Build Your Own Canoe Under Supervision

In the past this program was to be simply a supervised activity. The student would take the Basic Group class (which we no longer offer) and then enroll in the Advanced Class where they would build their own canoe under supervision. However, most can't afford the time for two classes. In the past I allowed up to 4 students at a time. Since most students arrived needing to be taught the steps (because they had not attended the Basic Class) this Advanced Class is now limited to one student with his/her assistants to build their canoe. The demands are more than just a supervised activity, it is a program where I teach you and while I don't help you build your own canoe I make sure that you are competent on each step so that you are successful with your canoe. While you are building your canoe I will be working on other projects - sometimes building a canoe myself.

The canoe will be approximately 14ft long with a 3 sheet hull. The canoe will be lashed at the thwarts, the stem pieces and up the gunwale ends from the last thwart to the tip of the gunwale. If you wish to lash the entire canoe that can be arranged for an additional fee (the cost of the root). You can build an Ojibwe Longnose, an Oldstyle, or an Abenaki style canoe.

Due to the time demands, cost of shipping raw materials and the scarcity of high quality straight, clear logs, the gunwales, thwarts and ribs will come from sawn lumber stock. Once wood has been convenionally sawn it is difficult to split and carve. Thus these parts will be sawn and planed. The sheathing and root however will all be handsplit.

Here are some photos of the 2005 class. Here are some photos of the 2006 class. Here are some photos of the 2009 class.


In the past it had been our policy that before attending the Advance class you must have attended the Group Class in order to learn the fundementals of birchbark canoe building. We are waiving this requirement and in its place would like you to do the Home Study Course (which is included in the tuition), build your own scale model, send in a photo of the finished canoe and pass a written exam - one in which you can consult your materials for the answers - a "take home test" By doing this whether successful or not it will get you familiar with the steps, the thought processes, the terms, etc. of birchbark canoe building. It will make it much easier for you and your assistant(s) to build your canoe.

Two week program

It takes a skilled builder, who is up to speed, in excess of 200 hours to build a birchbark canoe. For someone building their first canoe this number can grow considerably. In order to do the program in two weeks some concessions have to be made.

Rather than lash all of the gunwales - more than 76 groups of lashings - they are screwed together. (Native builders from the mid 19th century onward often used nails that were clinched over. Clinched nails, while efficient to apply, are very difficult to remove. Therefore we use screws.) Lashing, including the preparation of the root, takes about 20 to 30 minutes per group - now multiply this by 76+ lashings and you can see why this is impossible with the time constraints. Students, back home with plenty of time, can back out the screws, insert hardwood pegs and lash their canoe without the time pressure.

All the materials are prepared in advance. Again, for a skilled builder it could take a full week to prepare materials. Therefore you will not be preparing your own materials.

What is Included

You will be provided the prepared materials ready for assembly such as bark, ribs, sheathing, pitch, root, etc.. Also a crooked knife and an awl. The book The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America is also included as well as the Home Study Program for a 3ft model.

If you fly in we will arrange to pick you up at the airport. Upon completion we can also help with the arrangements to ship your canoe. Cost to ship varies on where you live.

What you will need to bring

Some tools will be provided but students are encouraged to bring a utility knife with plenty of blades, a spunge, a pail, a small mill file and a sharpening stone.

Bring clothes for any weather condition. It is suggested to have a set or two of work clothes that you can wear day in and day out therefore minimizing the amount of laundry needed. You will not have time to do laundry during the two weeks. You can then change into something more comfortable in the evenings.

What to Expect

This class is very demanding - made much easier if you bring an assistant. Building a birchbark canoe is a process of many tasks - some physically challenging, some tedious, some very technical. The days are long. It is much like a two week sprint rather than a leisurely stroll. However attitude is everything and if you are passionate about this subject it will be a pleasure.

The days are long. We start at noon and work until 9pm. This gives you the opportunity to shop in the mornings or go for a walk. Or, just sleep.


The fee is $6595 U.S. A non-refundable deposit of one third is required up front. You will then be sent the crooked knife, awl and the book as well as the "home-study kit". 3 months prior to the start let us know the style of canoe you wish to build so that we will begin preparing your materials. Should you not be able to attend, the deposit can be applied to a future course, materials or other products we offer however it is a non-fundable deposit.

For more information or to register call or send us an e-mail

509.216-7451 voice and fax e-mail

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