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New Project: Building a Canoe

After finishing the launch of my podcast and my book, I felt like I could relax for a bit. It was almost a month before school starts, and I was feeling pretty good. Then a voice in my head said, “Hey! You have free time! Let’s do stuff!” So I thought about what I might like to do.

It didn’t take long for me to remember that I had had dreams of building a wooden canoe. I thought that was the kind of dream that would never actually happen, at least not until retirement, but apparently I was wrong. It’s happening!

Yesterday I ordered a set of plans and bought some wood. Today I spent the afternoon with a friend who has some fabulous woodworking tools and we started slicing up some wood into strips.

The plans are from a place called Feather Canoes. I’m building a small canoe designed for one person to paddle with a double-paddle, like a kayak. I’m hoping that this boat will be more stable and more substantial than a kayak, but it’s about the same length as your average kayak. It will be about eleven feet long. The design was created by the late Mac McCarthy who built lots of these and perfected the design to his tastes. The design is called “Wee Lassie” and is based on a historic boat designed by another great canoebuilder, J. Henry Rushton, who popularized the lightweight DIY style that is the cedar strip canoe.

Day One

As soon as the plans arrived, I traced and cut the forms. I assembled a strongback earlier (a rigid horizontal platform which will hold the forms), so it was an easy job putting these pieces together.

Picture showing forms laid out on OSB, in preparation for cutting.
I traced the shapes for the forms on my OSB. The plans called for two sheets of half-inch board, but I managed to fit everything on one.
picture showing forms assembled
After cutting out the pieces, I mounted them on my strongback with screws. This will be the platform where the majority of my canoe build will take place. Note, though, that none of this material will end up in the finished canoe.

Day Two

One of the first things I had to do, before I could start stripping, was to bend the inner stems. These will effectively be the anchor points for the strips at the bow and stern.

I cut some cedar strips a little longer than I needed and soaked them overnight. First thing in the morning I added some hot water just to help a bit.
It took three hands and all but one of my clamps, but I got the pieces bent around the bow and stern forms to create the shape for the inner stems.
I let the pieces dry for half the day, then I pulled them apart, added glue, and clamped them back together. I let the glue cure overnight.

Building the inner stems worked, but if I had it to do again I would have used thinner strips. Because we were using a table saw, we could only set the fence so close to the blade. We created 3/16″ strips for this purpose. 1/8″ would have been better. And maybe I could have used a band saw to get a tighter cut. Because of the thicker wood, I got a crack at one point which I repaired later.

Next post: stripping the canoe!

By Ken

Kenneth Gourlay is a student, activist, technologist, author, podcaster, and occasional webmaster.

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