Dugouts are the oldest boats archaeologists have found. In Germany they are called Einbaum (English translation: One tree). Einbaum dug-out boat finds in Germany date back to the Stone Age. Along with bark and hide canoes, these dugout boats were used by American Indians. This is probably because they are made of massive pieces of wood, which tend to preserve better than, e.g., bark canoes.
Construction of a dugout begins with the selection of a log of suitable dimensions. Sufficient wood needed to be removed to make the vessel relatively light in weight and buoyant, yet still strong enough to support the crew and cargo. Specific types of wood were often preferred based on their strength, durability, and weight. The shape of the boat is then fashioned to minimize drag, with sharp ends at the bow and stern.
First the bark is removed from the exterior. Before the appearance of metal tools, dugouts were hollowed-out using controlled fires. The burnt wood was then removed using an adze. Another method using tools is to chop out parallel notches across the interior span of the wood, then split out and remove the wood from between the notches. Once hollowed out, the interior was dressed and smoothed out with a knife or adze.
For travel in the rougher waters of the ocean, dugouts can be fitted with outriggers. One or two smaller logs are mounted parallel to the main hull by long poles. In the case of two outriggers, one is mounted to either side of the hull.
It was primarily the duty of men and boys to oversee the construction of these craft, using such woodworking tools as chisels, gouges, wedges, and adzes.
The Cossacks of the Zaporozhian Host were also renowned for their artful use of dugouts, which issued from the Dnieper to raid the shores of the Black Sea in the 16th and 17th centuries. Using small, shallow-draft, and highly manoeuvrable galleys known as chaiky, they moved swiftly across the Black Sea. According to the Cossacks' own records, these vessels, carrying a 50 to 70 man crew, could reach the Anatolian coast of Asia Minor from the mouth of the Dnieper River in forty hours.
In 1978 Geordie Tochler and two companions, sailed a 3½ ton, 40 foot (12 m) dugout canoe (the "Orenda II"), made of Douglas Fir, and based on Haida designs (but with sails), from Vancouver, Canada to Hawaii to add credibility to stories that the Haida had travelled to Hawaii in ancient times. Altogether they travelled some 4,500 miles (7,242 km) after two months at sea.
Dugout canoes were constructed throughout the Americas where suitable logs were available.
Two log boats were discovered in Newport, Shropshire and are now on display at Harper Adams University College Newport. The Iron Age residents of Great Britain were known to have used logboats for fishing and basic trade. In 1964, a logboat was uncovered in Poole Harbour, Dorset. The Poole Logboat dated to 300 BC was large enough to accommodate 18 people and was constructed from a giant Oak tree. It is currently located in the Poole Museum.
In the Pacific Islands, dugout canoes are very large, made from whole mature trees and fitted with outriggers for increased stability in the ocean, and were once used for long-distance travel. Such are the very large waka used by Māori who ventured to New Zealand many centuries ago. Such vessels carried 40 to 80 warriors in sheltered waters or smaller numbers thousands of miles across the Pacific ocean. In Hawaii, canoes are traditionally manufactured from the trunk of the koa tree. They typically carry a crew of six: one steersman and five paddlers.