15′-6″ Solo Canoe Build “Jimmie”, Oak Park, Illinois

I initially wanted to build a tandem canoe the would nest over my cedar strip canoe. Fortunately, I reached out to Brian and he talked me down. Using his suggestions I started with this canoe at 15′-6″ long, 31″ wide with a 1″ tumblehome and 12.4″ deep. The D/B is .40 and R/B 1.44. To give myself a challenge, I went with an asymmetrical build. The sheer height at the bow is 8 1/4″ and the stern is 7″. The planned rocker is 2″ at both ends.


The build begins with a search for a long board for the gunwales. I found 18′ reclaimed laminated bleacher seat made from old growth Douglass fir. They advertised gum at no additional cost. Yes, I had to scrape old dried chewing gum off the board. The grain appeared to be perfectly straight with no knots. After ripping the board, I found couple of well hidden pin knots in the lamination joint and had to work around bolt holes. The board yielded 2 layers of the gunwale lamination ( 3rd layer was made from red cedar), the bottom 4 stringer and the keel. The remaining stringer was made out of cedar. The cedar parts had to be scarf jointed together to make the length. I used epoxy for the glue joints which are unbelievably strong. It takes an extra day to scarf joint boards together. In the future, I would not hesitate do it again for a larger build.

Laminating the Gunwales

The gunwale was laminated on the side of a strong back. I used Titebond III to glue up the laminations which worked fine. Since I have not worked with Gorilla Glue, I was hesitant to try it here, although, I made quite a mess using Titebond.

Building the Frame

Rib Test, End View
Tying off the stringers
Rib Test
Stringer Placement
Adding 1 3/4″ Sheer Blocks

Finishing and Skinning the Canoe

Finishing the canoe was fairly uneventful. I impulsively used cherry tinted Danish oil to seal the frame. It turned much darker than the samples I had prepared. The color has grown on me and I imagine it will fade with exposure to the sun. On the first coat of polyurethane, I used 8/4 and came up short. Since my mixing cup did not have 10 oz mark, I went with 12/6 for the next two coats. I have not noticed any cloudiness in the finish coating. It got a little cloudy along the stitching and where I attempted to thicken up the coat on the keel. Compared to an epoxy finish, this was a much more enjoyable experience.

Oiled the Frame
Wetting Out the Skin
Draping the Fabric
Trimmed & Tapped the Gunwales
Dyed the Skin with Oxblood
Finish Coat
Spirt Animal (one of my dogs)
Maiden Voyage

Final Review

For the maiden voyage, I took it out last weekend to a local forest preserve. Unfortunately, it was quite windy so I couldn’t get a good feel for how it tracks. I will say it is lively. One gust of wind put me up on an edge but didn’t feel like I was going to tip. I had about 9″ of free board with just me (220lbs) in the canoe. Since I don’t have a great deal of solo paddling experience, I think a couple more inches in width would help settle it down. With some improvement in my J stroke, I imagine this will be a very fast and nimble canoe. Stay tuned for updates.

Update 11.07.2021

On Sunday, I took the canoe out under better weather conditions. It was a great opportunity to get a true feel for how the canoe handles. Before this canoe, I’ve only had experience paddling commercial tandem canoes. The big change is having engage your lower half. Once I was comfortable with the canoe on edge it met my expectations for speed and control. Surprisingly, I discovered I favor paddling on my left side. I also tried out a double bladed paddle. Paddling in rhythm, the canoe was considerably faster. Although, I still prefer the single blade paddle.

The seat position is the last thing I need to explore. Currently, it is set 9″ back from the center and there is a 3/4″ gunwale spacer. It just feels like I a lot of canoe behind me. I have room for a second mount 5″ further back. I would also like to try a contoured seat.

One of the many reasons I found Brian’s system intriguing is the flexibility. I like to tinker. At some point I’m sure that I will also explore the sailing option. I’m also starting to plan a tandem canoe to nest over this one. Next year, I’m looking forward to taking my boys and the canoes to the boundary waters.

I love seeing the water line while paddling.

1 Comment

  1. Jim
    January 27, 2022

    Your canoe looks great! Congrats!
    I was wondering what the boat weighed and if the dimensions you planned came out in the final build.
    I am just North of you in WI and am planning two canoes for me and my wife. Still not sure of dimensions to use or to go medium/ large or large/medium in sizes.
    Hope you have fun with it!


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