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

Stripping - building the single use wood mold

Roughly one-third of the 150-200 hours you invest in building your canoe will be stripping, the process of fastening doll-size wood planking to building forms. Woodworkers that tire of turning bowls or crafting chairs and paddlers seeking more beautiful efficient canoes wax romantic over this woodworking phase of canoe building. Perhaps that's why canoe builders approach evangelism over bead 'n cove strips vs. square-cut, what stripping pattern to use, accent strips building with or without staples.... step away from the vision of a beautifully trimmed canoe hanging over the stone fireplace, paddling on misty 'morn in the BWCA. A wood strip hull is a single use building mold. If you can embrace that concept and the thought of stashing the ruler in a drawer to craft a canoe by sight and feel, read on.

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Selecting Wood

You can build a canoe from any species wood. Canoe builders have successfully repurposed bamboo chopsticks, discarded redwood picnic tables and cypress doors. Sadly, we also know of builders that used lead-heavy species and knot/resin laden bargain bin wood. For centuries boat builders have chosen the cedars over other woods with good reason. Ponder these points as you weigh your wood alternatives:

           •   Availability - free doesn’t mean it’s the best wood for your canoe, exotic impossible to locate species are no better
           •   Workability - strips needs to bend, twist and follow curves without splitting, you want wood that responds to a knife or block plane like butter
           •   Weight – on average a tandem canoe consumes a little over one cu/ft of wood - roughly 25 lbs for a cedar, redwood or Sitka spruce hull
           •   Strength - less critical because strength comes from the lamination, a more porous softwood allow deeper resin penetration / better bond
           •   Cost – compare like lumber grades, a 3/16 circular saw kerf turns 40% of what you bought to mill into quarter-inch strips into sawdust.

Clear vertical grain boat-suitable wood is perhaps 3-to-5% of all the wood harvested and milled. Big-box home improvement stores focus on construction grade lumber not canoe-quality strips. If you're on a budget, we understand. Know you're getting the best material available for building small boats when you choose NWC cedar strips. Before you embark on a scavenger hunt for wood, ask yourself... would you mill your own tongue & groove oak to install a new hardwood floor in the den? Rip larger stock into 2x4’s to build a garden shed? If you answer yes then by all means satisfy the need to bond with the tools in your home woodshop. Have fun with the wood hunt and check out these links: Wood Species OverviewWood StrengthsBoat Building Lumber.

Look for the highest classification of board lumber called select. Select is subdivided into three categories: B, C, and D Select. B is the highest quality. Purchase D grade select or better for your canoe. Most doit-yourselfers will choose a table saw with a narrow kerf blade to cut strips. A bandsaw works well and consumes less wood, providing you have an adequate rip fence and support the wood as it passes over the smaller table. You can also use a handheld circular saw fitted with a narrow kerf blade and a temporary fence affixed to the sole plate.

It takes 1200-to-1300 lineal feet of NWC cedar strips to build most tandem canoes, roughly $450-500 for strips. An easy method to figure the lineal footage you need for any particular hull design is to measure the the distance gunwale to gunwale around the center form. Divide that distance by .75 for square cut or .625 if you plan to build with bead 'n cover strips. Multiply the quotient by the length of the canoe. For example, the #6 center form, on the 13 foot NWC Tadpole measures 44-inches. 44 ÷ .75 = 58.6, 59 x 13 = 767.

Cut strips one-quarter inch. With thinner 1/8th or 3/16ths strips, it’s quite likely you’ll sand through the hull, oops. The weight savings is nil. Thicker strips are hard to work and will not add significant strength. Cut out all knots; knots contain tree juice and epoxy will not bond to oily sap, delaminating can be a problem. No way around it, cutting strips remains a dusty painstaking task which requies a lot of working space, more than twice the length of the longest strip you plan to mill. If you prefer to get on with building your boat, NorthWest Canoe can answer your wood questions quickly and simply by shipping you ready to use precision cut cedar strips.



Better to Bead & Cove?

Many canoe builders adamantly believe in one over the other, to the point of sounding like overheated Carolina-Duke or Michigan-Ohio State fans. Don't let yourself get distracted by this debate. Your canoe will float just fine regardless of whether you choose to build with square-cut or bead and cove strips. A handcrafted canoe will turn heads and spark conversations at the put in.

What's more satisfying? The challenge of setting up a jig for your router table and playing with power tools; or, sighting angles and making a pile of shavings with your block plane? The square 'n bevel, bead 'n cove argument in the end boils down to process and not a better / inferior hull.

At NorthWest Canoe we build with square-cut strips and bevel where necessary. More about necessity in a moment. Square-cut allows us jump right into stripping, the time snippets of we spend beveling along the way total the amount of time it would take to process bead ‘n cove strips ahead of time. Hulls built with square-cut strips typically look a bit "rougher" during the stripping process but once sanded out you cannot tell the difference. We go square because it makes better use of the strips (we're not milling 3/4 strips down to 5/8-inch) and we enjoy the beveling and hand fitting with a block plane.

Now let's nix your beveling anxiety. Look at any canoe and you’ll see relatively flat areas, little if any beveling will be required stripping those sections. As you come around the chine – the curve where the relatively flat horizontal bottom transitions to vertical freeboard – plan to bevel. You will do less beveling on a NorthWest Cruiser than a smaller rounder, shouldered design like our NorthWest Tadpole. The stripping pattern you choose impacts where and how much you bevel too.



What Glue

Yellow carpenters glue work greats, it dries quick and crisp. Use just enough glue to bond strips. You should see a little glue-ooze when squeezing the new strip tight to its neighbor, that’s a good thing. Glue-cicles runing down the side of the canoe means you're applying to much glue. A couple of strips and it will become apparent how much is enough and how much is too much. Leave drips and runs be. Crusty-dry glue easily breaks off with a scraper or coarse sandpaper later on. Wiping off those drips now with a damp shop towel may size the wood and result in a hazy smear to sand out.

We'll say it again: your woodstrip hull is a single use mold to craft an epoxy fiberglass canoe. Glue just needs to hold strips in place long enough for you to sand the hull and encase it in epoxy. Waterproof glue, urethanne or epoxy based adhesives are not necessary. More costly aggressive alternatives spell more labor when it comes time to scrape and sand the hull.



Staple Thoughts

Choose a stapler that loads from the rear; it won’t get all glued up like the inexpensive trap door type. Cover the sole of the stapler with masking tape to keep glue out of the works, change the tape often. We prefer staplers with an adjustable power spring, like the DuoFast CS5000. Set the hammer spring so it just drives staples flush to the surface of the strips. Driving staples deep dents the wood and that will require more sanding. Staples that stand proud will be much easier to pull too. Staples show the building process. You cannot hide their tracks, but you can keep them lined up in neat rows liike the rivets on the Queen Mary.

Buy chisel point staples. Do not use ceiling tile staples; the legs splay making them more difficult to pull, tearing-up wood in the process. Use 9/16-inch staples into the forms and 1/4 inch staples between the forms. Mark your two staplers to identify them. A 9/16" staple between the forms leaves “blow-out” holes on the inside of the hull. You will jump high and praise the almighty if your hand is in its path.

Our quest for composite fasteners originated with the need to hold foam and fabric in position for wet lamination and vacuum bagging. After looking at everything from golf tees to pine tree clips, we stumbled on Raptor Fasteners. The Raptor composite staples did more than hold fabric and foam in place. We recommend composite staples for cedar strip canoe building.

There are huge advantages to plastic over metal staples: first, you won't need to spend hours pulling staples. Raptor composite staples bond to wood like glue, won't damage tools and can be worked right along with the wood; sand them off. Second, strips are held tight to building forms until the exterior lamination goes down and that ensures hull shape matches plans. When metal staples are pulled, a hull can float off building forms in places. Finally, high compression and low shear strength means staples drive for a tight fit, but shear off easily when it's time to break-out forms.

The finished canoe shows filled sanded-off staples rather than rows of holes. We won't say plastic stapes are the best and only way to build a canoe, we just don't know of a better way. You won't find Raptor staples on Amazon or big-box home improvement stores, but you will find composite staples along with everything else you need to build a canoe at NorthWest canoe. The 19-gauge cream-colored composite staples are tool specific, so they must be used in Raptor Tool.

A week does not pass at our shop without a conversation about building a canoe without staples. Yes, you can eliminnate them. Hold strips in place with a clamp at the sheer and strech a shock cork, bungee or mountain bike tube tight over each building form. A system of holes and quick-clamps works too. Clamps will provide more holding power against strips that want to twist. Many builders use masking tape between forms. Allow more time to strip your canoe for staple free construction as you will apply one or two strips, then need to walk away. Before you choose to go staple free, think about birchbark canoes carefully hand
stitched together with spruce root, classic wood 'n canvas canoes and the aesthetics of clinched over bronze nails. Even utilitarian aluminum canoes show their fasteners, so why the obsession to build a canoe without fasteners? Is the staple free hull a canoe or confused furniture?



Other Tools

Our company founder, Al Gustavson liked to joke with his classes that women often made the best canoe builders because of their ability to craft a canoe with simple hand tools found in the kitchen odds and ends drawer. The guys, he said would use a canoe building project to purchase a new turbo charged router or a steroid-sized jointer fit for a real Toolman, expensive tools unnecessary for handcrafting a canoe.

World-class canoe racer designer and builder, Gene Jensen, said the secret to stripping is never walk from one end of the canoe to the other without something in your hands. Great advice. Wear a tool apron. We load our apron with the following:
     • Pencil - for marking cuts
     • Masking tape - squeezing strips tight and lining backer blocks for scarf joints
     • Wood carving knife (short blade) - great for whittling angle cuts, finish with the block plane
     • Pull saw (single edge, aka dovetail or flush-cut saw) - used for cross cuts and scarf joints
     • Low angle block plane - fine tuning angle cuts and beveling strips
     • Glue bottle
     • Stapplers
     • Pliers - 5-inch nippers / sidecutters - to pull the occasional staple that did not drive as intended

We work with a c
ollection of 4-inch spring clamps and quick clamps within arms reach, staging them on open building forms. Clamps convince strips to stay put when staples alone cannot do the job. Discarded mountain bike tube - cut into sections - ads to the clamp collection. Tube sections function like big rubber bands, spring your clamps tension them in place.

We use the band saw to rough cut long tapered needed to fill in the birdsmouth. Other than that, power tools rest quietly in a dark drawer while we listen to music and strip the hull. The random orbital sander makes its appearance in preparing the hull for laminating. The sander without question reigns as the most used power tool in our shop. If canoe building serves as justification to buy / upgrade a tool, think professional quality random orbital sander, one that will connect to a dust collector.



Stripping Patterns

Your canoe will look pretty and float just fine regardless of whether your strips follow the sheer, run parallel to the horizon or come together in a herring bone pattern on the bottom.

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Scarf Joints

Convenient boat-length strips shorten the time you spend stripping, but you can build a canoe out of chopsticks. The strip building technique will at some point require scarfing two strips together to get the length you need. Some species like Northern White Cedar don't grow straight and tall, all your cut-offs are too short for the stip you need, or you're building a monster square stern canoe - whatever your reason, let us share NWC's best practices:

To make a boat-length strip Use similar color stock Overlap the ends of the two strips roughly 10" Make the cut on the boat, between forms Angle the saw handle towards the stem. Place your scarf joints in the end thirds of the canoe Stagger your scarf joints for aestetics. Consider a mid-strip scarf when you have complex angle cuts on both ends of the same strip Cut one long strip, allowing 10" overlap for scarf placement Fit / bevel each end indivdually, secure ends Elevate the overlap (1/4" is about right) where you made the initial cut to allow for saw kerf Cut at angle that will hide hide the joint This mid-form joint will need a backer block.



Accent Strips, Cevrons... Getting Fancy

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Sabbots, Stems, Finishing Ends

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Fairing And Sanding The Strip Canoe

Fair hulls start with accurate set up and strips tight against building forms. Canoes built with bead 'n cove strips look smoother when you finish stripping. However, a smooth hull and a fair hull are two different things. 'Fair' is when the canoe is all sweet curves, no dips, bumps or humps. Here's how NWC tackles fairing.

First, we chip away glue drips using a paint scrapper -(corners rounded and edges sharpend on an ordinary bench grinder). You can also employ inexpensive cabinet scrapers ($15 for three a piece set at many hardware stores). We prefer the handles a re-purposed paint scraper provides. Maintain a edge sharp. Hold the handle high and pull (not back-and-forth) with the blade angled. Many builders use a low agle block plane to continue leveling strips. Work the hull in a cross-hatch pattern, 45-degrees to the strips. This tool provides the advantage of audio feedback... tick-tick-tick until strips are level with each other. Stop.

At NorthWest Canoe, we go from scrapping glue to a Flexible 3M Fairing Board. Thirty-six grit paper makes a quick job of leveling soft cedar strips. The 30-inch board spans two forms to ensure hull lines remain fair. Again, work the board accross stips with an angled cross hatch pattern. You will be surprised at how tight a curve you can work around by altering your sanding motion. Sanding marks provide a visual clue: keep sanding until the lineal marks no longer skip individual strips. You may opt for a second pass with 60-grit paper on the fairing board or be done with unplugged.

When you finish with the board you have a fair hull and a very rough suface. Now it is time to work on smooth. Switch to your random orbital sander and 40-grit. Keep the electric sander moving. With a light touch use it like an eraser to remove deep lineal sanding marks left by the fairing board. Sanding will go very quickly on a well faired hull. At NWC we stop after a 60-grit round with the random orbital. Sanding marks eliminated, and a toothy surface to enhance the bond with the epoxy is what the boat Gods want. The NWC fairing and smoothing proceedure works extremely well when building with edge-glued square-cut strips. Using a fairing board with bead and cove building technique runs the risk of exposing glue joints. This remains a primanry reason why NWC recommends building with edge-glued square-cut strips, it more forgiving when it comes to fairing the hull.





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