Forming the Gunwales, Preparing for Birchbark Application

20 Sep

We spent much of Thursday working to prepare the canoe for the application of birchbark. The bircbark that had been flattened on the work table was washed and moved to the floor. The canoe form was secured to the table and then risers were added alongside it to create a plane upon which to place the gunwales at the proper height above the keel. The gunwale pieces, which had been shaped and dried in Lac du Flambeau, were wet again and reshaped so that they would be ready for the application of birchbark. It was painstaking work, and many hands were needed to accomplish the task. But the finished gunwale has a beautiful arc to it, gracefully tilting upward at the ends. Wayne notes that the upward tilt of the ends of a traditional birchbark canoe adds to the boat’s buoyancy and maneuverability: unlike an aluminum canoe with a straight keel, a birchbark canoe’s “lift” means that it can be turned on a dime.

Pieces of birchbark being washed (CC)


Pieces laid on on floor to be weighted again and kept flat till needed (CC)


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)


The gunwales are wet and heated to increase their flexibility when being fit into place (CC)


Watch a film of the securing of the gunwales to temporary supports aimed at reduced unwanted bend in the pieces while they dry (TD)

Watch the process of tying off the gunwale ends by the manboards to make sure that everything stays in the right shape and orientation while drying (TD).

A view of the gunwales from the side (TD).

The finished gunwales are straight and true (TD).


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Posted by on September 20, 2013 in Building the Canoe


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