Long time maker, first time boat builder. I’ve had a strongback hanging in the garage for quite a few years. After watching some of the intro videos I decided that it was time to get started. I’m building in Harrisburg, North Carolina for nearby rivers and lakes and blogging here for fun. After some guidance from Brian, I’ve decided on the 13′ 8″ touring model with a 28.5″ beam.
07/24/2021 Gathering wood and tools
B. E. Kluttz lumber in Concord, North Carolina is where I go for lumber. DeWayne culled through some 14′ western red cedar until he found what I needed. He told me it was expensive so he was willing to spend time finding something I’d be happy with. I’m taking Brian’s advice to pay-up for good wood since I’ve never done anything like this before.
I’m short on spring clamps and a good set of sawhorses. I’ve had a pair of yellow steel knockdown sawhorses for quite a while. They are , in a word, evil. I found plans for the kind that I remember my grandfather having in his shop. A couple of 2x6s and some plywood and I have my own now. I am happy to be rid of the yellow knuckle busters before they could claim a finger.
I’ll spend the next couple of weeks tuning up the table saw, getting infeed and outfeed supports and generally getting ready for slicing up that expensive cedar. Once those things are taken care up the gunwale glue-up will start.
08/07/2021 Gunwale Glue-up
The cedar that I have is very dry – so I needed to add some moisture to the wood to kick-off the urethane bond. I’ve never used Gorilla Glue so I spent some time planning this work. Everything went well.
08/09/2021 Cutting Stringers and Prepping the Gunwales for Mortising
Spent the morning cutting stringers and dressing the edges with the SlickPlane. In the afternoon my good friend Craig stopped by and helped me split the gunwales on the table saw. I went to the planer to get them to final thickness. Next up is routing the rib mortises.
08/10/2021 Mortising the Gunwales
I fitted a set of guide rails and dust port to a small Makita plunge router. It fit nicely in my hands and allowed me to guide the router steadily along the gunwale and plunge with a gentle squeeze. Getting the chips out with the shop vacuum helped keep my eyes on the cut lines.
08/11/2021 Hey, that’s beginning to look like a boat!
With the capture forms in place, the symmetry looks good!
Added the intermediate spreaders with the help of a 5 gallon bucket adding water until the gunwales just kissed the face of the spreaders. The bucket was leaking so I had to work quickly!
I tried to kerf the gunwales with an aggressive pull saw but I was making a mess of it. I turned to my oscillating tool and a piece of 36 grit Klingspor paper glued to an old saw blade. My grandfather would have had one of these in his toolbox!
After watching the video on cutting stems I looked at the red cedar that I had remaining and decided that it was probably not great for this application. So I’ve decided to laminate the stems from walnut or sapele and use the piece of cedar for a floorboard perhaps. I then cut temporary stems on the CNC. These will be installed so that the build can continue. Before skinning, the temporary stems will be removed, the new stems laminated, and then replaced on the boat.
08/13/2021 Boat Deck
With the temporary stems in place and the keel attached – a check of the rocker heights looks about right. The video of this step indicated that the line should just touch the keel at the center of the boat. However, the instructions on p.19 indicate that a keel height of 7/16″ should be used in determining the height of the center blocking “regardless of the actual keel height”. My keel is 9/16″ creating interference of about 1/8″. I sent a quick note off to Brian for a sanity check and got a quick response.
It’s now time to begin looking for some bending wood. In the meantime I’ll be working the rub rails from a nice piece of ash I picked up this week.
I am scarfing together some ash strips for the rub rails. After the glue-up these were ripped to 1/2″ width, planed to 1/4″ thickness, and then drilled and countersunk for the wood screws.
This is what happened when I hurried the job with a cheap drill press and dull countersinking bit. The dull bit had me cranking on the press arm a little harder. The plastic stop on this Harbor Freight press flexed and some of the holes went a bit deep.
I am going to cut and scarf another set of rails and redo these with a new countersinking bit. With what I had on hand I rigged up a new way of stopping the depth – very Rube Goldberg. I cut a set of test holes and all were within 0.02~0.03″.
I’m glad that I watched the skinning video at this point in the build. I hadn’t realized earlier that the rub rails were installed while the skin was wet. I can imagine breaking the first set of poorly drilled rails while skinning the boat and creating a panicked mess for myself. That is why I’m remaking these! (I can’t imagine doing this with a hand drill.)
08/17/2021 Rub Rails (Take 2)
Instead of ripping these, as with the first set, I chose to plane them to size. It was raining today so I had to stop a couple of times since these 14′ lengths are longer than my shop can handle.
All of the rub rail holes were drilled, the edges were rounded with the SlickPlane, and sanded down nicely. I’ve used Rubio Monocoat 2C oil before and really like it. It is the kind of finish that makes me work a little longer on the sanding step which I usually hurry through.
08/18/2021 Rib Length Adjustment Stick
I took the shear (+1″ in the bow) and rocker (symmetric) measurements into a spreadsheet. The curve looks smooth enough, so I made a simple CAD drawing with the adjustments for each rib. I’ll print that 1:1 and glue it down on my rib length stick.
The rib at the middle of the boat (#14) will be approximately the beam width (28.5″) + the base measurement (~10.5″. r/b=1.37). It seemed to me that a 39″ long rib could hardly reach across the beam to a depth of 10.5″? So I found a simple online calculator to get me comfortable with that. The conclusion is… check your math, then trust Brian’s system!
78 / 2 = 39 !
I’ll take the rib stock to the canoe and mark the gunwale measurement at each location and the rib number. Then I’ll mark the cut length using the stick below. Ribs 16-27 are on one side of the stick and 1-13 on the other. Ribs 14 and 15 get cut at the base measurement.
I made a much smaller steam box than in the plans. I won’t be working that quickly and I’m hoping to get better temperature profile with the smaller volume. I shortened the hose from the steam generator chopping off at least 8′ and was getting about 205 degrees F with just a couple of towels draped over the top.
Waiting for bending stock.
Trees are great – and you can be too! They give us air to breathe, food to eat, shade for hammocks, and so much more during their long lives. When a tree comes down, we can help that tree continue its usefulness. Instead of paying someone to throw that tree away (it’s not garbage…), you can turn that tree into a shed or siding or a canoe or furniture or firewood.https://www.henrichsenwood.com/
I’m looking for bending stock so when I saw this I thought that these folks might be helpful. Jamie is great and tomorrow a white oak is coming down nearby and he has arranged with the property owner to sell me some for this project.
In the meantime I’ve been building jigs in the workshop. Here is a simple jig to thin the rib tenon ends. “Overkill?” “Yes – and thanks very much for noticing!”
A small piece of a coping blade acts like a spring to square the tenon up for cutting.
Brian says that the canoe build is about 55 hours – I’ll spend that much time thinking about jigs, building jigs, throwing jigs away, and building replacement jigs. The real shame of this undertaking is not that I’ll never get this canoe built – it’s that I’ll only build one canoe. If that happens, every time I see one of these jigs they will mock me.
Ribbing the Canoe (11/2021)
I’ve lost track of time and a few posts have mysteriously disappeared. The local sawmill never came through. I ordered from J.W. Swan and received the bending stock. The quality is very high and my first experience steam bending wood went well. Of the 27 ribs only 3 were redone — some cracking on rib #1 and some miss-shaped bends near the center of the boat.
Laminating the Stems (12/2021)
I chose to laminate the stems on this boat. I am re-sawing the stock on the table saw. I ripped 2″ thick flat sawn white oak and then turned those blanks 90 degrees and made as many 3/16″ cuts as I could. With ~1/8″ kerf I am wasting more than half of the material. Not the right way to do it but I don’t have a bandsaw.
I made a simple sled with rails and stops and used carpet tape to keep the strips from floating up into the cutter-head. I planed these down to about 1/8″ for the first set of lamination.
The strips are very stiff so I decided to pre-bend them into the laminating form.
Starting with the inside lamination – each strip is steamed and bent over the inner form. A leather strap is fastened to the bench and stops the pile from spilling out while the next lamination is bent into place. Clamp pressure is applied.
The spring-back was significant and it took quite a bit of effort to get them clamped into the form. Top left picture shows me steaming the lamination under clamp pressure. No adhesive yet, just a dry setup with some steam to get a better set. I’ll let this sit a few days.
I will be using West Systems 105 with the extra-slow 209 hardener. That should give me some time to get everything wetted and into the form. The pre-bending should help the glue-up go more quickly.
I set out three plastic containers with 60grams of 105 resin. Keeping to small batches reduces the amount of generated heat and extends the working time. I started the clock as I mixed the hardener (17grams, 3.5:1 by weight) into the first container. After mixing I poured the contents into a small silicone rubber tray and went to work. When the first batched was consumed, I moved the second container to the scale and measured in the hardener. The glue-up of the first stem took about 30minutes and 1-1/2 batches.
I made a simple jig to cradle the strips during glue-up and to keep the epoxy from sliding to one side of the strips. Starting with the outer strip, glue was applied to the inside face only and placed into the cradle. Then the interior strips were glued both sides and placed one on top of the other. Then the inner strip was glued on the outside face only and placed on the stack. Finally the stack was transferred to the form, strips aligned, and clamps applied.
I accidentally applied epoxy to both sides of the first and last strips. Fortunately I had waxed the lamination form so release was not a problem.
I left the first lamination in the form for 5 days — overkill but I’m moving slowly on these. There is a lot of squeeze-out which I’ll remove with a belt sander once the second lamination is complete.
Attaching Stems (01/08/2022)
I made thinner strips for laminating the second stem and those went into the form with ease. I let that sit for a few days and then sanded with a belt sanding machine. This was quite a lot of extra work but I think they look nice.
After faring in the stringers roughly with the Japanese saw I used an oscillating tool with a piece of 36grit sandpaper glued onto one side to fine tune things. This tool is very handy.
Adding Sheer Blocks (01/15/2022)
I opted to add sheer blocks to complement the recurve stems. Brian cautions against using the table saw to make these. However if you have a taper jig they can be made quickly and quite safely. Honestly I don’t know how I would have made these any other way. Guide the jig through with one push block and keep another on the workpiece remembering not to push beyond the cut line.
I cut blocks for both ends of the boat but after dry fitting them I decided to use them on the bow only.
Seating for One (1/22/2022)
I’m going to laminate a curved web seat using the same piece of white oak that was used for the stems.
The laminating form was cut on the CNC router. The bend is gradual but the last 5″ on either side could have used and extra clamp or two.
The stiles are doweled into a shallow mortise to keep them from twisting as the webbing is tightened. I’m getting pretty comfortable with the West 105 epoxy system and am squeezing all the value that I can out of that purchase.
The seat frame pieces are 1-1/4″W x 1″T.
A little toe loop helped me get the 1″ polyester webbing tight before stapling. As I reached the end of my roll of webbing the last pieces were tensioned by hand (both of them with significant grunting) My wife Leisa sank the staples and provided commentary.
Here’s the finished product. I made it large to give me some sideways room to move around. The webbing I had leftover from making tree straps for my hammocks. Some of those have been hanging in the Carolina summer sun for years and they are still good as new. Hopefully this seat will fare as well!
Some Keel Fix-up before Oiling
I did a poor job earlier attaching the keel to the stems and created a very weird transition. After watching the skinning videos again I am going to try to fix that by gluing a block of red cedar on both ends and trimming them more carefully this time.
Matching the odd contour was tricky and far from perfect. Hopefully the epoxy will save me here. Only a small sliver of new wood will remain after shaping.
Oiling and Prep for Skin
Stitching and skinning the boat went much smoother than anticipated. Here’s the boat with some tape over the rub rails for the fabric dying step.
I chose the “coffee” stain which looked like gold flake after dying.
I let the boat dry for three warm dry days before applying the urethane. I applied 5 coats. The skin darkened quite a lot with the urethane.
I’m holding off on the stem bands until I’ve had a chance to see how the boat tracks. I decided to give a try at making my own paddle for this boat. I’m calling the project officially closed today – April Fools day. A full 251 days from start to finish at a very casual pace. The water is starting to warm in these parts and I’m planning the launch for sometime later this month either at Lake Tillery or Mountain Island Lake.
After half dozen outings I’m going to try a kneeling thwart instead of the seat. Roughed out the shape of my backside to get maximum contact area and did some additional shaping with the spokeshave. I’m hoping this may give me the option of elevating my heels behind the thwart.
(postscript) Very comfortable on the backside. But when I pushed up on the thwart to get off my knees – the thwart cracked about 4inches from the outside edge. I’ll try again with something a little stronger.
“Hey man, that’s the most beautiful canoe I have ever seen!” – heard from wooded trail at Mountain Island Lake on June 6. ( I assume she was talking to me). Lots of attention as advertised by Brian!
Thwart – take 2 (7/30/22)
Three slices of black walnut laminated with West 105 and finished in Rubio Monocoat. Much stouter than the failed first attempt.
May 12, 2022
Finally found some time to sit down with this blog today. Really great work on this canoe. Thanks for the time that you put into writing this up.
May 13, 2022
Thank you Brian. I’ve had the boat in the water a few times already and it is fast and lightweight! Couldn’t have done it without the great training videos that you’ve put together. Charlie