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How to Build Your Own Canoe

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A canoe trip can be a fascinating way to get back in touch with nature. If you want to really tap back into your natural roots, what better way than by making your own boat? Dugout canoes made from hollowed logs have been around for thousands of years. Some of the earliest dugout canoes are 10,000 years old, making this one of the oldest boat-building methods in the world. Time for you to carry on that tradition.

1) Timber!

Find the right tree. Native Americans preferred pine or chestnut, but you can also use spruce, cottonwood, redwood, or cedar. The log should be free of rot and at least eight feet long, although if you want to go bigger, knock yourself out. Some Native American war canoes were almost 100 feet long.

2) Become an Adze Man

An adze, a hybrid of an axe and a hoe, is the handiest device in your boat-building toolbox. Use it to strip away the bark. When you’re done disrobing your log, flatten one side. This will be the bottom of the canoe.

3) Get Fired Up

Flip the log over and use your adze to hack a small trough down the middle, stuff it with kindling, and light it up. Let it burn for about four hours. The fire will soften the wood. If you prefer a different technique, the tribes of the Pacific Northwest would fill the trough with water and searing hot stones.

4) Scrape the Bottom of the Barrel

When the fire dies, scrape the charred tree with your adze. You should be able to dig down about one inch. If you want to be super authentic, scrape out the hull with shells instead. In the early 1600s, colonist William Wood observed Native Americans doing just that. He wrote, “Before they were acquainted with English tooles, they burned hollow, scraping them smooth with Clam-shells and Oystershels.”

5) Rinse and Repeat

Now, do it again. Burn and scrape your boat until you’ve formed a complete hull. As you burrow deeper, you’ll want to prevent some sections from crumbling in the flame. Wrap them with wet clay to control the burn—it’s excellent insulation.

6) Have Another Hobby

The more fires you light, the lighter the boat will be. But the longer you’ll have to wait, too. In 1643, theologian Roger Williams wrote that it took one Native American 12 days to make a canoe. So as you burn your boat, you’ll need to burn time. Might want to pack a book and some beer.

7) Get Polishing

When you’re finished with the controlled burns, rub down the rough edges with sandstone or siltstone. Polish and waterproof it with some pine tar and hot wood ash, or smear it with sap.

8) Ready, Set, Scuttle!

No matter how well-built your canoe is, it will be heavy. (Lewis and Clark used dugouts that literally weighed a ton). Once you dump your boat in the water, you won’t want to lug it out. So if you want to store it safely, follow the Native Americans’ lead and sink it. During the winter, they’d overload their canoes with rocks, sinking them to a shallow bottom. Called scuttling, the process would protect boats from the winter freeze. When spring returned, they’d remove the stones and the boat would bob back to the surface.

Want to be more interesting without chopping down a tree? Rent a normal canoe! Then celebrate your genius by cracking open a Dos Equis.

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How to Shave With a Straight Razor
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Our Be More Interesting series will teach you new skills to wow your friends. Today, Max Silvestri learns to shave with a straight razor. 

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How to Cross a River Without a Bridge
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Need to cross a roaring river? It’s always best to find a bridge, but if you absolutely must make it to the other side on your own, a few easy steps can keep you high and relatively dry.

1. Scout Around

Invest a little time in finding the best place to make your crossing. Avoid bends in the river, where water whips around the fastest. Once you find a suitable spot, walk downstream a few hundred feet to make sure there aren’t any hazards. It’s always good to know about the pesky 30-foot waterfall around the bend.

2. Don’t Be Narrow-Minded

They look tempting, but narrow crossings can be the most dangerous—they’re often the deepest part of the river. Look for the widest section instead. Keep an eye out for mild ripples—which are safe to cross—and avoid whitecaps, which can be treacherously slippery.

3. Ditch Your Duds

If the water will reach your knees, strip down to your skivvies - your pride isn’t worth getting hypothermia from wet clothes. Even if the river is shallow, remove your socks and put on a second pair of shoes if you have them. If you’re backpacking, unbuckle your front straps so you can quickly slip out of your pack if you fall.

4. Shuffle Up

Face upstream, lean into the current, and move across the river with shuffling sidesteps. You’re less likely to fall while sidestepping since you don’t lift your feet as high. If you’re with a group, link arms. The technique creates more contact points with the streambed and gives everyone a more solid footing.

5. Become a Bump on a Log

If the rapids are too fast, shuffling across may be a bad idea. Look for a log that spans the whole river instead. But don’t walk on it! Wet wood can be dangerously slippery. Instead, straddle the log and scoot along until you reach the other side.

6. Float Away

In situations where the river is deep but the current isn’t very swift, a football or soccer ball can be a handy improvised flotation device. Tether it to your wrist and grab on when you get tired of swimming. Or hug it with one arm as you sidestroke for extra buoyancy.
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Once you make it to the opposite shore, dry off and toast your successful crossing with a round of Dos Equis.

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