Welcome to my post about the build of two small-ish double paddle packcanoe.
I should probably start with a little outlining of the project in general and the goals that I am planing to achieve. Living in the windy, muddy northern Germany where an earth mount of 10m is a mountain and the highway overpass on the way home from work is the most cardio training you get on a bike, it is almost unavoidable not to stumble across some larger body of water every 500 meters. So it came quite early in my still quite young life that i was thrusted in a heavy horibble looking fiberglas clunker and told to enjoy.
But even though I was really trying and having not just a 9 kilometer Loop of nice calm nature just 200 meters from the door step, it never really clicked. After a few more old boats where aquired over the years by my parents and even dabbling a little tiny bit in those dangerous moving waters which still scare me to death even today, my passion and enjoyment was lost for atleast 10 or more years and the boats slowly grew mossier and mossier.
So it comes to the nowedays. Having collected a good amount of woodworking tools and a shared passion for nature with my girlfriend, we started to get the old boats out again. Most of all we enjoyed the big 3 person canoe. Which is atleast 75 pounds and a bit much for us both spindly young people. But the spark was lit and we got out there more often, most of the times to just have a little evening drift.
So combined with some growing interest in sailing and the whole theory behing it, adding a mast to the canoe and imagining sailing along at a good pace, totally disregarding the added amount of weight and complication the whole thing brings with it. Realising what I was trying there and noticing it going in the totally wrong direction, I stumbled by chance across the CapeFalcon Youtube Channel. So the project got started…
At the start of all my projects it is allways a very extended period of time for making lots of plans and coming up with a lot of ideas to improve upon the initial point where it all got startet. So after scribbling around on papers for weeks and months I came back to the very essence of the 66 building system. Symplicity.
So just a little bit of a different sailplan and some different building steps in the details. But no double paddle, rowing, sailing monstrosity that should also be cheap to build.
The 2 boats are going to be ca 13′ 8″ and 13′. Mostly used with a double-paddle and occasionally with a canoe paddle. Again, with a usfull amount of sailing performance in mind that does not detract from the paddle performance to much.
For the building materials I was able to buy some perfect Western Red Cedar and clear European Beach for the Ribs. In addition I got a very good deal on some air dried padauk wood. An african hardwood with the most beautiful color imaginable and similar characteristics to oak. But way more brittle as I found out later.
For the skin I will use the 7oz Nylon and the 2 part polyurethane from Corey at skinboats, as it is surprisingly not that more expensive after shipping and all. The other option would have been a 1 component Polyurethane called Coelan. It is available in Europe but seems much more of an unsure route and could have easily been a money pit after some failed attempts.
As due to the beech used for the ribs I had to cut the ribstock far in advance. It should soak for a couple of weeks to create better bending properties. The ribstock got all cut on an upside down mounted cordless tracksaw. It is far away from an ideal solution but produced an ok result even though the power is very limited. I dont think it would have been possible to cut green Oak that way.
The beech ribs were then bundled together and placed in a giant dry bag filled with water. I can only advise to change the water completely once a week. Especially a wood like beech develops a discolering and smell rather fast. Ask me how I know.
As I drove home from the big wood store, seeing the amazing quality of padauk I just scored for such a low price, my mind went wild and thought ‘oh guitar builders steam bend 2mm thick strips, surely I can rib the entire boat with it’…surely you cannot.
I was able to produce a single 90 degree bend with a radius of 3 inches. And even then it cracked a little bit. If you have a choice, stick to the wood species that are recommended.
The beech bend well enough in the same test and so I went back and just accepted to use the inferior wood. Or did I? At the time of writing this I am planing to still integrate the padauk in a way to show of its amazing color. But this still needs some testing. Updates later down the line.
Due to the stiffness of the padauk I choose the slighly unusual way of making the gunwales out of 4 pieces of wood. I was fearing the intended sheer would simply straighten out after a while. So I laminated a sandwich with core of 2 layers of Western Red Cedar at 1 inch and a top and bottom of 3/8 inch padauk. Thinking that it creates a sort of beam with a durable top and bottom edge while remaining the same weight as a slighly bigger fully Western Red Cedar gunwale.
The sheer was held very well at 7 inches even after a few days. I used Titebond III due to the longer working time. But when laminating with 4 layers I would suggest increasing the clamping a lot. You need atleast 50% more pressure as the force is spread by one more glue joint. I ran into some glue joint problems, but luckily I threw on a few remaining screw clamps in the middle and the ends. So having a tight glue joint there and having the intended sheer, I can say quite confidently that those are the important areas to focus and really get tight.
The resulting beam cut up very well on the low powered cordless contraption. But some extra hands are very needed. I dropped the gunwale width a tiny bit down from the specified amount in the plans. The beech ribs will push far less outwards and the padauk in the gunwales will likely produce more inward pressure than the full Red Cedar gunwales would.
After cutting the gunwales to width it was on to cutting the mortises. The recommended jig for the router worked very well and even my small cordless router had more than enough power to cut even the hard padauk. One thing I noticed after testing some soaked ribstock is that the wood swells a bit. So either cutting the mortisses a bit wider or just really forcing them in while ribbing is required. Definitely a downside on using soaked wood and not air dried and just steamed wood. But still very manageable and just not super tight. In the end when all the stringer are on there shouldn’t even be a difference noticible. But just knowing that they are not completely tight…It just sits there in the back of the mind and annoys one.
And again, ripping the stringers worked well too on the low powered battery saw. Just go slowly and definitely have some extra hands to guide the very thin strips of wood.
I choose to make the keels and the most bottom stringer out of the padauk stock I have as they are the most vulnerable to damage and will have some water standing on them most of the time. Padauk has very excellent long term durability in water and thats next to the color the second most important thing about it. But you really notice the weight penalty. Padauk has twice the density and even dropping the dimensions a bit (within reason and after testing pieces of Cedar and Padauk) it still weighs atlest 50% more. If I would use such a dense wood again, I would only make the keel out of it and make the gunwale strips even thinner. But enough of that, onto closing up the preparations.
The gunwales and the stringers took a really nice shine even after just a couple of strokes with steel wool. It is definitely worth the time to just go over all the long pieces before tying them together. On that note I also decided to oil the gunwales and stringers now. As I am using rubio monocoat, it is much easier to scrub it in now than to work around all the ribs later. Rubio monocoat only requires one application but needs to be thoroughly scrubbed in to work properly. But it is a very durable and nice feeling finish. It took about 60ml of coating for 4 gunwales, 16 stringers and the 2 keels. So really not that bad.
The second big part that needed to be done before starting the assembly is aquiering some dowels. I decided to make them myself with the help on a simple dowel plate. It is just a piece of iron bar with holes drilled into it that step down in the smallest possible increments. I used 0,5mm increments. The cedar cutoffs where then cut into 1/4 inch strips and pounded through the holes. Keeping the sticks short and working with low powered hammer blow keeps the breakage to a minimum.
The resulting dowels are uniform and can be use straight without sanding. Cedar dowels surely aren’t as strong as birch maybe, but they are what I had available duting the holiday season and all the lockdowns starting up again.
For the stems I used a different layout then in the plans. My padauk stock is 5 inches wide, so I had to come up with a solution to keep a good mounting surface for the stringers and keels but still keep the weight down. I choose to make them completely vertical and have a big cutout in the middle. The stringers will be attached at the leading edge and at the supporting piece that frames the cutout. For the keels I will later add a longer supporting piece ontop of the keel right behind the stem. This will function as my maststep, which sits further back and will transfer the twisting forces acting on the stem when running into things bow first. Again all made out of padauk with added speedholes. The final shaping of the stems will happen after ribbing as I am still waiting on some tools for that. No pictures yet as I am not sure it will turn out well or if I have to make some new stems later on.
Just after christmas I startet to set up the gunwales in my livingroom. Bending the gunwales open and making the spreaders is rather straight forward. I just encountered a small difference in how much each gunwale bend. Even though I was carefull to keep the gunwales next to each other in the orientation they were cut, something must have swapped around. So the kerfing at the end of the gunwales was a bit more of a struggle than expected.
After bending some test ribs into one of the boats I noticed that the first 3 ribs from each end do not have a shape that I wanted. So even though the ribbing it self went rather straight forward, I could not figure out where in my worksheets I messed up and the ribs turned out longer. But longer is better then shorter and the problem was easily solved by cutting them quite a bit shorter.
But there are some points to mention when using the process I used, which is soaked wood and unknown steaming times.
You have to calculate quite a bit of shrinking into the bending of the ribs when using beech that was soaked for long. In the case of my bigger boat I dropped down the middle and stem heights after drying by about 3/16 of an inch to get the keel in contact with the ribs again. Strapping down the keel tightly and waiting 2 days for the ribs to dry fully (I tested it, 60% of the gained weight through soaking is lost in the first 24 hours, about 80% is lost after 48 hours) is advisable to tying on the stringers directly as it would probably lead to some unwanted tentions. To strap the keel down I used a big clamp on the center position and the 25% marks and some straps in just a few more positions like the first ribs and inbetween the spreaders. I actually applied quite a bit of downwards pressure and the middle of the ribs still turned out straight after drying. If you don’t apply enough pressure the boat will round out and gets very tippy.
When using an unknown wood that is not white oak, really do your homework and only use the best wood. Just a slight variation in steaming time and a little bit of a different grain pattern led to vastly different outcomes. Many small splitting is fixable but it is allways preferable to not have any in the first place. When deciding where to spend money, definitely do that on the ribstock.
When trying to push forward and encountering problems, it does not simply mean you can overcome them by adapting.
Having all the beech ribs in the boats but still neither completely satisfied with shape or overall sturdyness of the boat, I tried adding a 2mm strip of padauk to the inside of the ribs. Gluing it on and creating a stiffer part overall. Although the padauk does bend well in such thin strips, it is rather twisty and does not want to conform to the shape of the existing beech rib. It would have been possible to glue and clamp each rib with about 15 clamps. But for how long do I have to repeat that? Getting 4 to 6 ribs done in a day for getting a lower quality product overall? Not worth it and really demoralizing.
So I fetched the plan of simply stacking 3 pieces of 2mm padauk and tying them together. I wipped up a quick test piece and to my surprise it worked beautifully.
In addition I found a life edged piece of ash today. My local hardwarestore has them listed as some crafty material for home improvers, some life edge oak and ash pieces. Usually totally knotted up and ugly. But after looking at 20 pieces or so, one labeled as oak looked suspiciously more like ash. So quickly cut up a test rib and it was like heaven. 8 minutes of steaming time and a perfect bow rib.
So in the end I will just have to rib both boats all over again. Which hurts a bit but they will not just turn out more beautiful but also so much stronger and longer lived.
Before setting up for ribbing again and ripping down more thin padauk, I first had to make new stems. Unfortunately the first stems I made where from the lightest padauk board I had, thinking it is not such structually important but more dimensionally. So I shaped them after the idea of keeping them as light as possible, not giving much thought to grain orientation.
So when trying to do the final shaping I dropped one stem and it immediately broke along the grain. It needs to be flat grain so it does not shear of as easily.
Choosing a prettier and heavier board I squeezed all four stems into just 3 feet lenght of board. On the leading edge I glued on some sticks I had lying around to build up thickness. Keeping the grain connected through the main axis of stress.
After fitting them individually to the boats I finalized the form by power planing down the front of the stems. So it tapers down to about 3/16 of an inch at the cutwater. Maybe I will add some speedholes after the stringers are set up in their final position.
I was unfortunately not able to cut up my padauk stock into nice thin but consistent strips. I was planning with 3 strips stacked to make up about 1/4 inch and had to sort a lot of ribs and match them together depending on thickness.
The bending of the padauk went either very well or quite bad. It really was dependent on the piece of wood the strip came from and the steaming time. It needed just 4 to 5 minutes to make them very flexible, but steaming about 8 minutes already makes them brittle and I broke a lot of ribs. When working with such figured wood like padauk I would recommend test bending a strip out of every board and keeping the sttips of one board to together.
In the end I had to replace and resteam about a third of the ribs and the smaller boat turned out much better. Overall I was able to get the right shape into the boats with the stringers. Just a few shims in some places made it all come together fair and shaped as I wanted.
After releasing the spreaders the boats came out just as wanted. They did not spring open or close up. Even after a days rest they stayed like that.
Using thin wood, especially the padauk comes with quite some twisting issues. Most of the ribs equal themselfs out over the lenght, but some needed resteaming and some force applied by clamp over night. In addition I injected Titebond III into all the riblayers between stringers, while having the boat tightly clamped into the shape I wanted.
With that method I was able to reduce the middle fullness issues I had with the bigger boat. I reduced the rocker by about an inch. There was quite some belly due to some less than ideal padauk strips. The smaller boat turned out just perfect and no later brute force was required. So again, even when using thin strips, runout and especially twisted wood is just not easy to work with.
After gluing the bigger boat I still was not happy with a few ribs in the middle of the boat. So I took out the middle rib and the second one in each direction towards the end and replaced them with the ash stock. It is not the perfect solution, but I tell myself it adds some visual interest in the otherwise boring middle.
Now it was onto testing how wiggly the boats turned out before skinning. I wrapped up the smaller boat in packing foil and jumped onto the little stream at the edge of our property. Temperatures hovering around 0 degrees made it a very enjoyable experience.
Paddleling a few meters forward and back with some wiggleling inbetween gave me an impression of how my bigger boat will turn out afterwards. The idea was to test the small boat kneeling, while it will be later used by my partner with a smaller size than me. So if its bearable for me to kneel, it should certainly be alright to use while sitting on the bum for a smaller person.
The width I decided on of 25,5 inches for the smaller boat was just a tiny bit on the tippy side while kneeling on a board that rests ontop of the gunwales. So I will drop the kneeling thwart/backrest down between the guwales while still leaving space for the feet to easily slip out when going on a unplanned swimming session. In addition I am planning to add a tiny chime to the bottom edge of the gunwales, for adding a bit of final stability and because I dont like the look of the skin resting ontop of the gunwale sides. I am planning with about 1/4 inch square strips, just enough to keep the skin of while not reaching further out than the rubstrips.