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How to Make Your Own Birch Bark Canoe

  • The How to Make Your Own Birch Canoe video DVD is a fascinating step by step documentary production showing wilderness skills expert Jim Miller making an Objiwa style birch bark canoe.  Click through this collection of screen shots and descriptions to learn more about the art and skills of working with birchbark.
  • Jim Miller gathers raw materials from the woods of Northern Michigan and creates a canoe worthy of being exhibited, or used to paddle the wilderness in the style of those who passed long ago.

Jim teaches workshops, builds exhibits for historical centers, creates movie sets, and authors publications that focus on Native American and pioneer era ways of life.

Jim Miller is pictured in one of his early Objiwa style birch bark canoes. Jim uses his canoes for exploring northern waterways, but his work is often put on display at visitor centers. Note that the shell of the canoe is brown, not white. The white side of the birch bark goes on the inside of the canoe, despite paintings that often show it on the outside.
  • History and Native American Technology

Native Americans demonstrated amazing skills and technology through the development of birch bark canoes. Birch bark canoes were used for thousands of years throughout many parts of North America where birch trees were found. This is an Ojibway style birch bark canoe build by Jim Miller and used in the video production "Greenways of Life", a Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission video about watershed protection by Silvertip Productions, Ltd.

Native Americans also used birch bark for quivers, baskets, artwork, and other items. Additionally, birch bark was a source of medicine.
  • Bending Birch Bark Around a Frame

Jim and Verne arrange the pieces of birch bark on a building bed. A weighted frame is placed on top of the bark. Using hot water to make the bark more flexible, Jim and Verne begin bending the bark into shape.

The birch bark is held in place with a series of stakes and stays tied together with basswood bark.
  • Staking the Birch Bark Canoe

Jim Miller inserts stakes in holes in the building frame. Once the stakes are firmly in place Jim holds the bark in place by tying stays to the stakes with basswood bark.

Jim also builds birch bark canoes on the ground, but the work is easier if it is done on an elevated building bed.
  • Making the Prowpieces

Jim splits out cedar trees to make many parts of a birch bark canoe. Here, Jim is bending a stempiece into place and tying it. The stempiece and manboard together make up a prowpiece. A prowpiece is inserted into each end of the canoe.

Most of the prowpiece will be hidden from view when the canoe is finished. Jim makes three at a time so that he can keep one to show people when they ask how the canoe was built.
  • Sewing Birch Bark

Jim Miller gathers spruce root and splits it for sewing or stitching the birch bark canoe. Many different stitches are used, and Jim shows all of these as the canoe is built.

In this image you can see the top of the manboard and the gunwales.
  • Carving & Installing Cedar Ribs

Starting with a cedar log, Jim Miller demonstrates how to split out the rib stock, carve it to shape, and fit it together. The result is a light but durable birch bark canoe capable of carrying people and their gear as they explore America's wilderness.
  • Sealing the Seams

The "How to Make Your Own Birch Bark Canoe" video DVD shows you how to make your own pitch and seal the seams on your canoe just like Native Americans did for thousands of years.

After viewing this video DVD you will gain a deep appreciation for past, and an understanding of how Native Americans used the trees and plants around them to make the things they needed.
  • Learn to Make Canoe Paddles

A sample of cedar canoe paddles carved by Jim Miller using a crooked knife. Learn to make your own paddles using a hatchet and a crooked knife.

Once you see how fast Jim does it, you will be inspired to start making your own.
  • Making a Scale Model Birch Bark Canoe

The video DVD has footage of Jim Miller building a scale model birch bark canoe using the same techniques required to make a full-size canoe. This is an excellent learning process for beginners, and an enjoyable hobby for those who do not have the time or materials to make a larger canoe.

Building your own birch bark canoe is an excellent project for families, school shop classes, scout troops, or individual craftsmen.
  • The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America is available separately, or buy both and Save $10.45.

This book, published by the Smithsonian Institution Press, is the most extensive collection of information on native boats of North America. Appeals to craftsman and canoe enthusiasts, as well as anyone interested in historic cultures and Native American studies. 242 Page, softcover.
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Product Description

How to Make Your Own Birch Bark Canoe Video DVD


Click on the product image above to open a viewer that will display actual screen shots and descriptions to learn more about this DVD from Silvertip Productions.

Step by Step How To Instructions to Build a Birch Bark Canoe

Now you can learn the secrets of the past in this full two-hour DVD packed with ancient knowledge and wisdom. How did native peoples make their light, strong,and durable birch bark canoes? This new DVD shows you step-by-step how they did it, and how you can do it, too. You can watch as wilderness skills expert Jim Miller gathers all the materials he needs, and shapes them into the parts and pieces of a beautiful canoe. You will learn about early technology, art, nature, wood-working, native traditions, and more. How to Make Your Own Birch Bark Canoe is an engaging presentation of value to individual hobbyists, families looking for something different to do together, school shop classes, youth groups, or historical societies. Building your own bark canoe is not expensive, but it takes time. That is why bark canoes cost thousands of dollars, if you can even find one for sale. The value of using one you make yourself is priceless.

The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America - The Book by Edwin Tappan Adney

This book, published by the Smithsonian Institution Press, is the most extensive collection of information on native boats of North America. Appeals to craftsman and canoe enthusiasts, as well as anyone interested in historic cultures and Native American studies. 242 Page, softcover.

The bark canoes of the First Nations - Native Americans, particularly those of birchbark, were highly developed watercraft. They could transport heavy loads in shallow streams, but were light enough to be hauled long distances over land. Built with primitive tools and natural materials, their design, size, and appearance were adapted for many conditons. Early European settlers also used the native-made craft for traveling through the wilderness. The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America book combines historical accounts with instructions for craftsmen. Author Edwin Tappan Adney, born in 1868, devoted his life to studying canoes and was practically the sole scholar in his field. His papers and research were preserved by the Smithsonian Institution, and illustrated with black-and-white line drawings, diagrams, and photos.

The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America provides measurements, detailed drawings, and construction methods for canoes from Newfoundland to the Pacific Ocean, as well as umiaks and kayaks from the Arctic.


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