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North Woods Craft Course

“In the realm of material culture, the tool for making an object is often as important as the object itself.” —Axiom of Anthropologists

During this week long course, you will learn the skills and knowledge required to craft the fundamental tools of the temperate North Woods – the crooked-knife, the axe handle and the canoe paddle. You will develop callouses and sore muscles while creating functional and beautiful tools and crafts in a woodland setting.

The underlying ethos of this course focuses on the ability to craft your own tools, using simple bush-tools, and to not be reliant on mass produced items. 

Travelling in the North Woods is an immensely satisfying experience at any time of year, but does require some specific equipment. In the warmer months, the items that make life comfortable and travel possible are the Crooked Knife or the Mocotaugan, the Axe and the Canoe Paddle. In the winter these are replaced with the Snowshoe and moccasin. 


This course aims to lead you through the process of making these tools in a woodland setting using the basic tools you would carry with you on a trip. You will begin with learning how to ‘field forge’, a backwoods process that will transform an old steel file into a functional crooked-knife blade. Having created crooked-knife, you will then carve a section of ash-wood, learning the art of re-handling an axe head. And finally, using your crooked-knife and self-handled axe, you will carve a functional and beautiful canoe paddle. Blisters and callouses are almost guaranteed as you remove waste wood and reveal the finished item from the original timber. However, a few blisters will be well worth it as the affection you feel towards a mass produced item pails into insignificance when compared with and item you have sweated and toiled over.

The Mocotaugan

“Almost unknown today, this knife is one of the most distinctive antiquities of the ‘Man of the North’.” —Carl Russell

The Mocotaugan or Crooked-knife is a one handed draw knife and was the go to tool of the Woodland Native-Americans, the canoe, sled and snowshoe makers. The Cree and Ojibwa called it the Mocotaugan, while the French-Canadian called it the “le couteau croche”, which translates directly into English as the ‘Crooked Knife’. The ability to use the knife one handed allows the other hand to hold the work piece and therefore removes the need for clamps or vices. There is no better tool for the finer work on axe handles and canoe paddles.

The Woodsmoke team will teach you:
• Annealing
• Shaping
• Tempering
• Sharpening
• Handle construction
• Maintenance and care
Re-handling an axe

You should always be one axe handle ahead…” –Mors L. Kochanski

The axe re-handling will be led by Brian Elener, a professional carpenter who has undertaken many independent trips to the North Woods and used these skills in remote settings.

Learn the finer points of selecting; shaping and fitting an axe handle… an essential skill for any woodsman.

  • Selection of timber and grain
  • Sizing and design
  • Shaping
  • Fitting
  • Care and maintenance
  • Wedging
  • Hanging
  • Balancing
The North Woods Paddle
“….a man is part of his canoe and therefore part of all it knows. The instant he dips a paddle he flows as it flows.”  – Sigurd Olson 

Much of the secret of canoeing lies in the paddle itself.  The correct paddle, in good hands, can propel a canoe gracefully and elegantly with near perfect efficiency.  In addition, it is hard to deny the beauty of a well-made wooden paddle; the grace of its lines, the uniqueness of the grain, and the sheer functionality of such a delightful object.

The North Woods paddle is born out of the rich canoeing history of the extensive waterways of North America, where the canoe has been the most efficient mode of transport for thousands of years. Indians, voyaguers, trappers and guides have honed the North Woods paddle, and a unique paddle stroke, to perfectly suit energy efficient travel and canoe tripping.

  • History of the North Woods paddle
  • Wood selection and requirements
  • Paddle making tools
  • Marking out
  • Rough-shaping the blank
  • Fairing and fine-shaping
  • Finishing and caring for your paddle

2018 DATES: 21 – 27 August – Venue: Witherslack

VENUE: Claife Heights
PRICE: £595.00 per person (inc. All food, beverages, axe head, file, course equipment, camping fees & VAT.)