I started a model birchbark canoe project this winter - 2012 / 2013.
I live in southwestern Pennsylvania.
My desire for making a birch bark canoe goes back decades. Now that I am retired I decided to get the project started, albeit a 1/4 scale model as a learning process.
Not only is it a desire to make a canoe but I also have a goal to make the 3' 4" Algonquin Hunter's canoe model with traditional materials ( no metal ) such as white cedar, spruce gum, split spruce roots, birch bark and other wood products but to make it with only hand tools AND to not purchase any of the wood products in it's construction.
As I started splitting, chopping and carving some wood materials in preparation for making sheathing, ribs and gunwales my old muscles let me know that the project is going to take some effort and that a shave horse would be helpful.
In keeping with the three goals set forth above this shaving horse is made from wood only, wood that is foraged locally and only handtools were used in it's build.
First off was to get a an appropriate length of log that I could handle. I decided on sassafras. It is very light but very strong. It's rot resistance is very good. It splits easily and is easily worked with hand tools.
The biggest problem is finding a sassafras that has a diameter large enough to render a wide enough flat for the base.
I found one in a few days that is 7 inches wide at ground level and slightly more than 6 inches at 6 feet high.
Sassfras log 6 feet long. Just light enough for a 65 year old man to carry out of the woods, if cut in winter when not full of sap.
After that first cut has been made it's time to turn the knifeblade so that you will be heading towards the tailfin.
As you make the turn with the knifeblade and start the cut you will arrive at the first rib bone real fast.
Don't cut through the rib bone. This is where you will slighly withdraw the knife blade keeping only the tip embedded. You want to use the tip of the blade to to feel the bones. With a fillet knife you will feel that.
The balk on the right will form the base for the shaving horse.
The others will be used where needed, such as legs or pivot arms, etc..
Slide the tip of the knife along the top of the rib bones, at the same time keeping the side of the knife blade in contact with the vertebrae, that is, parallel to it, as you cut your way toward the rear of the fish.
When you feel the last rib bone has just been passed over by the tip of the knife it is time to shove the knife blade all the way through the fish, the tip of the knife exiting near, but to the rear of, the anal cavity. Once the knife tip is through continue cutting toward the tailfin keeping contact with the vertebrae.
Once the last rib has been passed plunge the knife all the way through.
Keep the knife at an angle so the tip exits just to the rear of the anal cavity..
When you get to the tailfin cut through the skin. At that point the fillet is only attached at the ribs.
Go back to where the rib cage is and using the tip of the knifeblade make little slices along the ribs while at the same time lifting the side of the fish a bit more with each slice. As you slice and lift you will get to the point where the meat will separate from the rib bones.
Carve along the rib bones quickly, there's not much meat anyway unless it is a big bluegill, and then sever the attachment by cutting through the skin and flesh at the bottom of the belly.
Here is one side of the fish.
To remove the skin make a careful cut about where my finger is.
Then turn the blade so that the slicing motion is made toward the right.
Only thing to do now is remove the skin.
Place the knife edge near where the fillet was attached at the tailfin and carefully slice your way toward the right keeping the knife almost parallel with the skin. You don't want to cut into the skin. This is actually the easiest part of filleting but it does require a deft touch.
That comes with practice.