November 2004

Bark Canoe Store

2317 West Fairview Avenue
Spokane, WA 99205

John Lindman


1. News
2. Building Tip - Design

News From the Store

How About A Bark Canoe Association?

Richard Greene, owner of a birchbark canoe and a recent officer of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association said to me a couple of years ago, "it would be nice if someone started an associaiton of birchbark canoe owners so that they could coordinate on outings and trips with one another." I think that would be great. What do you think?

I had the idea of doing a class on the edge of the wilderness wherein everyone made their own birchbark canoe and then, once complete, we all headed out into the bush in our bark craft living a relatively primitive existence for a bit.

Historical treks are becoming more popular all the time. An association could be a way to coordinate them.

Let me know your thoughts. Next month I will let you know the feedback.

How Did The Bark Canoe Store Come Into Being?

It started as a hobby of sorts. I wanted to supply to others those things which I wished were available to me. Fortunately some things already existed but in many cases they were difficult to find or to come by.

I was grateful David Gidmark offered his class but he was phasing out of building full size canoes in his classes. I wanted to keep that available.

I wished that someone offered a program where you could build your first canoe under supervision. I tried to convince some builders to supervise me in building my first canoe but no one would be bothered.

I wished that someone offered materials for sale as I lived outside Seattle and I had to go to Minnesota to get mine.

I wished that builders would build a canoe to my specific design and dimensions when I bought my first one. Some did to some degree but everything I saw was a compromise with what I "really" wanted - and this is not to make less of any of these builders, it was a personal thing for me.

And, I wished that someone offered a home study program where I could build a miniature.

I wanted a place that was full of pictures of birchbark canoes, resources, etc.

It all started in cyber space because I lived in Florida at the time. The plan was to create a "brick and mortar" one once I moved back up north.

Well I am up north and I am actively working towards the creation of a phyical place - it's at the top of my agenda.

Then you can swing by, say hi and perhaps grab a coffee, sit by the fireplace and puruse books on the adventures of the great north or canoe building.

That's the story of The Bark Canoe Store so far. I hope you stay tuned.

More Pictures - Malecite Canoes

Francois Rothan, a builder in Quebec, sent me a link to a nice site which features historical photos of Malecite birchbark canoes.
I thought you might enjoy them. Let me know what you think.


If you haven't checked out the various links on the Links Page. I recommend you treat yourself.

One site that is particularly fun is the Minnesota Historical Society's photo archives. Type in the key word "canoe" and it will display their historical photos of canoes in chronological order. They start in the mid to later 1800s and come up to the present. Lots of birchbark canoes. Plus if there are any you like, you can order them on line through the Society for what I think is a modest fee. I got several a while back and a couple that were almost poster size. They look great framed.

Consignment Page

There are some more canoes on the Consignment Page. that you might find of interest.

Building Tip - Design

Design is a subject that has been covered before but is so key that it warrants more comment. Key to this discussion is how to get the finished canoe to look like the one you saw in a some picture.

Edwin Tappan Adney in his book, The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America has documented the process of building and the dimensions of the completed historical specimens. However, I have never seen anything on how one arrives at those finished dimensions. Click here. and look at measurements and photos of canoes that I have done to get an idea of how design points are arrived at.

The key points to design are:
Sheer - This is the line of the gunwales when looking at the canoe from the side. Straight sheer would be a gunwale profile that doesn't curve up from the middle to the end. This is created by the height sticks (see below)

Rocker - This is the line of the bottom of the canoe when looking from the side. Using a narrower frame and placing the gores (the cuts in the bark that allow the bark to be folded around the frame) about 12 inches apart will give you less rocker. Most birchbark canoes will have a bit of end rocker.

Bilge - When looking at the hull shape this is the bottom of the canoe. A rounded hull has a full bilge. This is established by the ribs. For a flat bottom canoe only place hot water on the place where the bend will begin to the end of the rib. By not heating the mid part of the rib it will not want to bend. For a shallow arch hull (slightly rounded) put some hot water on the entire rib. Even though you don't bend the mid part of the rib it will want to bend once in the canoe.

Chine - This is where the hull curves up from the bilge to the side. Flat bottom canoes usually have a sharp chine whereas rounded hulls have a more moderate chine. This too is created by the way you bend your ribs. Start your bend the distance of 4 fingers placed parallel to the inside gunwale. For a more rounded effect start the bend just inside that line. For more tumblehome (where the sides curve inboard) start just outside the line and continue up the sides.

Stem - This is the wooden piece that forms the end of the canoe. For accuracy in stem height make sure the bark does not sag near the ends. A sharp bend in the bark from the end of the frame to the end of the bark is crucial for this.

Height Sticks - These are sticks that hold up the inside gunwales. Once all the bark has been sewn together, the inside gunwales, spread apart by temporary or the permanent thwarts, are dropped in and held in place by the "height sticks". They establish the "sheer". Therefore you will need to establish the measurements of the height sticks in order to establish the sheer. For relatively flat sheer I typically use the same measurement for the height sticks that are next to center thwart and the intermediate thwarts.

Depth - The depth is determined by the height sticks and shape of the ribs. Using the same height sticks and the same width of frame and gunwales you will have a deeper canoe if the bottom is rounded as opposed to flat. Therefore if you found a canoe that is too deep simply heat the ribs and straighten them. Then reheat them but only from the line of bend to the end and you will arrive at a shallower canoe with a flatter bottom.

If none of this makes sense I recommend a class. Once the class is over it will all come together. Good luck.

P.S. - There will be one more newsletter before the Holidays.

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