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!

Chapter 2- Glueing, Sanding, Searching

Brian Schultz recommends using Gorilla Glue to laminate the gunwales together. In my naivete, I bought Gorilla Wood Glue while purchasing supplies, way back last year. Not the same stuff. I watched the lamination video again before starting my laminating, and realized that, unlike Tom Wolff, I had The Wrong Stuff. Another trip to the hardware store ensued. And hey! Buy a couple more clamps while you’re at it!

In Chapter 1, I admitted to not being a woodworker. Many of the tools needed for this project were off my radar. One of them was a device called a “plunge router.” Brian showed what it was in his video. Now I have to buy one. No used ones on Craigslist. I read lots of reviews, and am going with the Chicago Electric. Yes, I know it’s probably a POS. I’m not buying a $500 router to build a single canoe, sor-ree. Hopefully it will make the 50 holes I need.

Another device was a wallpaper steamer. This was actually hard to find, and I’m not talking Craigslist here. Neither Ace Hardware nor Home Depot had one unless purchased online. No, I don’t want it next week. I’m an American, of course I want it now. The local Lowe’s had one, I hope to pick it up tomorrow. The ribs are already cut. I want to get them bent and into the boat as quickly as possible.

A zillion clamps…

Armed with a flat board, a zillion clamps of various configurations, three blocks, 24 ounces of the real Gorilla Glue, and the very important surgical gloves, I watched Brian’s video one more time, then commenced to gunwale glueing. The process went as close to Brian’s video as a goober who’d never done this could do. The spring clamps were hard to put on- these 70-year-old hands kept needed rests, kept cramping up. Aging is an adventure unlike any other.

I probably used too much glue, ’cause a lot of chisel scraping was needed afterwards to remove the excess. I left the clamps on overnight.

While the glue cured, I sanded my stringers, something I started yesterday. Brian recommends rounding the stringers with a tool called a “Slickplane.” I almost bought one. Then I figured I would just sand them down. I already owned a sander.

This project started with 100 grit sandpaper. The first stringer took about 40 minutes. The switch was then quickly made to 60 grit sandpaper. The remaining stringers took 15-20 minutes each. If I intended to build more canoes, I would certainly buy the Slickplane. As it is, the stringers are sanded, with round edges, and that task is completed.

It was a lovely day to be outside!

Friday, I visited my friend Mike Conneen, the table saw guy, to cut my gunwales. He does such amazing work- I’m lucky to have a friend like him. The gunwales came out beautifully. I picked up the router and the steamer on the way home. With any luck I’ll have a mostly framed canoe by Tuesday morning.

Chapter 3- Cutting Mortises, Then Filling Them Up

At the end of my last post, I wrote, “With any luck I’ll have a mostly framed canoe by Tuesday morning.” Wow, that was so incredibly optimistic. I learned this week that building this boat is a marathon. Hopefully I’ve shed all time goals.

There was a bit of a time press this past week. Mike and I had cut the ribs. They needed to be bent before they dried out. But first mortises had to be cut. Stems needed to be built. Those cut ribs needed to be prepped. Tests needed to be made. First, the mortises.

The nice lady at Harbor Freight pointed me to the plunge routers. Seventy-five dollars later, I own one. I took it home, read the manual, watched some youtube videos, and proceeded to teach myself to use the beast with an ancient and warped 2×4. Then I built the mortise jig, put it on the router, and attacked the poor 2×4 again.

Using a plunge router for the first time.

The results were not pretty. I couldn’t see my cut lines. I was trying to cut too deep. I removed some parts from the router so I could see, and made shallower cuts, then the deeper ones. Next thing, I’m cutting mortises in my gunwales. While not perfect, currently they are full of canoe ribs, so I guess they were good enough.

I needed a table saw, to make spreaders, to prep the ribs, maybe to make the stems. For the price of two day’s rental, Home Depot would sell me one. It’s in my office. I move it to my work area every day with a little garden cart. 

I used the table saw to make the spreaders. The center spreader was installed between the gunwales, and then the capture forms pinched the ends together. When I saw the shape of the canoe come together for the first time, a well of emotion engulfed me. I had to fight back tears! It was a short, but powerful, moment. Now, get back to work, John.

It doesn’t look like much but it provoked a strong emotional response.

The stems took me a full day and part of another, as well as three boards. Let’s say I made some grievous errors, and some minor ones that were just as useful at making the stems unusable. With the help of the table saw and a half-dozen stems-worth of trial and error, they finally got installed. So did the keel, with much less trouble.

One of the more minor problems with my stems was this big gap. Make another one!

Needless to say, Tuesday had come and gone and there was no nearly framed canoe. Yet.

Brian Schultz spends a lot of video time explaining wood-bending technique. There’s nothing like actually doing it, though. For a goober like me, bending oak is way harder than Brian makes it look. I broke several ribs just trying to learn how to bend them, and several more getting the test ribs in the boat. There was quite a bit of Brian Schultz texting going on through all this, too.

A cracked mortise, one of several. I started reinforcing them with clamps before trying to place the ribs.

Friday was rib bending day. The intention was to fill all those mortises. Every single rib was a wrestling match. Several mortises were split. Many ribs were broken. When I was finished, the boat looked like a chimpanzee had done the work, and I only had two pieces of rib stock left. Many texts to Brian were exchanged, with photos. He suggested I remove the most offending ribs and re-steam and re-install them. Brian, thank you so much for your help!

Wrestling with ribs.

I re-steamed half the ribs in the boat. They were still not perfect, but as good as I thought I could make them. 

I clamped the stringers on. 

Perhaps not perfect, but it intends to be a canoe.

It was a long and tiring day.

The boat shaping, and the rocker, are undoubtedly going to need more work. But, I have a have a mostly framed canoe. And realistically, you can’t expect a hand-made boat by someone who’d never built one before to be perfect. Even if that’s the goal.

I just may go fishing next week.

Chapter 4- Completing the Frame

I finished my last post with these words- “I just may go fishing next week.” I went on Monday, and it was good.

Tuesday it was back to work on the canoe. Using the artificial sinew, I lashed the stringers to the ribs. Because I fly fish and tie flies, using “string” comes easily. Tying those lashings was a lot like tying lead eyes on fishhook shanks. It went well. Lashing made some of the ribs want to come out of their mortises, so I would stop tying, peg those ribs in, and then continue. The boat came out nice and tight.

Once that job was finished, progressive rocker was added to the stems according to the instructions in Brian’s video. The zip-ties holding them on were cut, then the stems themselves were cut, too. Next, they were lashed into place, and the keel was glued to them.

More sinew needed to be ordered. There wasn’t enough left over from the 4-ounce roll to do all the stringers and then do the keel, too. While waiting I trimmed the ends of the keel and the ends of the stringers, then used the Japanese saw to fair the stringers to the keel. That’s certainly an inexact science! I got the job done, but cut both stem lashings in the process. It was an easy fix. 

Lashing the ends of the stringers to the stems came next, another simple job. Then I cleaned up the hull, trimming pegs, doing a little sanding, rounding corners, etc. Except for the keel, the frame was finished! And it looks great!!

The mailman brought the new roll of sinew, and the keel was lashed into place. I went to Home Depot and bought a pint of Watco Danish Oil with which to oil the frame. I ran out before finishing the job. I hadn’t purchased enough, and had to make another trip to Home Depot for another pint. I think if every drop from the first pint went onto the boat, there would be enough. But plenty dripped onto the drop-cloth. There’s no way to recover that. At any rate, the frame was oiled and wiped down, and now it truly is finished.

Tiny aerosol droplets of oil go everywhere. Unless you want to breathe it, you need a respirator.

I need to order the parts for the mast and mast step today. The mast step needs to be installed before I put the skin on. And I just ordered the skin on Thursday, so it will take a few days to reach Florida from Oregon.

Maybe I’ll get another day of fishing in…

Chapter 5- Rub Rails

An entire post on rub rails? Aye, ’tis good.

It started with the gunwales. My expensive red cedar boards had knots. Since I couldn’t use those knotty sections, I chose to purchase a piece of local cypress to meet the rest of my gunwale/keel/stringer needs. After cutting what I needed for the gunwales and the keel off the piece of cypress, there was enough left over for the rub rails. One long piece for each side- perfect.

Not so fast, John. My mentor, Brian Schultz, said softwoods are not adequate for that use. I figured I could try them and switch them out later, if necessary. He said that is almost impossible to do.

I had to buy more wood. This project is just killing my bank account. I am learning tons of new stuff, though, which is how I justify it.  🙂

At the local sawmill I got a four-quarter, five-and-a-half-inch wide by ten-foot long rough-cut piece of ash, $30. More than I needed, more than I wanted to spend, but it’s what was available.

I took it to my friend Karl’s house. He’s the guy with the planer. He told me to go on-line and learn how to use the machine, then come back. I followed his instructions, then returned.

The planer sat there patiently.

My board had a little cupping. I planed the dome side until it was flat, then planed the leg side until it was also flat. Then the board got flipped over after every pass through. There were many passes through. I was there more than two hours, skinning a little more off on every pass through.

Brian recommends 1/2-inch wide rub rails. I stopped planing at 5/8ths, figuring a little extra width wouldn’t hurt. There were drifts of sawdust. A powerful blower (the planer is in an open shed) took care of the mess.

Next, I had to cut four strips out of my now skinny board. After trimming one edge smooth, I used a table saw to cut strips to 3/8-inch. Brian recommends 1/4-inch, but again, I figured a little extra thickness wouldn’t hurt. All the pieces displayed saw blade marks. The operator may have been a little shaky.

The pieces were clamped to the gunwales for measuring. After measuring and cutting to length, they needed finishing.

I used an oscillating sander with 60-grit sandpaper to smooth them out and round the outside corners. Then, using the instructions in Brian’s video, I made the rub rail screw-hole jig. I tried it on a piece of scrap first- perfect. I even counter-sunk those holes in the scrap, then screwed it to another piece of scrap, to determine the proper countersink depth. Once I was sure I was competent, I drilled and countersunk all the holes in the rub rails. 

Two coats of Rubio Monocoat Exterior Pure, one each morning for two mornings, followed. The now-beautiful rub rails are ready to be attached to the boat.

The next chapter of this adventure will be to pin the skin to the frame. Stay tuned!

Chapter 6- Skinning the Frame

The eagerly anticipated package from the Skin Boat Store arrived. It sat there for a few days before being opened- there were videos to watch, arrangements to be made. 

The day before The Big Day, I sewed up the ends of the fabric over the stem ends of the boat, then had my wife hold one end of the boat-to-be down while I stretched the fabric over the other end. Then the fabric was pinned to the keel of the inverted boat frame. So much fabric! I’ll be tossing half of it in the trash. The pins didn’t want to go into the keel. A hammer gently convinced them. The entire operation sat on two sawhorses, in my garage.

In the morning of The Big Day, I looked at the pathetic spray bottle and looked at the canoe. Six feet away was a hose. If I just move the entire operation outside…

My house shades the area where I’d be working until about 11 AM. I moved the sawhorses out there, put the canoe back on them, and used the hose to soak the fabric. Stretch, staple, soak. Stretch, staple, soak. The fabric stayed wet, believe me. After the fabric was stapled into place, I took the wet boat back into the garage and attached the rub rails, those lovely little pieces of ash wood I’d so carefully fashioned. Then, as per the instructions, I cut and sewed the fabric over the tops of the stems.

Then I walked away and let the skin dry.

The next morning the respirator and the hot knife came out. The hot knife, made by Ironton, epitomizes the concept of POS. Still, by working slowly, all the excess fabric was cut off the boat. It was now ready for the goo!

Before applying the goo I watched Brian’s videos again. Then I built an altar and sacrificed a lamb to the gods (only kidding). An old tarpaulin was placed under the application area, and a table set up to support the mixing operation. A good night’s rest ensued.

With anticipation, part B of the goo was poured into a measuring cup, part A poured into another. I found the graduations hard to read, and did not want to screw up the ratios, so I worked real slow doing the measuring. Mix mix mix mix mix, four minutes plus. Roll, roll, roll your boat with the gooey goo. Don’t have a rhyme for that. Scrape lightly. Mix some more goo. Roll some more. Scrape lightly. Repeat. Four coats of polyurethane goo, the application took all morning. Hope I didn’t screw up, there’s none left. Hope it doesn’t dry sticky!

I remove the masking tape.

I have thirteen feet of the world’s best flypaper!

It dawns on me that I don’t know how long it will take for the goo to dry. I text Brian, who answers my question- 24- 48 hours. I leave the boat alone for two days. It looks so cool! In spite of all the time, effort, and money I put into it, I can hardly believe I built it! I can’t wait to paddle it!

Some solid pool noodles had been ordered. They were supposed to be delivered Wednesday. Come Thursday, they are not here yet. I check the tracking number. Yes, they are supposed to be here Wednesday- Wednesday next week. Oh. 

I will not paddle the boat without some flotation in it. A trip to the local pool store nets me two pool noodles, the hollow kind. When the ordered ones come, I’ll use both sets. Can’t have too much flotation! I tie them in temporarily, then attach tie-down eyes on the top of the stems. Painters are attached. Finally, the boat is ready for a spin.

Chapter 7- Water Testing

After two of the longest days of my life (I wanted to paddle that boat!), I deemed the polyurethane dry enough to get the boat ready for a water test. I temporarily tied in the pool noodles so there would be some flotation in case of mishap. I put a kayak seat in the canoe, to see if it might work as a canoe seat too. The brass attachment clips hooked onto the center rib like they were designed for it. I got my foam mat, and a flotation cushion, and a single-blade paddle, and a double-blade paddle. I purchased a nylon strap with the idea it could be a carrying yoke. I got a camera, and I got my wife, who wanted to see if the vessel was safe anyway.

Off we went to the local pond.

The strap, wrapped around the center rib under each gunwale, ended up being used like a tumpline. It went over the top of my head, holding the boat up enough that I could see where I was going. And the boat is light enough (only 26 pounds with the floats in it!!!) that carrying it like this causes no discomfort at all. It’s also used to lift the boat off the ground, or out of the water.

I found the boat’s light weight fairly delightful.

OK, some background. I own two rotomolded kayaks, both made by Ocean Kayak. One is a Drifter 13, the other a Prowler 15. The Drifter weighs 55 pounds, the Prowler weighs 60. Dropping 30 pounds from the vessel is a significant weight savings for a 70-year-old paddler. Whoever designs a lot of the canoe launches around where I live isn’t a paddler. The distance between the parking and the paddling can be a couple hundred yards.

I’ve been paddling the Drifter for 20 years, and I love it. It’s super stable. I can (and often do) stand in it and fly fish. My first thought when I got in my new 66 canoe was, “Wow, kind of tippy.” It did not roll right over though, so, “OK, I’ll get used to it.” The seat worked great, very comfortable with the floatation cushion underneath it. It paddled great- tracked well, yet easy to pull sideways with a draw stroke. Not as easy to turn as the Drifter, but hey, it’s a different boat. It’s not hard to turn, just not as easy as the old one. It’s okay, I’ll get used to it. Using the double-bladed paddle, it’s faster than the Drifter. 

There’s an aesthetic to the 66 that rotomolded boats can’t come close to. My 66 skin has no pigment- you can see the waterline rippling around the boat as it moves through the water, subtle yet spectacular, cool as hell. 

After paddling around the pond a couple times, delighted with the boat except for the tippiness, I was ready to try it in the local river. I dropped off Susan, grabbed a fly rod, and went. 

It took me five minutes to catch a bass. Except for possibly the standing (which I haven’t tried- Brian told me there was no chance I’d be able to), the boat is actually easier to fish from than the kayak is. I’m a fisherman- this is good. After a few hours I paddled back up the river (easy to do) to my car. After emptying the canoe, I EASILY used the nylon strap to pick it up and carry it up a slope to my car. Awesome! And I still haven’t rolled it over.

Two days later the gloves came off. An eight-mile downriver trip with my dSLR camera, fishing gear, lunch, water, and a small towel for bailing. The river is low and full of downed timber. I knew I might damage the boat, but hey, I didn’t build it to look at it. I need to know what it can, and can’t do. A friend came with me, using the Drifter.

We came to places where downed trees blocked the river. It was a drag for Dean, but an easy carry for me. At one spot Dean had to drag around a fallen tree that I was able to lift the 66 canoe over. At another, I semi-floated over a barely-submerged log, using my hands to start pulling the boat over the obstruction while still sitting in the boat. 

Surprise! There was a second log just past the first one, with a hidden knob sticking up just enough that I got completely hung up on it. I rocked, and pushed, and paddled, and changed my position- nothing worked. I was stuck, and only by abandoning ship could I get off. This I did, wondering how much damage I did to the skin.

We paddled the rest of the way to the take-out, where I again easily lifted the canoe and carried it to my car.

I checked the skin. Flawless. You’d never know there was an incident.

This 66 canoe is freaking awesome. I am so glad I built it. I learned so much by doing so, and obtained a beautiful and unique vessel made with my hands. Made with my hands!!! One of the better things I’ve ever done, and I have authored several books.

I still have to permanently fix the flotation in the boat. I intend to build the sail. So my blog needs at least one more post…

Brian has offered a $50 refund for students who blog about their build. I think this is very generous of him. When I started I had every intention of getting the fifty, but now that the process is nearly finished, I think he deserves it more than I do. I could never have completed the task with his support and encouragement. So Brian! Use my 50 bucks to take Liz out to brunch!


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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