I have nearly no woodworking experience and didn’t have many tools when I started this project, so it has been a slow start. I’m using fir since all the red cedar I have found is knot full. Finding green oak locally has been near impossible, I found some white oak that was cut late last year so I’ll be playing with steam bending in the next week.
I laminated with a 7″ sheer, but after cutting apart the gunwales it was already down to 6″. High heat and humidity gave me only 2 minutes before the glue started foaming.
The middle board was curved so the clamps were particularly important to keep it from sliding out from the other two, which it still did somewhat, but small enough to safely cut it away.
Cutting the mortises was a bit unwieldy, and I went a bit too far on several, but the clamps on the base of the router worked well.
In the past week I have framed up and started ribbing the canoe. Framing it went well, the supports, capture forms and kerf cutting all went as planned. The rocker was closer to 5 inches than the 6 I was expecting, but that could have been affected by the sawhorse locations (close to the end). I cut the stems and attached the keel, which, even with piloting, started to split on one of the stem screws. It wasn’t severe and I am hoping it won’t be an issue.
Unfortunately, the oak was 1″ rough, so I am having to cut ribs in the other direction, which takes longer and produces a lot more waste, but it got done and I have a decent amount of different qualities of ribs. Since I was unsure on having enough, and I went 4 hours away to get the wood, I cut it into full length strips (8ft) and then cut ribs out of those, so I wasn’t limited to 1 rib per strip. I could get 2 or 3 depending on which rib location lengths I was cutting on any given strip. I also sorted the 8ft strips by quality so I could use the poorer quality ribs in the least stressful spots.
One other thing, since I over sized my mortises in length and I was going to have excess wood to cut off the ribs anyway, I made the 1 1/8″ wide to fit the mortises I had already cut, and then used the slickplane to break the edges instead of the block plane. The only problem that may come from this (that I can think of) is the ribs wanting to open up more than the gunwales pull in. Will have to wait and see. I used the default ratios in the plans and the extra 1/8″ rib length adjustment.
Steam bending day! I marked the depth of the mortises on the ribs so I could easily know when I had it fully inserted. Since they were pretty tight on a few of the ribs this turned out to be a big help. I started bending in ribs and immediately realized some of the misconceptions about what a good rib is. My wood was air dried for a year, but did pretty well once I understood how breaks in layers affected bending. I cracked a few right off the bat, but realized if you can put the harshest part of the bend on the best part of the rib it goes a lot easier. I had some vertical grain ribs, that I used for the kindest curves, and while tough to bend, they worked pretty well. I snapped a few, but managed to get the vast majority in without incident. Since I had to fight a few of them to not lift the keel, (since they were on the edge of cracking I didn’t want to force the bend much beyond were it was) I gave myself 2 minutes between ribs and it worked pretty well. I could shape the rib, get it in, and then hold it while it cooled to lock in the shape without lifting the keel.
Best thing I did was marking the ribs with the depth of the mortices in order to know when they were properly seated (pictured). It was one less thing to worry about when fitting the ribs, I always knew they were fully seated.
I started tying on the stringers and they mostly went on without incident. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that during the gap between the day I bent the ribs and when I put on the stringers the keel had been lifted by some of the ribs. I replaced one of them with a slightly longer rib where it had a 1/4″ gap along almost all the stringers, I never did figure out why, I measured it again and it was cut the right length, but for some reason it was significantly inside all the other ribs.
Once all the stringers were on I had to pull on and twist the frame a bit to get the keel straight, but it came together. At this point the raised keel became a bit of a problem giving me a slightly hogged keel across the middle three ribs, about 1/4″. I cut down a 13″ strip of rib stock to the width of the keel and fit it between the ribs and the keel to keep the keels curve from inverting (pictured). Lesson learned, make sure to repeatedly check the ribs to make sure they aren’t pushing on the keel, or problems will start propagating.
Finishing the frame went well, and when I removed the braces holding the frame in shape the gunwales came in about 1/2″. While this stability is nice, I am concerned that with the addition of the skin it will pull it out significantly from the designed width. For now I am keeping it tied into the desired width.
Oiling the frame went well and it looks so much better.
Draping the skin and pinning went smooth. When it came to heat cutting I tried using a soldering iron since I don’t have a hot knife or a torch. It definitely works, but I don’t recommend it if you are doing more than one canoe. It was slow and tedious, but it worked well, didn’t leave a mess and saved me $40 dollars.
Since Brian said the front bottom of the keel is the first place to wear through and I’m not certain that I want to add a rub strip along the bottom I placed an extra piece of fabric on the end of the keel inside the skin. This should bond to the outer layer when I paint on the coat. It will take a hair more polyurethane but should reinforce the highest rub location. You can see it held in place with a white thumbtack while I was stretching the skin on lengthwise.
Soaking and stretching fabric went well, I had some issue with staples getting bent out of shape, but since they all end up under the rub rail and hammered in they worked great. Since I had oversized ribs 1 1/8″ I was concerned that the canoe would open up as soon as the skin started to pull on it so I kept it braced and tied to maintain the width at the midpoint. After the skin dried it was tight as a drum, I could literally get different tones depending on where I tapped on it. When I removed the cross-brace and straps it opened up a bit, but no more than 3/8″. The skin definitely wants to pull it open, but not excessively. I am curious to see if sealing the skin will affect the tension and either pull it open more or allow it to relax.
Laminating the skin didn’t significantly change the tension on the frame. The canoe hasn’t opened or closed any since finishing the build, even though it has been stored without the middle brace.
I’ve had it out in the water once and it is paddles well, not to squirrely and not too hard to turn. With it weighing only 30 pounds it travels fine upside-down on the top of my car with a bit of padding under the gunwales. I’m now working on a smaller canoe to nest inside it for my wife, and it is coming together much faster since I did a lot of the prep for both at the same time.
With both canoes done along with one paddle I think I am done with woodworking for a while. Might be time to take up fishing.
Caution if coating the skin outside with a wind, the boat likes to grab bugs and small leaves and absorb them into the coating.
February 10, 2020
Your build looks great! How much rocker and sheer do you have in the canoe after it is finished? Have you had a chance to paddle it yet? I’m wanting to get started on mine and was wondering about your measurements and the results in paddling performance.
February 10, 2020
I’ve had a chance to put it in the water, it paddles well. It holds a line and isn’t squirrely but can still be turned without a fight. In the tables for rib length I used 5.75″ sheer and 1.75″ rocker. I ended up with 5″ sheer and 1.5″ rocker after lamination.
June 16, 2020
Beautiful build! Can I ask what was the length width and depth of your canoe?
June 21, 2020
The larger one is 13’8″ long by 28.5″ wide by 10.5″ deep. The smaller one was 13’0″ long by 27″ wide, I’m not sure on the exact depth for the smaller one off hand but it nested perfectly.
June 19, 2021
Ryan, I just bought a set of plans and I am trying to decide which size to build. I don’t live very far from Houston. Is there any chance I could come see your canoes?
June 19, 2021
I’d love to let you take them out, but I just moved to New Orleans. I’m just over 6ft about 190lb and the larger of the two certainly works better for me. However, I did a 15 mile trip in the smaller one with 3 days camping gear and it worked. We did get some high wind that had waves breaking over the bow on my fully loaded canoe that my dad (in the larger canoe) didn’t have to deal with. I’ll email you my contact info if you happen to come through New Orleans.