Nature Notes

Vol. X February - 1932 No. 2

Woodworking Art of the Northwest Indians tree

The Indians of the Pacific Northwest, of course, had no tools for working on the woods as we understand them today. Axes, cross cut saws, cant hooks and peavies were unknown to them. Yet it was often necessary for them to fall timber or otherwise obtain lumber from standing trees for their lodges, canoes or other articles necessary in their daily endeavors. So they resorted to crude, but nevertheless ingenious methods.

To obtain planks from a standing tree the timber was selected and a scarf was cut near the base with such tools as stone adzes or others of stone resembling our modern axe. A fire was built therein, the burning being localized by the application of water above the scarf. While this was going on another indian would climb the tree to the desired height, or go up a nearby tree within easy reach of the selected timber, and make two notches in it. The wood was then split out and the process repeated until a rather deep notch was made. Then wedges - possibly of yew wood for this material is very hard - were driven into the lower face of the notch with stone hammers and planks split off the trunk of the tree in that manner.

Cedar - Western Red Cedar - was undoubtedly chosen most often as this wood has a very straight grain and splits very easily.

Thus planks of varying length were obtained for numerous purposes. This laborious process gives us some idea of the reason why the coastal northwest indians were so frugal in the saving of the planks for their lodges - carrying them from place to place as they moved about. Their methods are a startling contrast to present day methods of logging in this same region.


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