Dale’s Small Pack 66 Canoe in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

My woodworking experience includes home improvement projects and cabinetry, all amateur level.  As to boats, I’ve built an Oughtred sailing canoe and a CLC kayak from scratch, a Caledonia Yawl finished out from a bare hull built for me, and two F1’s from tiny drawings before there were plans.  And just recently a Large Pack 66, which I didn’t blog.  I had some problems on the Large Pack, but it turned out fine in the end. It fits easily in my Big Ben Garvey and is easier to enter and exit over the side than an F1.

Over 45 years, the time for my projects was stolen in small pieces from a busy work and family life.  Now retired with a relaxed schedule, I begin on a Small Pack 66 to nest in the Large Pack.  This will be 11’ 8” in length with a 27” beam and a 10” depth at center.  The Large Pack already made is 12’ 6” and 28 ½” and came in at 22 pounds.  I am hoping this Small one weighs under 20 pounds.

I once owned a table saw but gave it away after a kick-back incident and a scary, near miss.  I replaced most of its functions with a band saw and a router in a table.  I surface wood with hand planes and a belt sander in a stand, because the price of a good thickness planer has never seemed justifiable.  I bought a hand-held power planer long ago for a now forgotten project, but put it away and never used it again.  That is about to change on this build.  Looking back, I suppose I have enjoyed figuring out how to form wood with less than perfect power tools.  I probably developed decent hand tool skills as a result, and I’m not bothered by the less than perfect outcomes that sometimes result.

For this Small Pack build, almost all the machine work will be accomplished with the band saw, the router installed in a plunge base, the power planer, a cheap bench-top drill press, and a consumer-grade ¼” cordless drill.


When I built the Large Pack I doubled all the non-lumber materials from Brian’s item/source list, but I need to buy some more wood for this second build. 

I find a lot of western red cedar one-by’s in various widths and long enough at the local lumber yard.  I show up first thing on Saturday, and an employee is happy to help me flip boards in the stack to find some good ones.  Despite the number of choices, I struggle to find many that are knot-free in widths wide enough for a gunwale glue-up.  It’s easier to find enough narrow strips running the distance that can be ripped for stringers.

Gunwale Laminations

Back at home with the best candidates I could find, I manage to rip 3” wide strips from separate wider boards to have three laminations with only one tight knot in one of them.  I want to have plenty of width for the pair of gunwales since I will be ripping them on my band saw, and I am concerned about cutting such long, curving glue-ups successfully.  I’m afraid the cutting edge will wander away from the fence, and a lot of planning will be needed to get them back in line.

I use the power planer to take each lamination down to 11/16” but I am not real careful to keep a uniform thickness along the length.  Close, but not exact, multiplied by three since there are three boards.   I glue them with Gorilla Glue as Brian suggests.  I’ve always been a West System epoxy guy and considered Gorilla Glue as something inferior.  But I used it on the first build and became a believer.  I bury the small knot in the center lamination.  I use the single flat sawn lamination on the bottom side to avoid the grain popping up when bent. With support blocks set at the longer length of the Large Pack canoe, and the same 6” shear as I used on that one, I get a glue-up that seems good.  With 5” cut off each end I am confident it will work for the gunwales for this Small Pack.  I have my rocker heights recorded from the first build, so I don’t have to do that for this boat.

The safe route for any glue-up is too much glue rather than not enough. My glue run-out isn’t too excessive, certainly better than on the Large Pack build.  I use the power planer to cut one ragged side off so I can have a smooth surface to guide the rips of the two gunwales when I separate them.  (I apologize for the lack of photos on the build so far but my old phone overloaded and I lost them.  Onward with a new phone and more care on the photography.)

Ripping the Gunwales

My power planing to get rid of the glue run-out results in an edge angle less than 90 degrees to the face, so at the outset I need to run the assembly through the band saw to square it up.

Correcting an acute angle left by the power planer

This will be the first of three rip cuts on the curved, unwieldy assembly.  This first one will square it up, and the second and third will produce the two gunwales.  Each time I need to hold the upstream end up in the air so that as much of the assembly as possible contacts the table of the saw.  That issue exists for a band saw the same as a table saw.

I realize that the curve has a constant radius (if that’s the right way to say it), so that the support needed to hold the uncut portion in the air can remain the same height from the beginning to the end of the rip.  Or at least until the remaining uncut portion is short enough to no longer be an issue.  A 2”x4” in a Shopmate will work to raise it up, so I set that up at the right location with a nail on each side at the end of the support to prevent the assembly from falling off mid-cut.

The nonhuman helper to hold the end of the curved gunwale assembly

Brian notes that it’s a good idea to have a human helper to pull the strips the last few inches of the cut, but with the band saw I can safely push the last section through the cut with one hand, while supporting the long pieces sticking out the downstream side of the table.

The first rip leaves me with a thin cut-off and a nice, square edge on the assembly.  Two more rips give me the width I think I need for the separate gunwales. To get a clean edge on the inside of each gunwale – I want those smooth because that side of each will be exposed in the finished boat – I rip 1/8” wider gunwales than I want, and use the power planer to take the thickness down to the target dimension.  As with the three laminations, I’m not real careful about getting the thicknesses exact.  I clamp each gunwale in turn on my 4”x6” working beam, and have to reposition my clamps as I plane down a gunwale, trying to not stop and then restart the planing midstream.  That isn’t entirely successful, and I have some slight corrugations, which I hit with a block plane in an effort to smooth them out.

Stringers and Keel

Using the band saw and power planer, I rip the stringers and keel, cutting up a lot of boards in order to harvest perfectly clear strips at least 12’ long.  I use a Slick Plane to break the hard edges of the eight stringers.  On one pass, I badly hook the rising grain on a stringer, but salvage it by gluing the wedge down with Titebond.

Gunwale Work

I screw the gunwales together and cut the ends to the desired length.

As I prepare to mortise the gunwales, I see that at the paired ends, one in particular, I’ve planed one of the pair considerably thinner than the other.  No problem, I think; I’ll hand plane the thicker one to match the thinner one, and at the end of the boat it won’t matter.

Mortising goes easily, but for two fixable mistakes.  First, before I get the rhythm right, I fail to stop cutting a mortise on the line marking the mortise end, going about ¼” too far.  I glue in a dowel, which takes care of that.  But then, I mistakenly mortise one gunwale beginning at the transverse line marking the location of the first intermediate spreader, rather than passing over it in favor of the next mortise location.  As I plunge in, I hear the metallic tick as the router bit hits the drywall screw that holds the two gunwales together (that’s the shiny dot in the second photo below).  I cut a plug from scrap cedar, round the ends, glue it into the slot I made in error, and plane it flush with the gunwale.  The router bit still cuts the soft cedar like a hot knife in butter, so no apparent harm done.  I don’t repeat the mistake at the center spreader or the second intermediate spreader.  I vacuum the mortises and check to be sure all of them are the right depth.

Sheer Heights

I measure the sheer heights, which I see vary a bit near the ends, when I compare one end to the other.  Theoretically, they should be exactly the same.  Maybe that’s from slightly varying thicknesses along the length, rather than from different density or other characteristics of the wood itself. Whatever the cause, will the difference in thickness matter; we’ll find out soon enough?

Setting up to measure sheer heights


I use the power planer to reduce the thickness of a short section of a wide board I have set aside for the stems, and I mark one and cut it to shape on the band saw.  I then lay it on the residue of the board to mark the second stem, and cut that one, too.

Spreading the Gunwales and Finding a Symmetry Issue

I put the capture forms on the gunwale ends and install the center spreader.  With some optimistic imagination it begins to resemble a canoe.  I check the symmetry with a string line, and it’s perfect.  Couldn’t be better.

The string is down the center

I kerf the gunwale ends with a pruning saw, and lash the gunwale ends together.  I reinstall the center spreader and insert two more spreaders at the 25% and 75% of length places.

I check the symmetry again and see I have a problem.  What’s going on?  The centers of both intermediate spreaders are about 1/4” off my string line, the aft one to starboard and the forward one to port, and the center one is off a bit.  Following Brian’s instructions, I check my measurements, which are sound, and then I caliper the thickness along the gunwales and they are different by about 1/16”, one compared to the other.  Hmmm.  That’s probably the problem I think.  What do I do now?  If I don’t fix this, will I end up with an asymmetrical boat?

Symmetry Adjustment

To try to fix the problem, I dissemble the spreaders/gunwales, and thin them out here and there. 

The variances against the string line don’t disappear, so I surrender and, taking the final step Brian suggests, I slip the gunwale ends by about 3/16”, one against the other.  Brian says it’s surprising how much difference a little movement will make.  I’m not so sure that 3/16” is a little, but that brings the string line right over the centerlines of all three spreaders.

Install Depth Gauge, Stems, and Keel

Back on track now, I install a board on the center spreader to rise to the bottom of the keel at the correct canoe depth at the center (making the adjustment needed for the thinner keel I’ll use, per Brian’s note at the bottom of the rocker worksheet).  I zip tie the stems to the gunwale ends.  I figure out my keel heights on the stems, and mark and cut the ends (bottoms) of the stems.  And then I temporarily attach the keel to those ends.  I feel pretty good about this growing assembly, now expanding in two dimensions and looking more boatish.

Rub Strips

I rip the narrow, thin rub strips from red oak I got at the box store.  I once had a sympathetic local sawyer who was curious about my boat building and sourced me white oak for the F1 coamings and ribs.  But in the years since, his business has grown, and almost all of the hardwood timber he is buying, slicing, and drying from the Shenandoah Valley and eastern Appalachians is going to China.  I got some good-intentioned promises from him a while back when I was sourcing materials for the Large Pack canoe, but the enthusiasm was gone and nothing resulted.  He’s no Josh Swan, but then he isn’t a boat builder.  I can’t blame him.  Red oak will do.  I drill the countersink screw holes to attach the rub rails later in the process once the boat skin is stapled, spacing them as instructed using Brian’s clever time-saving method for this repetitive process.  I take a stab at preserving the oak with the Rubio wax he suggests.  Odd stuff but I like it so far.

Looking down from above drill press with rub strip in middle

Ribbing Apprehension

When I built the Large Pack a few months ago, I was running over with self-confidence about my steam bending experience.  I had successfully made a coaming for the sailing canoe out of ¼” kiln-dried mahogany.  I had successfully made two coamings for two F1’s and bent ribs for those boats.  I thought I’d have no real problem with the canoe ribs.  Brian had told me the 66 canoe needs much higher quality bending wood than the kayaks.  That got my attention, and when I looked at an Instagram showing Josh Swan’s precut, white oak ribs cut to length I was sold on that stuff.  I thought I’d order all the ribs for both boats at one time, and figured I might need five or so extra.  Pride goeth before the fall.

In the bigger canoe build I had major rib bending problems.  First, I wasn’t as careful as I could be in making my rib measurement stick.  Some ribs seemed too long and some too short.  That threw me off my game.  Actually, the cause may have been the struggle I had getting the shapes correct.  I believe that struggle was because I didn’t steam the ribs long enough.  And the reason for that is that in my overconfidence, I didn’t do any test ribs.  As a result, I didn’t appreciate how tenacious the layers of fiber on the tree those ribs came from actually were, and I didn’t spot the rib length issues and interpolate corrections before I tried to install the actual ribs.  If there really were length issues, that is.

The instructions mention four to eight minutes as a typical range of steaming time.  I knew I had the very best quality bending wood and assumed that meant the steaming time would be near the bottom of the range.  Now it dawns on me that the bending characteristics perhaps are wholly unrelated to the right bending time for a particular batch.  At any rate, on the first boat I was struggling to bend ribs after steaming them a lot less than what my oak needed.  I broke or couldn’t get the bend right in maybe 15 out of the 24.  I should have stopped the action and had a good think before proceeding.  I should have gone back and done a thorough test to see exactly how long the rib stock needed to be steamed. The problems really became obvious when I lashed the stringers, and I had to put shims in a lot of rib-stringer intersection gaps.  I did manage to accomplish the lashing the same day as the bending and that was an overtime day for sure. 

The next day, I decided I couldn’t tolerate all the shims and so I replaced about seven ribs, settling in the end for leaving a total of four shims in two or three ribs when I just ran out of patience.  I also had cut two ribs too short, when I couldn’t make them fit right and thought they were too long.  To make those work I sistered 2” lengths of rib stock on the ends, which worked out fine.  The horrible thing about replacing ribs – after lashing – is that you have to tie off 16 ends of the continuous lashings, the ones on both sides of the one being replaced, and do 8 separate new lashings per rib.  Yep, 24 re-dos for each one, unless it’s at the end.  None of mine were on end ribs, so 7×24=168 and you get the idea.  Continuous lashings is the way to go, and after getting the ribs done to your satisfaction.

As I said before, despite all my mistakes the Large Pack turned out really well.  I can’t see any asymmetry in it.  It paddles well and I’ve been using it a lot.  It is surprising how much easier it is to deal with on land than the lightest of my two F1’s, which weighs 27 pounds, and it’s easier to get in and out of.  It’s slower, but not by much according to the gps.

After the Fact Testing

My mega order of rib stock, which was meant for both boats, was largely dissipated by replacements, but I still had 11 left.  A friend who is considering a solo 66 used 6 of them to try his hand at bending, using my steamer and box.  By that time, the stock was a couple of months from being standing timber, so it had dried some more.  We kept steaming for longer, and longer, with each rib splitting and still feeling closer to bar steel than a wet noodle.  Finally, at 12 minutes of steam my friend did a perfect Rib #1 with no tear-out, and without having reduced the thickness at all.  That strongly hinted that all the trauma I endured was due to insufficient steaming. 

Three weeks later, thinking I’m a bit wiser, I have six ribs left.  I only need 22 ribs for this boat, and I’ve ordered 35 strips from Josh Swan.  They will arrive before long.  I may as well use the last ones from the Large Pack batch for testing now and then I’ll do a second set of test ribs from the new batch when I have them.

I very, very carefully calculate my rib lengths.  I use Excel – which handles fractions very well – to be absolutely sure that my fourth-grade math calculations are right.  I triple check the input data.  The aft end comes out wanting slightly longer ribs, which I accept as a ramification of gunwale differences.  The difference is a uniform 1/8” longer on each total rib length in the back half of the boat, from the first measurable adjustment aft of center until the last three ribs, when the difference disappears with those matching the first three at the bow.  I take comfort in the realization that 1/8” of length likely means the keel will be pushed down in the water only 1/16” if the variance is somehow not really there.

I want to see if 12 minutes is still right, or if an even longer bending time is better since a few weeks more drying has occurred.  I fire up the steam box and steam Rib #2 for 12 minutes.  That’s a tight bend, and it starts to creak.  I pull off my belt and back the rib, and it bends well.  It fits, but it seems like it was too hard to do it and it seemed on the verge of failure.  I try Rib #9 at 12 minutes.  Without methodically processing each rib the way the instructions say, I forget to thin the tips to fit into the mortises.  I quickly do that on the band saw, but quickly isn’t fast enough for steam bending, and I lose the “U” I need.  I can’t tell if that one was the right length or not.  I properly mill another #9 and also a #15.  I steam #9 for 15 minutes and it works great.  The shape seems right and I get it to just kiss the bottom of the keel.  The length is perfect, I believe.  At 15 minutes, #15 bends well also, and seems to have the right shape showing a tiny bit of daylight under the keel. Here is the whole assembly so far, with stems, keel, two extra sheer height guides, and some test ribs.

Rocker Check

I am shooting for 1 1/8” of rocker, matching the Large Pack when Rib #1 and Rib #24 of that boat are eliminated (the small one has 22 ribs, two less than the big one).  I do a check and it’s right so far.  If it will hold till the end, then the two boats should nest, the small one into the large one.


The new batch of ribs arrives.  The ribs come wrapped in plastic sheeting like the first batch.  But the first batch had the sheeting torn from a portion of the bundle, the weather was very hot, and I wonder if they had been in a hot warehouse or truck and dried out more than normal.  Maybe that was why they needed a long steam duration.  This new batch smells freshly cut, and feels the same, and I’m going to waste no time in bending them in.

To test the steaming time this batch needs, I take five ribs and start at five minutes for the first one.  It bends but not easily.  I go to seven minutes for the second one.  That works pretty well, which is a good sign and very encouraging.  I cook the third one for eight minutes, and that is even better, better to the point that I stick with that time for two more.  All three of those are malleable, much better than I ever got on the first boat, and reminiscent of when I built the kayaks.  Moreover, the rib lengths seem just right. I don’t want to be overconfident, but I’m hoping this ribbing process is going to work out very well.  I go ahead and mill my 22 ribs, using Brian’s suggested time-saving sequence.  I set up the steamer and steam box and the rest of the equipment.

The next morning I start bending at 7:30 in the morning.  I am going to start in the middle of the boat and work toward the ends, both of them.  That way, I’ll be bending two ribs exactly the same length, or just 1/8” difference, that need to have the same shape installed.  I figure it will be easier to do both the same way one after the other.  With 22 ribs, #11 and #12 straddle the middle spreader and I begin with those two.  #11 goes great.  I’m allowing two minutes to bend, install, and manipulate into shape before moving to the next one.  Then as soon as I bend #12 it breaks.  I move on to #10 and then #13, and so forth without any trouble until #19 breaks.  I mill replacements and break the replacement for #12, so that’s three, but the second attempt at a replacement for that one works well. 

Compared to the big boat build, the process has gone great.  As I moved down the boat I had some ribs that were settling maybe 1/16” below the keel, so I let a few rise up a tiny bit above spec.  I know that when I lash the keel those above will even out with those below and leave the keel at the right spot.  The last couple at the stern are a bit below the keel, but that’s not an issue.  There is a gap below the keel at the first rib also, but I can deal with that easily, too.  I felt in total control on the bending and ribbing on this boat, rather than totally out of control on the first one.  The eight minute steam time worked great, and having two minutes to bend, install, and shape each rib was enough without wasting time in between ribs.

Bone Density Analysis

Later, a close look at the three broken ribs indicates that short areas of rising grain probably was the cause.  I believe I could have avoided breaking all three if I had matched the desired shape of the particular rib with where the grain issue was on the rib stock.  That is, where a rib needed the ends bent the most and the grain issue was there, that material would have bent just fine into a more evenly rounded rib or into one of the more radical V-shaped ribs near the ends of the boat.  The problem areas on two of the three were quite near the ends.  As another way to avoid the breaking, I could have reduced the lengths from those ends, and just cut them off and used the rest of the rib stock.   But I had plenty of rib stock so nothing lost.

And at any rate, so far I am extremely pleased with the results of the ribbing process on this boat.

Clamping and lashing stringers, and lashing stringers, more lashing stringers, etc.

I follow directions and clamp on the stringers, leaving space on the bow stem for the mast step.  I had wound my lashing sinew around short pieces of rib stock, using another one of Brian’s clever labor-saving techniques, so I start lashing at one end next to the gunwale.  I’m left handed and Brian’s video segments are very clear but right handed, so I think I will do it in reverse.  But, I give up trying to sort out how, and revert to a lefty’s frequent best practical approach, which is to just do it the way the rest of you do it.  Brian suggests alternating stringers side to side, to avoid the likelihood of pulling asymmetry into the boat by lashing all on one side and then all on the other.  That makes sense as far as it goes.  But I’m thinking it would be a bit better to lash the first one on, say, the port side, and then lash that one on starboard and also the next one on starboard.  Then, do the next two on port, and go back to two on starboard.  That might alternate the primacy effect, avoiding having the second side always struggling to pull things back on center. 

The lashing proceeds beginning to end as nicely as the bending, and I’m really, really pleased at this point.  The ribs that were slightly different on one side are pulled substantially into near-perfect symmetry by the lashing.  The difference is surprising.  You may be able to see the difference on the rib just past the centerline.  On the two photos below, look at the rib just past the middle.  It’s bowed more on the left side as we face it before lashing, but is pulled even by the lashing. Hard to see, and I’m sorry they aren’t a good before-and-after. But a real close look does show why Brian says don’t sweat the ribbing symmetry during the ribbing phase. Just get the rib to lightly kiss the underside of the keel, move on to the next rib, and the system will take care of the fine adjustments.

To my great surprise after the Large problems I had, every one of the rib-to-stringer junctures pulls together perfectly.  No gaps and no dips or rises. I have one temporary issue with #13 suddenly pushing up the keel, where before it had been just fine.  As I move down the line with my lashing on the second stringer from the gunwale, I see the change and realize that one end of that rib has come out of the mortise.  I re-seat it and peg it so it will stay there.  That brings the rib down at the keel, and now it’s perfect in height again.

Did the Gunwale Dimensions Variation Make Any Difference, Then?

I had fretted about my use of a power planer instead of a thickness planer.  I was afraid that the inherent accuracy differential, and my sloppiness in checking as I milled the gunwales, had together resulted in gunwales that were wrong in both cross section dimensions.  It resulted in different sheer heights in the back half of the boat; I am pretty certain those were the causes.  Brian’s formulaic system compensates for that variation, but I was concerned nevertheless.

On my first boat I at least had the laminates milled on a monster thickness planer at the lumber yard, so I had a solid foundation in one dimension.  I had used an old wooden try plane to finalize the other dimension after ripping the two gunwales apart.  On this Small boat it seems like getting both dimensions right should have been my big goal at the outset of the build – and I know they both were wrong. I now see that the gunwale assembly is the foundation for these boats.

On this boat, as wrong as the dimensions were, my measurements and calculations for rib lengths were very careful, and the ribs turned out great.  I am now thinking I just needed to steam the stock long enough and Brian’s system would take care of the rest.  Despite some sloppy workmanship, it’s looking like I will have made two canoes that are symmetrical.  Either I got lucky and the results of my several errors somehow counteracted each other, or the variations in dimensions don’t prevent a good outcome.  If I could start over I would not buy a thickness planer, but I would make two trips to the lumber yard shop during the gunwale phase.  I’d have the laminates thicknessed dead on, and later after glue-up and rough ripping, I’d go back to have the individual gunwales run through the big planer without the guy changing the wheel dial on the final pass on each.

Shaping Stems

I form the stems to their almost final shapes and lash them back into place, permanently now. 

I trim the stern stem a little to increase the rocker slightly there.  The last three ribs aft had small but increasing gaps under the keel.  Lashing would easily pull them tight to the keel, but the progression invited trimming the keel to make each rib touch the underside of the keel.

Final Keel Installation and Lashing

I glue the keel to the stems and lash the keel to the apex of each rib.  I make a shim 3/16” thick to span the gap between the keel and first rib.  I consider replacing the rib to avoid the shim, but decide it’s not worth the trouble.  A single shim out of 198 junctions, with the other 197 tight, and tight on the great majority across the entire inch at each rib!  I can’t begrudge that one shim.

Fairing and Lashing the Stringer Ends

I cut the stringers to the right length, just shy of the ends of the stems.  I taper them and lash them to the stems.

Final Stem Shaping and Cleaning up the Frame

I cut the stem tops to continue the curve of the gunwale tops.  I sand the frame lightly here and there.  These boats are beautiful in their own way, but a high state of finish is not what I seek here.

I check the rocker again and it’s my desired 1 1/8”.  I can’t see any asymmetry or shaping problems at any point along the boat. 

Mast Step Location

I mark the inside of the bow stem for the mast step I’ll install. The ribs at that end have to be located to allow the step to be removed, so the spacing is uneven.

So Does It Nest?

The boat is indeed Small.  I move it out of the shop to the adjacent garage and I don’t bang into anything, which has always happened before with boats I build.  I like this boat more and more.  The Large Pack is lying in the middle of the garage, on some trashcans in a garden cart.  I’ve taken out the flotation. I lower the Small into the Large and it fits really well.  Wonderful! 

I have six foot bars for my 4Runner, and I need that much width for two canoes, even for one F1 and one canoe.  I don’t like J-racks on that vehicle,because they are so high I’d need a ladder.  With these two canoes nested, I can deal with two cam straps instead of four, and half as many bow and stern lines, with half the wind resistance and noise, and just use the standard bars the 4Runner has.  That keeps it simple and simple boats are the ones used most.

Oiling the Frame

I’m not sure why I’m going to do this, beyond the fact that Brian says do it and I’m trying to do what he says.  I suspect all boat builders, like cabinet makers, just can’t imagine leaving a piece of wood bare.  This red cedar and white oak isn’t going to rot in my lifetime, but here I go, glad at least that I’m not a lemming near a cliff.  I use Watco Teak Oil, like I did on the Large Pack, slopping it on, working barefoot in a Tyvek suit, having spread plastic sheeting on the floor.  I had the teak oil left from treating a piece of deck furniture, gone now, and I start to run out of oil before I run out of Small boat.  I have some natural Watco, so I pour it in the cup with what’s left of the Teak oil, and indeed natural is lighter in color.  I pour in some Minwax Antique Oil, which darkens the brew a good bit, and finish the oiling.  The lighter mix is on the other side in this photo, so I won’t ask your opinion, but I don’t think it will look different (that’s sunlight in the photos), and the skin will cover it anyway.

Skinning:  Try to Do this Better Than Last Time

At this point, I know of one huge skinning error I made on the Large build, and I suspect another one.  First, I ordered the wrong skin fabric from skinboats.org.  I haven’t checked, but I think it was the same junior ballistic nylon I used on the F1’s.  That’s my excuse, anyhow. Those were ironed to tighten them, I am pretty sure. 

I skinned the Large with that fabric and it was alarmingly loose as soon as I finished and it started to dry.  That caused me to retrace my actions and I saw that I got the wrong stuff.  Off came the skin – at least I hadn’t coated it – and I then installed the right fabric.  Much better results.  But, now that boat with the correct skin nevertheless has very noticeable looseness in high humidity.  I sort of remember that occurring with one of the F1’s, and it went away in time.

I suspect that I did not appreciate how tight to pull the skin to staple it on the first side.  I just brought it taut; I didn’t pull it.  I later saw a blogger’s recommendation of using canvas pliers, so I bought those.

I stitch the ends at the stems and that goes fine, although the bow one pulls to the edge of the stem front on the lower half.  That’s one of those things builders fret and nobody notices, including the water.  I use a nice hot knife I got from SailRite when I made the green hood for my Big Ben garvey, shown in one of the first photos at the top of this blog.  It works great.  I have colored push pins, and now see why Brian says don’t use clear ones.

I set up for skinning.  I’m using a two liter garden spray bottle and an electric stapler, in addition to the canvas pliers.

Ready, set, go!  I hose down the canoe in the driveway.  It’s 39 Fahrenheit.  I wait 15 minutes, soak it again, carry it over my head into the shop, getting a cold shower as I go.

In this Small build, I pull pretty hard on the first side before I staple.  Not enough to tear out the push pins on the keel, but seriously hard.  It’s easy to do with the pliers.  Much, much easier than grabbing a handful of wet fabric.  I have a timer going and every seven minutes I stop and really saturate the skin.  I have plastic on the floor, and  there is so much water down there that I assess the electrocution risk from the hot knife or the heater beneath the boat.  But one key thing I’m not worried about I learned from the first build.  That is, while ribbing and coating are indeed time-critical, this skinning phase is not.  All I must do is keep the skin constantly wet.  If I do that, I can take all day.

I practically hang on the pliers as I staple the second side.  I think I’ve got it as tight as I can, and I hope it fixes the sag issue in high humidity.  If it does, I’ll probably re-skin and re-coat the Large build.

Even soaking wet, the skin is very, very tight.  As with ribbing and lashing, I couldn’t be more pleased.

Rub Rails

I thought I had enough of the $1 spring clams from Lowe’s but I didn’t.  As I clamped on other spring claims in the arsenal, I actually thought I might need my C-clamps, but just made it.

As I screwed on the rails, I saw I had stapled a bit high(low on the gunwales, a half dozen times.  They are all right next to the rails.  The fix would be far worse than the problem, so there they remain.

Stitching on Stem Tops (this section should be after the next section)

Sewing on top of the stems is a bit tricky and I mess up the first one. I cut a small piece of skin, tuck in under the rub rail and fake it well enough that way.

Mast Step Installation

I should have done this before skinning the boat, so it’s a bit of a tight fit. I have a short piece of carbon fiber tube from a mast cutoff I did in conjunction with the first build, when I made two sails. I use that to check the step location. Looks right.

After the skin has dried I cut off the excess skin with the hot knife.


It’s Sunday night and I’m on a roll.  Just two more main phases, dyeing the skin and coating it.  I know dyeing is easy, because it was that way on the Large build, and it was also fast.  But then it must dry completely before coating.  I see the weather forecast calls for 66 Fahrenheit on Wednesday and Thursday.  This gets me thinking do I really want to dye this boat?  I paddled the mountain lake twice last week each time thinking that was the last time for the season.  I don’t risk cold water.  The lake is remote and very deep.  I take a sat link in my PFD; it’s like that.  I don’t think I can dye this skin, wait for it to dry, coat it, and wait for it to cure within my time window, before the 43 degree high on Friday.

Well, it’s dumb to think that way, and I can just slow down, do it right, and I’ll have a brand new boat to launch when the winter is over.  But, I had watched Brian’s recent video showing what UV light does to dyed nylon.  My chosen color, Boot Leather, was a huge loser in the contest, becoming tremendously lighter in color over time.  Then I start thinking about canoe colors.  Like many builders, a kayak that sort of looks seal skin-ish is cool if you ask me.  But a canoe?  Simulate birch bark, or canvas somebody in Maine painted hunter green?  Or a red Old Town Tripper?

So I went to my boat shed to compare the two F1’s and the Large Pack.  The first F1, the one on the wall in the second photo down, was left white and aged to butter and then butterscotch.  Here is how it looked when new.

I used rare earth dye on the second F1, hanging from the rafters, and it was sort of a weird pinkish before ageing to butterscotch.  And the Boot Leather on the Large didn’t come out nearly as dark as I expected anyhow, and according to Brian’s comparative results is pretty much headed to butterscotch, as well.

Hmmm.  I’m not going to dye this Small boat.  I don’t like the white look, but I really like butter and butterscotch.  I’m going to skip the dyeing altogether, move to coating, and launch it Thursday!


I watch the coating videos for the umpteenth time and get the work table set up.  The first two coats, which take two mix batches, one for each side, and the second coat are super time-sensitive.  I am going to mix my 2:1 Part A, Part B goop in a single container, and use a prop spun with the drill to blend it fast.  As with the actual bending process, it’s impossible to get a good set of photos as the coating progresses.  I have notes scrawled on the craft paper covering my work table.  I have my timer set up.

This process went perfectly! I used the scraper on each coat, and that leveled the coating out and got rid of drips. To my utter amazement, the coating is glass-like (ok, plastic-like) with no undercoated fabric, and I can’t see a single drip or sag in it. Not even a tiny one. One tiny insect is all. I left the shop heater running all night, and the curing process is going like it should. Obviously, careful mixing is the way to go.

The next day I weigh me, I weigh me holding the boat over my head, and figure the difference. It weighs 19 pounds!


 I start worrying if the poly epoxy will be cured enough by Thursday.  I email Brian and he says no problem.  But then the forecast changes to rain that afternoon, and I need to attend to a couple of other things, anyhow.  But beginning Friday, it’s cold around here. So, now thinking I should launch in two days rather than waiting three, I email Corey at skinboats.org and ask if 45 hours is enough of a wait.  I’m not as clear as I should be with my question.  His response is that 45 hours to transport is fine, but – I think this was what he was saying – water pressure can deform the skin before three days, and a bit longer is better.  Even though it’s a “no”, I take that as a “yes” if I don’t stay in the water but a tiny, little bit of time.

I install pad eyes on the stem tops.  (I couldn’t find stainless ones so small, but I think these look okay on these simple little canoes.)  This is the bow stem where I cut the flap wrong and had to fix it. Turned out just fine.

I see that the keel has pulled to starboard a little beginning several inches forward of the stern stem.  That probably was from pulling harder on that side while skinning and I probably could have knocked it straight if I saw it before coating.  But it’s not bad, and it’s not at the bow, and if I detect any impact I can add a thin skeg that is a bit proud on the port side of the keel.

The boat is looking good behind the house.

I get it on the 4Runner and head up to the lake a mile short of the West Virginia line. The lake has a concrete ramp for I launching.  No power boats are allowed and I see only one person on the lake, fishing from a kayak.  I always carry my boat from a parking area near the top of the steep ramp and put in at the base, where there is some shallow water with a cobble bottom.  I’m by myself and I set up a camera on a tripod, so I can get a video of the boat in the water and me in the boat.  I paddle out for two minutes or so.  I realize I am bow heavy, sitting too far forward, so I shift aft and improve the trim some.  I come back to shore and take out.  I am glad to see no changes to the skin.  Back home we go.  I can’t quickly figure out how to get a .jpg from a .mov frame, so I give up and take an iPhone photo of the laptop screen.  Sorry for the poor quality of this only action shot!

The wind was significant and gusty, so this was a test only of gross handling characteristics.  It seemed to track and turn with a good compromise of those key characteristics.  The beam closed up about an inch, since I haven’t made a back rest to hold the width; the design spec is 27”.  I was using a 250 cm paddle, which is longer than needed, so it turns the boat more than desirable.  I’ll get a shorter one for this boat.

Back at home I load the two canoes on the vehicle, and the nesting is great!  You can tell there are two boats by the second row of screws on the rub rails of the small boat, near the ends of the big boat. Look how the ribs line up, but the ones on the ends are single; the others are double. Also, look at the ghosts of the Small ends visible through the skin of the Large.

Over the winter I’ll make the simple cross akas that Brian suggests and play with both canoes as a catamaran in the spring.  I’m looking forward to that; sounds like a lot of fun.  This large canoe will lie along and inside of one gunwale of my power skiff.  Taking the canoes nested there will give me four boats at hand on Virginia’s tidal rivers and the Chesapeake:  the skiff, each canoe, and a catamaran to sail!

Final Thoughts

I am very pleased with my two builds.  Like anything else, we learn from mistakes, and I hope that relating mine to you may help you avoid those particular ones.  Brian’s video instructions addressed all of the ones I made, so following his instructions is important. 

The amount of time it takes to build a boat is greater than many people expect.  This method allows a very cool and practical boat to be built from scratch, more quickly than any other way to my knowledge.  There are builders who are less interested in using a boat, and much more interested in building it.  This method is probably not best for those folks; it’s over too soon, relatively.  For those of us who enjoy building up to a point, but mostly just want another boat, this system is good.  And a huge benefit that may not be quickly apparent is that the fast-build aspect has allowed Brian to fine-tune his shapes much more than most other building methods can allow as a practical matter.  Computer design can determine where to cut plywood, but they don’t really know how it will be in the water.  Brian just cranks one out to see how it performs.  Following his recommended parameters is certain to result in a good watercraft. 

Thanks for following along.


View posts by Dale
Recently retired from private law practice. Most of my paddling is at a small mountain lake, but I usually take an F1 in my power skiff when I go on the tidal rivers of Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay.


  1. mark
    November 10, 2021

    I really enjoyed your update.

    It is not easy to write so clearly and with such easy, self effacing humour. It was particularly interesting hearing about your mistakes and how you fixed them and your excellent photographs were very helpful for those of us with a limited grasp of woodwork jargon.

    I look forward to the next installment.

    1. Dale
      November 13, 2021

      Thanks, Mark! More to come.


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