Dugout canoes are made from hollowed-out tree trunks and thus are naturally buoyant. They may be plain or elaborately decorated like the two pictured.
The earliest wooden boat, a dugout, dates from about 6000 bc and was discovered in what is now The Netherlands. A dugout consists of a log hollowed out with tools or by controlled burning. Early boat builders also constructed craft of sewn planks. This form of construction was used extensively throughout history. Sewn-timber construction was common among the peoples of the Pacific Islands, whose dugouts often had topsides formed of irregular sewn pieces of timber.
Wooden Boat Frame
A boatbuilder master carpenter builds a wooden boat frame with 18th-century tools. The frame will be covered with planks in either a lapstrake or carvel fashion. Lapstrake planks overlap each other, whereas carvel planks lie side by side to form a smooth outer surface.
Craft constructed of wood planks appear to have been developed gradually from the modified dugout by about 5000 bc, or even earlier in some regions. Log construction methods were also used for ancient Egyptian boats, in which short planks of timber were bolted edge to edge to form a hull.
Framing and planking are the basic components of modern wooden boats. The frame is used to support and stiffen the hull, including the stem, keel, keelson, ribs, knees, and wales. The planking is the outer shell that is fastened to the framing.
Making a Dugout Canoes
1. The first step in making a dugout canoe was felling a large tree and splitting it lengthwise. On the Northwest Coast, canoes were usually made from cedar or redwood trees. Logs were split using wedges driven into the wood with handheld stone mauls. The same tools were used to remove the bark and begin shaping the log.
2. Next, the builder shaped and smoothed the outside of the canoe. Rough shaping was done using a maul, wedges, and chisel. Hand adzes with blades of stone, bone, or shell were used to finish the surface.
3. Once the outside of the hull was finished, the canoe maker hollowed out the inside. In some areas, much of the hollowing was done by charring the wood with controlled fires, then chipping it out with chisels and adzes. Another method was to chisel grooves in the wood, then split out large slabs with a maul and wedge. Careful attention was needed to make the sides and bottom the correct thickness.
4. To widen the canoe, the hull was partially filled with water, which was heated to boiling by dropping in hot stones. The craft’s exterior was also heated with nearby fires. Once softened by steam and fire, the hull was widened by placing progressively longer spreading sticks between the gunwales (the top part of the sides of the canoe).
5. Next, the canoe maker added a high bow and a stern, each carved from separate pieces of wood and shaped to fit exactly on the hull. These were secured to the boat with wooden pegs or with animal or plant fibers laced through holes. Thwarts (crossbars for sitting) were also added.
6. Finally, the entire canoe was sanded, smoothed, and decorated. Some Native American groups, such as the Haida of the Northwest Coast, artistically carved and painted the bow and the stern.