Tandem Skin on Frame Canoe

In Early December 2022 I purchased a plan from Cape Falcon Kayak to build a Skin-onFrame Canoe. After reviewing the course I settled for a Tandem Canoe. Brian suggested the size: 15’8″, 36 wide, 13″3/4 deep depth to beam.37, rib length to beam .40.

The first challenge was finding the right wood, clear and straight grain and of the right dimension 16’. Thankfully I was put on touch with a Japanese woodworker who, in his long career as woodworker, has collected an enormous amount of lumber and is now selling some  of it.  It took some searching and moving huge logs to get what I needed but eventually I found some very good and hard to find Douglas Fir beam of the right length, clear and straight grain.

The fifth beam from the bottom is the one I selected 16′ by 8″x6″. Air dried Douglas Fir from BC.

Milling the lumber

Getting the right lumber took me a while and it paid off right away. First task was milling the 16′ beam in to gunwales, 10 stringers and the keel. The length and weight made it a bit of a challenge. Thankfully I have access to a wonderful wood shop, and the help of great buddies. The beam was pretty straight and a few well position feathers kept it right snug against the table saw’s fence. In 2.5 hours I milled al the pieces and rounded over the stringers with a SlickPlane

Gunwales, 10 stringers and keel on a 16′ hardback
I never used a SlickPlane before and found it really handy.

Gunwales layout, measuring the rocker height, and lamination.

Even if still preliminary work I was excited to glue up the gunwale. I was really pleased how easy it turned out.

I find that being well set up for glue up job is essential
A placed a clump every 5″ and lost count of how many clumps I used.
8″ sheer is what my plan called for

Cutting the mortises and starting to see the preliminary shape of my canoe

Halving the laminated beam in two gunwales took six hands but went smooth. First I had to clean up the excess glue, it turned out to be pretty easy. Setting up the router to cut the mortises took a while and everything got checked 3 times, I really didn’t want to screw up this one!

A snowy day outside is a good day to be cutting mortises.
Starting to see the shape of things to come
After kerfing the tips I tide the ends…only the next day I realized I did that on the upside of the deck. I fixed it the eventually.
Cutting the curved stems out of Port Orford Cedar, a very fragrant wood

Bending in the ribs

This was the day I most fretted but also the day I was mostly looking forward to. Of all the steps of building the canoe bending the ribs was the one that intimidated me the most since I had zero experience bending wood. I understood the principle and knew the steps, but as often is the case it takes me doing something a few times to get the hang of it. To compensate for the fact that I could practice only once and with a limited number of ribs I watched Brian’s videos a dozen time to memorize his move, honing down the timing and figure out which kind of bending technique was needed and where. I followed is advise and had everything I needed well organized. I tested bending just 6 ribs the day before. I bent two ribs for each style. Testing was good, it gave me a sense of what laid ahead and I had a chance to get some valuable feed back from Brian to correct what I was doing, I needed to bend more aggressively.  I also came to the conclusion that I needed to shape the bend in my hand within 15 seconds then place the rib and finish up shaping it while the rib was still playable, that made a big difference. I was able to work at the wood shop while no one else was there with the help of my buddies who helped with symmetry and alignment and made my job so much easier. I didn’t break any ribs and I was quite satisfied with the result. The keel pushed up by 1/4 “, totally acceptable according to Brian. After lunch we lashed the stringer, that took much longer!

I bent one rib every 2 minutes, why not enjoy the process? That gave me plenty of time between ribs bending and in 64 minutes I was done. I used half the water tank of the wallpaper steamer and never had to bother with the kettle I had prepared.

My buddies helping out.
Lashing was a slog but we had fun non the less.
Stringers placed nothing last to do but lashing.

The wood shop I have access to is a collective communal project where wood working classes are taught and we often promote the place through photo and movies. A videographer took a time lapse movie of the bending, she made a great job of it:

A few more things that need taking care off before oiling

After bending the ribs and lashing the stingers I took some time off but before oiling the frame. I needed to shape the stems, trim the keel’s end, trim and tie the stringers add sheer blocks.

Shaped stems, Port Orford Cedar
Trimming the keel
I love shavings!
Sheer blocks from Western Red Cedar
Installing sheer blocks
Cutting seat blocks
Planing sheer block to align with rising rub strip
Seat Blocks from Black Locust

After sending and oiling I have completed the frame!

Pretty pleased with keel and stringers
I am excited to skin it and at the same time just love to see the play of ribs and stringers intersecting.
15″6″ Tandem, Douglas Fir gunwales, White Oak ribs, Port Orford Cedar stems and Western Red Cedar shears

Skinning the canoe on a rainy day

I have moved through this project giving myself plenty of time given that my goal is to be done by early June and I have enjoyed every step of the process. This being the first time working with canvas I took my time to familiarize my self with the hot knife. Sewing is also something I have hardly ever done and found it to be challenging at first but I am happy with how it all turned out.

Coating the skin and installing yoke and seats

Finally my work area got warm enough to enable me coat the tandem. I chose to dye the canvas with Earth Pigment Natural which I mixed to the maximum specified dose and followed all instructions such as mixing the dye the night before to part B and stirring it repeatedly. I use Natural Yellow since I wanted a color light enough to show the ribs and stringers when the sun shines through the canvas. Being this a tandem I had to move fast to ensure the polyurethane didn’t dry before I was done with what I mixed. I was able to roll out the first coat on half the hull in just under 10 minutes. It took 15 oz of mixed polyurethane for half hull, on the second coat the same amount covered both hulls, just as par Bryn detailed instructions. Fortunately I managed to roll the coat uniformly and never had to use the plastic spreader to move stuff around or flatten orange peel. I am very pleased with the result.  Once dried up I installed the yoke I shaped and seatings. I am now really close to put it in the water!

Mixing part A & B
First coat
More coats
I love the color Natural Yellow and seeing the ribs and stringers through the skin.
Setting up the canoe to drill and attache yoke and seats.
I choose this T-Nuts and unthreaded bolts


View posts by Giovanni
I have always loved working with my hands and in the past few years picked up woodworking and kayak and canoe building. I spend time paddling on my own and with friends. I was reffered to CapeFalcon and loved the look of the skin-on-frame canoe. Being a member of an artisan collective I have access to a great wood shop which made this project possible. I also have friends to help me with the big size lumber or where more than two hands are needed.


  1. Thomas A Poole
    January 19, 2023

    How much was just that board?

    1. Giovanni
      January 19, 2023

      Hi Thomas, I paid $11 per linear foot, the wood is exceptionally good quality and hard to find even here in the PNW. From that board I used a little over a third. I may end up building a kayak form Brian’s plan in the future.


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