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
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 – Cutting Gunwale Mortises 
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 but it suggests that the centre rib calculation may be too long but it is hard to gauge with this duff rib. The steam box worked well and it was good to try out the process. I will need to try again with the bending oak.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to top