Rory’s F1 Build with Yellow Cedar Ribs, Vancouver, BC

Vancouver, B.C., Canada

It’s Early August…I’m standing in my garage taking stock of the offcuts and leftovers from my yellow cedar tandem canoe build. I find myself doing some mental math and realising I have enough yellow cedar left over to make a steam bent cockpit coaming and about 45 F1 ribs..!

I was first drawn to Brian’s designs with the F1 before I found his canoe designs and course. I’ve been contemplating an F1 build for a while and having throughly enjoyed the canoe course and the canoe build it was an obvious choice to pick up the plans and the kayak video course. I have to say that the kayak course is exceptionally polished. Having learned a great deal with the canoe building course plus the detailed instruction in this one I’m finding the material is sinking in quickly.

By mid-August in just a few hours of work I’ve completed the jigs and forms and I’ve steam bent and laminated up a coaming. Because yellow cedar is not as strong as white oak, I’ve laminated two layers for the coaming body and two more for the lip. All mating surfaces are gorilla glued (it helps to have 50 spring clamps left over from the canoe course!), and finished with the usual bronze ring nails but with a 1/32” pilot. Inspired by Brian’s laminated deck beams it is light, incredibly stiff and seemingly pretty tough. We shall see if using softwood for the coaming is a good idea when the skin is stitched onto it – it might split out. Note this boat will likely not see very rough water or e.g. risk of cockpit implosions. 

Tip on the capture forms I had not seen detailed anywhere – If you can safely clamp the blanks on a table saw at the correct angles a plunge cut with a 7-3/4” blade makes light work of accurate edges for all the internal faces – saves fussing with a jig saw and poorly aligned cuts that inevitably result.

August 24th: Deck beams

I was able to get six deck beams with a couple of extra laminations all of clear wood out of a knotty 8’ red cedar 2×4, including a 2” wide deck beam #3 for a sail rig as suggested. Bending the laminates to fit the jig took a surprising amount of force that I wasn’t expecting at first! 

A single stick of red cedar I’ve picked up will do enough aft deck beams for two boats for a couple of dollars. I already have some Douglas fir for deck beam #4. The ash I had used for the canoe was really nice but when thinned to a narrow tip it seemed to chip occasionally. Looking at the joinery of those parts I decided to go with a piece of kiln dried white oak which I’ve added to the wood pile. 

Late August: Ripping! 

A quick Saturday trip to the lumber yard and I’m home with two clear 1x6s of red cedar 16’ long. The ends will serve for the stems, the rest for all the longitudinals. I spent about an hour ripping and trimming the pieces, which are all still 3/4” thick – learning from the canoe build I’ve decided to keep everything at the stock thickness and then I’ll plane them all down in one go on a borrowed thickness planer before assembly.

Unfortunately, one of the 1x6s had a check hidden 1/3 of the way down the board in the centre. My first attempt at a keel fell apart as I ripped it as a result but I turned it into a secondary stringer and I had enough wood to spare for another keel. I really wasn’t expecting that to crop up but the grain on the board I was using for the narrow pieces was a little off. Just a risk to consider if only buying just enough wood!

September 5th–7th: finishing prep work

I spent more time than necessary deciding which way to pair up my gunwales. In the end I spun or “helicoptered” one 180˚ to match the other in bow and flex exactly – probably unnecessary. Morticing for the ribs worked very well with the plunge router just like the canoe build. If anyone has missed it, I believe Lee Valley has the best deal on 1/4” spiral upcuts around. They are HSS rather than carbide but in red cedar that’s not an issue. I used the drill block method for the deck beam mortices. Again that was pretty simple but I was finding the drill guide block was getting pretty worn out after just one boat…that might have been the brand new drill bit I had in the drill but worth watching out for. I used painters tape on the back sides of the drilled mortices to prevent grain tear out. 

I’ve ripped 45 ribs (I have another boat planned). Six of them are 1/4” thick for the front three per boat, and the rest are 5/16”. I had put together the calculations to match any wood species to white oak stiffness for my canoe build and that is the number I arrived at to match Brian’s suggested thickness for Oregon white oak. I’d be happy to share the method if anyone is interested in other bending species and getting to the correct strength or rib resistance to bending. 

I found the rolling bevels on the stringers particularly confusing to think about for some reason, but after just turning my brain off and following the videos and Brian’s hand/arm motion with the power plane I was able to get good results. 

I made the mistake with the canoe build of not doing all the prep work on the wood components before starting the build, then getting tripped up and needing to stop, e.g. rip stringers or plane ribs, etc. and it really slowed down the progress but also made the build feel longer than it needed to. On this one I’m determined to have everything prepped. 

Sept 19th-21st: Building the deck 

I had the same feeling when building the canoe but I’ll say it again. There is something special about watching the shape of one of these boats suddenly come into existence when you spread apart and curve the gunwales to shape. By the end of the deck building process I balanced the coaming on the deck beams and stood back to enjoy seeing an F1’s outline in the flesh for the first time. 

Having had some practice with the canoe I felt like I was flying through the beginning of this process with familiar tasks of kerfing the ends, lashing and pegging. I started on the deck beams trying to visualise the tenon shapes in my head which I found a little challenging. Instead, following on from the rolling bevels I just stopped thinking about the angles and got down to it following Brian’s instruction and really they were quite straight forward. The “special sticks” are genius! The hardest part for me of this whole deck building process was consistently drilling for the larger dowels (that pin the tenons in place) to aim at the right place in the gunwales. After a couple off the mark I was able to get the hang of it. I found it helpful to try to ignore the deck beam (that you start by drilling into) and just visualing and aiming directly at the centre of the gunwale with the drill. The size C drill bit came in very handy here.

October 3rd: prepping ribs and other minor things

I borrowed and used a real thickness planer to machine the ribs down to final thickness. It took a little getting used to, as with softwood the intake roller tended to mar the face of the ribs unless it was taking more than about 1/32” off per pass – I was able to avoid anything in the finished product. I wish I’d done the same with the canoe, it was really fast! For those who don’t know, with yellow cedar it is almost impossible to properly see the incredibly narrow, closely coloured grain until its planed smooth. Once I’d got them all processed, I was pleasantly surprised to find I had no ribs with any diving grain. 

Just to go with how I’d done the canoe ribs previously, I used a 3-letter system and graded ~90% of them “A” for totally clear straight grained, a few “Short A” where there might have been an imperfection at one end, and a handful remaining “B” where there might be minor questionable grain shape or behavior with the planer. None landed in my “C” category, which still bent well into semi-circular shapes in the canoe. 

I also used a band saw to cut out the stem angles and the same band saw with a tilting deck set to the gunwale angle to cut the rear block to mount a drain plug. I found this to be a safe and effective way to cut the shape and it fits perfectly – the very tip just needs to be flush cut. I have also started on a Greenland paddle out of a $15 stick of red cedar, cutting the major band saw cuts only.

Ahead of a week or so of rain we have in the forecast I rushed to lay out the ribs and get them finished. I didn’t want to get the rest of the frame wet even though the ribs were about to get soaked anyway. Using the A, B, C grading system they were laid onto the gunwales somewhat at random within their categories. “B” grade ended up ahead of the cockpit. All the ribs were marked to length using a modification on the rib length stick I thought up (some of it is blurred out in the photo to protect Brian’s designs), cut to length on a table saw, and then I thinned the ends with a power planer in a custom jig I’ve built to narrow the ends to exactly 1/4″.

I built another stegosaurus to test the fit of each end of the ribs in the gunwales and adjusted a couple of the mortices with a chisel and the rib ends with a block plane to get a good fit. The ribs have now been placed under a couple of large granite stones to soak for at least a week out in the west coast rain to somewhat ceremonially introduce them to things to come – the canoe ribs were lucky enough to get snowed on too!

Oct 18th-20th: Ribs, stringers and stems

We finally got a break in the rain here and I was able to get a solid amount of work done this week on the frame which I feel really good about. I started off with bending in ribs 2 to 11 which went really well, some minor tear outs but straightforward. I have been using some yellow cedar that I had left over from last year’s canoe build. I got more problematic grain situations cropping up with some of the aft ribs, a couple of ribs just peeled open like a banana skin, while others worked perfectly on the same bend shape. Rib 1 folded and cracked on the first go around – I was forcing a vee shape a little too tight. Second time around I got some minor cracking at the apex but went with the shape which was still really nicely vee’d. In all six ribs were replaced, some others had minor tears that I was able to repair. For anyone else’s reference I’ve been using 5/16” final rib thicknesses with the bow ribs at 1/4″. Brian was super helpful with a check in on the shaping. 

Learning from the canoe, where I waited way too long to do this next step, I was able to throw the stringers and keel onto the ribs right away to get the most out of fairing up the curves of the hull. To do this efficiently I used the zig-zag lashing used on traditional Alaskan kayaks, then once I had more time later in the week to spend on the frame I came back and pulled those off and lashed with the permanent box lashings. I did this so every rib was pinned to the stringers right away, as opposed to clamping just a handful of them. It seems to have paid off and the hull looks to have really clean lines presenting on the stringers and keel.

The stems and ends of the stringers came together nice and easy, with one stupid mistake I made – I knew I had some pretty extreme diving grain concentrated just at one end of the stringers. I oriented this to the stern without thinking. The tension that these pieces are under to align everything promptly cracked the stringer. Fortunately, I was able to save it and flipped these ends to the bow.

Rib tear out repair

I have found that wrapping with a piece of polyethylene bag and then tightly taping with electrical tape works really nicely to repair a rib tear out with gorilla glue. Of course this only works for a minor grain tear out under ~25% of the rib thickness. The glue doesn’t adhere to the bag once it cures and it keeps everything clamped with an even pressure all around.

A tangent on bending yellow cedar…not much on the internet is documented on free-bending yellow cedar, especially around this dimension so I thought I would put some words here on it, for green and air-dried stock. I’ve seen a piece of kiln-dried yellow cedar recently and it looked destroyed in comparison – I doubt you could steam bend kiln-dried stuff. What I’ve found for air-dried is that the ribs need to soak for at least three days submerged in water (no fabric softener tried), after that I keep them damp while working. Without soaking they still bend, but they aren’t as pliable. Soaked ribs end up with a rougher texture after bending, like a rough sanded or cut look, un-soaked ribs maintain a smooth planed surface. For me, each one gets steamed for 2:00 to 2:45 depending on thickness and temperature of the steam box. Too little time and the ribs are still pretty stiff, too much and the inside of the bends collapse and fold unpredictably. If you scribe soaked wood even with a pencil then steam it will crease at that location, which could be used to your advantage. I’ve found backing with a “seatbelt” strap on tight bends works for me, but a leather belt that is wide enough to wrap over the edges of the wood would also work fine. If you don’t capture the edges, the grain tears out there. I’ve found that flat grain is a bit of a minefield. Sometimes it works great, other times the layers of grain just peel off with little stringy fibres between the layers separating like banana peel. Steep and vertical grain, which lines up with some other stuff I’ve recently read, seems to be more predictable. I don’t think you can go much thicker than 3/8” in this kind of application. You can calculate the equivalent stiffness of the chosen wood species vs. another species using the modulus of elasticity or Young’s modulus to get the hull comparable to the plans. 

Late October/Early November: dodging Pacific rain storms to chip away at the task list

We’ve had a ton of rain this Fall in Vancouver, BC. More than usual for this time of year. I’ve been trying to line up some free time with breaks in the rain and I’m slowly chipping away at the task list of items left to complete the frame, and dreaming of a barn or other enclosed space where I could work on the boat. 

Brian helpfully pointed out that I could improve on my bow stem shaping where it meets the keel during a discussion. I have to say I was focussed very heavily on rib shaping for this boat and completely missed, until he pointed out, the error I’d made with an abrupt transition from the stem to the keel in the bow. I had made a second set of stem blanks for a second boat and so was able to make a complete replacement in a couple of hours. Before and after shot below. 

Other things that I’ve so far been able to complete are shaping the end blocks, shaping and mounting the foredeck stringer, tacking on the secondary stringers, installing some special mounts for the foot braces (more on that later), and fairing and lashing on the stringers to the stems. Not many pictures this week as a lot of my work has been by headlamp in the dark!

Also, a happy surprise this week. After about 18 months without any stock anywhere in Canada (as far as I can tell) Watco Danish Oil has hit the shelves of one of our specialist hardwood stores here!! I had used a different finish for the canoe focussing on UV exposure, but I REALLY like the simplicity and the overall finish of the Watco product on red cedar and I’m so glad to see it turn up again right before I needed it. 

I would like to say that I am constantly impressed with the level of thought and detail in Brian’s plan sets, designs, and instruction, right down to the smallest details. The below photo is just one example of that but I thought it was a really good one to share. You will notice there is a secondary face on the stringer planed at a taper that grows towards the stern. Note how this exactly aligns with the rib faces and then lands perfectly at the stem with their mating faces parallel. When I watched these pieces come together as I built them I thought it was worth a quick photo as a good example of Brian’s attention to detail. 

November: finishing the frame

November has been rough for working outside…or at least wanting to work outside and then not being able to! I think we got about 7 hours in the month without rain. You might have heard of the floods we’ve had around these parts and the rain has been relentless. 

Anyway, I’ve been able to complete the frame, tidy it up, install a drain plug mounting surface, get every last thing squared away, plan out and bend a brass bow stem band for later, and oil with some Watco Danish oil. The yellow cedar ribs really contrast the almost purple-coloured red cedar gunwales which is pretty cool. The deck beams are new-growth western red cedar, deck beam 4 is Douglas fir, and the aft deck stringers are white oak. I like that it essentially gives all the longitudinals a dark colour and the cross-members a light one – not really on purpose. 

Next step is to think about skin weight. I’m debating bumping up to a 12oz nylon at the cost of ~4 lbs extra to the boat weight. With some travel I likely won’t be skinning the boat until the new year. Below are a few photos of the frame completed.

Rory

View posts by Rory
I've completed a Cape Falcon 66 tandem canoe in yellow cedar and I'm keen to build some more boats! Long time fixer, tinkerer and builder of other things. Keen outdoors enthusiast in all seasons. I got into paddling (canoes and sea kayaks) when I met my wife in Ontario many years ago and until building the canoe we have never owned our own boats. I find the idea of skin on frame building really exciting.

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