Hi guys,

I loaned a friend my strong back so he could build a canoe on it. I told him the cost was that he had to provide an article on the building process for my site.

He then handed me an article that he wrote from two or three years ago when he convinced me to run a canoe building course for the wood working club he is part of.

Here is a link to my "what's new" page, at the bottom of which are the latest articles, including this one.

The only benefit to the link is there you can get a slightly better formatted article, with larger imbedded pictures. (all pictures are here in the gallery at the bottom) I have cut and paste the article below, the photos at the bottom are thumbnails.

Trail Cafe: Article - 10_day_canoe_


Title: 10_day_canoe_
Trip type: article
Summary: Southern Alberta Woodworkers Society (SAWS), builds a cedar strip canoe
Author: Brian Graham
The Trip Report:

About the time the canoe course was nearing completion, I had a conversation with another SAWS member, who commented that we rarely if ever really get a chance to know other members of SAWS. We come to meetings and sit through presentations, and only have a few minutes at breaks to talk and get to know each other. This brought to focus just how enjoyable the canoe building course has been. Nine people have worked closely together, getting to know fellow woodworkers, and learning from them. It has been a truly delightful experience, for people accustomed to toiling alone in their own shops. Not to mention the beautiful canoe that we built, and the knowledge about every step of its production.

Going into the course, most felt the woodworking demands were easy, but handling fiberglass and epoxy was a mystery.

Day 1 started with a pile of cedar 2x6s, some plywood, some MDF, and lofted drawings of the canoe stations. A “station” is a cross section of the canoe at some point along its length. By assembling stations every 12”, you get a form to build the canoe on.

18’ clear cedar 2x6s supplied by Windsor Plywood were lovely: clear and straight, but quite moist. Fred led the milling to by strips the first day to allow them time to dry. Concurrently, the lofted stations were transferred to ” MDF templates, and stations were precisely milled from them. These were then set up on the “strongback” (a straight wooden beam for holding the forms).

Inner (cedar) and outer (ash) “stem” pieces were cut (to form the leading and trailing edges of the canoe), and steam bent. The steaming setup was simply a length of PVC pipe on a kettle without automatic shutoff. The pieces were then clamped to the stem moulds to achieve the desired shape. Brian’s homework that week was to epoxy the stem strips using the stem moulds.

In these early stages, the work seems to progress quickly, and there were many opportunities to step back and admire our handiwork.

Due to heavy demands on the CDIC Workshop space, we had to get our stuff out of the way at the end of each day. We chose to rig hoists to raise it to the ceiling, out of the way of any other activities.

Tool of the day was Bernie’s Lie Nielson “finger plane”: it made final shaping of the templates a breeze.

On day 2 we cut beads on all the cedar strips. Coves on the other side were machined only as needed, as the cove edges are very delicate and easily broken. A “feature strip” consisting of two bands of maple surrounding a strip of very dark cedar was glued together. This provides a visual line along the side of the canoe, taking the eye to its fine line. Once the inner stems were installed at each end of the canoe and shaped to the line of the inner hull, applying strips to the mould began. Only white carpenter’s glue is used to fasten the strips together; they will be encased in a waterproof covering, so the adhesive is not exposed to water. Again, we took the opportunity to admire our handiwork repeatedly.

Tool of the day was Graham’s Jessem Router Table: the fine adjustment of the height of the cutter made centering the bead and cove on the strips very accurate. A close second was the spokeshave, used for shaping the stems.

On Day 3, the CDIC crew worked in the shop at the same time. We retreated to the rear warehouse, and continued adding strips, fully finishing one side, and then the other to a second feature strip installed in the bottom of the hull.
Tool of the day was the lowly staple gun. It fastens strips to the station moulds, leaving minimal marks.

Day 4 started with trimming the strips on the first side on the bottom of the hull to a straight centre line. Then strips were added to almost finish the second side. Each strip required careful fitting for both length and angle to meet the strips on the first side. Finally, a three strip wide plug was formed and glued up to finish the remaining opening the following week.

Lengths of ash were scarfed together for full length gunwales. The first outer stem was fitted, and pieces of ash were also cut for the seats. Homework assignments were plentiful: Bernie to carve an ash yoke using Myrl’s as a pattern, Laurie to make 2 ash thwarts, and Graham to assemble the seat frames.

Tool of the day was the sharp chisel and rabbet plane for cutting the straight line along the canoe centre line.

Day 5 felt like we were nearing completion. Once the hull was closed, you could see the complete shape. Surely we were close now: just put on some fiberglass and epoxy, and add the trim. We soon learned that we were not even half done!
After fitting the second outer stem, we glued both on using epoxy, holding them in place with waxed screws. Then the scraping and sanding began. We created enormous quantities of cedar dust throughout the spray area of the shop. It took a lot of cleaning to return it to a reasonable state. After sanding, all gaps and staple holes were filled with an epoxy/sawdust mix.

Cherry scuppers were machined and attached to the inner gunwales. These will provide tie-down points for gear, and also openings for ease of draining any water out of the canoe (that splashed in!). The yoke and thwarts had a protective coat of epoxy applied, and time was found to admire our handiwork as usual.

Tools of the day were the bulldog clips used for clamping small items like scuppers.

On day 6 the final shaping of the outer stems was completed, after plugging the screw holes. The final sanding removed any left over epoxy from filling staple holes. The hull was wetted down to check for missed epoxy or glue lines and any final sanding completed.

A long sheet of fiberglass laid over the hull looked like a white sheet, with the ghost of cedar under it. The cedar colour shone through as the epoxy turned the fiberglass transparent. After completing the first coat on the hull, a second coat was put on the yoke and thwarts. This was followed by an opportunity to admire our handiwork! With the completion of the fiberglass on the outside of the hull, it would soon be removed from the forms. Sheldon built cradles to support it when taken off the strongback and forms.

Later that day, Myrl, Brian and his son Chris returned to apply the 2nd coat of epoxy. Graham meanwhile took home the seat frames to install caning.

Tool of the day was the shop vac. Attached to the RO sanders, the dust was so controlled that nobody deemed a dust mask necessary while they worked.

We started day 7 by transferring the “sheer lines” (the top edges of the canoe) from the stations to the outside of the hull, and then removed the canoe from the forms. This was our first look at the inside of the canoe. Must be almost finished now …!

Probably the toughest day followed. Scraping the inside of the canoe is more difficult, partly because you have to reach inside, and partly due to the concave surface, which cannot be as easily smoothed with a sander, especially at the bow and stern ends. After all was smooth, gaps were filled with epoxy.

We discovered at this time that the scuppers and solid blocks on the inner gunwales needed adjustment. We removed 3 of the short scuppers at each end, and lengthened the solid pieces where the decks will abut.

Tool of the day was the paint scraper. The curved blade was highly suitable for the inside curve, and as long as it was resharpened regularly, it worked well.

On day 8, we scraped off any remaining epoxy filler, and did a final sanding inside. Next the fiberglass cloth was cut and draped inside the canoe, carefully fitting right up to the inner stems. Two coats of epoxy were applied.
Between coats, the inner and outer gunwales were shaped: both in cross section and with a taper to each end. Deck blanks of cherry, maple, and walnut were glued up. In the midst of this, the switch on the table saw failed, but miraculously worked the next day when Bruce’s crew returned to work.

Tool of the day was scissors: we could have used a better pair. A second choice is the cheap 5-for-a-dollar paint brushes for applying epoxy. At 20 cents each, they beat cleaning brushes!
On day 9 the CDIC crew showed up to work on a kitchen for a friend of the centre, mainly spraying. We relocated to the rear workshop to leave the spray area free.

The inner gunwales were fitted and screwed, clamped, and glued with epoxy. Likewise decks were shaped, and installed with epoxy. Lots of time was available for admiring our handiwork.
Day 10 was the last day of group work on the canoe. Sheer lines were cut flush with the inner gunwales. The seats and thwart were fitted, and bolted in place. The yoke was fitted, but only clamped since it needs to be at the balance point of the canoe, which could not be determined due to all the clamps holding the outer gunwales on. Minor touch ups included injecting epoxy in some air bubbles in the stem areas.

Finally, a draw was held to determine who could buy the canoe for the cost of materials ($900.) that went into it. Despite bringing his son who worked with us all day, Bernie was only allowed a single ballot. Said son drew Graham’s name from the hat. The tool of the day was the crying towel for the losers on the draw.

But wait, it wasn’t over yet. A couple of days later, after careful consideration, Graham decided he did not have the space or time to do justice to the canoe, and felt it fairest to hold a new draw. No one argued with him! He organized a new draw, and this time Jeff came up the winner. About a week later, he picked up his new project, and it looked fine mounted atop his truck. Afterwards, when the strongback and hoist were removed, we left the shop the way we found it in January.

At the end, we agreed to buy plywood for building a SAWS strongback for use in future canoe projects (we had borrowed Myrl’s for the course), to go with the forms we made. We also intend to make a $100. donation to CDIC in recognition of the use of their facilities that they kindly provided and the inconvenience that we caused them.

Finally, on a lovely Sunday in June, several participants met at the lagoon in Bowness Park to try out the new canoe. Myrl also brought his 15’ Huron, and Brian brought along an aluminum Misty River model. All agreed that it was a very pleasurable craft, especially with two paddlers. The narrower Huron design was quicker, and a better solo paddle. As for the aluminum, well, it wasn’t wood. As you can expect, we took some time to admire our handiwork!

So far, only Murray is working on his own canoe. Both Sheldon and Brian are committed to building their own soon. The SAWS forms and strongback will be available to any members looking for a very rewarding project!


Shaped stems in place
First few strips in place
One side nearly done.
nearly done with the strips
End of the canoe.
Second layer of epoxy on the outside
Fiberglassed on the inside
Fantastic Decks
Almost finished
On the local pond
On the pond

Content Copyright Brian Graham 2008 (posted with permission at the www.songofthepaddle.co.uk website)

Not sure I needed to add that last bit about the copyright or not... he did say I could post it, my trip entry script automatically includes a copyright notice. Since I did not write this report, I do not want to remove the notice.

A final Post script. The reason I do not put the larger pictures in the posts here is only because I want to keep the kbytes of data download lower.