Introduction: Dugout Canoe

Picture of Dugout Canoe

This dugout canoe was created for the Hayward Area Historical Society Museum. The canoe is part of the exhibition from the California Exhibition Resources Alliance (CERA).

This canoe was first carved as a model from a section of a willow. Then an actual full size canoe was created from a 30" by 8' redwood log. Choose spruce, pine, cedar, cottonwood or redwood.

Step 1: Get a Log

Picture of Get a Log

We bought our log from a lumber company since we were in a hurry to make it on time for a museum. Try to find a downed tree to use as your log. Ask around; keep your eyes out; be ready, as you will want to work the log green since it carve much easier. Best to find your log next to water so you can get your boat into the water with out hauling. Some times you can find a log washed up on on a beach.

Step 2: Tools Used:

Picture of Tools Used:

Tools used: Chain saw, ax and adze to remove the material. It can be done with a bucksaw or even without steel tools by using wooden or stone wedges, fire and stone tools. You will need a great deal more time with this method.

Step 3: Make a Modle and Remove Bark:

Picture of Make a Modle and Remove Bark:

1) Make drawings of what you want your canoe to look like. If you are looking for reference on indigenous traditional canoes, do a search online for making a dugout canoe.

2) Make a small model of your canoe to see what it will look like in 3-dimension.

3) For the full size canoe, remove the bark and draw an outline on the top and side of your chosen wood.

Step 4: Cut, Saw, Adze...

Picture of Cut, Saw, Adze...

4) Cut away, with a saw, ax and adze, the bulk of your unwanted material. Start by creating a flat bottom. We made saw cuts perpendicular to the length of the log about every 6" and then used an ax to split out the sections.

Step 5: Shape

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5) Shape the ends again using a saw.

6) Cut the top of the canoe off as well as the bottom.

Step 6: Finish Up...

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7) We made cuts across the grain in the center of the canoe being very careful not to cut too deep. Then we split out this wood with an adze and ax.

8) The finish work was all done with the adze.

Step 7: Get Your Dugout Canoe in the Water!

Picture of Get Your Dugout Canoe in the Water!

9) Get and keep your boat in water as soon as you finish it since it will develop cracks if it is not kept wet.

The dugout canoe is a natural and useful form of water transportation. It was also a fun project.

See a short video of the dugout canoe construction:


wingo69 (author)2016-10-12

Seems like a nice job guys, yet I think the canoe is too short and its sides are a lot thicker than they need to be.

We made dug out canoe with my brother, using just hand tools, and altough it was quite a time consuming task it turned out pretty well, you can check it out

we tried to capture the useful bits on video, if you want to make one yourself you may find it useful, cheers!

armourkris (author)2013-07-22

I saw one of these getting made once, the finished canoe was all of about a half inch thick, they got to that by drilling a series of holes and plugging them with a different coloured wood, that way they could use them as depth gauges to know when to stop chopping out wood.

finton (author)2012-12-10

Nice. I saw one of these being created in an inland village in the Solomon Islands back in 1982 after Cyclone Namu had ripped through the islands. After watching the guy for a while, I realised he was carving it out of solid mahogany!

carneasada21 (author)2012-03-06

what would work is some boiled tree sap to seal it

sawdust13 (author)2010-08-08

In the south, a cypress log would work also. Cajuns in Louisana, make pirogues from them and that is just a flatter canoe.

KingOfCatfish (author)sawdust132011-03-25

Pirogues are quite fun! My father and older brothers built one when I was a small child, still have it. That little boat will go in 4" of water with two people inside of it and not even scratch bottom.

nickodemus (author)2010-08-14

What adds to the awesome-ness, you did this all in your driveway. Nice work.

Re-design (author)2009-09-17

Even with a chainsaw, that's a ton o' work. Great job.

Matin (author)2008-07-18

This boat was make for a museum so we did not get a chance to put it in the water. But I have every reason to expect it would be good in the water. It was copied after the Lewis and Clark dugouts: One important trick is to make sure the bottom is flat; this makes the boat stable. A round bottom makes for a tippy boat.

stickmop (author)Matin2009-08-25

Aug 25, 2009. 5:45 PMstickmop says: Canoes aren't tippy - canoeists are. :-) (Very) generally speaking, flat bottom canoes are good for initial stability but once you lose it, you're in the drink. A round bottom canoe can flip you if you are casual about hopping in but they often have more secondary stability going through the chop. There was a dugout in my family years ago, but it was stored under a porch. Someone may have stolen it, but more likely it just rotted away.

jesse8fox1 (author)2009-04-20

lol we are done making one of these at conner prairie

I_am_Canadian (author)2008-08-06

Thats legendary epic.

TreeFrog (author)2008-07-21

You seem to have left the sides very thick - I always thought the idea was to slim them down as much a possible (and even then she'll turn like an oil tanker...) Still - fair play - most of us don't actually make these things....

Matin (author)TreeFrog2008-07-21

Thin is best but this was quick for the show. One way of making a thin boat without the worry of hollowing too deep is to finish the outside and bottom; then drill a lot of small holes in the bottom and sides in a grid of every 6" or so, to a given depth of say 3"; then hollow out the inside of the boat till you just see the hole marks. Finely go around and drive plugs of wood into the holes. Yep, she is very slow to turn. Ah, but what a way to go... Been hiking for weeks; come to a river; cut down or find a tree; hollow her out, and now you and all your stuff are floating.

TreeFrog (author)Matin2008-08-01

certainly beats walking (downstream anyway...) Nice Instructable!

hydrnium.h2 (author)2008-07-20

I thought they burned the hollow spot into the canoe?

Matin (author)hydrnium.h22008-07-20

From my understanding, the Indians used fire and stone tools. Louis and Clark used steel.

gmoon (author)2008-07-19

I do appreciate your efforts...but historically (and practically), 8 ft isn't a very realistic LOA. Sized for a single person, it's too small to be useful; too heavy for one person to portage.

And boat stability increases proportionally to length. I.E., doubling the length will double it's stability (it's counter-intuitive, but true.)

Or (I suspect) was the length scaled for the display?

Kiteman (author)gmoon2008-07-20

Or they simply bought the longest log they could afford?

I have no idea how much actual trees cost, but museums tend to have tight budgets.

Matin (author)Kiteman2008-07-20

It was a combination of room size and money.

gmoon (author)Kiteman2008-07-20

Yep--for a historical society, it is a very ambitious project.

Matin (author)gmoon2008-07-20

Right you are. This was just for display. 16' to 20' would be more like it.

carpespasm (author)2008-07-20

Something to try to keep the canoe from splitting would be sealing it with a stain or oil finish. You could use transmission fluid as well, but be very thourough in wiping it into the grain and clean of excess before putting it into the water, you don't want to wash a slick off the sides.

Weissensteinburg (author)2008-07-18

Cool! How long did it take, start to finish?

Matin (author)Weissensteinburg2008-07-18

About three weeks, part time with the help of friends. Use the Huck Fin approch to your advantage. Pace your self so its fun and not a back problem. Wear eye protection, get good sharp tools and be careful.

theRIAA (author)Matin2008-07-18

how many bloody hands did it make?

chewie (author)2008-07-18

How hard is it to shape? great instructable!

Matin (author)chewie2008-07-18

Not hard with good tools. Chain saw is a must unless you have time.

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