Crafting the Cedar Strip Canoe
                               Set Up    •     Stripping    •     Laminating    •     Finishing

Set-Up - before the first strip

First-time canoe builders in particular get excited by the woodworking, but suffer panic attacks when it comes time to laminate their canoe. Cedar strip canoes actually have more in common with contemporary plastic canoes than yesteryear’s wooden hulls. Laminating, the task of applying epoxy and fabric reinforcements is a dramatic milestone. Success lies with mindful perations. Plan to invest 20 hours in sanding and prep time for each side of the hull, two hours for the actual wet layup. A single cure cycle maximizes lamination strength and minimizes sanding. The process flows like this...



What Design

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Canoe Kits

Remember that P-51 Mustang kit? What a great birthday preset. A canoe kit isn't anything like that. You couldn't build a Sopwith Camel or a '57 vette from the parts in that box, but you can transform cedar strips, epoxy and fiberglass into any canoe.



Reading the Lines

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Building the Strongback

It's convenient to build with strips slightly longer than the overall length of your canoe; however, you can build using chopstick-length strips (that's been done) which would require hundreds upon hundreds of strips. A better question is how many lineal feet of cedar strips will it take to complete your canoe.

It's an easy calculation. First, measure the girth of the center form. You can accomplish this using a flexible dressmakers tape or string and your full-size canoe plans. Divide by .75 when building with three-quarter inch square-edge canoe strips (.625 if to build with bead 'n cove strips). Solo canoes typically give you a number close to 70, tandems about 90. Whatever the number, the quotient is how many canoe strips you will need to make it around the girth of the canoe amidships. Multiply this number by the length of your canoe and you have a solid idea of the lineal footage required to build the design in hand.



Building the Strongback

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Lines Become Forms. Forms Become Boats

Engineers and marine architects draw circles and lines, complex designs that become ships. The 'Loftsman' extracts dimensions and details from designs, transforming them into ship-size templates and molds for making actual parts that get shaped and rolled. A smaller simpler vessel, the canoe, fits on a single sheet of paper.

NWC canoe plans eliminate the need for lofting. Complete a web order for any of our canoe plans and you receive an automated text message containing a hyperlink back to the NWC store. Click the download button. The next screen displays an end-view line drawing. Read on before you send us the "You've gotta be kidding me" email. Start by saving the pdf on your screen to a flash drive or other portable media. Next, get connected to steamroller size printer. Web search "large format copy services" if you don't have access to a large format printer. Chances are you will find a nearby copy shop that wants your business. FedEx Office certainly will come up (not an endorsement). Even if you live in a remote area, you can upload the pdf file through the FedEx Office website and have full-size canoe plans delivered to your door.

Simplify the transfer of plans to plywood by making multiple copies, one copy for each building form. Go through the stack of paper and consecutively highlight one form line on each of the drawings. Use the 'stems and horseshoes' template we provide to mark additional lines for attaching to your strongback. Tape the corners of one full size drawing onto the plywood or particleboard you will cut your forms out of. Cut a mask just outside the highlighted line. Lift the working part of the drawing and spray-glue the exposed plywood. Lay the paper back, smooth it flat and pull the mask away. Repeat for the next form and the next.

When a hand calculator cost $300 and we worked with mimeograph machines and blueprints, canoe builders would fold their plans in half along the stem line, lay carbon paper face down on their plywood, open the half-folded plans and trace a single form line, tracing necessary lines onto plywood via carbon paper, repeating for the opposite side of that form and each building form thereafter, a tedious one line at a time process. This process sill works if you make only one full size paper copy of our NWC canoe plans. With every station and stem form represented on the plywood, you're ready to start cutting. Lofting anxiety no longer stands between you and your handcrafted canoe.



Cutting Forms

A hand-held jigsaw or band saw will make quick work of the rough cutting. Cut to within a 1/4-inch of the highlighted line. Clamp the form to a solid horizontal surface so you can get to the edge. Use a belt sander (hold it loose and vertical) or other hand tool of choice to fair/smooth down to the highlighted line. It really is this simple. You can paste and cut a canoe in an afternoon.



Acheiving Alignment

Canoe builders take different approaches, but they all agree on this... well aligned building forms make a fair hull, no unintended humps or hollows in the finished canoe.

Getting a dozen or more chunks of plywood perfectly aligned can be challenging. Numerous books advise you to attach building forms to cleats with nails or sheet rock screws. One author recommends 'eyeballing' your setup for fairness. These approaches to alignment result in a lot of squinting, head scratching and re-drilling of pilot holes. We had our 'duh' moment early on and want to share that with you.

Grab a spade or forsner bit and pre-drill three-quarter holes on cleats and building forms. Size is not critical; just make the holes several times larger than the bolts. You want big sloppy holes. Bolt your building forms onto cleats using pancake size fender washers. Finger tight to start, loose enough so you can later tap or nudge each form in any direction and it will stay put.

Next, temporarily attach a sight vane to each stem to ensure the stems align in the same vertiacal plane. Tighten stem-form bolts to lock the stems in place. Remove the sight vanes and run a mason's line from stem to stem; pull the line taught and over the likes of a screw clamp which will allow you to adjust string height. Twist the clamp to adjust string height to the designed rocker at each stem. TIP: ad one-quarter inch to all measurements.

Align the remaining forms, starting with the center form. You want the string one-quarter inch above this form. and directly over the strongback's center line. (if you do not have center lines on every component, draw them) Don't move the string; nudge the center form up, down, left, right as necessary. Now wrench-tight the bolts for your middle of the canoe form. Repeat process: align the center line of the next form to the strongback and string, designed rocker plus one-quarter inch string clearance - nudge, nudge, wrench-tight, move to the next form. Achieving alignment takes less than an hour and this method provides a fair hull canoe after canoe.



Laser Set-up

A laser level with horizontal and vertical beams makes quick work of aligning canoe building forms. Your set-up ends up in harmony with the gravitational forces of the planet, so you want the terrain your strong back rests on needs to be reasonably level too. Use a plumb line if your floor pitches dramatically towards a floor drain. Otherwise, you will run out of adjustment hole on the building forms.

This laternate laser method works best if you follow the NWC recommendation of gluing a paper copy of the canoe plans to each building form. It is essential to have common horizontal and vertical reference lines on each form. For an accurate set-up, you also need to eliminate two variables: 1) position changes in the strongback, 2) movement of the laser/tripod. So, lock casters, use sandbags whatever it takes to keep your work from floating. Set your laser level on a tripod a few feet back from the far end of the strong back. Align the vertical beam to overlay the strongback's longitudinal center line. The last form of your set-up attaches to the strongback first.  With the stem form pre-attached at a right angle, clamp form, i.e., 15 to the end most cleat with a pair of quick-clamps.  You want clamps operable with one hand, freeing your other hand to position the form assembly. At NorthWest Canoe, we use the common 3-inch or 4-inch waterline printed on all our canoe plans for the horizontal / height alignment. Once you align the form to the laser crosshairs, bolt it down tight to the cleat. Grab the next lower numbered form and repeat the process, hold in place with one hand, quick-clamp, nudge as needed to align to laser crosshairs, bolt securely in place, move on to the next lower number.

The combination of laser and quick clamps allows a single pair of hands to set-up a canoe in couple hours, spot-on accurate too.  A few parting thoughts:  In a brightly lit shop, try working with ambient light and/or a headlamp. Should you knock the strongback or laser kittywampus mid process, simply realign the bumped object so the laser's crosshairs hit the most recently placed good form. At his point, you'll wish you'd used masking tape, some reference marks on the floor and tripod at the start.



Bla Bla

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Bla Bla

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Morbi malesuada, ante at feugiat tincidunt, enim massa gravida metus, commodo lacinia massa diam vel eros. Proin eget urna. Nunc fringilla neque vitae odio. Vivamus vitae ligula.



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