Birch Bark Canoes – Building

ambience: Splitting cedar & pounding


We’re at the workshop of a master canoe builder in Cedar Falls, Iowa. To make one of these boats, you have to be able to split wood with your bare hands. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont. Jack Minehart constructs authentic replicas of Native American birch bark canoes. The first step is to build the boat out of split cedar, without using power tools.

“And the way you do this is, you split the cedar just about in the middle (knocking noise)…and you split down the grain, and you have to split it, you can’t saw the cedar that goes into a canoe, the ribs especially, because if you cross the grain, it would break up when you tried to bend it or put it into the canoe (splitting sounds, breaking sound)…there we are, just about got a rib on the one side…”

The canoe is then covered in birch bark, which is both waterproof and flexible.

“The birch bark we put on canoes is not the thin, papery stuff that you think of, it’s about belt-leather thick. And good canoe bark is a little hard to find.”

The bark is then stitched using the root from a spruce tree to make a piece big enough to cover the canoe. The finished product is a very lightweight craft, about 50 pounds, and it’s surprisingly durable. But Minehart says the best thing about a birch bark canoe is paddling one.

“They’re as fast in the water as any manufactured canoe and when you paddle along, there’s nothing but the drip of the water off your paddle when you make a new stroke, and other than that, it’s just about as noiseless an on-water experience as anybody could possibly have.”

Please visit our website at nationalgeographic.com. Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation.

Birch Bark Canoes - Building

If you're going to build a canoe the way the Native Americans did, you have to be able to split wood with your bare hands.
Air Date:10/12/2000
Scientist:
Transcript:

ambience: Splitting cedar & pounding


We're at the workshop of a master canoe builder in Cedar Falls, Iowa. To make one of these boats, you have to be able to split wood with your bare hands. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont. Jack Minehart constructs authentic replicas of Native American birch bark canoes. The first step is to build the boat out of split cedar, without using power tools.

"And the way you do this is, you split the cedar just about in the middle (knocking noise)...and you split down the grain, and you have to split it, you can't saw the cedar that goes into a canoe, the ribs especially, because if you cross the grain, it would break up when you tried to bend it or put it into the canoe (splitting sounds, breaking sound)...there we are, just about got a rib on the one side..."

The canoe is then covered in birch bark, which is both waterproof and flexible.

"The birch bark we put on canoes is not the thin, papery stuff that you think of, it's about belt-leather thick. And good canoe bark is a little hard to find."

The bark is then stitched using the root from a spruce tree to make a piece big enough to cover the canoe. The finished product is a very lightweight craft, about 50 pounds, and it's surprisingly durable. But Minehart says the best thing about a birch bark canoe is paddling one.

"They're as fast in the water as any manufactured canoe and when you paddle along, there's nothing but the drip of the water off your paddle when you make a new stroke, and other than that, it's just about as noiseless an on-water experience as anybody could possibly have."

Please visit our website at nationalgeographic.com. Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation.