May 1, 2021. Day One. Getting Started.
Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
That about sums it up. I am in my happy place on the water in a boat, whether it is sailing on the ocean, with the salt spray in my face, or running the Devil’s Elbow on the North Saskatchewan River, to simply drifting about in the local pond. Last summer I came across Cape Falcon Kayak via Brian Schulz’s fantastic YouTube videos. Being a life long canoer, I was immediately drawn to the 66 Canoe. My fleet currently includes my tripping boat, an 18 foot NovaCraft Prospector, and a cedar strip Huron that I built many years ago. I also have a hundred year old Peterborough Canadian awaiting restoration, and I really wanted a paddle board, so I got one for my daughter’s birthday. All this to say, I NEEDED another boat!
I was sold on the idea of a pack canoe because it would fill a niche in my line up for a small, light weight, easy to transport canoe. But the number one criteria for this new canoe was that it be, plain and simply, a fun boat to paddle.
Having chosen the type of canoe to build, I settled on my planned dimensions of 13′ long, 27 1/2″ beam, 10 1/16″ depth, a depth to beam ration of .37, with a planned rocker of 1 1/2″. And finally, this canoe would be asymmetrical.
May 1st seemed like as good of day as any to get started on this project. I began by building the steam box, capture forms, router jig, and other odds and ends. Not bad for a first day on the job!
Day Two. Let the Milling Begin.
Today I began the milling the cedar for the gunwales. I installed the Diablo thin kerf blade in my table saw, and set up the zero clearance insert which I purchased from Lee Valley. I used my 16′ 2×8 layup board for an outfield table.
Yesterday I bough a cedar board form a local specialty lumber store. I had difficulty finding a clear, straight-grain piece of wood long enough for this project. The board I settled on had knots along one half of the board, but I believed I had a wide enough section of clear wood to get what I needed for the boat, with the rest to be saved for other projects.
Day Three. It’s Gunwale-Making Day.
Today I spent some time setting up the layup board in preparation for laminating the gunwales. Once I was satisfied that I had a straight, warp-free work surface, I covered the layup board with plastic wrap to protect it from the coming onslaught of Gorilla Glue.
After this, I laminated my three gunwale boards together as per the video course. As Brian says in his instructions, I did have to switch the sides of a number of the clamps in order to preserve a warp-free laminate. This worked well, using the weight of the clamps to control the shape of the gunwale laminate.
Day 4. Gunwale Cleanup and Mortising
After the Gorilla Glue had set, I removed the clamps and cleaned up the spilled glue with a chisel. I thought this was going to be a long, tedious process, but it wasn’t at all. The Gorilla Glue came off smartly with the chisel.
Here we have the Boss checking up on my work!
Mortising was one of the steps that I was apprehensive about when I began this process. However, it went really well. Taking the time to set up the router jig as shown in the video helped make this a smooth process. I used a 1/4″ spiral up-cut bit from Lee Valley for this job.
Day 5 and 6. Assembling the Deck and Kerfing the Gunwale Ends
With the gunwales cleaned up and mortised, it was time to assemble the deck. This was a rewarding step, because for the first time, I now had something resting in my garage that looked like a boat. My initial thought was one of concern over how small my canoe appeared to be! Of course I was mentally comparing it to my 18 and 16 foot tandem canoes, so it is no wonder the pack canoe seems small. The sleek, asymmetrical lines of the canoe are beginning to take shape.
The next step was kerfing the gunwales. I was not looking forward to this step because I did not have the right tools for the job. I had ordered a Japanese saw for this but it did not arrive in time, because it shipped from Japan of all places!
I think I tried every tool I owned for this step, from saws to x-acto knives to sandpaper. As crude and ungraceful as my process was, I was able to kerf the gunwales to an acceptable standard.
With the gunwales kerfed, it was time to peg and lash the gunwales. Pegging the gunwales was a straight forward step. I really enjoyed lashing the gunwales. I have not worked with artificial (or real) sinew before. I loved how firm of joint the sinew allowed me to achieve. Working with the cedar and the sinew really made me appreciate the natural and historic roots at the heart of Cape Falcon Kayak’s building philosophy. I can’t wait to do more lashing in subsequent steps!
Day 7. Temporally Attaching the Stems and Setting the Rocker
Today I began by temporally attaching the stems to the deck. I struggled to get a firm joint between the stem and the deck. I found that I could not get the zip ties to hold the stems firmly in place. None the less, I felt I could continue as long as I was extra vigilant in ensuring my stems where plumb.
After this, I added the center block to the center spreader. While I was working on this, I was once again overwhelmed with a sense that things did not look right. The canoe looked WAY too shallow. I was seriously concerned about not having anywhere near enough freeboard. After much humming and hawing, I shoved my doubts back down into the deep crevasses of my mind and boldly carried on!
Day 7 Continues. The Big Hunk of Wood…
After taking a break for lunch, it was time to take a look at the largest single package that I have ever received in the mail, a 12 foot long chunk of green bending oak from West Wind Hard Wood in Sidney, British Columbia. Never having built a skin on frame boat before, I had trouble visualizing how much wood I would need to complete this project. I used the work sheet in the plan set to determine the amount board feet needed. Although this calculation already accounts for wastage, I bumped up my estimate a fair bit because I did not want to be stopped short because I busted one rib too many.
That said, the 2x6x12′ board that arrived certainly was impressive. West Wind Hardwood offered to mill me 48 ribs, and I was tempted to go this route, but since I had a good table saw, I felt that I could process my own ribs. In any case, the difference in cost between having West Wind mill me some ribs, verse me paying for an entire board plus shipping was slightly in favour of getting the entire board, which future events would soon prove this to be a good decision.
At the time of ordering the wood, I was aware of the ribs being cut to order by J.W. Swan and Sons Boatworks in Wisconsin, but due to the COVID19 complications, shipping across the boarder was very slow, so I wanted to source my wood domestically. If any of my fellow Canadian builders would like more detailed information about my oak sourcing experience, please reach out to me.
Prepping the Rib Stock and Cutting the Ribs
Cutting the ribs did prove to be more challenging than I initially thought. As you can see from the picture above, my piece of white oak has flat sawn or horizontal grain. Therefore I had to rip my piece of oak into 1 inch wide chunks, and then rotate those pieces onto their sides and then rip my 1/4 inch thick ribs.
My ribs ended up with a fair bit of grain runout, which was to prove challenging during the rib bending process. In fact, I ended up breaking or cracking nearly half of my ribs, which made be thankful that I had plenty of oak on hand.
Bending in Test Ribs
Since I was new to the whole steam bending process, I decided to practice bending a few ribs without testing them in the gunwales. Here is a picture of one of the resulting ribs. You can see how the angle of the grain would later cause me some grief, although this particular rib turned out alright.
After practicing bending some ribs, I felt I was ready to bend in the practice ribs into the canoe gunwales. Here is a picture showing the center practice ribs installed.
At this point I had to stop and reconsider my planned canoe depth to beam ratio. In short, my canoe looked way too shallow for my liking. I was concerned about a lack of freeboard. This one example where my previous familiarity with my tandem Prospector and Huron canoes was influencing my perceptions of canoe depth, with the prospector canoe design in particular having a deep, relatively high volume design. After much agonizing over my lack of depth concern, I decide to trust the recommendations in the plan set for pack boats and stick with the .37 depth to beam ratio. Time will tell…
Behold, the Moaning Chair!
Many years ago, a wise wood worker friend once told me that the most important tool in the woodshed was the moaning chair. And like you are probably asking in you mind, what isa moaning chair, to with my friend responded “it is any ordinary char that you sit down on after making a major bone-head mistake and moan aloud “what have I done, What have I done…”. Well, today was the day from to put the moaning chair into action.
After successfully inserting the test ribs into the number 2 rib mortise and the center rib mortise, I moved on to an intermediate test rib. As I was inserting the rib into the mortise I heard a sickeningly loud crack as the gunwale shattered before me. You can ask my wife, and she will tell you that I spent the next few hours moaning about what I had done!
Now I truly did not know what to do! Even if I was able to fix this mortise, I was concerned that the gunwale might split on any of the subsequent ribs. What to do? What to do? I fired off an email to Brian, and he responded right away. Brian indicated that the gunwales could be repaired, depending ton the scope of the project, (ie. the size of the canoe, and therefore the structural load on the gunwale), but he also indicated some concern about the quality of the cedar, if this break indicated a weakness in my cedar. I too was concerned about this. The grain on my gunwales was definitely not as tight or as straight as they should be. After much consideration, I decided not to through good money after bad, and made the tough decision to start over and build new gunwales, rather than risk waiting time and effort, risking further splits on these gunwales.