16’4” Yellow Cedar Tandem Tripping Canoe, Vancouver, BC

NOTE from Brian: Full design specs, scantlings, and detailed paddling impressions of this canoe are available in the Various Canoe Examples Chapter of our Skin on Frame Canoe video course.

Vancouver, B.C., Canada

June 2020: Gathering tools and supplies, and lots of thinking

While watching some of the early prep videos for the course I’ve been plotting my way through a tools and supplies list and settled on some things I need on my shopping list. One great Ebay find was a $40 Stanley block plane from the 1930s that just took a little cleaning and tuning up and immediately impressed me. 

I’ve been trying to source bending oak locally here. I found a great supplier on Vancouver Island but couldn’t make sense of a dedicated ferry trip to go get it. I played around with other local options and (re)discovered yellow cedar. It is often used on the West Coast in small boat building and is traditionally used by the local First Nations here in fine carving and steam bending applications. I dug through some Engineering studies and did a lot of math. I have settled on some rib dimensions that I think will compare to the stiffness of Brian’s Oregon white oak. It’s all theoretical so far and definitely straying from the course a little, but I would like to give it a shot. 

4th July 2020: Buying the wood and some pre-prep work

Having settled on yellow cedar I’ve now found it almost impossible to buy unless I special order a log to be sawn up for a small fortune. After lots of phone calls to suppliers it turns out that stumpage rates have gone up, a mill closed for pandemic-related reasons, and the main supplier here shut down a couple of years ago. I finally found some in 16-20’ lengths of 5/4 (“five quarter” which varies but in this case is 1”x5.5”) air dried, totally clear, straight and rift grained and excitedly picked up a few boards. 

20th July 2020: more prep work and learning to steam bend

Saw horses, zero clearance inserts, and a steam box! Having just built those I’ve now been able to do two rounds of steam bending tests using Brian’s benchmarking method. After a few exploding pieces, I’m now getting really good results with fresh cut, then soaked yellow cedar steamed for 2-3 minutes. Only small tear outs when really pushing the bends like the first rib on the canoe. I can’t tie yellow cedar in a knot…at least not the thickness I need to use, and the bending oak is clearly superior from what I can see compared to my wood, but the yellow cedar is working. There are two nagging things have been concerning me about this project – steam bending and ripping long lengths, particularly the curved gunwale laminations. So far making these tests has really got me feeling excited about the steam bending. Brian’s videos are incredibly helpful.

August 8th: Ripping!

I set up a 16’ infeed and 16’ outfeed for my table saw. I learned a couple of things…getting all surfaces totally level is very helpful to avoid the end of a long piece wandering out and disturbing the cut; thin kerf blades are magical. I switched blades as an experiment. So far I can see no downside to using a thin kerf 7-1/4” blade on the table saw other than depth of cut. It flexes just a little which if the workpiece swings out as I mention above keeps the cut from wandering, saves wood, makes less noise, cuts more efficiently and costs less. 

I should mention that this project is clearly taking a long time…I’m slowly working at it on purpose as I’m keeping it a surprise for my wife…hard to do with the setup of some of these tasks!!

August 16th: Thickness planning by hand…

I don’t own a thickness planer… I would love one but in absence I’ve been using a hand power planer. Its working incredibly well with sharp blades, going slow and checking thickness with a caliper. I also built a plywood jig around it to try to make a thickness planer jig. It doesn’t work well but it helps to get a better feel for staying square on the faces and a bonus is its going to help trim the ribs to an exact ¼” at the ends later. So its stayed on…

August 22nd: Laminations!

Having watched the updated videos for this process over and over I followed all the careful tips on sighting the length along the worksurface, flipping clamps around to get the curve to stay true (I actually weighted a couple of the bar clamps to get more leverage). The glue up went perfectly and had just the right amount of glue thanks to the discussion on the videos. I cut my shear curve blocks exact instead of adding for the centre standoff (!) and had to rush over and grab some 2×4 offcuts to get the right height mid-glue up. I took the clamps off at 3.5 hours at ~28˚C and the chisel worked really well on the mostly-hard glue. 

With the help of a neighbour supporting the work, we managed to rip the gunwales perfectly. I used only one 1”x5.5” board for all the material so had almost no room for extra. The thin kerf blade was again perfect here. I found that standing WAY back to aim the lamination at the blade to start feeding, about the middle of the curve, then walking it forwards, feather board in place the whole time, it worked really well. As I previously mentioned this step was a big concern to me and I’m glad to say it worked out well. 

September 6th: Morticing the gunwales

Again, thanks to some excellent ideas and instructions from Brian on the videos this went really well. I bought a used plunge router off Craigslist and a spiral upcut bit from Lee Valley Tools (really good price by the way). My only challenges were with the old router. First was my fault, I didn’t check the plunge mechanism when I bought it. It had totally seized. I overhauled the whole thing and had to ream out a nylon slider bushing for one of the shafts. Once that was done and I started into routing I noticed the bit was creeping deeper into the cuts! I ended up at about ¾” deep on one before I noticed. It turns out the chuck, being old, wasn’t quite grabbing the ½”-¼” reducer and the bit was slowly able to move a little. I put a huge wrench on the chuck and that solved that…

September 12th: Stems

With this being a larger boat, I knew the red cedar 1x8s for the stems would not work. I didn’t have access to yellow cedar in 1×8 size. I debated other species but I wanted something very rot resistant, and so drawing on the good experience from the gunwale glue up I decided to laminate two of the standard 1×8 stems back to back, from the same board cut mirror image of each other. The thought here is that they would work against each other to resist any cupping. I threw on 40 clamps because…why not! After I get the stringers placed, I’m going to thin and shape these for a finer water entry, keeping the inside parts wider, probably the thickness of the keel. I’ll still taper the keel and the base of the stems as Brian suggests.

I also got most of the last bits of prep out of the way – rounding stringers, building spreaders and capture forms, cutting the gunwales to length. I won’t rip the ribs up until I’m ready for them as I want them to be fresh sawn.

September 26th 2020: Hand carving a paddle

This really has nothing to do with the canoe build, but I decided to hand carve a canoe paddle for my wife. I was going for a deepwater paddle, so no risk of dinging it on rocks, and wanted to use western red cedar. I found a really beautiful 2×6 with a huge knot in what turned into the centre of the blade, and decided to go for a modified otter tail, with a nod to Brian’s techniques and shaping his Greenland kayak paddles. The knot and changing grain patterns made it incredibly difficult to carve but I persisted carefully and I like how it turned out. It’s obviously more fragile than a cherry paddle… No idea how it paddles yet, but it looks and feels really nice!

October 3rd 2020: Starting to look (a little) like a canoe!

It’s getting exciting now! I built the spreaders, separated and spread the gunwales apart, kerfed and tied the gunwales ends and got to check the symmetry of the gunwales and deck with a string line. Its really fun to see a curved piece of wood I’ve been carefully measuring and routing turn before my eyes into the outline of a real canoe with some great looking proportions!

I really found the kerfing more difficult than I think it needed to be. After I was almost done I realised that the capture forms were too tight on the gunwales and relaxing them to where the gunwales JUST touch then sawing made things so much easier.

For fun I really hastily clamped on the keel (flipped on its side so the clamps could hold it) and the stems just to get a quick look before packing up. the rocker measurements were also just roughed in for a photo.

Late October/Early November 2020: Milling ribs and cutting them to length

Recently I’ve not found much time to work on the canoe, so this phase has been a series of 20-minute tasks strung over many days. After some experimenting and consulting with Brian I’ve settled on 1.41 as the r/b ratio. On paper it seems a little fuller than I was originally going for (1.40), but test fitting up some mock ribs it looks like the right way to go. For reference…I feel that a freighter would be around 1.44 and a classic Prospector would be around 1.42 with these dimensions.

I started with a single 16′ length of yellow cedar (in which I found a single knot!) and then ripped and planed it down to 36 pieces of 1″ x 23/64″ x 54″. After that I found the rib rounding jig incredibly useful dressing the pieces.

I used a 3′ long piece of wood for my rib measuring stick (the canoe is 36″ wide). This allowed me to scribe a trace of the canoe width onto the stick at each rib location, on one side of the stick, and mark out rib adjustments on the other side. This made for really fast work with no room for error in measuring the ribs to final length. I decided to cut ribs to length on the table saw to get clean 90˚ cuts. My home-brew planer attachment worked out really nicely to get every rib to exactly 1/4″ at the ends. Looking back I think a similar result could be achieved just by clamping the planer base onto a piece of 1/4″ masonite (which I did also) but I’m telling myself this extra effort was a little safer. If you read this and want to try the same just treat it like a table saw – I guess it has the potential to shoot ribs out at speed, although I didn’t have any of that happen.

After some test bends in the summer I’ve found that soaking for at least 3 days before steaming gave more control on the bends, so after building a stegosaurus in the front yard to test fitment of every rib mortice, I have laid all the ribs down under water (and a little light snow) for a few days.

November 19th: Rib day!

West coast outdoor workspace = tarp city! Hey, I was running out of patience waiting for a day without rain, of which there are very few here at this time of the year. So, I got all set up in the back yard, rain started after a few ribs right on time, and I ended up getting the last rib into the mortice as a thunderstorm erupted. It made for a dramatic end to the day but the boat stayed dry. 

I was really happy with how the steam bending went. I was particularly nervous about this whole plan not working at all at this stage. I had taken a bit of a gamble trying to get this done with yellow cedar rather than the suggested Oregon white oak. Things went very well. If someone else was to choose a non-standard wood I really recommend just taking your time, doing some testing and paying attention to the wood thickness based on its strength, to get something at the end of the build that is comparable to the oak in overall stability. 

So as mentioned the ribs are yellow cedar, like most of the rest of the boat, and it took a little R&D to figure out steaming parameters. Dimensions I settled on were 23/64” thick and 1” wide. Based on the aforementioned “way too much math” part above. I soaked the ribs outside (rainwater top-up optional) for two weeks until I couldn’t wait any more. I settled on 2:45 steam time for the first lot and once the steam box was really hot, around 1h30 in, I cut that down to about 2:30 a rib. This was a REALLY fun day watching the boat take shape. For the tighter bends I backed the ribs with a length of seatbelt material. I found in my tests that a leather belt I had wasn’t wide enough to be able to secure the edges of the rib so well and the grain would tear out. Seatbelt material has almost no stretch so that helped. 

I ended up cracking one rib out of 33 which I thought was really good. I had only given myself three spares. Over the next couple of weeks I ended up changing out four more for a total of five replacements, two were for shaping issues, and the end ribs came out of the formula too short. I ended up adding 3/4” to the end rib replacements (3/8” either side) and making them out of 1/4” stock to get a tighter bend than the other rib thickness would allow. By the time I had bent in the last ribs the spares had been soaking for a month. I trimmed the spares to length right before steaming and noticed that the water from soaking had only penetrated into the wood about 1/16”! maybe the cedar won’t even need to be oiled?!

December/January: tweaking the rocker

No longer building in secret! I’ve I did a bit of a reveal to my wife a day after steaming which was fun. Its pretty hard to hide a full-sized canoe frame covered in clamps for more than a day or two! Things have slowed down a lot with this build, just because of the weather really, and only having space outside to work. That’s fine I’m not in a rush.

I’ve been playing with progressive rocker, and settled on bending in a keel depth at the outside part of the stems. This really helped with the lines I think. I’ve also been trying to figure out how to actually measure rocker. Turns out to be a bit philosophical and no clear answer! In an attempt to figure out if 3 inches is three inches is 3”, I’ve found that the best sets of plans that accurately break out rocker for various canoe styles are on The Carrying Place website. They have a nice adaptation of an original prospector on there based on survey of an early model, amongst other things. I’ve settled after some looking at baselining rocker at ~90% of waterline length which seems to be the most often used (explanation here). With that, and progressive rocker I’m now at 3” 90% WL with an aim to land at around 2-1/2” when the stringers are on. When I started into this I designed in a “planned” rocker of 3” projected out to full length (untrimmed keel 16’4” long). That same measure was now 4-3/8″ with the progressive rocker. 

January/February: lashing on the stringers…twice!

Still slow with the weather, don’t take this slow progress as this being a difficult build, its not. I lashed on all the stringers at the end of January and then to my surprise found that I’d bent out almost all the rocker. I was left with maybe an inch at 90% WL, really not what I was going for, probably still a “canoe” but not the plan. After some discussion with Brian and different options for how to proceed I decided to pull off the lashings (350 in all…) and re-do the stringers again, pre-curving the shear more to compensate. 

To avoid the same thing, I put the deck on horses at even thirds (before they were at 25% from ends to match the un-stressed shear curve, my mistake), and weighted down the ends of the gunwales with ~2lbs each end. This had the effect of over-curving the shear from the un-stressed 7-9/16” to an even 9”, the theory being the tension of the stringers was pulling the shear (and therefore rocker) flatter. For anyone else’s reference later…I measured the shear curve changes while lashing. Pretty consistently I lost 5/16” of shear (and rocker) for every pair of yellow cedar stringers I lashed on. 

At the end of the second lashing (that’s 700 lashes now! Before and after photos below) and the keel clamped at every rib I have a good-looking rocker curve of 2-3/8”. I expect with the keel on (later) this will go down to ~2-1/4” at 90% WL. My shear curve is at 7-9/16 which is exactly where it was before lashing. Cool. 

I also looked at the lines for symmetry and took a few measurements. I’m really happy with the left-right symmetry of the whole package. There’s some minor left-right asymmetry at the one end where some of the hull shape might have a slightly slacker bilge on one side to the other, that ends up with the stringers not exactly the same distance from the keel. That’s my theory anyway. I’m done messing with the shape now…maybe.

I was really surprised how efficiently the lashing went. I’m also surprised at the rigidity in the frame with all the lashings on. The design of Brian’s overall building system is seriously cool. 

February: Finishing(ish) the frame

Once I got the boat lashed a second time, I started to notice a few places where left-to-right the boat was just a little out of symmetry (see the crazy red-green image below). I tortured the frame a little pulling in the bilge on one side down to the opposite gunwale with careful tweaking of ratchet straps. This worked the shape the right direction and I could see it coming into line nicely, but it had been so long since I steamed the ribs, that I found a lot of spring back after releasing the straps. I discussed with Brian and decided that I’d leave it as is. As he pointed out, I’d hate to make the situation worse and the difference was barely perceptible unless you stare head-on at the boat. 

I found fairing the stringers at the stems a little challenging on the first few, but eventually got it. I also did a lot of complex shaping of the stems, first with a router table and then by hand to get the double-thickness stems to a point that they would keep a fine water entry. Working the keel sides down to keep my brass rub strip proud of the keel was really easy with a block plane, using the stringers as a natural guide for the plane to ride against. 

I pegged the keel and finally I added some shear blocks, and then immediately wondered why I had decided to add shear blocks! They took a good 3 hours to make a table saw jig, cut the taper and then shape the blocks to the right look, adding exactly nothing in functionality. But, honestly when I stepped back and looked at the frame I felt really happy I had added them. They really do complete the ends for me, especially on a longer boat and end up with more of a classic gunwale line. I found a spokeshave made really light work of curving the blocks, and tidied up the line with a block plane at a good angle for the last cut or two. 

All in all I’m extremely happy with the look of the frame and really looking forward to putting the skin on and paddling this boat. 

I cut some rub rails out of Douglas fir, stupidly purchasing 16′ 0″ without thinking, I had to scarf on 4 inches extra! I like the look of Doug fir but its a bit of an experiment like the rest of the boat. Its pretty prone to splintering/splitting so I’ve cut my rub rails on the wide side at 1/4″ x 3/4″. Slick planing them was a little challenging but I took my time with it. I found angling the slickplane with the wood out of the guide rail, then slowly introducing the wood over subsequent cuts made it really easy to remove a little at a time even against the grain. probably a good technique for hardwoods with diving grain also.

[edit with the skin on: I found the Doug fir quite cooperative and worked in the wider 3/4″ size. the scarf joints are barely visible (centre of the photo below) and the wood took finish well. Let’s see how it holds up over time]

Side note…on rocker

I’ve been focussed a lot on the rocker of the hull during this build, hoping to keep the boat in the sweet spot of what I’m looking for in paddling characteristics. The current answer here with everything lashed on is that I lost somewhere between 1″ and 1.5″ using the over-bending method before lashing, depending on where the boat is supported when I measure it! I over-bent 2″, so that’s a drop of about 3″ in lashing stringers and keel. My rocker before skinning is now about 2″ from centre to 90% length, or 3-3/8″ from centre to the very ends of the boat, with the progressive rocker accounted for. I’m happy with that and its really close to what I was originally hoping for in the setup phase. Let’s see if skinning changes that, and what it feels like to paddle. Looking at lots of boat designs during this build though, if I was to do this again I think I wouldn’t be afraid to plan in an inch or so more…

March: Ash blocks, starting to make an ash yoke and seat

I don’t trust myself to drill straight down the gunwales with a block glued per the course directions to mount seats etc. I know my biggest weakness in woodworking and its certainly drilling square to a surface with a hand drill. Two different woods in the mix didn’t make that sound any better. Instead I rigged up my Craigslist router in my table saw table with a ¼” core box bit and set up to make all the mount blocks I’ll need plus some spare – see the photo below for a general idea of what I did. I used the mitre gauge for the table saw to keep things in line, raising the blade to make the 45-deg cuts, lowering it, then moving to the router. For the yoke mount I made two holes and a slightly wider block to reduce bolt sway over time. 

I also found a “bootlace” seat on a huge discount at a local store. I had initially planned on webbed seats, but having sat in it I was sold. I’m planning on making a double-wide front seat that extends almost to the gunwales, mostly for my wife and kid to sit together, but also so I can paddle the canoe solo in reverse, and heel it over on its side when I want to. I cut the parts and used them to figure out seat locations. 

I’ve held off on mounting the seats, I instead marked the gunwales at my best guess location and I’ve masked off the mating areas to keep them clear of finishing oil. Once I get the boat floating, I’ll fine tune those then glue in the blocks. 

And finally, for this segment a magic trick! No spreaders in the frame and it stands open, losing maybe 1” in tumblehome. I stared at this for a while – I wasn’t quite sure the yellow cedar ribs would be able to act in balanced tension like the white oak. I’m very happy with this!

Early April: Oiling the frame, bending stem bands

With the yoke blocks glued in and masked off along with the seat mounting areas, I oiled the frame with Watco Danish Oil. I used the start of the can on some earlier projects and I started to run out about ¾ of the way through the job. I thinned it down to make do…I then found to my dismay that the whole of BC seems to have sold out of the stuff!!

I made up an oil-varnish-thinner mix that apparently works well. Thinking about the open boat and UV, I played with some ratios on a test piece and settled with Epifanes Extra UV varnish (~20%) Minwax Teak Oil (~40%, I believe it is tung oil based) and the rest as odourless mineral spirits. I found this worked well but by the time I’d coated the whole boat the varnish was starting to set up, it ended up getting REALLY sticky. I had to use kraft paper to rub it rather than a cloth because it was so sticky! I put this homebrew mix on as second coat over the Watco. The frame has ended up with a satin look, not plastic-like like Epifanes can sometimes look on its own. The finish has good penetration and keeps the colour fairly neutral. It feels really tough. I’d use it again, but pay careful attention to work in smaller batches and wipe off before moving on to the next area.

I went for Varathane Spar Urethane for the rub rails and the ash blocks. I lost count but I think I wiped on about 8 coats of ~50% thinned coating. I wouldn’t normally go to that trouble but I was trying to match the factory finish of the seat I had purchased (its a Nova Craft seat), as a test to see if I can match my new seat also. It worked very well with a good tough smooth finish. 

I bent up my stem bands also. note for other builders – do as Brian suggests and do this BEFORE you put the skin on. It was pretty easy being able to clamp areas and get a really good look at what was going on. I cut mine to the taper in the keel 3′ back from the stems, I think about 55″ each in all. I’ll drill these some evening.

I was also interested to see if my wider rub rails in Doug fir would flatten out the boat. I did some measuring and came to the conclusion no, not really. I lost 1/16″ in rocker/shear with the boat on its side for fair comparison per rail.

April 17th-20th: Sewing on the skin

This was a bit of an adventure. When I started this course last year I was trying as hard as I could to minimize the cost. I found an incredibly kind guy in the USA who had purchased an 18’ long piece of skin boat skin a while back and never used. He was nice enough to send it to me for a reasonable price, we both figured it was nylon but I didn’t know for sure. Would it shrink? Did it need to be stretched on? I tested a scrap of it by various means (burning, melting, dyeing), it was in fact nylon. Excellent. 

I keep saying it but Brian’s instruction is incredible. I followed along and found myself with some perfectly cut ends, nice looking whip stitches and just the right amount of longitudinal stretch pulled in where I’d shortened the skin. I put the boat away for a few days until I knew I could block off three hours to do the wet-down and stapling. 

Today I pulled and stapled down the skin and secured my rub rails. Again, fantastic instruction. I went with the garden hose approach and had a running 10-minute timer to bug me to re-hose the boat. This worked perfectly, it was really dry with a light breeze and the boat stayed wet in the shade. 4 hours later and the thing is dry and tight like a snare drum. Its magical how much the skin shrinks up when it dries. No rocker loss that I can see with the skin dry and in place.

At this point I’ve come to the realisation that I have built, and own a boat. Ok it won’t float yet, at least for very long, but I’ve got a real sense of accomplishment staring at the frame with the skin on. I really like the shape as well. I can’t wait to see how it paddles.   

April 21: Trimming the skin to the gunwales

The rain is coming for a week or so, so just a quick note and a couple of pictures of the boat showing that I was able the skin trimmed to the gunwales before needing to put it away for a while. I found the “rope cutter” attachment for my old Weller plumbers solder gun worked really really well. Highly recommend if you have one of those tools sitting around. It doesn’t get hot enough to glow like the one on the course videos but still melts the fabric with ease.

May 15th: Dyeing the skin

I’ve been messing with floorboards up until this point since the last update. Today I got time to put the canoe on the grass and dye the skin. Everything went exactly as planned, I wasn’t really expecting to get away without fabric dye EVERYWHERE, so I did this on our lawn then cut the grass after. It was a good move… I did the “old” method of the boat the right way up, and ended up pretty covered myself as were my saw horses and the grass. I can’t imagine doing this step without some form of drop cloth down on a floor you might care about. One thing to note is the fabric seemed to go slacker than when I initially skinned the canoe – not sure if this is to do with the acid or the heat, but it tightened up again after to the same tension.

I used the 2GO (Sunshine) colour mix in the end from Brian’s website.

May 25th: Coating the skin

After a few tests playing with 15ml batches of Corey’s “goop” 2-part polyurethane on some scraps of the skin fabric (and hitting those tests with the wrong end of a claw hammer in amazement), I felt confident enough to mix up and apply the coating. I took Brian’s advice about doing it indoors and cleared out the garage specifically to get enough room for one evening to do the job. I am VERY glad I did it inside – right before setting completely the goop goes the consistency of fly-paper adhesive. It would be IMPOSSIBLE to get away with doing it outside without insects all over it. 

Everything went smoothly with the coating. Timing notes Brian gives are spot on. I almost ran out of time on the first half-hull coat but still had some working time to spare. I encountered two minor issues – I pulled the tape too quickly and ended up with some stringy bits down over the rub-rails in one area that I need to remove, and I found that with the roller that Corey supplied, it was getting a lot of air bubbles from the roller squishing. I used a drill mixer and was VERY careful to have batches without air bubbles, but for whatever reason the roller made it very bubble-affected. I chose therefore to knock down the bubbles with a card scraper after every other step. That seemed to work well and piled a little extra coating on the stringers also. Where I coated extra on the upper parts of the stems, the extra-thick coating ended up with some minor small bubbles incapsulated during curing. Temperature was 18 deg C or so, relative humidity in the 60% range but in an enclosed garage with me working, so possibly climbed during the job. 

I managed to get 4x total coats (5 batches) on the canoe in 5 hours then pulled the tape. Brian suggested I come back the next morning and tape off the hull half way up to get just more coats on the bottom of the hull. I did that and it went perfectly, I was therefore able to stretch 2x full orders of “goop” into 6x layers (7 batches) on the lower half of the hull, and 4x layers on the upper half above the waterline. I found the coating to be ready to re-coat after 18h from first mixing the first coating. After 24h from final coat it was ready for use.  

I was able to achieve the “some spatters” speed suggested for the rolling technique but as a result DESTROYED a pair of shoes, 2x shirts and 2x pairs of jeans. All of those were planned to be sacrificial at the start of the job, but just something to know about!

Initial impressions of the coating and skin once cured are that it feels like a RIB or Zodiac type fabric when cured, but tougher, smoother, as the fabric is totally coated smooth on the outside, but also with more of that “new plastic” type almost-tacky feel that I’m sure will go away as it gets used [edit: definitely does]. The inside surface still has the texture of the weave but is coated through. I couldn’t find an accurate description of what the boat feels like anywhere online so thought I would add that. 

After seeing what happened with dyeing, I was a little concerned that the skin tension would drop when the coating saturated to a point that I got some floppy bits in the skin. That didn’t happen at all. It is nice and taught, ALMOST as tight as after the first drying.

Rocker is no longer affected by saw horse position after coating. The hull is very rigid, comparable or more-so to a commercial composite boat. I have 1-3/4” rocker at 90%, 2-1/4” to the turn of the keel. 

The coating looks and feels excellent. There are definitely spots where it’s not completely even and minor runs etc. but overall, it’s almost impossible to see those as a passer-by, and when the hull gets wet, I’m sure those will be invisible. It’s definitely not a showcase type mirror smooth finish type product, but more of a utilitarian tough coating that with practice I’m sure could be made to look very smooth all over. I’m very happy with the product and would use it again.

First Impressions

We got this boat out on the water over the weekend for the first time. I’m REALLY happy with it! It has squarely checked all the design-goal boxes for me! I’ve yet to update the build blog but thought I would send some thoughts your way as you mentioned you were interested to see how it paddled. I have not got seats in yet, just mats on the ribs and we either knelt or sat on paddle floats, so hard to figure for sure all the ergonomics just yet.

We paddled, tandem (plus a kid) for 2+ hours around a flatwater lake in 3-7kts wind. It tracks well but is still nicely maneuverable. In retrospect I think my goal to have a little more rocker would not have been what I wanted. I feel the boat as-is has a great balance in rocker. Hull stability feels just right. Its not quite as stable side-side as typical commercial tripping boats but we both liked that. Stability was also not unnerving for our 4-year old son, but he’s used to sea-kayaking. The boat handled the ~7kts winds very well, I recall being surprised how little wind affected it was turning the bow in and out of a headwind.

The hull feels fast and quite effortless paddling. We both remarked on how fast it felt for the amount of effort we were putting into paddling. Next paddle I’ll stick a GPS on it. I think the boat could benefit from ~1/2” per side of tumblehome carrying to the bow seat position. But hard to evaluate properly right now without a seat…my wife was sitting low in the boat on a paddle float.

I took the boat out for a few minutes solo afterwards, both flat and heeled over a lot while paddling. Seems to have very good secondary stability. The lightweight hull is amazing paddling solo and it really comes alive. Fine tuning my body position made the difference between being able to spin the boat quickly and tracking nicely. Being so light it was very fun to paddle both tandem and solo.

I feel the hull is as- or more rigid in holding its shape as a “tuff stuff” high-end “basalt laminate” boat that Nova Craft sells. The frame doesn’t feel to have more than ¼” of flexibility in rocker flexing the ends on a dock etc. which is excellent.

I’m happily VERY surprised with the results! I’ll be following the course’s “finishing” chapter next. The instruction has been absolutely excellent.

Seat Installation

The seats are finished and installed! Hoping to get the boat on a more serious trip this weekend I’m now content knowing that I CAN now make a woven boot lace canoe seat but probably never will again! (the bow seat is the one made).

Having the mounting blocks routed with the bolt slot already made mounting very simple (see above for the description of making them). Bolt the whole seat assembly with spacers and blocks together, clamp and witness-mark the gunwales and blocks, take apart (to avoid glueing the bolts on!) and glue the blocks – no chance of misalignment. I really didn’t trust myself to drill the gunwales with the blocks glued in. 

I built flooring contrary to Brian’s advice (I should have listened). My thoughts were that using this boat with a kid who’s moving around (and right up to the bow/stern) and on trips where we are not going to be too kind to it, the floor would help. I used a single tight-grained red cedar 10′ 4×4 that I ripped into 1/4″ thickness. It’s coated with 4x coats of Epifanes mixed with tung oil. To do it again I wouldn’t make the floor and I’d just use the foam pads. The flooring adds about 13lbs which was expected but is disappointing on your shoulders, especially with the spreader form still in as a temporary yoke!! It is lashed in with paracord (note the orange where i’ve run out of black), which makes it safe for highway travel.

Paddling Impressions

We had the boat out yesterday for a 12km explore up one of the saltwater “arms” here. Not a ton of gear but enough to play with trim. The bow seat is perfect at the spot I picked. The stern puts us riding what my wife things is little bow-high but only just. I’m very happy with it that way and it gives excellent control, but my wife finds it just a touch too far back with me in the stern. She’s lighter than me so her in the stern would probably work nicely for how she likes it anyway.

The boat definitely “feels” fast. I don’t know if it’s the lightness or if there is less effort needed to paddle the hull shape? It’s hard to come up with a speed number with a gps as I’m so out of shape recently and embarrassingly haven’t made myself a paddle yet so using one I found that’s destroyed and the wrong size!! I think we’ll have to take it on a few trips and figure a trip average to really get an idea of real-life speed. But it feels good. 

We hit some sizeable big boat wake waves ~2ft and smallish chop, rolling swell etc. no issue at all side-on or on the bow. The bow rode up some of the biggest wake waves and stayed nice and stiff. Secondary stability is excellent. Primary stability would be disconcerting for a band-new paddler – shifting sitting position alone can greatly affect the roll angle, but for us it’s right where I wanted it. I found the boat really responsive to steering input as well when needed to negotiate tight spots around shallow rocks but it’s very easy to track well. 

Unfortunately we didn’t find too many places to get out of the boat to take photos. Tonnes of sharp rocky intertidal steps which I didn’t fancy running the boat up next to. I was able to get a few at the end of our day attached [edit – I had the boat out solo in the evening the other night so I’ve uploaded a couple more below, the green pool noodles are stand-ins!]. 

All in all I’m really really happy with it.

Seat Positioning
A bit of a tangent on seats below here: I went a little too academic on deciding and measured a ton of commercial boats from online photos but I think I’ve figured out a bit of a system. I biased my search around the 16′ length so the trend maybe isn’t totally true outside that – see the chart if you are interested ignore it if not. Stars mark where I ended up on my decision, % is of percent of total length of the boat, measured to seat centre from the bow (bow seat), and from the centre of the boat (stern seat). Watch out I shifted the right axis down to avoid overlap – the colours help see the right numbers. I selected for 150 lbs paddler (me) in the stern, and 140 lbs (my wife and our son combined) in the bow. I imagine heavier folks would want a stern seat closer in to centre, lower % on my chart. I wonder if some speed issue for some builders mentioned might be them putting the seats in to try to trim perfectly horizontal and ploughing the bow in too much? 


View posts by Rory
I've completed a Cape Falcon 66 tandem canoe in yellow cedar and an F1 kayak with yellow cedar ribs and coaming. I'm still keen to build even more boats! Long time fixer, tinkerer and builder of other things. Keen outdoors enthusiast in all seasons. I got into paddling (canoes and sea kayaks) when I met my wife in Ontario many years ago and until building the canoe we have never owned our own boats. I find the idea of skin on frame building really exciting.


  1. Ian Fraser
    May 4, 2021

    Excellent blog
    I can sympathise with building outside in winter though the temperatures in Englands Yorkshire Dales don’t usually get down to -21 deg. The stuff on rocker loss is especially useful as I’ve made a 14’3″ solo paddle boat which has lost much of its Rocker. Making a 16′ double next.

    1. Rory
      May 4, 2021

      Thanks Ian!
      I think that using yellow cedar is probably contributing to some of the extra loss in rocker as its got a far higher elastic modulus than red cedar – worth looking at your wood choices and planning for more loss with a higher modulus I think. Just a theory.

      1. Doug
        June 29, 2021

        Nicely done Rory. I have a couple of questions regarding your ribs: What was the final dimension you end up using. I think it was 21`/64″, but please confirm,
        please clarify your steam times. It’s a bit confusing in the narrative.

        Great looking build, and excellent blog.


        1. Rory
          June 29, 2021

          Hi Doug, sorry that’s my error on the clarity there. I went 23/64″ thick with the yellow cedar. What I did is calculated and tried to match Brian’s Oregon white oak stiffness at his thicknesses to make the decision. Pay special attention to diving grain on the tighter bends or it just peels off.

          I soaked for 1 day and 3 days for my tests, ~10 days for my build and over a month for the spares/replacements. 1 day was not enough, the others all performed the same.

          I steamed for 2m 45s. When the steam generator gets low it seems to heat the box up more (others have said the same thing) and I transitioned down to about 2m 30s when I noticed the ribs kinking rather than bending. 2m 0s for the very end ribs which are 1/4″ thick. Over-steamed yellow cedar just seems to collapse and fold.

  2. Grant
    June 29, 2021

    Great boat Rory! I was too chicken to make a tandem which maybe I should have done!? I really like the look of this boat and am glad to hear this system worked well for you for a bigger boat. I like the sunny colour you’ve got! If you want I’ll send you the extra copper and you send me some sunny yellow! I had enough copper for two boats for … I used half exactly for the one I did and had boatloads (ha!) extra with even a half order to coat my boat (15’6″ x 31 planned width… 29 with tumblehome). You said you liked it! Just let me know and I’m sure for 3 bucks we can stick our respective dyes in an envelope and send them back and forth Calgary to Vancouver and vice-versa. Interested?

    1. Rory
      June 30, 2021

      Thanks Grant!
      I think the tandem was more tricky that a smaller boat would have been, but I can’t imagine it’s twice as hard, say. There’s the potential to get some strange things happening when it’s longer and wider with inverse rocker and poor symmetry. Certainly possible as a first build though, as this was my first. You look like you have a ton of woodworking experience so wouldn’t have had an issue I think.
      Yes I’ll definitely take you up on that dye swap idea! It’s Brian’s 2GO colour and I ordered enough to double the strength if needed, so I have enough to do the same again. I see your email in the notification of this comment so I’ll shoot you my address and you can send me yours?

  3. David Donaldson
    July 13, 2021

    Rory, what thickness did you do your stems? I am thinking of widening my stems to the width of the keel (1 1/4″) for my 16′ tandem. BTW, I am also using yellow cedar (burr oak for the ribs) – found a guy her in Ontario.

    From what I see on your build, it look like you laminated two 1×8 to make your stems… so they are 2″ thick?

    Love to hear how that worked for you. Paddle Safe

    1. Rory
      July 17, 2021

      Hi David, I ended up needing to do a lot of work on the stems to get them fine enough at the outsides, I wouldn’t recommending doing what I did unless you were going to thickness plane them down a lot after. It was a lot more work than it needed to be. I back-back glued mine because I had seen other flat sawn WRC in my stock cupping out over time and I didn’t want my stems to end up curved and affecting tracking. The inside area of my stems are 1-1/4″ thick, but the outside and the lower portion where it meets the keel are tapered to what Brian recommended for the final keel taper. Finally the whole outside edge of the keel and stem is further tapered to 1/2″ to meet the brass stem bands I have.

      Good luck with your build!

  4. Adam
    August 9, 2021

    Hi Rory,

    I’ve just discovered this site and become interested in building a skin on frame canoe recently, but I thought I’d reach out as I begin getting into this because I’m also in Vancouver.

    I’ve done a fair bit of paddling, as well as some rowing and sailing in the past, so I loved the possibility of a boat that can do all these things while looking as amazing as these boats look!

    Just wanted to say your build has motivated me to get into this as I’m also aiming to make a 16ft+ tandem canoe. I’d be interested to chat some time about you experience, specifically options for sourcing wood and materials in the area. Cheers!

    1. Rory
      August 11, 2021

      Hey Adam,

      Glad to hear my build caught your interest! I’d be happy to chat some time on suppliers etc. I’m pretty sure my email will pop up on your email account as part of the notification when I reply to you here – feel free to reach out.

      1. Andy
        October 21, 2021

        Great build! I’m a mountian biker from from the 90s (weight weenie) not to mention having had to solo carry 17′ clippers for trips so I very curious on the total weight for your canoe. Maybe I missed it but have you weighed the final product?

        1. Rory
          November 7, 2021

          Hi thanks Andy. Sorry I missed your comment.

          I think the number is buried somewhere above. The boat weighs 46 lbs completed with all hardware, seats and yoke installed, and 59 lbs if I put the full length western red cedar floorboards in.

          Lately we’ve been using the boat with Thermarest RidgeRest foam mats for flooring and its more comfortable, practical and as a side benefit when you go to set up your air mattress in your tent you can add even more padding under your bed. The wood floorboards are a head turner a look stunning up close, but if frequently carrying the boat they are not worth it in my opinion.

          1. Tanner
            May 4, 2022

            Great looking canoe Rory! I’m currently working on a solo canoe for a spring project. I live in Saskatchewan, and am having a tough time tracking down brass for my stem protection. Any chance you remember where you purchased yours? I ended up shipping my bending oak from Victoria for lack of a closer source.

          2. Rory
            May 4, 2022

            Hi thanks Tanner! Where in Saskatchewan are you located?

            I picked up mine from Rod at Orca Boats here on the West Coast. I believe he has a wholesale account with someone like “Western Marine” (wholesale only). Have you tried Metal Supermarkets, West Marine (I think they are now in the US only?) or seeing if its worth shipping from someone like Steveston Marine? I sympathise…shipping this kind of stuff isn’t cheap.

            How was Westwind’s bending oak? (I assume thats who you got it from?)

          3. Grant
            May 4, 2022

            I used metals supermarkets online. Shipped to Calgary no trouble.

  5. Jim Walter
    January 7, 2023

    I just wanted to commend you on your build and the blog of your progress step by step. Really excellent outcome and description. I am hoping to build two solo boats. I have most of the wood but haven’t gotten started yet. Thanks, Jim

    1. Rory
      January 7, 2023

      Thanks very much Jim! Best of luck with your builds!!


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