

Sewing up the canoe prow and stern. WATCH HERE

Sewing the seams on the bottom of the canoe. WATCH HERE

patches sewn in inside of canoe

Additional patches could be added to the inside of the canoe in places that were likely to split or leak.

Creating and Inserting Thwarts

Wayne with his canoe, navigation bar for construction process


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Making fine cuts using industrial saw

Using the equipment at the shop to make fine cuts on thwart. (TD)

finished short thwart for the prow

Finished thwart for prow (TD)

Sanding the center thwart on belt sander

Sanding the thwart on belt sander. (TD)

Chiselling center thwart to make different planes on its surface

Chiseling center thwart (TD)

Wayne poses with finished center thwart

Wayne and finished center thwart, before etching. (TD)

Permanent thwart laid over temporary thwart in center of canoe

Thwart laid in place. The permanent thwart is slightly longer than the temporary one, helping achieve the final shape of the canoe. (TD)

medium sized thwart lashed in place

One of the medium-sized thwarts lashed in place and painted. The thwarts are painted red on one side and blue on the other, as detailed in the TRADITION page of this website. (TD)

plywood form removed from bottom of canoe and permanent thwarts installed

The plywood form has been removed, and three of the permanent thwarts have been inserted.

Keeping the top of canoe moist with wet towels

Keeping sides wet as thwarts, slightly longer than temporary thwarts, are inserted. The moisture would also keep the gunwales flexible in preparation for the installation of the final gunwale pieces, the topwales.

Wood shop activities. WATCH HERE

Lashing with Roots

Wayne with his canoe, navigation bar for construction process


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You can read about the harvesting and initial preparation of the waatabiig (spruce roots) in Lac du Flambeau by clicking this link to the South Quadrant of the Medicine Wheel: HERE.

An abundant supply of roots was difficult to come by, and Wayne was constantly worried that he would run out during the building process. He made repeated treks into the forest with ENVISION students to collect more roots, some of which he processed in Lac du Flambeau, some of which were processed in the wood shop in Madison.

bag of roots

Bags of roots (TD)

Roots in a pot of water heating to loosen outer skin

Soaking roots in a pot of heated water before being processed. The hot water loosens the outer skin layer of the roots, which must be removed in processing. (TD)

roots in barrel soaking

In the wood shop, the roots were placed in a barrel filled with water and submerged by gently placing heavy weights on top of them. WATCH HERE

There is a technique to everything, and root lashing requires great attention and care.


The roots that had been harvested in the summer and then soaked for a long period in a barrel in the wood shop did not always prove useable. Wayne and ENVISION students collected fresh roots in Lac du Flambeau, which Wayne and assistants processed in Madison in order to continue the lashing. WATCH HERE

More processing in order to finish the decorative lashing. WATCH HERE

Lashing the gunwales.

alternating light and dark lashings make attactive feature of canoe

Creative innovation. Wayne found that he could alternate the fresher, darker roots he had brought from Lac du Flambeau with the ones that had been soaking for longer to create an attractive light-dark pattern along the gunwales.

Wayne using spruce root to decorate prow

The lashing proceeds. (TD)

Wayne uses crooked knife to carve the prow point

Finishing the lashing on the prow of the canoe. (TD)

completing the top section of the prow

The lashing, when dry, will securely hold the topwales in place. (TD)

Wayne inspects decorative stitching on prow

Wayne inspects prow stitching in imitation of the wings of a thunder bird.

thunder bird stitches and winter bark on stern of canoe

Thunder bird stitching through the winter bark of the stern end. (TD)

Finishing the prow with elaborate lashing and decorative stitching. WATCH HERE

Creating and Inserting Ribs

Wayne with his canoe, navigation bar for construction process

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Wayne using ban saw to cut ribs to shape

Rough-cut planks of cedar were run over and over again through a planer, trimmed and squared off to be used either as ribs or as sheathing. (TD)

Wayne using beveling machine


Rib being cut by table saw


trimmed cedar pieces


Wayne showing the flexibility of a finished board. WATCH HERE

The rib pieces, now cut and sized, were neatly bundled to await their being bent.  The longer ribs will be used for the middle ribs of the canoe; the shorter pieces will become the ribs at the prow and tail of the canoe.

wood for canoe ribs in bundle


ribs soaking in lake with lillypads

The bundles of ribs were kept hydrated by soaking them in the lake next to Wayne's cottage. (TD) gunwales bark thwarts ribs paddles lashing sheathing pitching

the ribs for the canoe are placed on top of canoe to make sure that there are enough

Marking the ribs. Wayne used a pencil and his hand to measure the approximate place where each rib would need to be bent in order to fit into the canoe at any given width. The end ribs will require a very sharp and narrow "V"-shaped bend; the ribs in the center of the canoe will have a wider, more squared "U"-shaped bend. Wayne produced the bends by pressing the hot, steamed ribs against a round form, and these hand marks helped him gauge where to make the bends before fitting the rib into the canoe.

Ribs are placed in pairs on top of canoe

Laying out the ribs in pairs. Wayne bent the ribs in pairs. Here he has arranged them on top of the canoe in this fashion, making sure to reserve the longest rib pieces for the center of the canoe and shorter pieces for the ends.

bottom of canoe is still flat before insertion of ribs

The canoe is turned upside down. The bottom of the canoe has not yet acquired its "belly," or rounded shape. This will occur after the ribs are inserted and the canoe has a chance to hang overnight. (TD)

Dowsing the canoe bottom with boiling water

Dowsing the bottom with boiling water. (TD)

Dowsing the insides of canoe with boiling water

(TD) The canoe is turned upright and dowsed from this side with boiling water as well. Traditionally, this work is done outside on the ground and the water is simply absorped into the ground. At the woodshop it was necessary not only to constantly dowse the canoe but also mop or vacuum up the cooled water so that it would not leak into the floor and damage electric wiring or plaster in the floors below!

steamer for steaming ribs

A steamer was essential for getting the ribs hot and moist to allow for bending. (TD)

Wayne bending ribs using a mold.

Wayne bends a pair of steamed ribs around a round form anchored to the work table. He wears gloves since the ribs are still steaming hot.

Wayne carrying a pair of bent ribs for installation at center of canoe

With the bends made, Wayne turns to install this pair of ribs in the center of the canoe.

Wayne uses his feet, fitted with mocassins to finish the bending in the canoe.  The rib is bent into the proper shape while others hold sides of canoe

A few pieces of sheathing have been placed in the bottom of the canoe to help distribute the pressure of the ribs once installed and to prevent the bark from ripping as a result. Wayne uses his feet, clad in soft mocassins, to guide the final bend of the pair of ribs so that they fit the intended space correctly. Once the bending is complete, the two ribs are placed side by side and lightly nailed in place with nails into the inwales.

Wayne adding additional pairs of ribs closer to the prow

Wayne worked from the center of the canoe toward the prow, inserting ribs in pairs. Here he is preparing to add in the canoe's eighth and ninth ribs, close to the medium-sized thwart.

lifting on sides while fitting in the rib with feet

Assistants lift up on the sides of the canoe to allow for the ribs to take on a rounded shape, something that will increase once the canoe is suspended from the ceiling after all the ribs are in.

tapping rib into place with sheathing

At the prow, Wayne can no longer do the work by standing inside the canoe. Instead, the ribs are tapped into placed with a piece of wood and hammer. Pieces of sheathing are included between the ribs and the bark here as well so as to distribute the pressure of the ribs.

final ribs set in place near stern of canoe

The final ribs had to be bent at a very sharp angle. Only a well steamed plank, with grain running evenly from end to end of the piece, could withstand this degree of bend without cracking. Wayne made these bends against his knee.

final rib drying at the stern of the canoe

The final rib at the stern is ready to dry. The ribs are loosely nailed or screwed into place. They will be allowed to set for a couple of days and then can be removed and cut for their final installation.

Now that you have an idea of the process, watch this video to see the work in action.


Wayne with one of the bent ribs

Once the ribs had dried and taken their permanent shapes, Wayne removed them from the canoe--carefully noting their order--and worked to shape each into its final form. The excess wood at the ends had to be cut off, and the ends tapered with a knife so that they would fit in the space between the inwale and the bark. (TD)

rib being sanded on a circular sander

The dried ribs are cut to proper length and sanded and honed at their ends so that that can be inserted into the canoe.

shaped and honed ribs are installed into canoe with sheathing

The cut and honed ribs are now installed into the space between the bottom of the inwale and the bark. Sheathing is also added underneath. The process now moves from one end of the canoe toward the center.

final rib being added at center of canoe

The last ribs to be fit in are the ones at the very center of the canoe—the very first ones that were bent and inserted a few days before. Small shims can be added where needed along the gunwale.

tapping middle ribs into place

Middle ribs tapped into place.

Ribs are tapped into place with block and hammer

End ribs tapped into place: especially with the narrow end ribs, it was useful to tap them into place in small increments.

Canoe suspended by ropes from ceiling

The canoe is suspended from the ceiling overnight to let the ribs mold the bark into a permanent shape. Clamps from side to side helped ensure that the pressure of the ribs will not cause the gunwales to splay outwards.

Here's a video rendering of this process WATCH HERE

The canoe has now acquired its rounded shape, or "belly"

After hanging overnight with its ribs inserted, the canoe has attained its "belly," or ideally rounded shape. Unlike a factory-made aluminum canoe, Wayne's birchbark canoe is crafted so that its bottom rises upward at the ends, making the canoe much more maneuverable on the water.


Inserting the Sheathing

Wayne with his canoe, navigation bar for construction process


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Pieces of cedar are run through a planer

Pieces of cedar are run through a planer. Thicker pieces will become ribs; thinner ones will be used as sheathing. (TD)

Thinner pieces of white cedar that were not suitable for use as ribs will be used for the sheathing that lines the bottom of the canoe between the ribs and the outer birchbark covering. Each piece of sheathing must be given a straight edge and then be beveled so that they lie flat against one and other.


sheathing piece being cut on a table saw

Using a ruler to draw lines for squaring off a piece of sheathing. (CC)

cutting a piece of sheathing on ban saw

Squaring off a piece of sheathing. (CC)

bevelling pieces of cut sheathing

Bevelling pieces of cut sheathing (CC)

Sheathing added at prow

Installing sheathing before the ribs are placed in permanently (TD)

sheathing being added at middle of canoe, underneath ribs

Sheathing middle of canoe. The sheathing is held in place by the pressure of the ribs. No other anchoring is necessary.

Waterproofing with Pine Pitch

Wayne with his canoe, navigation bar for construction process


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bag of pitch with wooden stick

Bag of bigiw (pine pitch) ready to be melted and prepared for application to the canoe seams and holes.

pitch cubes are melted over heated in a coffee can

Melting pitch on a hotplate.

Pitch strained through burlap bag

The melted pitch contained small pieces of bark, dirt, and pine needles that had to be removed by straining. The liquified material was poured into a piece of burlap sack and then twisted and squeezed to release strained pitch.


glass can containing ground charcoal

Oak charcoal, finely pounded and ground, gives the mixture its rich black color and also its strength.

Adding charcoal from glass can to frying pan containing melted pitch

Charcoal is added to the melted pitch to give the mixture its durability. Lard or other animal fat is also added to give the mixture a needed degree of flexibility.

testing the pitch to see if it will crack when cooled

Testing pitch. The pitch mixture is applied to a piece of bark and then placed in cold water to float. After cooling, the bark is bent. If the pitch is too brittle, as above, it will crack and chip off. (TD)

proper amount of animal fat ensures that pitch is flexible and durable

With the addition of animal fat, the mixture becomes sufficiently flexible to bend and remain intact. This is the consistency needed for proper performance. (TD)

applying pitch with a stick to the bottom of the canoeSmoothing pitch with wet finger

The hot pitch is applied to the bottom of the canoe with a stick. (TD)


Smoothing the applied pitch with a wet finger. (TD)

Applying pitch to the nose of the canoe

Pitching the nose of the canoe. (TD)

First application of pitch to side of canoe

The first coating of pitch is applied to the side seams of the canoe. (TD)

Tom Loeser holds canoe at a tilt so that the pitch can be applied

Tom Loeser holds the canoe at a needed tilt while Wayne and assistants work to apply and smooth the pitch. (TD)

pitch being heated outside in Wayne's back yard

The metal brackets of the Dejope Hall mount caused minor damage to some of the pitch. While the canoe was at Lac du Flambeau for a school assembly, Wayne was able to make needed small repairs. This allowed for further documentation of the pitching process.

Wayne adding new pitch to side of canoe

The new pitch is applied to the seams where needed.


Carving the Paddles

Wayne with his canoe, navigation bar for construction process

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gunwales bark thwarts paddles lashing sheathing pitching

Wayne carving handle of oar


Carving a paddle. The paddles were shaped of single pieces of white cedar and decorated with images of thunderbirds.


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The completed canoe in wood shop, with finished paddles

The completed canoe is ready for its launch! You can read about the ceremony held on the day of its maiden voyage on the Education page of this website.

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gunwales bark thwarts ribs paddles lashing sheathing pitching gunwales bark thwarts ribs lashing paddles sheathing pitching