Set Up

This part of building a wood strip canoe takes general carpentry skills and tools; hammer, square, saw, and drill. It starts with the construction of a sturdy ladder-like beam called a strong back. During set up, the canoe builder transforms flat paper plans into three dimensions. Each line on the canoe plans represents a building form. Forms attach to the strong back. Twenty hours or more pass between building the strong-back and laying the first cedar strip on the building forms.   



Cedar strips laid onto building forms transform fishbone skeleton into solid object. Using the Minnesota Method, the canoe builder uses staples and square cut strips. The first strip follows the sheerline. The second touches the first at the center form. In a few hours, an experienced canoe builder establishes a rhythm and closes in a large area of the hull. Battles rage on over the topic of building with staples vs. without; using bead & cove strips vs. square cut strips... it comes down to aesthetics and personal preference.  




Meticulous preparation. Several hours pass fairing and sanding the hull in preparation for laminating. The wise builder then rehearses; cutting and dry fitting cloth, laying out spreaders, brushes and scissors. Pantomime steps. How much time for each movement? 

While 6-oz. fiberglass is the most used fabric by cedar strip canoe builders, some use Kevlar, carbon or polyester fabrics for enhancing strength, abrasion resistance or visual drama. Once the canoe builder laminates the exterior of the hull, the boat comes off the building forms and the builder invests a day or two preparing and laminating the hull interior.  



The fourth and final milestone involves gunwales, seats and thwarts. Finish trim serves two functions: first, gunwales and cross members provide structure, a naked hull will twist and flex; second, trim makes the canoe usable, a comfortable place to sit or kneel, a means of portaging the canoe to water.

The builder anxious to get on the water can purchase pre-milled gunwales and ready-made canoe seats. In one day, the canoe is ready to paddle. 

The builder looking for a shop project can burn an entire day hand-crafting a single canoe seat.