ray mears : birch bar canoe

Cliff Stamp

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I caught this last night, this isn't a show which you can watch to learn how to build a birch bark canoe, too many details of the construction are left out, unless you were very familiar with woodworking in which case you could just improvise.

It basically overviews the steps used in making a birch bark canoe with hand tools. There are no plans, measuring tapes or prebuilt jigs of any kind used and the canoe is custom made for Mears. The main tools are a crooked knife and what looks to be a GB small forest axe.

Aside from the specifics of building a canoe, the techniques illustrated have a wide range of uses, how to turn spruce roots into cordage for example, how to split woods (though most of the techniques can only be used on cedar or very similar woods), and how to carve notches with a knife.

Though much is made about how it would be cheating to use a drill (everything is hand tools) the process starts with squared timber and there is no mention of the length of time it takes to do this by hand with a broad axe (not to mention the skill to get it flat which is *really* rare, I have only known one person who could do it) vs a mill.

Mears is very comfortable on camera and the entire process, though there are some problematic times as it doesn't go perfectly as the canoe gets too much sun and the bark starts to crack, is enjoyed by both participants, Mears and the guy who actually makes the canoe who does everything as natural as walking.

Which is a fairly problematic point, if you look in the description there is no mention that a craftsmen who family has been building the canoes for generation is there and Mears build it with his guidance and it more of an assistant/apprentice.

-Cliff
 

skammer

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I enjoyed it a lot that episode.

Ray is head and heals ahead of Stroud for his ease of communication and on camera personna.

that said it is bushcraft and not pure survival.

Still there was no whining in front of the camera and that was enough for me to give him 2 thumbs up.;)

Skam
 

Cliff Stamp

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There is a fairly large difference, Davenport notes this clearly in his book on on "Wilderness Living" vs "Wilderness Survival", based on the episode I would definately like to see Mears handle more survival senarios and in particular fairly harsh enviroments in less than ideal conditions, he just seems so comfortable with woodworking and seems to have the personality to face adversity really well. I would like to see for example friction fire building in wet/windy conditions and keeping warm without adequate clothing in similar.

For example even a fully formed bough cave or debris shelter doesn't actually provide any heat the inside is just as cold as the outside and if the temperature (minus the wind chill) is low enough it still won't keep you warm thus you need ideally something like a fire bed inside, or at least a small very controlled fire (not trivial outside of lamps) or some kind of rotating rocks which is best done in shifts. These are the kinds of issues I would like to see guys like Mears and Davenport discuss as I have not found any solutions which I would call ideal.

There is also a lot in the details, for example Davenport gives a decent description of how to build a stone axe, but leaves out a lot of the details such as using knots to prevent wood from splitting, soaking/boiling the wood to make it more flexible, and how to choose the right rock to get it to fit in the axe and stay stable and the fact that using it as a throwing tool is very prone to being a not repeatable weapon as the rock can break and the cordage fracture. I think you could write a book on each section/chapter in "Wilderness Survival".

Funny perspectives though, I have been making a lot of tinder lately and there is one shot which has Mears sitting alongside two huge piles of cedar chips and all I could think on was the potential for fire making there, cedar burns *fast* and hot, combine that with birch bark and getting a fire going would not be hard, then you have all the ash and birch to burn, but burning ash is almost shameful it is such a strong and clean hardwood, what a selection of woods though.

-Cliff
 

Cliff Stamp

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Horse said:
What square timber?

The wood I saw split, was very square ended with very straight edges. I could have swore I saw the very beginning outside of the OLN intro, did he start off with on cedar log and break it into planks?

Which brings up one point, when he compares the two barks to show why birch is superior to cedar for the canoe hull, he bends them two different ways. If he turned the cedar 90 degrees he could bend it across the grain just like he does with the birch, it is still too thick and unflexible however but it isn't a fair way to contrast the behavior.

-Cliff
 

skammer

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I think he will cover some basic survival issues in future episodes, with a bushcraft slant of course.

Skam
 

Cliff Stamp

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I look forward to them, I have used roots for cordage before but never went as far in preparing them, even though I have seen a lot of wood soaked and heated for flexibility which would be an obvious application. It never came to me when I built a platform bed awhile back. Of course knowing something aad having it second nature is different as well. I want to see now if you can exploit the fact that it will tighten when it dies to construct a few tools/weapons.

-Cliff
 

Junkyard

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Where do you guys see these programs? The Discover Science Channel? OLN?

Thanks,
Jason
 

Junkyard

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Thanks.
I wish my cable provider would air these types of shows.:(

Jason
 

mewolf1

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I missed the show. Just in Canada?
I've been a boat builder for about 15 years and have built many(and taught)cedar strip building, a kayak(spin off design of a greenland boat all tied together,no nails)and have yet to build a birch boat. I will someday!! Been studyin the prossess all these years and one thing I'm relativly sure of is that in a survival situation I could build one to cross a body of water or paddle my sorry butt out of the bush.
Ya ya, I know do'in is differnt that studyin, but if it is all in yer head you could get by. It probably wouldn't be pretty, and it would most likely leak, but you could get out of deep doodoo. This might be bushcraft til TSHTF and becomes a survival skill. Knoledge is one thing that can't be taken from you.
A knife is all you need to do this in a pinch.


http://jumaka.com/birchbarkcanoe/
http://www.barkcanoe.com/home.htm
 
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I got both of Ray's DVD's for Christmas and while they don't go into as much detail of skills as I would like to see they are nevertheless hugely enjoyable.

Out of the 2 seasons (10 episodes) My favourites were 'Aboriginal Britian' Making a longbow and arrows with flint tools. Sweden (lots of fabrication on this one from Ski's to knives)

Ray seems so comfortable on camera and this is probably due to him being a master of the situation, he is pretty easy going and seems to have a 'Its all part of the package' attitude (when you can see he has been chewed to ribbons by mosquitoes and flies in Canada during the canoe trip :) )

All in all, a great way to kill the early evening with a glass of Rum in hand :thumbup:
 

Junkyard

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Temper,
Mind if I ask where you got the DVDs.
I'd like to buy them.

Thanks in advance.
Jason
 
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Junkyard,
I got them (or, rather my mom did) from Amazon UK. You can also get them from Rays site. I have to watch them on the PC though due to the retared DVD sytems for regions :jerkit: no wonder piracy (in general) is so rampant.

http://www.raymears.com/
 

Cliff Stamp

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I checked with Mear's, they did start with logs, they just didn't show the entire process on tv.

-Cliff
 
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Cliff on the DVD they show them (Mears and the Indian guy) actually splitting the logs. Each one was a good 20' or so. I think that the constraints on TV forces them to edit some out. The DVD episodes are a bit longer, or so I have heard.

There are also a lot of extra's like Birch Bark containers, Ash bark container and a Birch Bark Match case.

Lots of nice nifty tricks and as you say, Ray is very comfortable with wood and the working of it with a multitude of tools.
 

Cliff Stamp

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Twenty inch cedar is kind of amusing, the largest wood here is generally 8-12", anything bigger was cut down 1-2 generations ago for lumber for houses. The local wood is also not picked for tools either. I'd like to see some wood working on fairly bad wood, it isn't everywhere you have cedar and ash or even birch let alone hickory.

I would like to see a self bow for example made out of white pine or even better alder which not only grows very twisty but is extremely weak and soft. I was figuring trying to maybe split the wood and laminate it to make a composite. It is fairly difficult however to split those woods thin.

Note if you watch him cutting the tripod, he limbs the branchs from below which is far easier on the tree and on the knife as the branch wants to bend this way but it will tend to crack the other way. It also means you are far less likely to go through the branch and cut into the tree which may be important for several reasons.

He doesn't even note he is doing it probably because it is second nature to him but doing it the other way on larger wood is probably one of the hardest things you can do with a long blade or axe and if you just reverse the direction it is *much* easier.

-Cliff
 
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No, I meant they were 20ft long ' not " inches

Why would you bother to use a wood you know is very poor to start with?

Probably better to get a plank of Ash from a lumber yard. At least the material is correct, anything else that doesnt work is just maker error. No point throwing too many variables into the equation, selfbow making is hard enough (to do a good job) and using junk material will just make the learning curve too steep.
 

Cliff Stamp

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Temper said:
Why would you bother to use a wood you know is very poor to start with?

Because that is all we have locally, there are some nice clean grained semi-hardwoods (oak / birch) but they are rare as in I have walked for km and not seen even one tree. I figure if you figure out how to work with the bad ones it just makes the good ones that much easier.

Of course you have to start somewhere, it would be a pretty insensible choice to start off with these topics, but I would like to see Ray take a twisted piece of Cedar and make the same paddle. I don't think it is reasonable to just know how to work with ideal materials.

Assume for example Mears is stuck and needs to get out (emergency) so he has to make a paddle, how long does he search for the perfect piece of wood before he decides to just take what he can find, based on how he handled the wood, I don't think it would stump him.

I would even be curious to know for example how far he would take the paddle before he would use it, would he even go beyond the rough shaping stage. This is one of the reasons why I like the guy Mears was with on the Canoe trip would pack an extra paddle though I would also learn how to make one as well.

-Cliff
 
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Cliff Stamp said:
Assume for example Mears is stuck and needs to get out (emergency) so he has to make a paddle, how long does he search for the perfect piece of wood before he decides to just take what he can find, based on how he handled the wood, I don't think it would stump him.

-Cliff

He would probably take as much time as possible. Having it break while in fast water wouldnt be good. Also, consider the extra time in making a useable paddle because the material is ill suited, taking more time sourcing it but being assured of not only a strong paddle, but one that is easy to work with is IMHO the sensible thing to do.

Of course you can't always find what you want, but in the places he was, fallen wood was anything but scarce.
 
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