Canadian Woodworking

The great Canadian invention

Author: Don Wilkinson
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: June 2008
The Great Canadian Invention
The Great Canadian Invention

Over the course of man’s reign on earth he has managed to create several fairly decent items to make his living a little easier or more enjoyable. Most of these creations have been made from at least one of four major material groups: stone, metal, plastic or glass.


With deepest apologies to our esteemed National Rodent, other than the few dams scattered across this country, there are remarkably few inventions in the lexicon of the world that have been made of wood. The paper this magazine is written on comes immediately to mind, as does the pencil stub used to write the first draft of this article. (For those of you who enjoy trivia, the cedar pencil is not made of cedar at all, but of juniper, which is of the cypress family).

The same goes for the tables, chairs, beds and other wood-like furniture scattered throughout our houses. Most of it isn’t even real wood but a mixture of glues, resins and powdered sawdust that has been squeezed, shaped and terraformed into a reasonable facsimile of a real wood product.

I know someone will be saying right about now, “But what about log cabins? Aren’t they made of wood?” Yes, they are. But is a log cabin a true invention or simply a modification on a proven design? Even the world’s largest log structure, the Chateau Montebello, is just a slightly larger version of a log cabin. The world’s largest wooden airplane, the Spruce Goose, was simply a larger variation of earlier planes. To further your confusion, it wasn’t even made of spruce, but Ontario birch. However, I suppose calling it the Birch Bufflehead wouldn’t have quite the same ring to it.

No, when you look at it objectively, with the exception of the tree itself, of all the world’s great inventions, there is really only one thing that can stand tall as being a true wooden invention.

Most often it is found lying picturesquely upside down beside a dock or stashed beneath the front porch of a cottage. It’s remarkable how seldom you actually see it in its natural habitat, the water. Yes, I am talking about that greatest of Canadian inventions, the humble canoe. Oh sure! Maybe some other person in a far off country has also used a hollowed out old tree for the same purpose, and maybe someone else even went so far as to stretch animal skins across a few bent branches to create something similar. But those boats are crude objects of derision in comparison, and none can hope to measure up to the grace and beauty of the Great Canadian Canoe.

Originally, canoes were made by sewing large sheets of birch bark onto a curved wooden frame using willow roots and then sealing the resulting cracks, seams and holes with pine tar, thus instantly making the birch bark canoe one of the few worthwhile inventions created solely from the excess parts of a tree.

Unfortunately, this was very messy, time consuming and really hard work, so it was immediately followed by the invention of the bead-and-cove shaper bit, palm sanders, the table saw, and fibreglass cloth and resin.

In this manner, we can directly attribute the growth and development of today’s woodworking industry to man’s yearning to more easily recreate the canoe so that it too may languish beneath some cottage stoop while the canoe builder roars across the lake in his jet-ski.

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