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Common Sense Canoe Building

Gather ten canoe builders in the same shop; you will get the ten best methods to build a cedar strip canoe. You'd expect this amount of shop logic to provide definitive guidance, but a quest for clarification just yields a confusing jumble of opinions and approaches to crafting your canoe. Some builders focus on power tools, specialty jigs and woodcraft, others emphasize hull design and would have the first-time builder reinventing the canoe.

A handful of Minnesota racers pioneered ribless cedar strip building in the '50's. Their innovative building techniques soon attracted others simply looking for a lighter more efficient canoe. We teach the Minnesota Method. You start by choosing a proven hull design that fits your paddling style, then use time-efficient building techniques to complete an aesthetically pleasing canoe. Born of practicality, a canoe belongs on the water.

About those proven hull designs, NorthWest Canoe distributes canoe plans electronically, and we don't collect a dime. We do so to promote home canoe building and encourage you to build a canoe for your personal enjoyment. The downloads available through our web store consist of full size canoe plans, PDF format.

Wood-art rafter ornaments are not NorthWest Canoe. We estimate one out of four first time builders gets overwhelmed and frustrated with too much shop logic; the canoe never gets finished. Canoe building is fun. Make building your canoe an escape from the stress and time-pressures of your daily routine. Finish your canoe ... then get out and paddle!

Four Stages of Canoe Building

Pick any canoe landing, paddling event or parking lot and the hand-built cedar strip canoe gets looks. People salivate over the wood. Wood however symbolizes only a piece of the drama.

SET-UP - During set up the canoe builder transforms flat paper plans into three dimensions. Twenty hours or more pass before the first cedar strip is laid on the building forms.

It starts with the construction of a sturdy ladder-like beam called a strong back. Forms attach to the strong back. It takes general carpentry skills and tools - hammer, square, saw, and drill. Like the mason, the canoe builder relies on scribe lines and strings to ensure the final product is fair and true. The canoe builder walks from end to end squinting at sight vanes and strings.

STRIPPING - 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. stapless; using bead & cove strips vs. square cut strips... it comes down to aesthetics and personal preference.

A seasoned builder can strip an entire canoe in a few days using staples. Building without staples, even an experienced builder can apply only two or three strips per session. Building without staples involves clamps, bungee cord, cam straps, masking tape and time.

LAMINATING - 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?

Most resin systems are workable for a couple hours. Laminating, the term for applying resin and fabric to the hull happens within that relatively short window.

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.

FINISHING - The fourth and final act 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 carrying the canoe to water.

The builder anxious to get on the water can purchase pre-milled gunwales and ready made canoe seats; one day and the canoe is ready to paddle. The builder looking for a shop project can burn an entire day hand-crafting a single canoe seat.

Cedar Strip Canoe Class

Jump into the building process on day one or our full-week canoe building class, positioning the building forms on the strongback. Over the next two days, the canoe takes shape as you bevel and fit cedar strips into place. We do it with pencil, pocketknife, block plane, staples and yellow carpenter's glue.

The $4895 tuition covers one to six students and materials to build one canoe. You build your canoe either as private instruction or a group project. The goal is for you, your group, to take away the skills and know-how to build a cedar strip canoe. Learn new skills and enjoy an uninterrupted week of doing something with your hands.

By the midpoint of this class, we'll be sanding and laminating the hull, first the exterior, then the interior. We laminate the hull with epoxy and fiberglass. By the end of the week, you learn the ins and outs of installing gunwales, decks and seats.

Call or email to schedule a date for personal hands-on instruction or your group.

Canoe Cradles

Half way through building your canoe, you'll need a pair of sturdy canoe cradles. After laminating the exterior, the hull is stable. Remove the building forms and rest the canoe right side up in cradles to sand and laminate the interior.

We designed and use this simple canoe cradle for classes and repairs. Any handy guy or gal can knock a set together in an afternoon with three eight foot 2x6's and hand tools. View/save the PDF drawing. This design allows turning the hull eye-to-the-sky or bottom's up. The rope 'n peg adjustment lets you position the hull at a comfortable working height either way. Vary the width of the cross member and you can build cradles for a kayak or freighter canoe.

Often, home builders make do at the last minute by dressing sawhorses with a strip of carpet. We suggest you build cradles ahead of time. Making the project part of your set-up along with building the strongback and cutting forms.

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