The first step to building a canoe, would be to select a good set of plans with clear drawings, measurements and good descriptions. To protect the front and bottom of the canoe from rocks, a narrow metal strip is applied to the hull.
Supporting the life of prayer since 1996 with custom handmade rosaries, rosary kits, supplies, kneelers and prayer books. A couple years ago I took my two oldest children to nearby Hagg lake for their first fishing trip. I've tried to provide a significant amount of detail here, especially in regard to problem areas and pivotal decisions, in hopes that the information can assist others who are considering building a canoe or similar project.
The plans are basically real-size drawings of cross-sectional segments with a bunch of additional (and helpful) notes and suggestions.
The MDF forms are attached to squared hardwood blocks using nuts and bolts, and the blocks are clamped to the strongback. Steamer: You can make a steamer using a camping stove, large pot with a lid, some simple fittings, flexible metal pipe, and 4" diameter PVC or ABS pipe (don't seal it up tight, or you will be making a very dangerous steam bomb). Many strip canoes have hardwood stems on the ends to which the upcoming cedar strips are attached.
Speaking of clamps: I decided to make the canoe myself after seeing how much it would cost to buy one. High quality respirator and face mask -- not the paper mask garbage that basically does nothing but filter out the large particles that your body could have dealt with anyway. In addition to your machining space, you need a clear, sheltered, dry, level space at least 10' x 20' for canoe assembly; the larger, the better. But back to the stems: Some designs have no stems, and the wood strips overlap and glue to each other at the ends.
I already had all of the needed major tools, and a lot of large clamps that are good for furniture making, but not for boat work. The project also required the purchase of about 80 additional assorted small clamps -- about half of which were less expensive spring clamps.
Being used to working with wood glues, I'm used to short clamp times and having joints be able to take a little stress within an hour of assembly. For some areas like the stem laminations and the biscuit joint to bookmatch the endcaps I used urethane glue. With the inner stems in place on the forms, begin gluing the prepared strips to each other and the stems. The latex hoses are tied to one jaw of a spring clamp; the clamp can be attached anywhere along the bottom edge of the forms, allowing for easy adjustment of pressure amplitude and direction.
I didn't mind being generous (sloppy) with the glue, because wood glue is cheap and I have decent tools for knocking it off later; actually a putty knife or hand plane each work great (and the latter is a necessity for rapid fairing of the outside hull). Gluing the strips went rapidly until I reached the bilge area, where there is a significant twist in the boards. Lost some pictures, here, of the strips all installed on one side and trimmed to the centerline. Strip installation becomes increasingly-frustrating (and profanity-laden) as you approach the final few strips.
Fiberglassing: It is very important that the fiberglass sheet be taut, smooth, and in good contact with the surface of the boat. Some resources -- System Three in particular -- suggest not doing the initial epoxy-on-fiberglass coat while the temperature is increasing, as this may cause air expansion in the wood and subsequent bubbles (the exception being if you've already thoroughly sealed the wood). That first epoxy-on-fiberglass application took a lot of epoxy; about 10 cups of resin and 5 of hardener if I recall (two batches of half that size).
It was painful to see that much epoxy get squeegeed off and dumped out, but I don't see a better solution unless you have a vacuum bell, very slow setting epoxy, and don't mind debubbling it. Without the interior fiberglass and supporting rails and thwarts, the canoe sags somewhat now that it is off of the forms. Moved the whole project to my back yard because the McMinnville Planning Department was having a major hissie fit about there being a tent in my driveway. Creating the rails required epoxying three eight-foot lengths together for each rail using a 6-to-1 scarf joint (some recommend 8-to-1 or greater, but the 6-to-1 ratio worked fine for me). One of the inner rails snapped at a subtle knot during installation -- another quarter for the swearbox.
The thwarts and yoke were then rough cut from teak using the band saw, shaped with a wood rasp, and hand sanded.
Installed the thwarts and allow the canoe to settle into its final shape over a couple days. Some makers have commented about thwarts and seats getting rammed through the hull walls during compression, so all such components have been designed on my build so that cannot happen.
The "decks" -- or what I am calling endcaps, since "deck" really doesn't apply to them -- are teak, too.
Rounded the edges of the rails and blended them in with the thwarts and caps and began finish sanding in preparation for a final light coat of epoxy, then varnish.
Finally burned up the brushes on my Dewalt orbital sanders (after a few years of heavy use).
The quality of any completed wood project is the combination of several factors: good original design, quality materials, accurate construction, surface preparation and final finishing.
Lots of comments, questions and stares from others as they saw it (which probably isn't too good for my ego).
Noah's Marine Supply out of Canada for initial fiberglass, epoxy and application tools order.
Infinity Composites (Infinity FRP Supply) out of Ohio for follow-up fiberglass and application tools. To add a link to this information to your own web site, simply copy this code into your site's html. As a woodworking project or just to feed your passion that you have had for sometime, building a cedar strip canoe can be very rewarding. They were bored after about 30 minutes, so we walked over to a little hut and rented a canoe. Some of the areas are a bit subjective; if you have a suggestion or alternative method, let me know and I'll be glad to mention it. I was looking for a design that could hold me and my wife, along with several of the kids (or just me and some kids) all at the same time, and maybe be good for a camping trip.
Most less expensive canoes are symmetrical; you could cut them in half across the middle and wouldn't be able to tell the stern from the bow. Make sure that the forms are all smooth, level and properly spaced and aligned with each other. The hot plates sold at common retail stores do not provide enough heat to generate sufficient steam.
The forms and plans have no future utility unless you plan to make another canoe of the same design (and some designers of commercial plans will ask you not to do this without paying for another set of plans).
I roughed the bevel in advance with a small hand plane, then finalized the angle with the inner stem mounted in position on the forms. Epoxy: Epoxy and similar chemicals are the obvious choices for fiberglass lamination, but for general construction they aren't the only or even the best options. I got surprised more than once on this project when epoxied joints began to pull apart under the slightest stress, even after setting for a several hours.
I went with System 3 because independent third parties had done extensive real weather testing with it and several other marine epoxies.
Some makers include accent strips and designs of various colors using different woods or by applying stains before fiberglassing.
Common scrapers used for hardwood work are not useful here, because the soft cedar just tears out. You can see in the first image, below, that the latest strip starts out almost vertical at the stem, twists to almost horizontal in the middle, and then back to vertical at the other end. The last two or three boards were quite difficult to put in; I had to dig pretty deep into my bag of tricks to make it work out nicely.
Cedar dust was generously mixed in this first coat so as to fill any minor cracks between the strips. My primary mistake has been not having the sheet pulled taut; this is most difficult when doing the inside due to the concave shape.
You can also use the fast hardener if you don't wait too long (more than a few hours) between applications. Others purposefully increase the temperature in the room after application to try to accelerate curing (while others reduce to the temperature to avoid bubbles). This was all spread on, and about half of that actually ended up in the trash because it came back off during the squeegee process. Doing so might save as much as a gallon of epoxy and hardener over the whole project (~$80). I made simple slings from 2x4s and carpet scraps to support the canoe on top of the strongback. You need to watch this while doing the interior fiberglass and rails, adjusting the support slings and adding spanning clamps to correct the shape. This filler step not only fills any remaining cracks, but also reveals problems that would be disasters if they weren't caught before the fiberglass went on.
I found it best to pre-cut the sheet to fit, held in place by a few spring clamps, which were removed as the epoxy was applied. I didn't violate any ordinance, but Doug Montgomery and Ron Pomeroy said they would cite me anyway, even though they knew I wasn't actually violating any ordinance. Then cut them down to length, test fit, and sanded the surfaces where they would attach to the canoe.
It is good to have an extra set of hands around for items like this, but an individual can do the rails if you dry clamp them in place first with a tight clamp every couple feet.
At first I thought I'd use mortise and tenon joints for the thwarts, and threaded rod hangers for the seats. It was really my own fault for allowing too much stress to focus right on the knot during installation. For both overall strength and appearance, I used oak dowels in the joints (instead of metal hardware) to attach them directly to and in the same plane as the inwales.
For example, the thwarts are level with and blend directly into the inner rails (mortise and tenon, dowel and biscuit joints will do), and the seats butt up against and are supported by vertical ribs instead of hanging from the rails.


I don't care for the appearance of the stems' endgrain showing though, so have designed the endcaps to go over the top of the stems and rails.
Replacement brushes were cheap, but I also used it as an excuse to purchase a couple reconditioned sanders from one of my favorite tool companies, Ridgid. But subtle irregularities alluded to earlier in the strip layup pretty much doubled the sanding time. Living in Northwest Oregon, winters are a randomly blustery, humid, and temperatures swing between 20 and 60 degrees in a 24 hour period. Compared to the System 3 varnish, this was practically a gel, and being a matte finish, it went on much easier (but I should add that it did not adhere as well as the exterior varnish -- I noticed a little peeling away at places after several outings). It is also too large for me to handle on the water by myself if there is a strong current or wind; either situation requires two good paddlers. And the kneeling seat turned out great; neither my knees or back were the slightest bit tired or sore even after hours of paddling without a break. All other things being equal, you'll often save money by buying as close to you as possible, but these are the vendors that I used for a lot of the epoxy, fiberglass and unique tooling that can't be found in my own town. An excellent all-around small boat supply center, they also provide small boat kits and pre-made forms. They had the best price I could find on 60" 6 oz fiberglass and took good care of our order.
They are right next to where I grew up (the thriving metropolis of The Dalles, OR) and close enough to me that I was able to save a bit on shipping by purchasing from them. I normally don't care for the company (I'm kind of snooty when it comes to quality tools), but got a good price on the reconditioned Ridgid sanders there, so figured I should mention them. I like to try my hand at something different from time to time and, recalling how much my children enjoyed the boating (and not the fishing), I turned my attention to making a cedar strip canoe in the late summer of 2007. Something to recognize at the beginning is that there are areas where precision is very, very important, and areas where it really doesn't matter and its pursuit is a waste of time.
Assymetrical designs like the Winisk are shaped differently and tend to move more efficiently in one direction -- hopefully forward.
There is nothing magic about the form spacing; some small boat designers use two foot or other spacing, for example.
I marked lines at one-foot intervals on the strongback; the faces of the forms are aligned with these lines. Yes, teak is heavy, but it is basically water and weatherproof, and I like how it looks with the cedar; most makers recommend ash and lighter hardwoods. Anyone can replace a radiator too; but having experience, skill and the right tools are the difference between a half-hour job done right the first time, and three days of torture, frustration, and an eventual tow to the nearby shop to complete a botched attempt. Some have an inner and an outer stem, where the outer stem acts as a strengthening end cap to the boat.
To do this I used a straight hardwood stick about 2 inches wide, an inch thick, and 16 inches long with sandpaper wrapped tightly around one end. I didn't want to have to scarf-joint together a bunch of cedar strips, so I sought 18' clear cedar boards, but even in "clear cedar," only about one in ten boards was clear enough to work.
I don't have room in my shop for the tools and the canoe, so the canoe was built just in front of my garage under a temporary tent (until some local city personnel freaked out).
The more uniform your strips, the tighter you can fit them together and to the curvature of the forms, the better the whole project will go. If you have a smooth, tight, wood-to-wood mating surface and can apply good pressure to the joint, common wood glue (PVA) has strength similar to and is easier to work with than epoxy.
But once completely cured, they seemed stronger than similar wood glue joints, are more resistant to water, and have good gap-filling properties. It wasn't necessarily the best in every category -- each epoxy has its own strength or weakness -- but overall, System 3 tended to do equal or better than most others that he tested.
I made no attempt to book match the colors from one side to the other, but did try to keep like-colored boards close together. The latex hose is not strong enough to support that kind of twisting; it became difficult to do more than one or two strips at a time until I rounded the bend.
In this case, using a razor knife, I cut half of the concave groove from the last installed strip, pressed the final strips into place, tapped it a few times with a soft-face mallet, then glued the removed edge back in. You and any helpers should be wearing a full face respirator any time you are sanding cedar or epoxy and should keep it on for a considerable time afterward, at least until the air in the room has completely changed several times over!
With the slow hardener I was able to wait up to 1-2 days between applications if necessary without requiring any sanding. Some suggest avoiding applying any epoxy if you anticipate heavy, condensing humidity before the epoxy will substantially cure.
Also, squeegees and mixing bowls are really cheap -- tens of cents -- compared to the time it takes to clean them. For example, I tried a new sandpaper on the inner hull surface, and there was an odd grit or something that scratched up the interior surface. The gluing points need to be roughed up in advance because the epoxy does not adhere well to glossy, hard surfaces (like already-cured epoxy). My purpose in using so many clamps isn't to apply a huge amount of pressure to the joint -- you'll notice I have no C-clamps on the rails that might starve an epoxy joint -- but to just keep the rail and hull uniformly against each other.
Anyone who has seen my other projects knows that my tendency is to overdesign and overbuild things. However, on small, ribless boats with open hulls, whether their utility matches the effort needed to make them is debatable. I cut out the snapped knot with the scarf joint jig, epoxied the rail back together, and was able to (re)install the rail the next day.
The dowels are very snug, but the meeting faces between the ends of the thwarts and the inwales aren't perfect -- another good point for epoxy.
This way, none of the internal components are in a place where they are likely to pop through the hull in the event of a side compression. The ends of the outer rails were curved up above the sheer line during installation, and the excess planed off so they could mate up with the caps.
One place where this has been painfully evident to me on this project is in the preparation for varnishing.
A perfect day will be followed by a rapid chill and condensing fog, destroying any epoxy laid on that hasn't yet cured.
Some makers seem to prefer to drill a hole through the canoe siding and use a brass tube insert or the like.
I also suspect that I introduced a little too much rocker into the hull during fiberglassing. The boat was pretty stable as long as weight is kept low; I paddled standing up several times without any problem.
They probably carry anything and everything you could ever need for fiberglass application. There are certainly boats that are simpler, less expensive, or faster to build -- the myriad of small plywood designs comes to mind, two of which I made with my grandfather almost 30 years ago -- but it seemed like the right choice for our family. For example, having uniformly machined strips, making sure they are seated together well and close to the form curvature is important and will save a lot of frustration later. A file and sanding block can quickly smooth out any irregularities in the edges of the forms. The vertical lines are the centerline -- useful for aligning the forms and establishing the meeting lines for the bottom strips later on.
Drill holes through the 4" pipe and insert suspension wires so that the boards aren't resting in a pool of water. If cost is an important factor, and you don't already have most of the accessory tools and supplies, you may be better off if you just go out and purchase a finished canoe direct from a professional maker, a retail store, or secondhand.
Use the stick as a sanding block against the stem, doing a few inches at a time, installing cedar strips, sanding a few more inches, etc.
Though knots can be acceptable and attractive in fine furniture, they create unacceptable weak points in long strips that have to bend and twist. Fabricating the strips took one pass through the bandsaw, and two passes through the router per strip. Also, many epoxies can be applied in temperatures approaching freezing whereas wood glue loses effectiveness under about 60 degrees.
This goes a lot faster if you use staples, but as an experienced woodworker used to making very nice pieces, I just can't bring myself to put staples into a visible face; that's just not right! Set it, glue it, clamp it into place, wait for the glue to set up enough to hold the twist, etc. When I returned, bubbles had appeared all over the place, and the fiberglass had ripples all through it.
I found it easier (and better for my mental health) to just go purchase a dozen squeegees and mixing bowls at 40 cents each after wasting time trying to clean used ones a couple times. I couldn't see it on the dry wood, but when the filler epoxy went on, it showed up immediately (and loudly), and required additional sanding to fix. Anyway, I didn't want to have to pay for an attorney to defend myself from frivolous prosecution regarding a tent I had always planned to move anyway, so after two months of harassment and threats from them I gave into their extortion. Did some prep-work to try to keep the surface clean (blue tape), and then epoxied them into place. They do make easy tie-down points for small lines, and water drainage when rinsing out the boat on land.
For everything else I make I usually use a penetrating Danish Oil finish; the key to any oil finish is prior surface preparation because any imperfections are amplified when the oil goes on. This has wreaked havoc with my latest epoxy attempts and I don't want to risk the varnish work.
I found that it worked best to put a thinned coat over a freshly-sanded surface, wait 6+ hours, hit it with steel wool or a 3M substitute, and apply a second, thick coat with a good bristle brush. I thought about that -- and actually purchased the bronze tube to do it -- then decided against it, realizing that my hardwood stems are much stronger than the siding, anyway.
Still have to try it out on the water, but I hope that it will be more comfortable than common canoe seats or kneeling in the bottom of the boat. However, these things aside, it is a lot of fun to paddle, and both the kids and I really enjoyed it, and spent many hours on the water during our recent vacation.
Though some steps of construction are tedious, a nice thing about many boats, and canoes in particular, is that they combine artistry, woodworking, and some interesting design problems. But working on getting the overall length to within a 16th of an inch of the design is a waste of time; no one is going to notice or care.


This means I need about 500 pounds capacity, fair stability (for the kids) and little rocker.
In one case, I cut too far when cutting out the form and had to build it back up using a putty wood filler. It is helpful to have at least one extra sacrificial strip on the outside of this bend, as the outermost strip tends to tear out and get damaged by the C-clamps. You can also acquire everything as a kit (less the strongback) for about twice the cost of the raw materials. Considerable time, space, tooling and patience are all necessary to complete a strip canoe; the skills are similar to, but not exactly the same as, basic hardwood furniture construction. I think, though, that the inner stem design should be altered so that it flares out and is slightly longer than the outer stem along the keel line. Keep one end against the nearest form and the sandpapered end against the stem, and the entire stick oriented in the same direction as the upcoming cedar strips. That is, though it can bond two close surfaces together well, it does not have much strength in and of itself -- it isn't good for irregular joints or gaps where strength may be critical.
The stapleless method is painfully slow, but using a combination of latex hose and band clamps I was able to glue about four strips at a time without any staples.
This is much more tedious since each piece must be hand-fit, one at a time, to the boards already installed.
Once applied, it picks up a lot of microscopic airbubbles from the fiberglass ("entrained" air). A portable grinder held at various angles really accelerated this step; use abrasive disks commonly used to remove rust or paint.
If I had proceeded immediately to fiberglassing, I'd have lost my sheet of fiberglass if I wanted to do anything about the marks.
I assume this was from not having a completely-cured (or thick) sealer coat, and so gas was being pushed through from inside the wood and seams by the hydraulic pressure of the epoxy penetrating elsewhere.
Also, wood does not resist outward pressure very well over the long-term; it tends to split and fail.
Other than that, they are just a lot of work to make and maintain, so I put solid rails on this one. But the truth is that, on an 18' boat, a few 32nds of an inch in width or sheer height don't make any perceptible difference whatsoever.
It isn't quite the same when applying varnish to an already-glossy epoxy shell, but there is a similar principle: The finish isn't going to look any smoother or nicer than the surface to which it is being applied. So I am pausing work on the canoe to make a greenhouse-like building area in my back yard with temperature and humidity controls. Applying the second coat too soon, or using a foam brush to do it, resulted in a nasty surface that had to be sanded. The handle length should be roughly the vertical distance from your shoulder to the waterline, assuming you are sitting in the boat (obviously), then add the paddle blade.
For those who get all excited about natural resources, it also uses "less tree" than many methods, and the materials that are used are rapid growing softwoods. Attach these wood patterns (also called forms or stations) to a firm, level base of some kind. Because the strongback is straight and level, I used it as a reference to check the depth of the forms, measuring from the surface of the strongback to the centerline on the forms to make sure they are in the correct position. It sometimes seemed a little tight or awkward at the ends during assembly and fiberglassing. Once the pieces cool and dry, they are then glued together and re-clamped, creating a laminated stem. Personally, unless you just have a lot of free time, I think it makes sense to purchase the forms pre-made; I believe they usually run around $200. As it is designed, its interior end is a focal point for routine and impact stress, and there is not much mechanical strength at that point; there is little more than a butt joint between the cedar strips and the stem as it approaches the end, held together, effectively, by the epoxy and fiberglass laminations.
This means going through a retail store that allows you to pick through the lumber, paying a premium for prefabricated strips from kit supplier (perhaps $1000 or more for 80 18' strips with shipping), or overbuying in hopes that you'll get a decent number of clean boards. Also, epoxy requires little or no clamping pressure; in fact, too much clamping pressure can be a bad thing especially with epoxy.
The band clamps keep the strips tight to the curvature of the forms, and the latex bands provide the edge pressure between the strips; the substantial inconvenience of this method is it requires additional space in front of the canoe to thread strips in under the band clamps. Wear eye protection when working with these; more than one slipped while tightening and nailed me in the face. Unevenness in the fabric tension creates areas where the epoxy can collect and lift the fabric slightly relative to the surrounding plane.
Either hardener gave me about 30 minutes of working time before beginning to stiffen (that was at about 70 degrees). I ran into problems when the wind kicked up while applying a final epoxy coat outdoors, which blew dust and chips onto the surface of the boat (it wasn't a big deal, as I still had some sanding to do). If there were just a handful of bubbles, some recommend slitting them with a razor or injecting epoxy directly into them with a needle.
If you look really closely -- and you probably wouldn't notice it unless it was pointed out -- you can see areas on my finish that look a little lighter, less clear, than nearby ones. As with a belt sander, never let the tool stop moving side to side while spinning and in contact with the wood.
It worked fine to just go back over them with a squeegee and sometimes a little more epoxy. Consequently, I plan to add full ribs at the seat points and will hang the seats from ribs. It would have been easier to clamp it if I had left the top square, glued it in place, then shaped the cap while on the boat. On one hand, it is a relief and exciting because I look forward to taking it out; but on the other, I have really enjoyed making it -- it has been fun to do a little on it each day -- and don't want that to end.
The outer hull surface had an egg-shell-like (some would call it "orange peel") texture to it by the time I completed filling the fiberglass, along with a few runs and sags. In this case, after evaluating a variety of designs and companies, I purchased the design plans from Green Valley Boat Works (Canada). Once the edges are ready and everything is aligned, apply tape to the edges of the forms to prevent them from gluing to and damaging your canoe's interior; at first I was tempted to use wax, then realized that it might interfere with the epoxy to be applied later. Some people recommend just using a heat gun instead of steam; I didn't try it, but did see pictures of some pretty sharp bends made in individual strips with hot air only. But if you have the tooling to make the strips and a good source for lumber, you can save some serious money by making them yourself.
The truth is that, since starting this, many more people told me stories about half finished disappointments than completed seaworthy beauties. By lengthening and flaring it, the strips have more material to grab and hold onto at that stress point. I don't care for repetitive, mindless, time-consuming tasks (yes, I know that these make up most of one's life). But when properly applied, either adhesive can create a joint that exceeds the strength of the surrounding wood.
I didn't think of using the band clamps until about half way into stripping; the result is that my initial strips didn't follow the curvature of the forms as closely as I'd have liked. This isn't immediately evident while squeegeeing out, and happens slowly over the following hours. A clean squeegee is best for the initial application; later applications go faster with a roller (the roller will stick to, pick up and carry the cloth if used on the first coat). In any event, keep an eye on it for at least an hour after the first epoxy coat on the fiberglass or you may be sorry.
Because there were so many, I sanded it all down, applied another sheet (which went much better), and then a few filler coats.
Like the thwarts, this will also prevent the seat from puncturing the hull under compression. But they were also better at collecting and trapping dust than the equivalent Ridgid models. To get a top-quality looking finish, this must be sanded down completely smooth (I used 100-120 grit), wash that clean, then apply another thin layer of epoxy to seal any exposed fiberglass. A single red cedar tree trunk generally contains between 200 and 5000 board feet, depending on size -- as much as a hundred times that used by a typical strip canoe. I don't know how well it would work if attempting to bend multiple strips at the same time. Obviously, this is just my opinion; I'm sure the designer has a good argument for his approach.
If I make more canoes, I'm planning on making a bandsaw attachment that will complete a precise strip in one pass.
Also, don't use any more epoxy than is absolutely necessary; any excess is just going to cause problems (and make more sanding) for the final finish.
Some have suggested using a thinner epoxy like System Three ClearCoat for the first application. What this all means is that I have been purposefully stretching it out here towards the end.
Wait for that to cure, then sand very lightly with 200-300 grit prior to varnish application. I liked their designs, the online information they provided, and was impressed with the speed with which they replied to my pre-sales inquiries.
I made one edge as straight as possible so that it could act as an alignment reference for the upcoming forms, but the same result could be achieved by "snapping" a chalk line down the middle. I made the mistake on my first fill-coat attempt of using a common paint roller, which left lint fuzzies all through the epoxy coating. But that first epoxy-on-fiberglass coating is a critical, don't skimp and don't mess around, step. Also, you often have to follow the roller with a bristle or foam brush to release bubbles created by the roller.



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