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securing the stem?

Discussion in 'Birchbarks, Dugouts and Primitive Craft' started by mccloud, Aug 8, 2019.

  1. mccloud

    mccloud "Tiger Rag" back on the tidal Potomac In Memoriam

    I've got several books on birchbark canoe construction, yet am uncertain of one important aspect of construction: how was the internal stem secured to the bark? At the bows the two edges of bark were lashed together. Was the stem sewn in at the same time? Was the stem secured anywhere under the waterline? Tom McCloud
  2. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Last edited: Aug 9, 2019
  3. Craig Johnson

    Craig Johnson LOVES Wooden Canoes

    I believe what you are seeing in the top photo is the strips of cedar bark wrapped around the split stem to get it to hold its shape. The spruce root lashings actually pierce the stem when the bark is sewn on. At least that is how it was done on the one I watched. Here is a link to one I like. The part that shows the stem is around 38 minutes.
  4. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    Adney and Chapelle, The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America, at pages 34-35 and 48-50 indicate that on eastern canoes, usually the stem was lashed between the bark sides of the hull, with the lower end of the stem just sitting on the bark bottom.

    After the canoe is lifted from the bed of the building form, the already laminated and shaped stem-piece "is placed between the folded bark endof the canoe with the heel resting for a small distance on the bark bottom" of the hull. After the bark sides are trimmed to the shape of the stem, the "bark is next lashed to the stem-piece . . . with a spiral over-and-under stitch," with a split root batten "being placed over the edges of the bark, as the lashing proceeds, to form a stem band." "The turns pass alternately from outboard around the inboard face of the stem piece and through it; the awl inserted in the laminations from one side opens them enough to allow the strand to be forced through."

    "The heels of the stem-pieces rest on the bottom bark and the sewing is carried down to where the cutting of the profile makes an end to the seam, the solid part of the heels extending about 6 to 8 inches inboard of this." The top of a headboard that hides all this from view supports the upper stem end and the gunwale ends; often the lower end of the headboard is notched to fit over the heel end of the stem, which protrudes a bit into the open interior of the canoe; the heel end of the stem does not seem to be otherwise fastened down.

    Adney is describing a Malcite canoe stem which has a much simpler shape than that shown in the video above -- but the method of fixing the stem piece into the canoe between the bark sides of the hull seems quite similar in both, and both seem similar to the photos above.

    In some other styles of canoe, there was no interiorstem piece, or one that was solid, not laminated. "Instead of a laminated stem-piece, a large root whittled to the desired cross section was somethimes used by builders among the Malecites and other eastern tribes. This was bent into the ends while green and to it was lashed the bark, so that the stem dried in place to the desired profile curve." (Adney, p. 55.)

    Adney's illustrations are generally quite good and quite detailed, but he did not seem to think that a view of the interior of the stem end was worth drawing. But while the stems of all birch barks were not built this way, a good many were, especially in the North East, and it certainly is a reasonable way to proceed.

    Adney 34 s.jpg Adney 35 s.jpg Adney 48 s.jpg Adney 49 s.jpg Adney 50 s.jpg
  5. OP

    mccloud "Tiger Rag" back on the tidal Potomac In Memoriam

    Well, this request got some very useful replies. Thanks. That video is DEFINITELY worth watching. Lots of small details in there which don't make it into print. I highly recommend it to everyone.
    I've read several books, seen a number of birchbark canoes, and viewed several videos, but the stem treatment had eluded me. One of my books says that the women pushed an awl in between the 'laminations' of the stem and pushed spruce root thru. I found that somewhat difficult to believe, as it seemed an almost impossible task, particularly if the stem is tightly wound with root, but turns out it is true. Those women who did the lashing have my admiration for the superhuman strength in their hands! And entirely by coincidence, the e-newsletter from the Canadian Canoe Museum unnamed  Canadian Canoe Museum.jpg , which just arrived, has the attached photo in it.
    Rob Stevens likes this.

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