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A guide to making your own canoe

Written by Fiona

June 17 2018

People have used human-powered watercraft, like simple canoes, for thousands of years and knowledge in carving was handed down through generations.

If you would like to discover the adventure of canoe camping, you can make your own canoe, pack gear and food and paddle to a wilderness campground.

At its most basic, a canoe can be carved out of a large log, but you can build a more sophisticated boat with strips of wood. If you really want to try your hands at making a strip canoe, we highly recommend that you gather information before you start your project.

You can read some books such as  Building a Strip Canoe by Gil Gilpatrick or Canoecraft by Ted Moores, which will guide you through every step of making your own canoe. Also you may want to browse some sites that contain a lot of information on this topic.

A hand-made wooden boat will give you many years of pleasure.

Prepare for making a canoe

Order a canoe kit

Find a credible canoe company and choose the model you want to assemble. The kit should include the wood for the boat, some hardware, fibreglass cloth, instructions and layout. In addition to that, you may also need a cordless buffer polisher and a couple of other DIY tools necessary for assembling your strip canoe.

Carefully read the instructions

Make sure you have all the equipment and tools needed to build your own canoe from scratch. Take your time and thoroughly read the detailed instructions. If you have a question or don’t understand any of the steps, contact the company to help you through it all.

Make a sawback

The sawback acts as the platform around which you will put your canoe together. Place the platform or long thin table on top of saw blocks. The platform should be about 12 to 15 inches long and completely level.

Cut the forms out

Some kits include outlines or moulds for forms to shape and keep strips attached to the sawback. Trace these forms on to a particle board and then cut them out using a saw. Place the wider end on the bottom of your boat or saw block. If your kit contains pre-cut forms, just arrange them in the right order and attach to the sawback.

Attach the forms

Connect the widest part of the form to the station blocks and then attach the station blocks on the sawback with drywall screws. Your station blocks/forms should be about 12 inches from each other and evenly centered to keep your canoe aligned.

Attach the ends

Cut two quarter-circle sections to keep the shape at the end of the canoe. Attach the ends to the sawback with drywall screws and ensure they are centered. If you need to cut the ends, trace the outline on the plywood and cut the sections out using a saw.

Cover the forms with masking tape

The masking tape helps prevent the wood strips from sticking to your forms and facilitates removing the forms.\

Wooden boats benefit from varnishing.

Assembling a strip canoe

Put carpenters glue on the the strips’ edges

Actually, canoes are edge-glued, so when you attach the strips to the end of the boat and forms with staples, the glue between strips allows them to keep shape.

Strip your canoe

Staple the thin strips to the forms and ends and then lay some strips across the top of the boat. Alternate stapling strips on the sides to keep the canoe centered and even. Ensure the strips are snugly placed next to each other. This will allow the glued edges to seal and maintain the boat’s shape.

Staple the strips across the sides

Continue stapling the strips across the sides and work your way up to the bottom of your boat. Use clamps if you need support when you staple the strips into place.

Remove the staples

Once you have attached all strips and let the glue to dry, remove the staples carefully from the forms and ends. Pull the staples out using pliers and try not to damage the wood by twisting the staples.

Plane the material which sticks out at the ends

Trim off an extra wood that sticks out at the ends with a block plane. If you notice rough strips of wood, make them flush with the boat.

Sand your canoe

Use sand with the wood grain and a coarse sandpaper. Go over the canoe with long, even strokes. Don’t spend much time in one spot, as this may cause a weak area in the boat. Replace the sandpaper when it’s starting to become dull to ensure your canoe is sanded evenly.

Remove your canoe from the forms

Remove the drywall screws attached to the sawback and stations. The forms should be easily pulled out of the boat while turning it out and off of the sawback. Use the plastic tape to remove the forms.

Seal the canoe

A lot of strip canoes use fibreglass, varnish and epoxy to reinforce and seal the strips. Follow the package instructions regarding application, safety precautions and dry time. Before taking your boat to the water, wait for the varnish or epoxy to dry and seal completely.

Sure enough, the cost of tools and materials will end up higher than buying an off-the-shelf or used boat, but your satisfaction from building and using your own canoe is certainly worth it.

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