Urban canoe nest, Bristol,England

coming home from bristol docks

I spent a while researching the kind of canoe I could make, cedar strip seemed like the most aesthetically pleasing, but I didn’t fancy all the sanding of resin involved or the cost. Western red does grow in England but its pretty knotty, and imported cedar from N.america is very pricey .The plywood stitch-up seemed economical and technically doable, but a bit functional aesthetically. I found the flaxland website, just up the road from me, who make Coracles and fuselage framed canoes covered with linen and a uv light curing, linseed resin. I really liked the translucence and also the fact they would be about 95% biodegradable. I then came accross the cape falcon channel on youtube and was seduced by both the simplicity and beauty of the design, which, for me, beat every other type of canoe I’d seen, hands down.
So I decided upon a pair of nesters with the idea of having a few functional options. I have a couple of young teenagers, who I may be able to drag along, separately at first, because you can only save one , but with the two canoes catamaraned together I’d feel more comfortable with the three of us tripping and not tipping,or one of them having their own boat too.

I thought it might be possible to combine Brian’s design with the flaxland linen and linseed skin, and that idea was confirmed by Ant Mace’s blog post,which made reference to just that. I visited him at his workshop on the dock and he pointed me in all the right directions. I have to say I was a little awed by the quality of the boats he’d made, and was not sure I could reach that level of craftsmanship, but as the arm says…

When I’d printed out the plans I was none the wiser as to what sizes I should be going for, there seemed to be so many options ,which Brian confirmed in a return email, but recommended a 15’2” based on the availability of wood for the gunwales, which is commonly in 4.8,meter and the combined weight of me and a teenager, and a smaller 14’4” to nest and to be a pack/solo hybrid.

Talking of numbers, I have to say converting from imperial to metric, was a constant headache. As a carpenter i tend to use both currencies, depending on what I’m measuring, but for the detailed stuff like rib and scantling thicknesses,or measuring the sheer heights, I found it too hard trying to visualise and amalgamate all the different fractions, 8ths,16ths,32ths and sometimes 64ths, when 10ths and 100ths are perhaps all you need. Another issue is that it means that wood and tool sizes in europe(incl uk)are not exact translations, for example a 1/4 inch is 6.35mm, so you wont be buying a true quarter inch dowel, but a 6mm, though the router bits are imperial also. I know this sounds pedantic, but its just something to be aware of. Next time I will print out a conversion chart when working from the plans, or learn the old language.

5 1/4″ redwood Gunwale lamination for 3 canoes(why not?)

I began the build in some upstairs space, lent to me by my local timber yard. I managed to get the gunwales cut and mortised here, before the boss decided to take a three week family holiday to avoid the quarantine travel restrictions that were to come into force later that week. So I was forced to move to my garden and front room, for the remainder of the build.

spring clamps

I used 60 plus clamps for the 15’2″ gunwales. In the uk you can get these from toolstation sold as marquee clamps for about £1 each. however they tend to make indents in the wood, so i used some veneer scraps between the jaws and the wood.The rubber covered ones are 3x the price. I’ve now made protective rubber pockets for each of these clamps out of 2″ pieces of old bicycle inner tubes rolled back on themselves.

The framing moves to my house

I cant remember exactly why there’s bricks in my tool bag hanging from the centre spreader, (probably lost sheer), but weights hanging from or sitting on the centre of the framework were recurring themes throughout the build.

Bendrey brothers yard,nr Bristol
Nick cutting me a slice

I got some green english oak from Nick Bendrey, for the ribs. It was hard to see the figure of the grain whilst rough sawn, which meant I was forced to guess half blind where best to cut it up so that it would fit into the tiny car I’d hired to take it home.

old joiners plane for rounding ribs and stringers

Even though antique, these planes are cheap and effective. I think it was £4 from Bristol design tool shop.

Ribs in

I dont think I bent the ribs down far enough initially, and when I was about half way through I looked back to find they were pushing the keel up about 3/4″. You can see these babies have a bit more idiosyncratic wibble than Brian’s, and that bothered me -but it needn’t have as the stringers iron out any irregularities beautifully.

I think you have to keep in mind, pretty much everything you see in Brian’s videos is the best it could be-for demonstrative purposes, and also due to his experience. Of all the videos there’s only one where he lets his guard down momentarily, and works in a way I’m personally more aligned to. He’s trying to make a paddle in a hurry before it gets dark and theres about 20m of power tool cables hes dancing around on, as he works in time lapse -I felt a lot better after seeing that.

keel transport

Had to dash out to get a 16′ piece of 2×1″ keel, as I had mis-translated the dimensions in my earlier choice. No car this time. I was forced to push the bike, though I did have a little ride, just to see if I could.

fairing the stringers

This is a cabinet makers method for fixing sticking doors. By rubbing the stringer up and down against a piece of sanding belt you get a nice union with the stem.

them stringers done good

You may notice that I’ve added an extra rib at the ends, purely for aesthetic reasons as I felt the space between the last rib and the stem was too large. Its in fact a two piece rib tied together, as the shape is probably too acute to be bent without breaking.

break in traffic allows space for oiling

If I hadn’t been able to continue beyond this point I would have been happy. I spent a long time appreciating the innate beauty of this frame, it’s archetypal…suggesting the building of shelters, traps and nets, and very pleasing.


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