JK’s Central Florida Canoe Build- Chapter 1, The Slow Start

Been paddling since I was a boy. Owned quite a few paddle craft, both canoes and kayaks. Have three right now- all rotomolded. Never wanted boats with wood- too much maintenance. Even read McPhee’s Survival of the Birch Bark Canoe. Loved the book, but it didn’t change my attitude.

Then during the summer of 2022, I visited the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario. Hundreds of hand-crafted vessels, way past beautiful. Powerfully organic. You could feel the ghosts of the boat builders in that building. As if I’d been struck by lightning, I now wanted to build a canoe.

Birchbark canoe, a piece of art, at the Canadian Canoe Museum.

After I got home, research ensued. Trips to the library, to bookstores, time on the web. Saw many different designs, all attractive. Then I came across the Cape Falcon Kayak website, watched the videos. Correspondence with Brian followed. In October I bought the plans for the 66 canoe.

Mind you, I’m not a woodworker, and don’t have a planer, or a table saw, or any expertise. I had to find a friend with the equipment who would give me instruction and let me use the stuff. I’m trading him drum lessons for tool lessons. I still had quite a few hand tools and all the materials to buy. And I had a paddle trip and Christmas coming up. 

Tool purchasing started. I built some sawhorses, and capture forms, and a steam box. New year’s passed, and I started looking for the wood I’d need.

I thought finding the wood would be easy. HA! I’m in Florida. White oak doesn’t grow here. Neither does western cedar. After calling or visiting every wood dealer in central Florida, I found a source for western cedar. Only $140 a board (1x6x14), plus shipping. Times two. Ouch. Pay first, and take what you get. One of those expensive boards has four knots.

As it turned out, with the knots and the loss of material from sawing, I needed another board. Rather than go through the time and expense of ordering another western cedar board, I bought a piece of local cypress, 14 feet, four-quarter, four inches wide, $45. I’ll use one piece in each gunwale, a piece for the keel, and two thin pieces for the rub rails. It will make the finished boat a pound or two heavier. I can live with that.

I used Brian’s recommendation for the best place to get the oak, Swan’s in Wisconsin. He had what I needed, still in a log. But everything is frozen in January in Wisconsin, so I had to wait until a thaw before he could cut it. 

The plot thickened. My friend with the tools got long COVID. I thought I’d practice my power tool skills on pieces of pine I had. No, you won’t. No practice for you!

Finally, in early March, the bending wood came. My poor friend is still sick. Somewhat frustrated, I’m looking for another option.

Mike cutting the bending oak.

I have another friend, Mike, who has a saw and a planer (both portable), who used to be a finish carpenter and a commercial building contractor. He visited me today- we got all the cutting and planing done. I have finally started my build!

Mike may have been shaken after all the planing and cutting. I fed him a sandwich. Thank you so much, Mike!!!

And thank you for reading!


View posts by John
born cambridge massachusetts planet earth 1952 graduated medford high school 1970 drafted 1972, two fabulous years in the us army bachelor of science university of massachusetts 1980 married susan surprise 1980 moved to florida 1984 son maxx showed up 1988 son alex showed up 1990 first book (fishing the everglades) published 1993 lifelong paddler life keeps rolling along


  1. Louis
    March 15, 2023

    Wonderful story. I love to hear about transformations like this. Keep us posted.

  2. John
    March 15, 2023

    why thank you, louis! i have every intention of doing so.


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