I'm planning a short story in which - for the purposes of this question - everybody has certain restrictions on their actions due to a 'curse'. These restrictions include having only 1,000 steps, and only ten "strikes", every day.

The "strikes" are essentially motions intended to cause damage or harm, such as cuts with an axe, stabs, slices with a knife, or strokes of a saw. If clarification is needed here please ask.

Now, the characters are in a village, and want to travel a long distance away. Walking only allows a little over a kilometre a day, and the village is sufficiently primitive - and demotivated to travel - that no land transport (including animals) exists. (Things like stilts count as steps - since they're effectively extended shoes.)

They decide to build a dugout canoe big enough to fit three. Twenty or so people can work on this if necessary. It seems to me that this could be done in a week or two by using a combination of hand tools and fire to cut away the wood (remember the strike restriction).

I would like to know:

  • What is the best and fastest way to create the canoe? Please supply a relatively detailed method.
  • How long would it take? A week? Two? A month? A year?

Sorry if this is off-topic for the worldbuilding SE - if you have a recommendation for a different one to move it to, I'd be happy to do so.


Thanks for all the responses to this. I feel the need to clarify a couple of things:

  • if necessary I can allow scraping under the "strike" rule.
  • everyone in the village is able to help with strikes.
  • the environment is woodland (obviously). The construction of houses etc. isn't set in stone (both literally and not), so there's some leeway in what's available to suit needs.

As several responses have mentioned, making a raft or reed canoe would be faster and more effective. Now, I want this to take at least one week, if not longer. I've updated the title to reflect the possibility of a raft. I will probably say no reeds are available.

So, in the case of a raft, how would you suggest constructing it? I can always invent reasons for them to have little time on their hands to work on it.

Thanks again, and sorry for basically changing the question!

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'll try to come up with a good answer later, but you may want to reconsider their boat. A reed canoe would be easier and quicker to make. They could cut a large amount of reeds with a single swipe, and bundling and weaving them together after they're dried would avoid the striking curse. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Clarke
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ "having only 1,000 steps". taking only 1,000 steps? $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 20:01
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    $\begingroup$ 1,000 steps is very restrictive for an indigenous culture. The food has to literally come itself to those people. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ They will all starve to death, can't walk enough or 'strike' enough to cultivate crops effectively $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 1:55
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    $\begingroup$ Burning out a hole in a log is probably the best way. Also people should carry other people on their back, or drag them, so they can move twice as much. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 21:35

4 Answers 4


Around 6-8 weeks if scraping is not a strike, the tree is already fallen and you handwave some debarking.

Here is a video of canoe made in this exact way with the minimum of tooling. Note it takes about 45 days in the video but they are only working inconsistently and cannot burn continuously, however this may be a better comparison to your conditions. For natives it took significantly less time, around 2-3 weeks, because they could burn around the clock. It will take significantly longer if the bark has to be stripped at only ten strikes a day even using an actual bark stripping tool, between stripping the bark and felling the tree you are talking about hundreds if not thousands of strikes, to the point you may have to worry about the wood drying and splitting while this is happening. You may have to handwave and say they found a tree that has very easy to strip bark, something that can be stripped by hand by peeling, even then felling the tree will take days so you may want to add a week to the time (now four weeks at a normal pace) I would feel safe doubling it just for the difficulties involved due to the curse putting it around the same amount of time as the one in video with inconsistent labor. The nice thing is you can have multiple trees going at once at the burning stage.

The process involves starting a small fire on top of the log and keeping it sustained and moving it around as you scrape out the charred wood. Control of the fire is the most important aspect, and favors smaller controllable fires, but it is not terribly labor intensive. The video illustrates the process extremely well. Scraping out the char is the most labor intensive portion and even that is fairly mild.

If scrapping is considered a strike then it is likely impossible as the wood needs to be scrapped out as at burns, stopping and starting the fire thousands of times would have have huge splitting risk (differential heating and drying), it would also so drastically prolong the process drying and rot become an issue as well.

In this case they would be far better off building a leather/rawhide canoe, with haphazard scraping it will stink to high hell (leather has to be scraped as well) but should work for a while. They may be able to use ants to speed up the process, they will at least strip the fat off the inside of the skin, but they will have to be diligent to keep larger scavengers off the skin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDuqVVYqvWY

A simple raft would be even easier and a lot faster, especially if they already have a decent amount of cordage. (cordage also requires a a lot of working).

Also it sounds like "strike" is determined or partially determined by intent in which case there may be a loophole. I am not damaging the tree I am making a boat by a cleaning away everything that is not boat. this could mean what counts a strike varies from person to person, the true craftsman who sees the boat waiting to be may be able to scrape when other cannot.

As Michelangelo said, “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.


Step limited questions are always interesting.

The first thing I would note is that the best approach depends enormously on what raw resources you have available. If you have a limitation which prevents you from acting, it's important to be able to go with the flow of nature. For example, if you're in a forest with trees large enough to make a canoe out of, you would still have to hack it down, taking many many many strikes. It will be hard to set a fire in such a way to fell the tree without ruining it. You are better off using other approaches, such as lashing together small pieces of wood to build a raft (you do have small pieces of wood for a fire, after all).

However, let's presume that there happens to be a felled tree near the water, and it happened to fall in a way which effectively tore it in half, making a dugout canoe a reasonable choice for your group. Let's also presume it has been drying long enough to catch fire (fresh wood doesn't burn well at all).

The first thing I'd do is put stones along the outside rim, and fill the inside with firewood. You're going to need to catch a gigantic log on fire and sustain that fire. Anyone who has built a fire knows that takes a lot of time and heat. We'll need small wood to get it started.

At some point, you will hopefully have gotten the gigantic log smoldering. This is where you have to play some artistic games -- you have to keep the log smoldering so that it gets eaten away, but you don't want the sides to get eaten away. My solution would be to drag the log into the water and partially submerge it. Make sure water doesn't get over the edge (which would then put out the smoldering), but soak the outside of the log well. This will make it so that the outside of the log doesn't burn quite as well as the insider part, and that will help shape the dugout canoe. You'll have to balance it: too much time in the water will kill the fire as the water penetrates too far into the wood. Too little time, and the top edges will burn through. I don't know precisely where the balance is, though you could probably play some clever tricks with pouring water on the top edges to put out the smoldering when it gets too close to the edges.

Also, make sure you cover the log with something when you're done. The burning will most definitely make the log crack in ways that will let water in. You'll want something like pitch to keep it out.

Of course, when I look at the requirements of your curse, I do get the impression that a raft fits with the rules better than a dugout canoe. It requires no strikes at all, because all you're doing is binding things together. And if you have enough firewood to burn your dugout canoe shape, you probably have enough to provide flotation for a raft.

  • $\begingroup$ My understanding is the fire burns the solid wood slowly enough, and is stopped by char well enough that you don't need to wet the walls, but if you did want to wet them I don't think it would be effective to submerge the outside; wood doesn't let water through very well. (that's why it works as a boat) $\endgroup$
    – user25818
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the detailed response. So, the villagers normally use their strikes every morning one by one in order to cut trees for firewood, and also for cultural reasons (to reduce violence) - I was thinking something similar could happen to help with the canoe. Now, I agree that a raft is more effective than a canoe, and will consider moving that way. The reason I went for canoe was because I knew it would leave the characters stuck in the village for a reasonable amount of time. I'll have a think on this and the other answers and come back tomorrow with a conclusion. $\endgroup$
    – Ben Wilson
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 20:13
  • $\begingroup$ You do need to wet the wall but you wet them from the inside not the outside, soaking from the outside will not much good, dugout canoes have much thicker bottom and sides than soaking from the outside can wet. Instead of guessing how it is done you could look up how it is actually done, no need to reinvent the wheel. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 22:30
  • $\begingroup$ Ignore the edit. I clicked on "edit" for your post instead of my own by accident. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 22:26

Fire can be used in dugout canoes but generally only after the canoe has been partially hollowed out. It might be best to start with a dead tree that is partly hollowed out by rot.

Is scraping considered a strike? They could chip a stone to create a sharp edge and use that to scrape out the interior. It would take much longer than using an axe but it would get the job done. Even if a scrape is counted as a strike, a scrape down the length of the log will do more than a single axe strike.

Another thought is to have everyone in the village become a generalist. Then they can each give the log a few whacks or scrapes. That would make building anything a communal effort.

  • $\begingroup$ This is not true, dugouts can actually be used from a round log, flattened or divited logs are just faster, youtube.com/watch?v=UDuqVVYqvWY $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 22:13

First you must hunt, you must feed the family and eat yourself, complete all the necessary maintenance on your home, gather wood for the fire, repair the fence around your encampment and performs any other necessary daily tasks.

Only then can you start on your canoe.

You're probably out of steps and strikes already. Remember to save enough steps to get back to your house at the end of the day or you'll be sleeping by your log.

Building a canoe is going to take a lifetime.

Luckily for me I come from a different culture, we never built dugout canoes. We built coracles. The other options to consider are the constructed raft or the Inuit kayak.

I'm going to focus on the fundamentals of the coracle and the kayak, as you can use this method to build a canoe as well. They're primary constructed using techniques that aren't considered "strikes", they're woven and stitched. You have to cut wood for a frame but that's more efficient and likely only two strikes per length, one to cut and one to trim. Weave a frame, stretch a hide over it, then stitch as required to make your boat as you may need a couple of hides to build a canoe of reasonable size.


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