Woodworking in the great white north.


Canoe – part 8

With all of the assembly in place we were down to getting the final finish on it.

Just as it is all looking like it’s “this” close to being done, we get to revisit our friend the random orbit sander! I had thought that sanding the hull was a lot of work…but sanding the epoxy was an entirely different experience. Not only is the epoxy that much harder, but you can’t go too hard at it or you’ll get through the epoxy to the fiberglass. Once you hit fiberglass you end up with ugly white crosshatching that won’t go away. Ok, so I had just a little bit of it on the outside of the stern….caught it in time that you only see it in certain light, but it’s there!

With the sanding done…the magic really starts to happen. The epoxy gave us a really good look at what it was going to be like when it was finished…but doing that sanding and throwing on a coat of spar varnish just blew me away.

The decks and handles just popped with the varnish.

But the real test was the outside of the hull. There’s something inherently artistic in the look of a glossy canoe flipped upside down. For me, this was the ultimate reward in the entire project. Even more than the maiden voyage, seeing what this canoe looked like with it’s final finish on it just took my breath away.

There is that sweet spot when the varnish first goes on and is still wet where everything looks like it’s shrouded in glass. I think I stood there and looked at it with sticky varnishy hands for a good 20 minutes. Of course….the fumes from the spar varnish might just have had something to do with that.

To be honest, all these years later, I don’t recall how many coats of varnish we put on it. I think it was 3, but may have been 4 with successively lighter sanding between coats. I have heard that you have to be careful about not doing too many coats or as the varnish weathers it will delaminate and come off in big flakes.

The only things we had left were to mount the yoke, seats and stem covers. I was impatient at this point and chose to buy the premade yoke/seats (in cherry). Someday I may make my own…but for now they work fine and look good.

The stem covers are strips of brass to protect the stems from bumps and dings. These were bent around the stems and up onto the decks. We secured them with brass screws. Note to anyone doing this….get some steel screws the same size as the brass and install them first so that the brass screws don’t get stripped off and break. Once it’s all in place, replace each steel screw with a brass one very carefully. Putting a drop of epoxy into the screw holes also adds a bit of extra protection.

Here it is at home. My wife and daughter were very excited and even decorated the house with streamers and had mock champagne. We Christened her ‘Hope it Floats’….and thus far, it does!

Shortly after we took her up to a lake and here is the maiden voyage, across the lake and back.

Thanks for following along…it was a great project, very satisfying and something we can keep enjoying for years to come.

Canoe – part 7

With the fiberglassing complete, we finally get to add some of the detail work.

First up, we have to install the inwales. In order to allow water to pour out of the canoe easily, you need to install the inwales with a space between them and the hull. The spacers are called scuppers. I love nautical terminology….you call that a what???

I wanted a contrast, but not so much that it took away from the cedar. I found that a strip of mahogany that I had kicking around would be just slightly darker than the darkest parts of the cedar so I used this in making some of the accents. This also nicely contrasted with the ash gunwales and maple I was using in other parts.

We had to mark out and predrill all the holes from the outside in to attach the scuppers and the inwales with screws. The screws would later be hidden by the outwales. The scuppers also got a bit of glue to seal up their edges. On the bow/stern ends, the final scupper was a long tapered strip that brought the inwales to a point in the bow/stern.

I had the option of using some stock cherry decks, but I really wanted to add some personality to it, so I fabricated the decks out of maple and mahogany.

Once these were in place, I added some accent pieces to the inner edge as well as adding maple carrying handles in both ends.

The outwales were next to go on and were screwed through the hull into the inwales to secure everything in place. In order to get this right there was a bit of fiddling around that had to go on when we sized the inwales and outwales. The hull was ultra flexible at the time, so we had to get the yoke in place and temporarily clamp it in place when we fit the inwales, but once they were in place we put the yoke in it’s proper place with brass carriage bolts through the inwales, stabilizing the hull for the placement of the outwales.

To plug up the screw holes from the outwales being attached I made up some mahogany plugs and glued them in place, giving the final bit of accenting…hopefully not too overboard. (Pun intended)

Next up, the final finishing and maiden voyage!

Canoe – part 6

One thing I forgot to mention was what we did to seal up any holes/gaps in the hull before we did the fiberglassing. Even though we soaked a lot of epoxy into the fiberglass, and it will fill in most of the gaps, we did a bit of proactive work first. We mixed up some epoxy with some of the cedar sawdust (of which we had plenty) and made a woodfiller which we rubbed into any gaps or holes (yes, the staples holes got filled). For the most part this ended up looking pretty seamless once it was sanded. You’ll see a few spots on the inside where we plastered some of this one before sanding.

Before we can get to the inside, we’ve got to get the canoe off the form. The form was built such that a few station blocks at one end could be easily removed from the form and the canoe slipped back off the form quite easily.

I was unprepared for just how springy and loose the whole thing was once it came off the form. This thing can bounce! In fact, to demonstrate how strong and flexible this type of construction is, someone at one point made up a curved panel and epoxy/fiberglassed it together. They would put it cup-side down and jump on and off of it….and it apparently bounced back with little or not damage. I never saw this myself, but I can see it…to a point.

Hey…that almost looks like a canoe!

And here’s the inside with the woodfiller spots.

Once again we had a very very long day of sanding to get the inside of the hull nice and smooth. The inside was much harder to do than the outside since the curves were concave, adding the risk of cutting in with the sander. Up in the bow and stern ends it became a labour of love to do the sanding by hand. Especially around the inside stem bands.

Here’s the nice shiny sheet of fiberglass draped into the interior.

And once again, the same process of pouring in the epoxy and spreading it out evenly.

Once this had dried, we could trim off the excess.

Canoe – part 5

With the majority of the construction complete, we move on to doing some of the finishing on the outside of the hull.

The hull as it stands is pretty rough, there’s a lot of squeeze-out of the poly-glue that we used on the strips, rough edges to the strips, slight tearout around the areas where the staples were. I have to confess, I don’t look forward to the sanding process for any project, but once resolved to the idea, I find it a calming zen-like process.

The sanding was done with rather large random orbit sanders. Rather large, rather noisy and rather heavy. My zen-like state of sanding was rudely interrupted (insert sounds of a record needle scraping across an LP) by the numbness traveling up my arms from the vibration of the sander. Ok, so I’m whining a bit, it wasn’t all that bad, but it was by far the most arduous task in the project. Getting the hull all sanded down to a smooth consistent state took quite a while, and included burning out one the sander motors.

As is usually the case, once the gruntwork is done, you feel satisified with the end result.

With all the glue and gunk removed, you can start to see what the canoe’s character is going to be. Very satisfying stuff.

The last step before the canoe comes off the form is the fiberglassing. This was something I had zero experience with and was more than a little nervous about screwing up the work done so far.

The process was surprisingly easy. Clean the surface of all the dust, wipe it down and very gently roll out and lay the sheet of velvety fiberglass material evenly over the canoe. When you see the canoe draped in what looks like a nice shiny white satin cloth a lot of questions come up about how it’s going to look when it’s done.

With the fiberglass in place, we mixed up tubs of epoxy resin and set to work. This was the part I was most concerned about, I had visions of big wrinkles and a resulting ugly mess on my beautiful wood. My fears were unfounded. Pouring the resin onto the keel line and using plastic spatulas, we worked the epoxy into the fiberglass, making sure not to stretch or wrinkle it. This was much easier than I thought. The resin is quite thin, kind of like a runny syrup, so it goes on pretty easily and spreads well. It took a fair bit of time to get the whole hull done, but the satisfaction was huge!

It was a big boost to see the wood as it’s going to appear when it’s all done. The epoxy darkened the wood to its final colour and while it was wet, gave it a luster and shine that was pretty spectacular when you compare it to the before picture. Here’s the same view as the last picture, but with the epoxying done.

A couple more pictures of how the hull looks with the fiberglass/epoxy in place. I really was quite surprised at how clear the fiberglass became with the epoxy soaked into it. Great stuff.

Next up…do the whole process again on the inside of the hull.

Canoe – part 4

I’ve been negligent in wrapping this up….but here’s the next stage, finishing up the hull itself.

I out last episode, we had finished up the one side and now we’ll close it all up.

Before we close up the other side, we’ve got to trim down the first side to get a nice clean line to work with. Nothing too scientific here, for the most part we eye-balled the parts around the stems and laid a strip down the keel-line to mark off the center. Getting the keel-line straight isn’t necessary yet, since we’ll be fine tuning it later on.

With the one side cleaned up, we repeat the process on the other side and work in towards the keel. The difficult part here was as we got down the bottom of the hull, where we had to trim pieces to fit properly. This involved a lot of clamping, cursing and trial and error as we didn’t want to cut them too short or at the wrong angle.

This was about the time when I felt a bit of panic. The keel doesn’t line up nicely and there are literally hundreds of holes in my boat…mostly from the staples. I did not feel confident that this was going to float that well….maybe make a nice sprinkler system if I string it up over the veggie patch…

The keel area looked pretty rough with the loosely joined edges.

All was not lost….we then cut a strip for the keel-line and tacked it in place to mark the area that it would go. We marked it, removed the strip and cut out the excess wood very very slowly and carefully. This part we wanted a good fit for.

It looks a bit loose in the picture, but it’s actually quite a tight fit.

The last step in the hull construction was the clean up the stems and put the outer stems in place. Cleaning up the stems with spokeshaves and planes was pretty timeconsuming, but in the end it turned out to be pretty good.

We attached the previously bent stems and glued and screwed them in place.

Lastly, we cut off the screw heads, cleaned them up and epoxied over the ends.

In our next episode things get very very very dusty….

Canoe – part 3

Now that we’ve got the sides of the hull planked, we close in the bottom of the hull. The process pretty much remains the same, edge glue the strips together, staple them onto the form to hold them in place.

This is a point where having extra hands was quite valuable. You really need to flex the strips quite a bit to bend them onto the form as they work around the curved part of the hull. At one point, the each strip is essentially flat (horizontal) on the bottom of the hull, but as it curves around to the bow/stern, they end up vertical against the stems. The strips are flexible enough to do this with a little convincing, but we found it easiest to work from the middle out in both directions at the same time, one person working towards the bow and one towards the stern.

Another design element: An option that I have seen on some canoes, was to keep going with the planking up one side and wrap the strips across the keel-line and around the other side. This creates an interesting visual detail as the canoe becomes asymetrical. A second option is to get the point in the pictures above and fill in ‘the football’ (the football shaped gap that remains) in different ways. Switch from the continual curved strips, to a transition where the football is made of strips running parallel to the keel, more like a strip floor than a curved hull.

I went with a more traditional approach, to continue to fill in the football with curved strips one side at a time. You do get some challenges with the curvature that has to happen in the strips, but a few clamps, staples and patience will get you to the point where one side of the hull is filled in.

We also had to glue in some shorter strips from our original first strip, going down the form, to give the bow and stern their upward curve. These have to be a fair bit longer than you think, since the curve of the gunwales from bow to stern is fairly shallow.

Next, closing up the hull completely.

Canoe – part 2

Let’s start with what we’re building.  This is a 16′ Peterborough canoe built from cedar strips edge joined with a cove and bead, covered with a layer of fiberglass adhered with a thick coat of epoxy resin and protected with a marine spar varnish.  I believe the hull is a Steve Killing design, or at very least a modified version of it.

The forming of the hull is done on a strongback, which is basically a long rigid beam with panels rising from it that look like cross sections of the hull.  I didn’t take pictures at this stage, but you will see what these look like in the first few pictures.

If you were starting from scratch, you would need to build these forms and attach them to the strongback according to whatever set of plans you work from.  Many plan kits come with full scale plans for the forms (also called aligning stations).  I was able to skip this step as Dave already had a prepared form that I could use.

The first part of the canoe to be attached to the form are the stems.  These are the curved wooden strips that form the bow and stern.  These are critical to get right as this is what the hull strips are attached to.  The stems I used are steambent ash, roughly 7/8″ square.  These get bent and clamped onto the form and once they hold their shape, the profile of the stem is shaped to accept the cedar strips by putting a slight bevel on them.

Now that the stems are in place (held onto the form with clamps and tape, which get removed as you add strips) we get to the fun part, adding the strips.  Yes, we took full advantage of the opportunity to make light of the fact that we were ‘stripping’ for fun after work.  :-)

We start with the first full strip extending from bow to stern.  Using reference marks on the forms the first strip is stapled on to the form and glued to the stems at the bow and stern.  This takes a bit of finessing as they are supposed to curve around the form and getting them right on the reference line is important.

From here, the work goes quite quickly.  We ran a bead of polyurethane glue into the cove (which faces upwards on the form) and placed a new strip flush into the cove, stapling it to each of the aligning stations and gluing and clamping them to the stems, allowing them to overhang the stems slightly. 

Design alternative:  This is a good place to point out that this canoe has no ribs, some other designs would have ribs stretched over the aligning stations and each strip would be tacked onto the ribs with brass tacks.  While this adds rigidity (and weight) the later addition of fiberglass and epoxy to the interior and exterior provides enough support to allow the omission of the ribs.

One of the fun aspects of this stage is sifting through the pile of cedar strips to pick out matching or complementing colours and trying to establish some sort of symmetry in the way these strips appear on both sides of the canoe.  After the first few strips went in, we put an accent strip made of basswood that makes a nice very light line down the side of the canoe.  Not quite racing stripes, but close!

The progress on this first session was pretty dramatic.  I think we left thinking that we’d be done in a couple of weeks.  That misconception was corrected a couple of weeks later.


Canoe – part 1

Even though this project was done a few years ago, it has been the biggest project I’ve worked on and one that I’ve enjoyed a great deal since.

I decided several years ago that I wanted to get more serious about woodworking and to try something that I perceived as out of my league.  The idea for the canoe was one that had bounced around in my head for a while.  I finally chose to make the leap after seeing a magazine article showing someone in the Toronto area who had a large workshop where he built boats and taught people the art/skill of small boatbuilding.

After doing some research, I found that this was not a unique thing.  I found another, smaller, workshop closer to my home run by a guy named Dave Fisher.  I went out to his shop one night, looked at the canoes and kayaks being built and was hooked.  I signed up for his next opening.

The project began early in 2004 and was completed over several months, working an average 3-4 hours per week.  Dave was an excellent teacher (his regular vocation as it turns out) and with the help of my friend Adam, each week gave a great sense of accomplishment as we saw the project grow from a pile of cedar strips into a beautiful canoe.

This is the final product, ready for her maiden voyage.

My lovely wife suggested that we needed to name her and brimming with confidence, we christened her ‘Hope it Floats’.

It does float…rather well in fact!

More to come in the days ahead, I’ll take things back to day one.



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