Help support the WCHA Forums by making a tax-deductible donation!

When to harvest birch bark?

Discussion in 'Birchbarks, Dugouts and Primitive Craft' started by Gary, Mar 8, 2020.

  1. Gary

    Gary Canoe Grampa

    Hi, I'm hoping to repair my birch bark canoe come spring and I'll need some birch bark to do so. I've identified the trees which I can harvest the necessary bark from. but everything I read/watched about when to do so is rather vague? I only know late winter early spring? Would anyone be able to be more specific, i.e. temperature range, that helps make this most successful? The future of this canoe is dependent on me getting birch bark.
    Thanks, Gary
  2. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

  3. OP

    Gary Canoe Grampa

    Thanks Greg, still a little vague, but I like the tip about before the leaves bud for summer bark, that should help.
  4. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Winterbark; difficult and time consuming to harvest, painstakingly using a wooden splint to meticulously separate the outer bark from the cambium.

    It is far easier to harvest birchbark once the sap begins to flow -as indicated by the buds starting to leaf out. Sometimes the bark even "pops" off the tree once you have done the circular and longintudinal cuts.

    Bark can be harvested from a standing tree or after falling a tree, which risks bruising, splits and delamination from impact. Some people lay a bed of spruce boughs and small trees to fell the log onto.

    There are several methods to harvest from a standing tree, leaving the tree living as there is a corky cambium layer remains on the tree when you remove the outer bark.

    Use a ladder. Hold the bark from the top using a spring clamp and rope, so the bark can be lowered to the ground gently.

    Someone (unnamed) is known to screw a series of lagbolts into the tree to climb up. I consider this dangerous, unless you are part monkey ie. have a tail for extra hold.
    Or top rope for safety.

    At one time there was a list of birchbark canoe building resources posted on the WCHA website. I couldn't locate it, so attach my compilation here. (Some of the hyperlinks may be outdated)

    Birch Bark Canoe Resources


    Adney, Edwin Tappan & Howard I. Chappell., The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America. 1983

    Behne, C. Ted (ed). The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney:1887-1890. 2010

    Dina, James. Voyage of the Ant. 1989.

    Evans, Doug. Noah’s Last Canoe: The Lost Art of Cree Birch Bark Canoe Building. 2008.

    Gidmark, David. Birchbark Canoe; Living Among the Algonquin. 1997

    Gidmark, David. Building a Birchbark Canoe The Algonquin Wabanaki Tciman. 1994

    Gidmark, David. The Algonquin Birchbark Canoe. 1988

    Gidmark, David. Birchbark Canoe: The Story of an Apprenticeship With the Indians. 1989

    Gidmark, David. The Indian Crafts of William & Mary Commanda. 1980

    Goode, F. W. Beaver Bark Canoes: The Art & Works of Ferdy Goode, 2010

    Guy, Camil. The Weymontaching Birchbark Canoe (Anthropological Papers No. 20, National Museum of Canada), 1974.

    Russell & Ned Jalbert “Mocotaugan: The Story and Art of the Crooked Knife”

    Jennings,John. Bark Canoes; The Art & Obsession of Tappan Adney. 2004.

    Jennings, John. The Canoe: A Living Tradition. 2002.

    Jennings, John, Bruce W. Hodgins, and Doreen Small, (eds.) The Canoe in Canadian Cultures. 1999.

    Kent, Timothy J. Birchbark Canoes of the Fur Trade (vols. 1 & 2). 1997.

    Kent, Timothy J. Paddling Across the Peninsula: An Important Cross-Michigan Canoe Route During the French Regime. 2003.

    McPhee, John. The Survival of the Birchbark Canoe, 1999

    Raffan, James & Bert Horwood (eds.), Canexus: The Canoe in Canadian Culture. 1988.

    Ritzenthaler, Robert E. Building a Chippewa Indian Birchbark Canoe. Milwaukee Public Museum. 1984.

    Roberts, Kenneth G. & Philip Shackleton. The Canoe: A History of the Craft from Panama to the Arctic. 1983.

    Rossman, William. Builder of Birch Bark Canoes. Grand Rapids Herald Review (reprinted, Minnesota Historical Society). 1969.

    Schneider, Richard G. Building a Birch Bark Canoe. 2000

    Wilson, Ian & Sally Wilson. Wilderness Journey; Reliving the Adventures of Canada’s Voyageurs. 2000.

    Streaming Video

    Aaron York building a canoe at the Lake Champlain Museum;

    Cesar’s Bark Canoe (National Film Board of Canada);

    “Earl’s Canoe” Documentary Educational Resources;

    Dave Brown: How to Build a Bark Canoe, Fort William, Thunder Bay;

    Halin, Birchbark Canoe (1st of 6 parts);

    Bill Hafeman with Charles Kuralt (CBS);

    Ishpeming Canoes (time lapse build);

    Building a Birch Bark Canoe and Preserving the Ojibwe Language;

    Moses David Bridgeman - Passamaquoddy Canoe;

    How Indians Build a Canoe (1946);

    Grant Goltz documentary on building a Birchbark Canoe (57 minutes);

    Ray Mears & Pinock Smith, BBC World of Survival; (1st of 7 part series);

    How Indians Build Canoes (1946);

    Voyages of Rediscovery (time lapse);

    Becky Mason & Reid McLaughlin, canoe ballet in birchbarks made by Ferdy Goode and Steve Cayard;

    The Old Canoe (music and historical photos);

    Other Web Resources

    Canoe from the Penobscot River An Article from American Neptune 1948;
    MGC likes this.
  5. OP

    Gary Canoe Grampa

    Wow quite the list. I do have some of these books including Edwin Tappan Adney's and have read them, and watched a few of these videos before, but enjoyed them again. I really Like "Ceasar Builds A Canoe" so much so that I bought the video off the NFB.
    Thanks Rob I think I've got the idea now, hoping our winter wont last too long as I'm eager to get at the canoe.
    Much appreciated, Gary
  6. Jon Bouton

    Jon Bouton Sucker for an Indian Girl

    Long View Forest, Inc. harvests and markets White birch bark in NH - VT. They harvest bark from trees that will be harvested in the near future, adding substantial value to those standing trees and only damaging trees that will soon be cut for wood products. Bark harvesting keeps their woodsworkers busy when spring conditions make low-impact logging difficult if not impossible.
    You can contact Logan Sears who leads this project at (802) 356-9596 or
    Rob Stevens likes this.
  7. OP

    Gary Canoe Grampa

    So after picking out the birch trees while snowshoeing last winter I returned recently to harvest the bark. I successfully got the three pieces I needed for the repairs to my birch bark canoe. I watched for sufficient canopy growth in the trees to ensure the sap was running and another tip I got from reading about harvesting birch bark was to wait for the wild roses to bloom and they are around here. The timing was right as the bark popped off the trees as described by those who've done this before. One other tip I read to ensure not to harm the tree was to only cut the bark vertically and then allow the ends to tear so you don't cut the inner bark around the trunk and obstruct the flow of sap.
    Now to get at the canoe!

    Attached Files:

Share This Page