Carving NW Canoes

Steve Brown



Canoes are the backbone of Northwest Coast cultures, enabling the resource gathering, travel, and warfare capabilities that made their survival and artistic development possible.

Canoe models are an ancient tradition, and appeared in the pre-contact levels of the Ozette archaeological site, dating 300-500 years ago. 

One purpose of canoe models was for children’s play, but they were also made as a means of mastering the sculptural forms preparatory to carving full-size canoes. Models were also made to represent particular full-size canoes given away at potlatch ceremonies, one of the most prestigious of such gifts.

Canoes (and their models) contain all the curved forms and elegant lines that are found in Northwest Coast ceremonial arts such as feast bowls and masks, with the added plus that you can float in them and travel from place to place.

Class Description

In this workshop we will focus on the canoe types native to Puget Sound, the Salish Sea. One is the indigenous Salish type, postulated as the form that farther north was developed into what is known as the Northern canoe.

The other type that was common in the Salish Sea in the nineteenth century has been called the Chinook canoe, the West Coast canoe, or the Makah/Nuuchahnulth canoe.

Created originally for the outside waters of the open coast, from the Columbia River to the west coast of Vancouver Island, this canoe has the seaworthy characteristics that enabled offshore seal and whale hunting, out in the migration zones up to 40 miles into the Pacific. Many of these canoes were traded into the more protected Salish waters, where they were admired for their seaworthiness and appearance, and Salish craftsmen appear to have made them for local use as well. 

We will work in either red cedar or alder, both woods appropriate for the task and with a historic record of employment for this purpose. We will carve the outsides first and then hollow the models out, including as many of the traditional finished details as each participant has time to complete.


At a minimum you will need to the following carving tools to participate in this class:

  • Straight edge elbow adze
  • Curved edge elbow adze
  • Curved traditional carving knife
  • Straight traditional carving knife

Carvers who already own tools are encouraged to bring their full carving kit with them. The discussions and history of various tools are great fun.


This is a class for experienced carvers or graduates of Steve's NW Carving: Toolmaking and Techniques course -  where you make the tools you'll need for this course

The small class size and duration of the class allow plenty of one-on-one time with Steve. We're expecting a number of skilled carvers to treat this class as a weeklong master class and celebration of NW Coast Arts. 

Class Information and Registration

Class starts at 9:00am on the first day.
This class takes place in Building 306 at Fort Worden - not the School Building. Map
Please read our What to Expect page for general information about the School.
Please also read our Registration Policy.

Class size: 10
Cost: $ 750
Materials Charge: $ 50

When you click on the Register link you will be able to register for the class or, if the class is full, sign up for the wait list.