Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Carving headboards

An interesting part of a birchbark canoe's structure are the headboards. My understanding is that these components serve to strengthen the hull ends where ribs cannot be properly inserted. While some are attached to the stem pieces with horizontal struts, they can also be held in place by the tension of sitting them upon the stem piece and jamming carved "shoulders" under the inwales. It seems these end pieces come in varying designs, with thin bellied headboards in East Coast Abenaki canoes and thicker, vertical boards used in traditional Algonquin style boats. I opted for a design similar to one illustrated in James Dina's (out of print) book, Voyage of the Ant on the right

This part of the construction process is really trial and error as each custom made canoe tends to have its own unique measurements. To get a rough guide for the shape, some scrap cardboard was cut and loosely jammed it into the bow and stern. After bending the cardboard to fit the curvature of the hull, it was removed and cut to shape. The bark had dried out unevenly at the bow and stern creating a lopsided, irregular curvature. By pushing the bark out delicately with one hand, the hull stretched out sufficiently to form fairly symmetrical headboard templates (which got crushed again when I removed my hand to take the picture). Ultimately, the templates were traced onto cedar boards, shaped with an axe & saw and then cleaned up with the crooked knife.

Cardboard template; Tracing onto cedar plank; Shaping with axe

Crooked Knife work - don't know how my hat got covered in shavings!

Given the fact that the inwale tip at the stern broke during assembly resulting in an assymetrical hull, the stern headboard is slightly wider and shorter than the bow headboard. I also purposely left the headboards wider than actual so that they can by shaved down to proper size to compensate for the sheathing thickness as well when it comes to fitting them in later.

Stern & Bow headboards

Like Dina's headboards, I plan on decorating mine as well but haven't come up with any ideas yet.


Mungo said...

Interesting article "Maliseet 'grandfather canoe' comes home for visit" you might enjoy...



Edwin said...

I'm reading Dina's book right now. Good reading.

Murat said...

Appreciate the link Mungo. I never got a chance to check out this canoe when it was on display in Ottawa. The fact that it may be the world't oldest surviving bark canoe makes it priceless.

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