a birchbark canoe


The good news is you don't need a lot of tools to build a birchbark canoe. Here's what you probably need:

Here are two crooked knives, and old one and a new one. The upper one is an old Indian-made crooked knife with a blade made out of a straight razor. The lower knife is a new one made by Rick Syniec of California. I used both of these knives to make my canoe. This knife has a gently curved blade. Click on the picture to see it bigger.

A crooked knife is called "crooked" because of the bent handle, not because of the curved blade. Not all crooked knives have curved blades.

two crooked knives -click to see bigger
using a crooked knife You hold a crooked knife in your right hand (if you're right-handed) with your palm up and with your thumb along the bent part of the handle. You cut towards your body as if it was a one-handed draw knife. The native people didn't have a vice to clamp their work in so they held it with one hand and used a crooked knife with the other.
two awls

These are two awls. The top one has an antler handle and a round blade. The lower one has a triangular blade which is better for making holes in birchbark because it is less likely to split the bark. I found this one on sale at an antique show for less than a dollar. It's also great for leather.I also modified another round awl that I found at a hardware store. I ground it down to make a three cornered awl.

The size of the awl you need depends on the thickness of the spruce roots you are using. You want the hole to be just big enough to get the spruce roots through.

I have seen a birchbark canoe builder using a power drill to make holes in the bark too.

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© Judy Kavanagh 2001