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Canoe Build-along

My Third Skin on Frame Canadian Style Canoe...

The following story will be updated as and when I complete new stages...

After all the fun and enjoyment I've had out of my last two skin on frame canoes, I have decided to build another one, this time it will be a two man canoe in the same Canadian style that I like so much. There are no plans for the canoe I am building, all I know is that I want it to be around 4.5 meters long and about 90cm wide at the centre Most of the jobs will just be done by eye.

This is not a canoe made from 100% wild materials like a birch bark canoe, but a mix of traditional wood working skills, some cotton canvas and even a few wood screws. The emphasis for me is always on doing a proper job, speed is not the essence. I am always reluctant to use power tools as I feel mistakes can be made quickly with such hasty devices. Hand tools fit better with my calm and patient nature anyway.

And so I begin...

To start I've purchased a plank of naturally air dried Ash wood from the timber yard about 7" x 1" x 5m. At first I wanted to use a long sapling from the woods to fashion my Gunnels from but I was unable to locate one straight and long enough for my needs. By purchasing the plank I would also have enough wood for many other parts too such as the long keel baton etc. The wood didn't come cheap though... about 90 for this one plank!

The first job was to rip cut along the length to cut off two laths suitable for Gunnels. This job could be done with a circular saw but I am quite stubborn and don't like to use power tools all that much :-)




Using a Shave horse and Draw Kinfe I then worked the two gunnels down to final dimensions which is about 20mm x 55mm. I then made a gradual taper towards the ends shaving it down to about 3cm high with no change to the width.



Now it was time to steam bent these tapered ends upwards which will give my canoe some nice curves (known as Indian ends). I am using quite a simple but effective method to steam the wood. Firstly I wrap the wood in Hessian material, then give it a good soaking and finally wrap it up in tin foil. Then I cook the wood over the fire like a fish. The wood doesn't burn if the material is wet enough.


  Here you can see the wood propped up over a long fire. As a general rule wood needs steaming for an hour per inch of thickness. My wood was only 20mm thick but I steamed it for 1 and a half hours for good measure.

Here you can see the form I have made to clamp the Gunnel ends into the desired shape. (you also have to allow for the wood to relax a little, so make the form curve more extreme) The clamp works by first inserting a dowel peg above the wood and then tapping a wedge between the wood and the peg to securely hold the wood in shape. The wood then needs to be kept in the clamp for several days to let it dry and take it's new shape properly. You can see that with four Gunnel ends to steam bend this process takes considerable time! Having two forms would speed things up.



Using some cam straps and a scrap piece of wood, the first curves of the canoe can be seen... It's key stages like this that spur you on to do the next job...



Before fixing the gunnels together with proper cross members (called 'thwarts') I wanted to gauge what shape stem pieces I would like for the ends of my canoe. I did this by lying a Gunnel on the lawn with a piece of cardboard under it. I measured out the intended final depth of the canoe and marked it with a line of cord. Then using a metal cable I could make various curves to envisage what I would like the end of the canoe to look like. I then drew around the cable onto the cardboard, I'll use this shape as a template later on when I make another form to steam bend the stem pieces into shape.



Here I am carving the 'Yoke' which is a type of central thwart used for carrying the canoe on your shoulders. (If you can remember, a very similar type of yoke was used in the old days for carrying two buckets of water on the shoulders.)

I made two smaller thwarts to be installed near to the ends. A draw knife, rasp, file and cabinet scraper are the key tools for making such pieces. I have simply screwed these in place with rust proof screws

The yoke is also fixed in place at dead centre for perfect balance.


The yoke in action



The ends of the gunnels needed to be shaped to they are ready for receiving the stem pieces. I know that my stem configuration will be 2cm thick so I can use a scrap block of wood to test the fit and get the angles correct for now. I used another temporary piece of wood to wedge open the gunnels so that I have room to work on the joint with tools like a rasp.


Constantly testing the fit until complete...



Now it was time for making the stem pieces... I made this form using the cardboard template I made earlier as a guide. I had to make the curve more extreme as the wood relaxes by a few inches when it is released from the form. Making such a form take a lot of time in itself...


On my first attempt the wood snapped so I decided to make each stem piece from a lamination of two pieces of wood instead. (i want the final stems to be 20mm wide by 1 inch thick. I am using Ash wood pieces 106cm long)  Thinner pieces of wood bend much more easily and are far less likely to fracture. You can see here the two pieces have been bent successfully and removed from the form after a few days.


From this picture you can see how dowel pegs and wedges work to hold the wood in place. The wood was steamed once again in soaked Hessian and tin foil over the fire. Once taken off the fire you have to work swiftly to get the wood bent into shape before it cools down too much.


The two halves now needed to be glued together, I used an epoxy resin branded 'Bob Smith'. The wood had relaxed a little more than I had wanted so I tied the two ends together bringing the wood into shape (I tied the cord in place through two holes drilled through spare wood at the ends). Clamps ensure the glue takes a good tight bond.

Now I needed to repeat the whole procedure to make the second stem piece.


With the stems made I sawed another length of wood off my plank for the keel baton, I also like to plane and smooth off all the parts, the baton dimensions are 20mm x 25mm x however long. I could now clamp the parts together to get an impression of the shape. 


I want the canoe to be about 14 inches deep at the centre, I made this T shaped prop to temporarily hold up the keel baton to the right height at the centre whilst I work out measurements etc for the next stages.



With everything clamped in place I needed to make a couple of brackets which allow me to securely join the stems to the gunnels. To work out the shape of these brackets I made a cardboard template. I held the cardboard in place between the gunnel and the stem, I could then draw the profile of the stem against the card and cut the template out acordingly. You can see the complete shape above
  I transferred the shape to some wood I had split and shaved out of a log and cut it to shape with a hatchet, saw and rasp.   You can see here how this bracket is going to make a strong connection between the stem and gunnels.  
  Before permanently securing all these parts together I joined the stems and keel baton together first with a simple splice join. I used epoxy glue and clamps. I smooth off any joins so they are as seamless as possible using a plane, rasp and cabinet scraper.  

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