Iain’s Solo Canoe Build, Inverness, Scotland

1st July 2021

I have been watching Brian’s YouTube build videos for a while with interest. I was drawn to the mix of traditional frame design with modern materials and techniques, with nice clear info and instructions.
I am fairly handy at woodwork and have previously built a “stitch and glue” plywood canoe which I use regularly both solo and on club trips. I was looking for a lighter solo canoe aimed at river trips. I was curious and liked the idea of a new project, this type of build and a new canoe. I chose a 14’6″ length with a 32″ beam and hopefully with some tumblehome.

Steam Box Build
To get started I build a steam box and some of the other jigs for the project.
I cut up materials on a table saw and thicknesser for the steam box and other prep. As the plywood I was using was a little short for a single piece as a top for the box I adjusted the assembly of the steam box adding a small hinged lid at the open end. I also cut out the capture forms.

4th July 2021 – Stems and Wood Prep

I bought a long plank for a working platform as I will be mostly working outside. Also a 4.8m x 95mm x 44mm length of dressed red wood for the stems and general use. Suitable lengths and thickness were cut and laminated for the stems as you just can’t get wide enough planks for a one piece stem here. I used waterproof resin based wood adhesive from Wickes and varied the grain direction.

One of the biggest challenges I anticipated for this project was sourcing suitable materials in the UK and it was. I went to a saw mill and picked up some cedar planks I had ordered for the build.

Update: My original plan was to rip the cedar lengths (which we did) with the intention of requiring 1 or 2 scarf joints to create long enough lengths. On a closer look I decided there were too many knots to avoid to create decent lengths for the gunwales and stringers so the wood will be left for another project.
It is not easy to find long straight grained knot free timber here.

6th July 2021
I adapted my sawhorses to the circular saw table height. Ripping and thicknessing of gunwales. I am building the canoe in my Dad’s garage/garden and there he is helping with cutting materials.

7th July 2021
Scarf jig and a test joint using a band saw. It worked really well.
There is about a 300mm (1 foot) overlap approx 1:16. I didn’t need to use scarf joints in the end as I used longer planks however I did use them on my last canoe build with no issues so I left this in for info.
See Brian’s YouTube video on scarf joints. https://youtu.be/TPivYi1NCo8

12th July 2021
A test of the gunwale and mortise sizes (in mm). I will be using a mixture of inches and metric, converting to mm for small sizes. I found it very useful to mock up the lamination of gunwales, mortise and rib sizes.

13th July 2021
I decided that the cedar we had prepared was too knotty and not good enough for the build.
My dad had noticed in another timber yard that there were some nice Siberian larch planks so we went back and had a look at them. Excellent wood, 19 foot (6m) lengths @ 6×1” which are pretty much knot free. The timber yard is called Woodstock, Longman Road, Inverness, really a construction yard but a good supplier none the less. The staff are helpful and you can look and select the wood in stock.
Mk2 preparation of gunwale lengths with the sap wood avoided.

Knotty Cedar on the left and nice Siberian Larch on right.

The mortise positions were marked out following the spacing guidance in the plans.

14th July 2021 – Rocker Heights
The rocker heights were measured and recorded.
I levelled my plank platform as the ground is on a slight slope and not very even.
The sheer blocks were cut and the 3x gunwales laminated with 60+ clamps and Gorilla Glue.
Great to make some good progress.

15th July 2021
We cut the laminated gunwale in half and cleaned up the other two faces with the table saw. 
An excellent result. With sanding it came up nice.


18th July 2021 – Cutting Gunwale Mortises 
I used the gunwale rib mock up I made earlier to test the technique and set up the jig.
Although I have routers I decided I was happier to create the mortise holes by hand. My plunge router wasn’t plunging too well and I didn’t want to mess it up. I set up a simple guide on a pillar drill with two lengths of square timber clamped in place which allowed the gunwale length to slide through and hold it in place for drilling. Three 6.5mm diameter holes were drilled for each mortise. I finished off the mortises with a narrow mortise chisel and a 20mm (3/4″) firmer chisel. This worked very well but took some time as there are 58 mortises!

19-21 July 2021 – Working on the Deck
The gunwales were bent to shape, spreaders screwed in place and the ends lashed.
A good productive day, all takes time. The canoe shape looks good.

I kerfed the gunwale ends and they were finished off and lashed. I thought I didn’t have a rough cut pull saw but remembered I had a folding saw in my PFD which is a garden pruning saw which worked great. Lots of calculations on stem sizes. The stem boards were flattened and temporarily fixed on.
The keel was cut on the table saw and clamped in place.

I wanted to add some grab handles for easy carrying and manoeuvring of the canoe. (I am not intending to nest canoes). 15mm diameter hardwood dowels were added with holes drilled through the gunwales.
I measured before and after and checked the symmetry, altering with a mallet.
I am happy with the neat result.

In the morning I rechecked everything and added a slight adjustment to the keel at the stern stem. With a plumb line and the 2″ rocker blocks the keel position is now good. It also looked better with less drop to the stern. Hopefully there will be a more progressive rocker and keel line when the ribs are added as it is a little flat in the temporary position. I marked stems for cutting to length.
The grab handle dowels and gunwales were sanded and cleaned up. The bow is to the left.

The right way up and starting to look like a canoe!
The asymmetrical shape is looking good. The centre spreader was moved back 5” (127mm).
Measuring in 1m (39″) from the ends the stern is 30mm (1 3/16″) wider.
That’s the deck section just about complete, ribs next.

31st July 2021 – Keel Screwed On / Steam Box & Rib Testing
After being away for a bit I set up the saw horses again, cut the stems to depth and screwed the keel in the temporary position. Spacers were used to align the keel. 

I made up a test rig for checking the rib lengths. 
Not surprisingly the test ribs in larch and dry oak were not terribly successful and difficult to gauge length accuracy with this duff rib. The steam box worked well and it was good to try out the process. This really reinforces the need for good bending wood.

1st August 2021 – Steam Bending Ribs / Stringer Prep
A long but productive day. Test ribs were completed with Oregon White Oak which is an excellent bending wood kindly supplied by Brian. My 2nd attempt of the centre rib at the calculated size gave a better shape, 28mm longer than the first attempt. Ribs 2 & 3 may need some attention. Rib 3 was too long and reduced by 6mm. Rib 2 is possibly too short. It was a great relief that the bending of the ribs was going to work. We prepared the stringers on the table saw and thicknesser. I only just had enough of the Siberian Larch left having used up the 2 long planks. I cut to length and thinned the ends of a further 8 ribs.
Top Tip: Chamfering the corners of the ribs I found essential to help get the ends into the mortise holes.
A couple of strokes with a block plane did the trick.

2nd August 2021 – Bending All the Ribs
Another very busy day. Great!! all the ribs are bent.
Only 2 ribs were slightly cracked (replaced) and another 5 were replaced later due to shape or length errors.
As I was running short of time in the evening we clamped on 4 ribs to help the shape before the oak set. My steaming time was 10mins for the ribs at around 20oC air temperature with it all done outside.
I thinned first and last ribs by 1mm in the thicknesser which helped and used a leather belt for the tighter bends.
I wasn’t as fast as Brian in his videos, steaming 2 ribs at a time at 7 minute intervals.
There were a lot of boiled kettles!

3rd August 2021 – Checking and Replacing Ribs
I replaced the no29 rib as reusing the short no1 rib was ok but not full enough.
5 of the ribs on each side were pegged in place. Stringer spacing blocks were cut. The 6 remaining stringers were sanded and their edges bevelled. 2 coats of Danish Oil were applied with a cloth as it is much easier to do so before the stringers are attached. (More oil will be applied when the frame is complete).

21/08/04 – Stringers Added
A little out of order but I lashed 4 stringers in place to free up clamps.
The last 4 stringers were sanded, rounded, oiled and clamped in place.

21/08/05 – Stringers Lashed On
A very productive day with all the stringers lashed on, it all pulled in really well. Great to get all the clamps off. The rocker was checked which was pretty close to 2” with the line touching a bit forward of centre. Progressive rocker lines were drawn on the stems The thickness of keel down on the bow stem and slightly more on stern which was more to do with a kink in keel and what looked right. The keel was sanded and rounded with 2 coats of Danish Oil applied.

Simple Jigs
A found it very helpful making some very simple jigs for preparing the stringers and keel.
A 4 foot wall also comes in very useful as a makeshift bench.

In the image below you can see the progressive rocker line marked for the bow.
Also the lack of a smooth curve at each end without the adjustment of the keel position.

21/08/06 – Shaping the Curved Stems
I shaped the curved stems, test fitted them and gave the surfaces a final sand.
As the stems were made from pine I sealed the surface with epoxy as this wood is not as durable in wet environments as the larch and oak. The canoe was moved into the garage for the first time rain had arrived.
I have been very lucky with a long run of dry weather.

21/08/07 – Finishing the Stems
3 coats of an exterior varnish were added to complete the protective finish on the stems and they were lashed in place.

Skin Dye Test: I made a frame to test the skin shrinking process and to try out colour options.
This was done by spraying the nylon with water and using an iron on a wool heat to tighten the surface.
A few different acid dye powers were mixed with a little water and white vinegar. For each colour the swatch on the right has a second coat but I don’t think that will be necessary.

21/08/08 – Permanently Fixing the Stems and Keel
It took all day to permanently fix the stems to the canoe. I tapered the keel to fit.
Gorilla Glue and stainless steel screws were used and they will be left in as I couldn’t get one out.
The keel stem interface was shaped. The stringers were faired in, thinned and lashed in place.

21/08/09 – Keel Lashed / Outfitting
Another busy day. A major achievement with the keel being lashed on. Detail shaping was added to the keel ends to match the stem chamfers. Some thinking involved with positioning of seat & sailing thwart blocks. Surprisingly a lot of work making them and gluing them in place. I went for a double block at the seating area to give some more flexibility. I tested an airbag placement to see where to position a sailing thwart. I got the bow sheer blocks in, quite a bit of shaping involved, a rub strip was clamped in position to mark curve. Reinforced sections were added to the internal bow & stern keel. My dad was busy cutting sheer blocks, rub rails, 2x 900x75x18 thwarts. Ash was also prepared for a kneeling thwart or could be used for a solo seat.

Reinforcement blocks were glued in place to support a sailing thwart. The size was from memory around 300x12x depth of gunwale. (12″x1/2″) and made for the ends to line up with ribs. The thwart will eventually be bolted in below the gunwale. I was testing the airbag position so the floor of the canoe would be clear of the airbag to allow the fitting of a mast step.

Keeling Thwart / Seat Blocks: These are quite long as I would like a bit of flexibility on where to position my keeling thwart. I would like to test the canoe before fitting the final position but these blocks need to go in before the canoe is skinned. There are two blocks on each side as not to affect the curve of the gunwales. The blocks were shaped slightly on the gluing surface to reduce their straightness and fit the gunwale curve more closely.

Sheer Blocks: I like the look of canoes with more upturn at the ends so decided to add sheer blocks. This adds a 38mm (1 1/2″) rise. An upward curve was added using a bent rub strip as a guide for the line. I shortened the centre spreader and added it back in to retain the gunwale shape before skinning.

Keel Reinforcement: I glued in some shaped blocks to reinforce the keel in the small section between the last rib and the stem.

21/08/10 – Frame Complete !!
I tidied up the frame removing pencil marks and sanding the surfaces, mainly the gunwales you would see. The frame was oiled with Danish oil, applied with a brush and wiped down afterwards. This took a while and I used more than 0.5 of a litre. It is great to get this stage finished, and a relief especially as the rain which threatened did not come other than a few spots. I now need to take a break from the build as I have to return to work.
The build has taken 120 hours so far. (This does not include research, watching videos and much of the wood preparation).

21/08/22 – Adding Tumblehome

As I can’t put the skin on yet due to work commitments I thought it would be a good idea to set the tumblehome. The spreaders were removed. The gunwales pulled in 2.5″ with very little pressure on the straps. The centre spreader was cut down and put back in, including temporarily the screws. The gunwales are no longer vertical as expected.

21/09/04 – Tumblehome Review
It is hard to show in a photo but there is a noticeable improvement in the overall shape of the hull with the tumblehome. When the spreader was removed the spring back was about 15mm (3/4″) so I put the spreader back in with tape and a cam strap to hold it in place until the skin and coating are on.

21/09/04 – Adding the Skin
A long and successful day skinning the frame. My Dad did the final prep on rub rails and marked for the holes. It was also very helpful to have an extra pair of hands particularly for placing the rub rails. The skinning went smoothly and I kept the fabric damp with the the garden hose which helped in the shrinking process. The fabric was good to work with. It gave very little stretch, I only shortened the length by 12mm. Ironing in the dark gave a taught surface and I am very pleased with result.

Bow Stem Stitching: This went surprisingly well. I followed Brian’s video and instructions closely, they are very good and clear.

Both Stems Stitched: I was well chuffed when this stage was done. I was a bit apprehensive as I am using a different type of nylon cloth.
1. Would the cloth be any good and not tear?
No problems the cloth which stitched very well without deforming or tearing.
2. Would my estimate on the cloth length be good?
I was pleasantly surprised that the length with both ends stitched was spot on!
This cloth is much less stretchy than Brian describes with the cloth from Skinboats.
I tried stretching the cloth longitudinally at it only stretched about 20mm, less than an inch.
I shortened it by 12mm and this worked well.

Clamping Rub Rails: I bought a countersink / pilot hole combo drill bit which saved a lot of time and faff with the holes. The rails were screwed in with 3mm Dia and 19mm long stainless steel screws. I did this by hand with a ratchet screw driver as I thought it was a bit delicate and not worth risking a driver. A welcome extra pair of hands was very helpful.

Skin Complete: The skin is on and nice and taught! I kept the fabric damp with a garden hose spray while I was working on it. The last stage was to run an iron over the fabric on the wool setting with a lot of steam. This worked really well and the surface was nice a taught like a drum in the morning. I ran out of daylight so no time for dyeing today.

21/09/05 – Dyeing the Skin
The acid dyeing went well. 5 cups water, 2 cups white vinegar boiled in a kettle. 4 level tea spoons of acid dye powder was added. (I mixed up a second half batch as I needed some more). I went for Jaquard Deep Orange 606 which was a rather alarmingly orange when first applied. This toned down a bit with drying and I imagine will more so with the polyurethane coating on top. It was a bit messy so good to do it outside, applied with a foam brush which worked very well. It was extremely helpful to have a second person work behind with a cloth taking off the excess and check for missed bits etc, thanks Dad. There was a slight issue! with the rub rails as I had not had time to oil them. The combination ofthis type of painters masking tape which was rubbish (didn’t do much) and the unsealed wood equalled unintentional orange dyed rub rails. At least it is a nice even colouring. I will have to live with it.

Great it looks like a canoe now!!!

21/09/19 – Outfitting Bits

I have made some parts to outfit the boat. The kneeling seat and sailing thwart are Ash. I will probably add a small deck at the bow and stern so the laminated plank is for that. I’ll cut a cardboard template first before cutting the final shape. I am going to try the canoe before I position the kneeling seat. I think it can probably go more forward than I usually have it and nearer the centre. There won’t be a permanent centre yoke getting in the way. I will make the seat hangers to suit. I mostly kneel in canoes but with a half seat it gives the option to sit too.

21/09/25 – Coating the Skin
As the canoe had been left for a while in the garage there were a few drip marks from rain / condensation that marked the dye finish. My dad noticed and covered the hull which limited the discolouring.
Starting Point: The dye appeared faded (see below).

The 2nd coat of gloss Coelan above
I got lucky with the weather, a fine warm dry day with high cloud, around 19oC. Perfect for coating outside. It took all day to get 3 coats on. I thinned with 15-20% Coelan thinner.
With 750cl tins: 1st coat over a tin for the coat, 2nd slightly under.
I used most of the 2x smaller satin tins for last coat. It was a little rushed as getting late and the material was more blobby.

I tried tried a roller (too slow) and the plastic squeegee (didn’t do much). I settled on the use of 40-50mm (2″) brushes, maybe not as even and as flat but fairly easy to put on. The colour came back with the coating which was nice and the Coelan coating dried fairly fast, with the first section just about dry by the time I finished coating each layer. I am pleased that the Coelan Boat Coating has gone off and it was dry to touch in the morning. 

21/09/26 – Tidying up Gunwales & Outfitting
My dad scraped the gunwale top edge to remove the orange bleed, Ta.
2 new coats of Danish Oil were applied.

I am very happy with the end result of the coating. It will be left for a week or so to fully harden.
The skin is nice and taught and there wasn’t too much wildlife caught in the stickiness.
I hope the Coelan coating is tough and has decent abrasion resistance as it was pretty expensive.

The hull is retaining the translucent look which changes depending on light strength and direction.

I adjusted the width of the sailing thwart to fit. Holes were drilled through both the gunwales and thwart ready for bolting in when the gunwales are finished. As well as obviously being useful for sailing the thwart should add a bit of stiffness as I don’t intend to have a permanent centre yoke. I will add a mast step on the floor. The airbag will go in front of the thwart.

21/10/04 – Finishing Gunwale Top Surface
After clean-up the final Danish Oil and 3 coats of exterior varnish were applied to the top surface of gunwale only.

21/10/11 Rub Strips and Outfitting
The sailing thwart was bolted in as complete.

I fabricated protective end caps from stainless steel bar. I like these as they help to prevent this area from getting bashed. More from moving the boat around out of the water.

12x6mm HDPE was chosen for the stem rub strips. The edges were filled, rounded and finished. It is easy to work with. The 3 stage countersink drill bit was great for accuracy and saving time as all done with one pull on the pillar drill with the depth stop set. 3.5×20 mm stainless steel screws hold the rub strips in place. It didn’t need any heating to bend into shape.

I like u bolts on my canoes for attaching painters and throw bags. They are also great for saving the top of the canoe when it is getting shunted about upside down as the stainless steel u bolt gets hit first.
These were epoxied into the stem blocks I had fitted already.

Almost ready to try on the water!

21/10/12 More Outfitting
Partly for aesthetics and partly for function some finishing was added to the canoe.
I made a paper template for the bow deck. Blocks to support it were shaped and glued in place.
Final fitting adjustments were made to the deck and then it was glued and screwed in place.
Later I added a bungee strap which will hold a painter (line).

I added a couple of gear loops. Keeping it simple with a tied line and plastic tubing for stiffness.

My bow airbag was tied in and lashings added. It will be covered with a camping mat.

21/10/13 Getting ready to try on the water.

Most of the outfitting is now complete. The mini decks are in with bungee straps to hold a painter on the bow (line) and a throw bag on the stern. The air bags are tied and lashed in and a couple of tie loops added. I had a second attempt at the tie loops as not to touch the skin and push it out. I want to try the canoe before fitting the kneeling seat and experiment with my solo position. I will need to weigh the canoe, it is light and can be lifted with one hand.

21/10/15 First try out on the water!

After many hours of work my canoe makes it onto the water. I had a little play on the local River Teith.
It is more stable than I expected and paddles great, awesome in fact!
Responsive, manoeuvrable and light in and out of the water. It weighs 22kg (49 lbs) bare without the airbags etc and about 26kgs with everything in it as I would use it.

21/10/30 Adding a Seat & Outfitting

I fitted a solo seat. I would prefer it angled as I mostly kneel but I am going to leave it simple to try out. I cut up a yoga mat as protective covers for the airbags. It is also grippy which helps hold a spare paddle etc. Some gear loops, a camera mount and a cam cleat (for a sail sheet) were added as I often use these and it makes the canoe much more usable for me.

Lashed Mast Step

The underside of the wooden base has slots in it to prevent lateral sideways movement. With the mast step lashed on with sinew it feels solid.

21/11/07 The First Real Test on the Water

I was away for a weekend trip with the Scottish Open Canoe group on the upper River Moriston and Garry. There were 10 boats and 12 people on the water. This was the first real test of the canoe, and in at the deep end with two full days on rivers I had not paddled before. The canoe handles great and the skin held up well to the rock hits and abuse on the river.

21/11/21 River Tay Run

A good trip down a fast flowing River Tay. So far the skin and coating is holding up. Stability and manoeuvrability is good.

1 Comment

  1. Chris
    October 23, 2021

    Nice work Iain! Looking forward to seeing the boat on one of the club trips.

    Reply

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