Canoe Construction

Instructional Fair, Inc.

Because their region contained many rivers, lakes, and streams, the Eastern Woodland Indians became expert craftsmen of the canoe.  It was essential that the canoes be durable because they were used for hunting, travel, trade and in times of war.  Canoes were constructed by a team of two men and four women, with the construction lasting from 10 to 21 days.  The primary materials included wet, soft birch wood for the sides and bottom, spruce rootlets to sew the pieces together, boiled spruce gum to glue the pieces in place, and bark carved into "ribs" to support from the inside.  The Indians had tried many different materials and processes before finding the one that worked out best.  Now you can do the same using materials to build a small canoe that will float and hold pennies without sinking! Here's how:

With a partner, collect several types of materials that may be used to build an 8" canoe.  Suggestions include: plastic containers, foil, plastic wrap, etc.

  1. Begin construction of your canoe and document it in the chart below.
  2. Test your canoe by placing it in a container of water.  Then slowly add one penny to your canoe, then another, and other until your canoe starts to sink.  Record the number of pennies.
  3. Consider the cause of your boat sinking and change one thing about it.
  4. Repeat these steps three times, recording after each.
  5. Complete the questions.


Try #

Describe the construction and any changes you have made.

Draw your canoe and label the materials.

# of Pennies

More or less than last try?

Reason for change






































  1. Which change was the most successful? Why?

  2. Name two important factors in building a canoe.

  3. What do you think the Indians did to use those factors in building their canoes?


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society