Wooden canoes a passion for BL man [UPDATED]Published 11:10am Tuesday, May 29, 2012 Updated 11:44am Tuesday, May 29, 2012
While most boats will break down, wear out or go out of style after 40 years of use, wooden canoes will last forever if taken care of.
David Berg of Battle Lake made his first wooden canoe in 1970.
“I was at the State Fair, and there was a guy with a wooden canoe selling plans for $5,” Berg said. “I thought I had to have one, and the only way to get one was to build it.”
Berg bought the $5 plans and the supplies needed to get started.
“I almost gave up after a few days,” he said. “I was going to take the easy way out and buy an aluminum canoe, but my wife encouraged me to keep working at it.”
Berg started work on his first canoe on April 1 and finished it May 18, 1970. Since then, he has made seven more canoes, including one for his wife and each of his children.
“I’ve given one to each of my three kids, and they’re ecstatic about it,” he said. “Now I have seven grandkids, so I think I’m going to make seven more canoes.”
The hull of each canoe is made from about 80 strips of western red cedar and takes around 100 hours to build. Berg is meticulous about the wood he selects to ensure each canoe looks as beautiful as possible.
“The good thing about a canoe is that the style never changes,” Berg said. “A canoe with a nice design will look good forever.”
There are a lot of advantages to wood over aluminum when it comes to canoes, Berg said. Wooden canoes are very quiet in the water, so it is easier to get close to wildlife. Wood is also superior to aluminum when it comes to canoeing in cold water. Because wood is an insulator, wooden canoes keep riders warmer while paddling in the cold.
Berg’s canoes are surprisingly light. His tandem canoe weighs 54 pounds and his solo canoe weighs only 39 pounds.
He hasn’t sold any canoes, but they are valued at around $3,000 each. Berg did, however, donate one to the United Way where it went to a single father and his son.
“That canoe could have gone to anybody,” Berg said. “It could have ended up at a garage sale, but instead it was won by people who could really enjoy it.”
Berg builds his canoes in his workshop across the street from his home on West Battle Lake where he has lived with his wife for 38 years. He hopes to start on his next canoe sometime in the next few months.
“There’s nothing better than building something that’s really useful,” he said. “These canoes will last forever if they are kept dry and out of the sun.”
Every canoe Berg has made still gets used every year. Sometimes the canoes get taken out on West Battle Lake and occasionally he and his family will go up to the boundary waters to canoe and camp.
“These canoes will all outlive me,” he said. “It’s a way my family can remember me when I’m gone. The spirit of the builder lives on in the boat. There are usually around 120 pieces of wood that go into each canoe, and I touch and form each one.”