Richard (of Valtris Woodworking) decides on, builds, and completes a Cape Falcon, 66 canoe.
It is fair to say, that the reason I chose to build a Cape Falcon was Brian’s use of real woodworking. Things like mortise and tenon gunwale design, etc. I have looked at several skin-on-frame companies and this looks really good to me.
Intro and Steam Box
But, to build anything Cape Falcon – you need a steam box. So I made one. Pieced together odd wood from around the shop. Different from Brian’s was the insertion of the small steam head into the bottom of the box so the hose could be screwed on and off. Left the hose full length. Box is 48 inches x 11 inches. The canoe will be 32 inch at the beam and will need about a 45 inch rib at center.
I tried some different woods like Kentucky Coffee, White Oak, Poplar, firewood ash. Final picture is the air-dried white oak I will try to use on the build. Staining is from dirt on wood. I will clean up before real ribs are bent. Bent pieces are very surprisingly strong after they cool.
I decided to move through the gunwales and not follow the order of the videos exactly. (Sorry Brian.) I started by selecting 17 1/2 ft. mahogany from my stores in the basement. It had been sorted into heavy and light material when I purchased at an auction. I finally choose the “medium” material for a balance of strength and weight. After cutting into 3″ widths, they were planed to 11/16″. (Filled the length of 35′ shop.) I want the finished gunwale detentions at 2″ when lamination was finished. (Had to make little adjustment just before glue-up.)
Next, I select and orientated boards for natural defects to minimize effects. Marked centers and laid out length for a 16′ canoe plus 2″ on each end. (It was OK not to use the checked ends of the boards.) Set out the mortise marks. For this I used a square block with a lip to gauge off one side of the board. Cut it just a little under 5″, so your pencil marks on the 5″ mark exactly. Lastly, mark the end of the boards for later orientation.
Now the glue-up. I chose to use Titebond III. I set up much like the video. Blocks on floor to correct sheer depth over two sawhorses. I did a “dry fit” make sure I had enough weight and clamps. When set, spread glue and clamped in place. Checked level and used a long clamp to twist just a bit to get it all positioned.
Happy with the results. Lessons: Should have put more glue on the ends, had to fix two spots. Should have moved sawhorses closer to the end. Should have sagged it 1/2 ” more because of spring back. But all is good.
After sawing the glue-up into two gunwales, I moved ahead and cut the mortises in the gunwales today. Since I do furniture, decided to use mortise attachment for my drill press. Went smoothly and worked well. This is just another method for doing what Brian does with a router.
Rib Length Worksheet and Measurement Accuracy
Update: Canoe was built at 33 inches wide and has settled at 32 inches (1 inch tumblehome). Perfect.
Update: After the release of the tumblehome material, I went back and redid my canoe design and calculations. Now it is 33 inches wide and still 16 feet plus long. Here are the new sheets. Stick unit problem was the same as last one but here are the new corrected sheets.
I was working on my Rib Length Worksheet and got through all the math. But as I marked out my Rib Length Stick, I found the gaps between ribs marks were ragged. Not consistent at all. So, I reproduced the paper worksheet as an Excel spreadsheet. My suspicions were correct. The actual measurements were not consistent and not as simple as shown in video.
Here is my worksheet. Fractions are converted to decimals for easy math and converted back for the workshop.
With results you can see in first chart that not all points are hitting the parabolic trendline. This is enough to mess with your measurement stick.
Some adjustments were made to the numbers to smooth the line. See red numbers in “Sheer height” column above. I found it useful to adjust both sheer and rocker measurements to get the curve smoothed out. I stopped at 1/16 inches. Trying for finer measurements is not practical. The final rib adjustment seems to be the most critical chart. See below.
I would encourage you to be very careful with your in-shop measurements. Check your recording and math carefully. I found errors in mine. But the final rib adjustment stick looks very good. (Brian says he has seen this too. Built boats with and without corrections and both produced good results.) I do believe that the “system” has a fair amount of flexibility in it.
When all the recalculation was done, I bent a couple of test center ribs. I did a test at .38 as calculated and a .40 which looks better. That will be the final adjustment (base) measurement.
Next we bend the ribs and it will look more like a boat.
Prepping Stringers and Keel
Got stringers and keel stock ready today. Used 1/8 inch round-over bit to run edges. Using light mahogany for upper stringers and dense mahogany for the lower stringers. Ten (10) total. I also incorporated finger joints in 4 stringers to get the length I needed. Those ribs tied in well later.
Yesterday started well. Prepared the ribs and got everything ready to go. Last picture is of ribs laid out after reducing the ends. My ribs are 9/32 and need to be trimmed to 1/4.
Then the bending. Well, this did not go as well as it could have. This might be the most difficult part of this build. Maybe my wood was not as good as I thought, but the end ribs came up 2.5 inches short (that may be too much extra for the shape needed), the second rib was an 1 inch short and several others broke.
I was bending at 6-8 min steam times on air-dried white oak. That seemed fine when I was testing. For me, the center ribs bent easier than the end ones. I am going to try longer time tests with the left over junk pieces I still have. Tomorrow, I’ll get out some more wood from my stash and try again.
The next day. Things are less disappointing. Brian makes it look easy. But remember he has had lots of practice. I admit that I am not exactly following Brian’s directions on wood, etc. So in perspective, not to bad for my first time. It is starting to look like a canoe. I’ll get there. I try to remember that I have never had a “perfect” wood project yet. But I won’t point out the issues if you cannot see them. Additional thought: One could try the new “cold bend wood” now available on the web. It is pricey, but I would reduce the stress of the first three ribs.
Stringers Tied On
There is an artistic side to this canoe building and this picture was photographically interesting. Thought I would share it to let you all know I have moved on after the discouraging rib bending sessions.
I worked through the problems of the ribs and started tying on stringers. This has gone well. Happy with the general shape of the canoe. Amazingly, the stringers did pull ribs into place pretty well. I did check the rocker, part way through, and adjusted sawhorses to try to keep rocker on track. At the end, I shortened the stems and came down closer to the end ribs (as noted in videos). Note: Ribs mortises were pegged with bamboo skewer sticks and I did more than suggested but not all. Note: Blue tape in picture above is where I CA glued a wormhole in hopes to add strength.
I did have to block up in a few spots to compensate and smooth the shape because I did not want to pull the rib to far away from the keel. I also pulled a few ribs out of the mortise on one side and cut off 1/8 to 1/4 inch right in the boat. I was trying to get keel contact the best I could. One should be careful not to block too much. This is a wood project and nothing in my wood world is perfect.
The stringers finished off at the stem more easily than I thought they would. I tried Brian’s pruning saw method but scared up the stem a lot. So, I cut ribs with my dovetail saw first and used a 3/4 inch (very sharp) chisel to make adjustments and fitted the stringers to the stem easily. Glued the keel on earlier and left my stainless steel screws in place (no pegs). When we build the stems we could have bull-nosed the outside right away. It was not too bad rounding it on the boat but…
Well, it has been awhile because the mounting of the seats proved more difficult than I thought it would be. I made the seats while I was waiting for Brian to publish the plans. So they were ready to go.
Formula used to figure seat placement was (Sternsman’s weight x A = Bowsman’s weight x B). A and B are the inches from the center of the canoe to the front of each seat. B is known because you want to move the front seat up if the bowsman is lighter but leg room is the issue. Solve the formula for A.
A = Bowsman’s weight x B / Sternsman’s weight
This formula tends to bring the stern seat forward more than in a standard canoe. If cargo is problem, extra can be placed behind the stern seat. I think it will run nicely in the water with the regular paddlers and a 5 gallon bucket with a lid (~32#s) will add ballast if needed.
Seats were mounted low about 6-7 inches off the floor. The canoe depth is only 13 inches so it should work. Fronts are lower than the backs by 1/2 – 3/4 inch.
I wanted make the bow seat a slider and it can move about 15 inches. I hand-formed the whole mechanism from aluminum flat and square stock using shop project turn knobs. It work reasonably well. The 3/4 inch aluminum square stock was used for strength and weight reduction. I did not like the idea of wood in that spot. The back wood mount is glued to the gunwales and tied into the frame and the front mounts are lashed in place.
The stern seat is farther forward than in traditional canoes as noted above. I am heavier than my bowsman and that should work well. I decided to just lash in the stern seat mounts and not hang them from the gunwale. I could always cut it loose and do that later. I used 5 ribs to tie to and it seems solid. (Brian used 3 in his row canoe seats). Mounts were notched to fit around ribs and the enmeshed ribs were pinned at the gunwales. Stainless screws mount the seat to rails. Seats and supports were set to help hold shape of canoe. I think that will be enough without permanent thwarts. Will try temporary support as Brian suggests in storage. See update note above under “Rib Length Worksheet and Measurement Accuracy” .
Finishing Touches to the Woodworking
I am working currently on getting the frame cleaned up and finishing touches done. I used a 1/8 inch round over on the inside of the gunwales to ease the edge, added 5/8 inch thick “gunwale blocks” to the ends. Cutouts are to remove weight and add a handle at each end. Will also use for rope to tie up. They are glued in with Titebond III and screwed with stainless steel screws. All this is mounted below the location where the rub rail screws will land.
This canoe incorporates several different woods.
- Light and dense Mahogany for gunwales, stringers, and rub rail (relatively light weight and rot resistant),
- White Oak for the ribs (strong and rot resistant),
- Mulberry for the “gunwale blocks”, seat frames and yoke thwart (strong, colorful, and available from stock). It will darken to a rich deep brown color over time,
- Catalpa for the floor boards and front seat support (light weight, relatively strong and rot resistant),
- Hackberry to hold the front of the sliding seat rails for the bowsman (strong and available in stock at thickness needed).
- Osage Orange for the accent blocks on the rub rails. (just fun and rot resistant)
Three woods are seen in the picture above (Mahogany, White Oak, and Mulberry). I am trying to leave the stem proud of the gunwales. We will see as I get the cover on and sewn.
I have tried two type of floor board mounts. One on a frame and one lashed directly to the ribs with heavy cord. The 1/4 inch Catalpa bent well in the steam box and conformed nicely to the ribs. Stainless Steel screws mount floor boards to false ribs and will be lashed in place after oiling.
Oiling the Frame
Oiled the frame today. Looks very nice. Finishing the frame is worth it. Rubbing it down the second dry really brings out the beauty of the wood.
Used Corry’s “Amazing Tung Oil”. Smells like orange and went on well. I put a little stain in it just to warm up the finish. We will see how long it takes to dry.
Last picture is my rub-rails. I picked very dense mahogany from the pile so it was very hard. But the sticks were only a little over 8 ft. long. So I made a glue joint cover in the shape of a canoe. It covers the seam and will get screwed on just like all the rest of the rails.
Putting the Skin on
The skin is on. It is very tight. I used 840 X-TRA Tuff Ballistic Nylon. Very heavy material. The canoe is 16′ 4″ and I got the 18′ kit and one repair kit as extra, just in case. The length was just enough.
I sewed the ends and stretched it into place, but waited for another day to start the wet stretch. Process went much like Brian describes in the videos. I cut the skin 2.5″ short as suggested, but I think I could have done 2 3/4 – 3 inches. That said – the stretch is tight at both ends on the stems, but lifts a little on the keel ends. This should go away on the final stretch.
Cleared the garage and wet down the canoe. Stretched it just like the videos. Used stainless steel staples (check home depot for SS staples). Worked to keep the skin wet throughout.
When putting the rub rail on, I carefully pull the fabric up and pierced the holes. By pulling up on the skin again when putting screws in, I got out all the wrinkles. For cutting I used a simple wood burning iron. It has a “knife” edge so it worked well.
The balance of the pictures show the finished canoe. I wanted the stems proud so I changed how I sewed it. Used brown thread for accent. Will see how it looks after the stained in the sealant.
Note: The skin is so tight that the beam has moved out to 33 inches. Lost all the tumblehome. That was the design width, but I wanted 32 inches final. This will need a fixed thwart. Work on that later.
Center Thwart and Storage Hoist
A little more got done this week. Cut and finished a movable thwart for the center of the canoe. This will be used to control the beam width.
And while waiting for the final supplies to arrive, I got the garage storage hoist ready. Will make storing the canoe easy and can be used to suspend the canoe while dying the skin. It will keep it off of the sawhorses.
Dyed (stained) the canoe today. Brian’s video is spot on. Follow it carefully. The job is not too bad.
His standard mix of 6 cups water and 2 cup vinegar and 1 measure of dye was enough to cover the 16′ 4″ canoe. I had some left but not much and you should have a backup foam brush just in case (see picture). Very messy job with such a thin liquid, so cover the floor if you are inside or do it outside.
I had some stains on the white skin so I just went with the brown acid dye to improve the look. The brown matches the color scheme for the canoe and looks nice as it dries.
Now that it is dry, it is fairly light but I assume it will darken some again when the seal coats go on.
Make Your Own Ball Bungees
Just for the challenge, I decided to make my own ball bungee cords that Brian suggest for tie-downs in the canoe. Ordered 1/8″ shock cord in brown and turned some knobs on the lathe. Now they match the other wood used in the canoe.
Wow. The finish is on! It is nice to be wrapping up this project.
I have put a lot of finishes on shop projects over the years, but this one was the most challenging I have ever done. It all goes on at once. Once started there is no going back. You cannot sand it and start over. Bottom line – I followed the steps and ended up with a reasonable product. The canoe has a few bumps and flaws in the coating but I am sure that it will float.
As to product needed – I used the urethane coating that was supplied with the X-TRA Tuff Ballistic Nylon 18″ kit. It was just enough for 4 coats on the 16 ft. canoe. I had a little part B left over but no part A. It took 3.5 – 4 hours to complete.
The finish took about 14 hours at 65 degrees to harden to the touch. It was harder at about 18-24. I think it will harden (toughen) more over the next few days. If you have never seen the coating it looks like a complete plastic shell that is soaked into the skin.
Epilogue to the build
Everything is all buttoned up. Finish is dry and flexible. When it is warmer, we can drop the 66 canoe in the water and find out how she tracks.
On the final day, I applied Tung oil to the gunwales and rub-rail. (After skinning I took the wood burner and cut a clean burnt line on top of the gunwale between the gunwale and the rub-rail and sand it all smooth. This cleaned up the “sharp” edge from the melted skin.) I then re-installed the seats, put in the new pool noodles. Because of seat placement the noodles were notched into the seat brackets to keep them tied to the 2nd rib bay. The gallery pictures are the finished product.
Weight is heavier than hoped. Some weight is due to the mahogany I used instead of red or yellow cedar; some is to the added floor; some is from the slider front seat. Also, I think this canoe would be substantial enough if built with ribs at 6″ and not 5″, ribs not so close to the end, and 8 stringers and not 10. (But I have not checked this with Brian.)
Over all as a first time builder, I am pleased with the project. My build has its foibles, but the system works well and produces a good result on the first try. I have learned a great deal with the project – SOF boats in general, steam bending, more about wood species selection and characteristics, boat design, nomenclature, lashing, skinning, and a new finish. A great winter’s project. Spring is just around the corner. Now the wait until spring to test – to cold here now. (April 2019)
Appendix 1: Why not make paddles too?
If you are going to make a canoe why not make paddles too?
- So I found plans at Ashes Still Water Boats for an Ottertail and a Beavertail paddle.
- Had them printed at the lumber yard (they have big printers) to actual size.
- Used Catalpa as the main core, Kentucky Coffee sandwiched on the outside for strength, and Purple Heart the the knobs.
- Worked them down with bandsaw, planes, files, sandpaper, etc.
- Did a turned knob with a split tenon to attach the handle. Very challenging tenon to cut because of knob shape.
- The Catalpa blades were quarter sawn, so I used 2 oz fiberglass fabric and resin to coat just the blades.
- Now I am using Ashes finishing concepts for oiling and waxing the shafts. It takes some time.
A friend gave me a broken Grey Owl bent shaft paddle and I fixed that and fiberglassed the blade. And he also sold me a German Klepper 2-part split paddle (wood circa 1960-70), which I stripped and oiled using Ashes method.
Well Float My Boat
It has finally warmed up in Wisconsin. And we put the canoe in the water. Here are the results. One comment overheard on shore was about how unusual the translucent sides of the canoe are.
The craft is very fast. Going up stream we almost caught-up with some kayaks that left the dock well before us.
At only 33 inch beam, it is scary at first and seemed unstable. We have used wider canoes in the past and changing the formulas to make a flatter bottom would have been OK. But with a 5 gallon bucket of water behind the bow paddler, it is much better. I think with practice this will be fine. I will test the actual tipping point sometime. I think it would take a lot to actually roll the canoe over.
The wind today caught the canoe without ballast and caused some steering problems. But with ballast and the bow down a little, it was much better. The canoe drafts about 7-8 inches with ballast. Notice in the pictures that without ballast about 2 ribs are showing. With ballast only 1.5 ribs are showing. It is light at only about 55 pounds including gear.
The seat placement (see formulas above) was pretty good and ran almost level in the water. These problems would have been much worse if the stern seat was back in a normal position.
I do plan on adding rub strips to 18 inches on both ends. With the rocker, this will limit rock damage and add a little more tracking.
Overall, this is a very nice first craft. We did our madden voyage and got back dry. Good day.
Paddling update – Aug. 2019
Just a paddling update. Had the canoe out twice since first test. Once with three people, where we flipped it in shallow water and righted with no problems. It was a balance issue as we loaded the people into the canoe. Rest of the trip was fine. The canoe handled three people well. So I think we could pack gear for camping if we wanted. Nice day.
Second trip was just my wife and myself. We are the people for which the canoe was designed. Had a great day. Of all the canoes I have paddled this on is the fastest. We traveled up river with some head breeze and little problem. Return trip was easy. Along the way, stopped in a waterlily patch and smelled the flowers. Very pleasant. We saw King Birds, one King Fisher, and many Blue Herons. Should have had my pole because the fish were jumping.
Not ready to build stabilizers for the canoe yet. Skin is proving very tough and I am not worried about small rocks and leaks.
I am very much enjoying the canoe and the very thin and very light paddles I built.