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Birch Bark Canoe Restoration

Discussion in 'Birchbarks, Dugouts and Primitive Craft' started by Gary, Jul 21, 2020.

  1. Gary

    Gary Canoe Grampa

    As promised I am providing the first update on the restoration of a birch bark canoe I acquired through a posting on this site, see https://www.wcha.org/forums/index.php?threads/free-to-a-good-home.16222/

    This was a canoe which had been originally hanging in the dining hall at Camp Norway, on Fairlee Lake in Vermont see picture. When the camp closed in 1988 it was taken down and stored by the former owner of the camp who then last year decided it should go to someone who'd restore it, I volunteered. All I know of its builder was that it was built in the 1950's in Manawan Quebec.

    After closer examination of this canoe I'm led to believe that it was never built to be paddled but as a show piece for the camp. The gunwales and rail cap were nailed together, which in itself was not that uncommon, but as you can see from the picture below, only the nails which protruded to the outside of the canoe were bent over. I'm not sure a canoe built to be paddled by children would have had these nails sticking out on the inside of the canoe? In addition, the gores were never stitched but just covered with pitch for show on the outside and would not have stood up to the action a canoe receives once on the water.

    It is however, a beautiful canoe, built with one piece of bark complete from bow to stern. The obvious repairs are the bow broken off, and the stern splits in the bark and one large split amidships right across the width of the canoe. In addition, it had no thwarts so over time the canoe has lost its shape and is quite splayed out.

    I have re-attached the bow, and spliced in bark to reinforce the other splits in the original bark. All birch bark, roots for stitching, and birch log for thwarts have been harvested here locally for the repairs. I have made new gunwales and rail caps as the old ones were dried out and had the ends broken off. Next up is the stitching, lots of it. I will re-use the original ribs and planking with some steam bending to the new shape of the canoe. I'll post some pictures as I get them.

    Cheers, Gary
     

    Attached Files:

    JClearwater and Benson Gray like this.
  2. Andy Hutyera

    Andy Hutyera The Red Canoe Guy

    Looks like a great project. Keep us posted.
     
  3. OP
    OP
    Gary

    Gary Canoe Grampa

    So I've been busy stitching with the root gathered, peeled, and split. The bow once broken off has been reattached. The splits in the stern and amidships have been repaired and 20 gores are now stitched together. I used a double thickness of the bark I harvested inside the canoe to reinforce these areas being stitched. Everything will be caulked (sorry not gummed) before I re-assemble the canoe which is still a ways away yet. I also used a split root as a spline stitched in to protect the edges of the bark in the big split

    Next up is making new stems as the old ones are too dried out to re-use. I have also began splitting the birch log which will provide the necessary material to make the thwarts and seats. Yes I am putting seats in it as my knees no longer allow me to kneel, sorry you purists out there.
    Gary
     

    Attached Files:

  4. OP
    OP
    Gary

    Gary Canoe Grampa

    Looking like a canoe again....

    I had to make new stems, as the old ones were too dried out to reuse. I used some straight grain fir I had on hand and soaked, split, and steam bent these to shape. These have been installed and lashed into the ends. I've also added the new gunwales and thwarts and pegged and lashed everything together. I'll add more lashing stations after the ribs are back in.

    This canoe most resembles the Malacite canoes of that era so I've added a wulegissis to each end and will fashion headboards to complement these.

    Next up will be reinstalling the sheeting and ribs after I caulk the interior. To prepare for this I made a tank to soak everything as I couldn't use our bathtub? Imagine my wife resisting our bathtub being filled with old cedar for a week.

    I have rail caps to install after I make and add the seats, so its getting closer to being in the water. I'll be sure to add a picture once it gets to that stage.
     

    Attached Files:

  5. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    You might enjoy the information at http://wcha.org/catalogs/penobscot/ about a very old canoe in this style. The footnote number 12 references Frank Speck's book Penobscot Man on page 61 where he says 'It is figuratively termed wule'ge, "diaper," "breech-cloth." Its flaps are commonly decorated with etchings, cross-hatchings, double-curve designs, or floral figures, some examples of which may be seen in the plates.'

    Benson
     
    Rob Stevens likes this.
  6. OP
    OP
    Gary

    Gary Canoe Grampa

    Thank you Benson, I think in doing my research I had come across a portion of this before? Edwin also mentions these in his book.

    I had thought of doing something on them to commemorate Camp Norway which the canoe was originally made for? Mine are not true winter bark though and might not let me? Right now I've more pressing matters to get her afloat, but I hope to use them like you're mentioning with some form of decoration?

    As always I appreciate the wealth of knowledge and information you lend to this site.

    Cheers, Gary
     
  7. OP
    OP
    Gary

    Gary Canoe Grampa

    I decided to honour the original craftsman of the 40's and make the material needed for the seats and thwarts from a birch log. Although I am not accomplished enough yet to do the work with my crooked knife I was able to handle the job with my #15 plane and a spoke shave. Next I'll weave the seats with babiche.

    I also created a set of headboards and etched in a silhouette of a cedar tree in the bow and birch tree in the stern to commemorate the trees that made these canoes possible.

    The old ribs were lightly sanded and steamed to re-bend them to the shape of the canoe now, as it had become splayed out with no cross members to keep it true to form. This entailed a lot of hot water and coaxing but everything is now back as it was 80 years ago.

    Next up will be to caulk the exterior, add the seats and then the rail caps to protect the lashings of the gunwales. Then we'll see if it floats?

    Cheers, Gary
     

    Attached Files:

    Kent E. Nord and Rob Stevens like this.
  8. samb

    samb LOVES Wooden Canoes

    wow!!!!
     
  9. Andy Hutyera

    Andy Hutyera The Red Canoe Guy

    Nice work!
     
  10. dtdcanoes

    dtdcanoes LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Gary......this is the stuff of dreams !
    Dave
     
  11. OP
    OP
    Gary

    Gary Canoe Grampa

    After pegging down the rail caps and installing the seats I got it out on the water for a test. It paddles very nicely as a solo canoe and only had a few minor leaks. I'll do a bit more caulking to stop that. Not a great picture but I made two new paddles for it out of straight grain fir. looking forward to taking it on a canoe trip somewhere now.
    Gary
     

    Attached Files:

  12. 1905Gerrish

    1905Gerrish LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Just need to add a couple brook trout flopping around the bottom and the native scene will be complete! Nice work!!
     

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