How to Build a Canoe – The Story of How I Built Mine

Hi. My name is Joe and I just finished building my first wood strip canoe. There’s a picture of my beautiful craft in the header of my blog. The first time my wife and I took it out to our mountain lakes, everyone who saw it was just spell bound and asked if I made it and all kinds of questions.

My nature is such that I don’t seek the spotlight and crave attention. So all the ranting and raving wasn’t something I had intended when I built my canoe. Actually my biggest joy was in the building stage, and just paddling around a serene lake with my wife and enjoying the peaceful quietness.

For years I dreamed and talked about building a wood strip canoe, but never got off my duff and actually started. Then one day I finally decided to search for the best canoe building guide I could find.

Click here to see what I discovered was the best canoe-building guide around!

I looked at a lot of plans, but couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for. I wanted a 16′ canoe that could easily carry two to three adults. It needed to be stable and I wanted it to look attractive.

The book I finally settled on was written by a full-time guide living in Maine. He provides guided tours on the local rivers and lakes. And he builds all his own canoes! I wanted a teacher with a lot of experience and this guy had tons of it!

Click here to see his book

It took me about 18 months to finish my canoe, but I could have easily cut that back to a few months. I had other obligations that robbed my of some of my spare time.

The book I used was thorough and included patterns for several sizes of canoes. His instructions were easy to understand and simple to follow.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning how to build a canoe.

Here’s a link to preview the book.

Check out all the positive reviews, too!

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Learn How to Build a Canoe Seat

In the early stages of teaching myself how to build a canoe, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to build a canoe seat for my boat or take the easy route, and buy one already made. I had looked ahead in my canoe building book and seen the instructions for building a seat. “Was learning how to build a canoe seat something I could do?”, I asked myself. It looked a little complicated compared to building a canoe.

How to Build a Canoe Seat – My Reasons for Going For It

How to build a canoe seatI thought to myself, “I learned how to build a canoe without prior knowledge, so why couldn’t I learn how to build a canoe seat, too?” Besides, I built my canoe from scratch. And I learned how to build a canoe paddle. They were completed and turned out fine. Building my own canoe seats would complete the ensemble and I could then say I built every part of my canoe from scratch! Not only is it cool to be able to say that, but I had this unexplainable feeling of satisfaction, knowing in my heart that I built my canoe in its entirety!

 The Steps Involved In How to Build a Canoe Seat

One of the first things you need to do before building a canoe seat, is to find the cane. As I was teaching myself how to build a canoe, I discovered that the materials necessary for building a canoe were not always readily available, even in a larger city, like Portland.

Finding the cane material proved even more difficult that locating the wood, fiberglass cloth, or resin. You might get lucky and find caning supplies at a craft or fabric store.

I ended up ordering my cane online (hurray for Google!). Just make sure you shop around. I discovered a wide variety of prices for cane. Also make sure you get enough. Your book or plans should tell you how much cane to buy for each seat. I think I ended up buying a 1000 foot roll for under $20.00.

A Word About Cane

Keep in mind there are two types of cane. There is natural cane and the synthetic variety. Natural cane sounds cool and earthy, but my “How to Build a Canoe” book recommended synthetic.  One of the reasons was synthetic cane springs back to its original shape after the weight of a human body has depressed it. Another reason to use synthetic cane is it’s more resistant to water and moisture. And what canoe isn’t around water and moisture!

Once the seat is complete, the human eye cannot distinguish between natural and synthetic cane, so my recommendation is to use the synthetic.

How to Build a Canoe Seat – The Frame

In the process of teaching yourself how to build a canoe, you’ll find that your book will sometimes leave decisions to your discretion. Choices like what type of wood to use for specific elements of your canoe are up to you. Most good books will make it more of a multiple choice question.

For example, my “How to Build a Canoe” book let me choose between cedar and spruce for building the hull. I chose cedar because it’s lighter and more readily available in my area. When it came to the seat frame, my book suggested either oak or ash. I had the same choices for the gunwales and the thwarts. I selected oak for those because, even though I could find ash in my locale, I couldn’t find it long enough to run the full length of my canoe. Once I chose oak for the gunwales, I decided to use oak on the rest of my boat, just to keep it uniform.

Let me just point out that when choosing the wood for your seat, make sure you don’t stray from the wood types recommended in your book. Your canoe seat might need to support 200 pounds or more (not you women, of course!), so it needs to be made of strong wood. Oak and ash are hardwoods and can therefore handle higher loads. If the “how to build a canoe” book recommends hardwood, stick with hardwood!

How to Build a Canoe Seat – Joint Choices

When it came to how to build a canoe seat, my “How to build a canoe” book again gave me several options. Because a canoe seat is made up of four separate pieces of wood, they need to be joined together. I had three options for joining the wood. A lap joint, a doweled joint, and a mortise and tenon joint.

how to build a canoe lap jointA lap joint is probably the easiest. You remove material from each piece of wood being joined and glue them together using a clamp. It’s an “okay” joint method, but I wasn’t convinced it would be strong enough. I thought,” I’m spending all this time building a canoe, why not spend a few more minutes and make my seats as strong as possible.

how to build a canoe seatThe second option is a doweled joint. I’ve done these before, but found them to be tricky without a drill press. It’s almost impossible to drill the holes perfectly parallel with the wood using a hand drill. Unless you own a drill press, don’t attempt this one. It might look easy on paper but if you’re off a hair, your seat will look bad.

how to build a canoe seatThe last joint type shown in my “How to build a canoe” book was the old school joint known as a mortise and tenon joint. This joint, I believe, is the strongest. It involves removing some wood on one piece (called the tenon), and creating a square hole in the other piece to receive the tenon. “How do you drill a square hole”, you ask? With a square drill bit, of course! (Just kidding!)

Really, you just drill several holes and square out the corners using a shark 1/4″ chisel. It’s not really difficult and is just another skill you’ll gain while learning how to build a canoe seat.

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How to Build a Canoe Paddle

Learning How to Build a Canoe Paddle is Easy

how to build a canoe paddleOnce you learn how to build a canoe paddle, the second paddle is easy. And after building your canoe hull, building the paddles are a snap!

Hopefully you bought a good book on canoe building that gave you clear instructions on how to build a canoe as well as canoe seats, and paddles. The book I purchased, DID have all that.

What I always did as I was learning how to build a canoe, was to read the entire chapter on whatever subject I was learning before I began any work. This way I became familiar with the whole process and made fewer mistakes as a result.

How to Build a Canoe Paddle Using a Template

Templates are great. They take the guesswork out of getting the shape perfect. My paddle plans called for three separate pieces of wood – one middle layer of 1/4″ thick cedar and two layers of 5/16″ Ash. The center piece (cedar) went the full length of the paddle, while the ash pieces made up the handle. This gave the blade some flexibility.

My book on how to build a canoe included 1/2 scale patterns that I cut out and enlarged. Then I made the center layer with strips of cedar just like the canoe hull. These were glued together as explained on my home page How to Build a Canoe.

After cutting out the cedar and ash pieces, I glued them all together using fiberglass resin. Boy, that stuff is like the ultimate glue!  Once it’s dry, you’re never going to separate them!

One thing I learned in the process of how to build a canoe paddle, was don’t waste too much time sanding and shaping the paddle until after their glued together and dry. The three pieces are not going to match perfectly. No worries! It’s easy to shape them with a coarse belted belt sander later.

how to build a canoeOnce the shaping and sanding is done, you simply cover the blade with fiberglass cloth and give the whole paddle two to three coats of marine varnish.

One final tip I need to mention in this tutorial on how to build a canoe paddle is, make both paddles simultaneously. It’s easier to complete each process once for both paddles.

I hope this article was helpful and taught you a little more about how to build a canoe.

>>How to Build a Canoe – Home Page

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How to Build a Canoe

how to build a canoeHave you ever wondered if you could learn how to build a canoe? For years I’d been thinking and talking about building a canoe, but never took that first step. Exactly what is involved in building a wood strip canoe and how difficult is it?

Let me just say right off the bat, that building a canoe is not difficult. It’s just a matter of taking the necessary steps until one day, you’re done! Yes, there are some skills that you need, but just some basic woodworking skills are all that’s required.

What does a person need to know about how to build a canoe? The first step to take is deciding the size and basic design for your canoe. Do you want a solo canoe or one that will carry two or more people? Is stability important, or do you want speed to rule?

There are also various materials that a canoe can be made of. There are canoes made of plywood. Some canoes are made of tiny wood strips glued together.

How to Build a Canoe Made of Wood Strips

In this section, I’ll explain how to build a canoe made of wood strips. This is my favorite type of canoe because, to me, it looks the best when completed! A wood strip canoe requires more time to build, but when its done, you’ve really got a showpiece!

To build a canoe with wood strips, you first rip cedar into thin strips. Then you make plywood stations which are attached to a wooden frame to keep them stationary. Starting at the gunwales, you start by stapling the first strip to the plywood stations. Add more wood strips by gluing them edge to edge.

Repeat this process until the entire hull is complete. Let it dry for a couple days, then sand it. Don’t over sand! Remember the wood strips are only 1/4″ thick.

How to Build a Canoe with Fiberglass Cloth

how to build a canoeThe next step in learning how to build a canoe is applying the fiberglass to the outer hull. For me this part was a little trickier than gluing the wood strips together. As a contractor, I’ve had plenty of years working with wood – fiberglass was a horse of a different color! I guess when learning how to build a canoe, one must leave his or her comfort zone!

The key to applying fiberglass cloth to the hull is to take your time, but hurry! What do I mean by that? Fiberglass resin sets up quite fast, so you must keep moving. The trick I learned was to mix smaller batches of resin. This way I didn’t feel so rushed.

How to Build a Canoe – Flipping Your Canoe

After you complete the fiberglass, the next step in the process of learning how to build a canoe is flipping the canoe over. This step requires at least two people. Detach the plywood stations from the main frame, leaving them in the canoe. With a person or two on each end, gently spin the canoe and rest it on its bottom.

Now, using a rubber mallet, tap the plywood stations until they start to come loose. Don’t hit them too hard. Eventually they’ll start to break loose and can then be removed.

When learning how to build a canoe, a person learns not to force things. Use a little finesse.

How to Build a Canoe – Sanding the Inside Hull

As you go through the steps of learning how to build a canoe, your skills will gradually improve.

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The Process of Learning How to Build a Canoe

Personal Insights on How to Build a Canoe

how to build a canoeDuring the 18 months that I learned how to build a canoe, my skills really improved. Here’s a summary of the knowledge I gained:

  1. Learning how to build a canoe, especially the wood strip variety, requires patience. I spent a year and a half building my canoe, however I could have finished it in about 3 months had I been more consistent. Some more pressing matters came up which I needed to deal with, so the project was put on hold for several months. If you have lots of time, great! But don’t become so obsessed with it that you neglect other priorities. Also, building a wood canoe should be an enjoyable and relaxing venture. Make sure it stays that way.
  2. If you’re using red cedar you’ll notice that cedar wood comes in very light shades and darker colors. As you’re mixing the colors together, make sure you line up the light shades with other light shades where they wood strips meet at the bow and stern. I didn’t pay attention to this and had dark strips on one side of the canoe with lighter wood opposite them.
  3. While sanding the hull prior to applying the fiberglass, I spent too much time getting it smooth. I discovered that the time to focus on smoothness is during the fiberglassing stage. Don’t waste too much time getting the wood perfect. The fiberglass does a great job filling gaps and voids.

These are a few things I discovered while learning how to build a canoe.

How to Build a Canoe – Not Rocket Science

Even though I didn’t have a clue how to build a canoe, once I started, I found that it wasn’t that difficult. I admit I do have a fairly extensive background in construction, but I really didn’t use much of those skills while building my canoe. Learning how to build a house and how to build a canoe are two totally different things!

The main thing to keep in mind as you learn how to build a canoe, is take one step at a time. Don’t think too far ahead and let yourself become overwhelmed. Be patient and enjoy the process. It’s supposed to be fun – not a burden.

How to Build a Canoe – The Finishing Touches

how to build a canoeOnce the canoe is finished, the next step is to make two canoe paddles. I have an entire page describing how to build a canoe paddle. In a nutshell, a paddle is comprised of a core made of thin wood strips, just like the canoe hull. Then you laminate two additional wood strips made of ash to each side of the core piece.

The final steps of how to build a canoe paddle are applying fiberglass to the paddle area and coating the entire paddle with marine varnish. Pretty simple, really.

Finally, you’ve got to learn how to build a canoe seat – or actually two if your canoe is designed for two people. Canoe seat are simply a wooden frame made of oak or ash with small holes drilled around the perimeter. Then you weave cane through the holes and overlap other canes to form the seat.I also have an entire page explaining how to build a canoe seat. It’s fairly simple – just follow the directions.

I hope this post explaining what I learned about how to build a canoe was helpful and hopefully encouraging. As I develop this website, I’ll be adding other topics like:

How to build a canoe rack

How to build a canoe cart

How to build a canoe out of plywood



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How to Build a Canoe – The Necessary Tools

how to build a canoeAn important element in learning how to build a canoe is knowing which tools are needed and which are not all that necessary.

The first tool you’ll need is a table saw. You’ll need this to rip the cedar or whatever wood you’re using into strips 1/4″ wide. It also comes in handy when you rip the gunwales later in the project.

When I built my canoe, I purchased an electric stapler. A stapler is used during the stripping stage and I’d say I used several thousand staples! That’s a lot of squeezing! If you’re younger and have strong hands or want to improve your grip, you could stick with a hand stapler.

A tool you cannot do without is a sander. I actually used two sanders while building my wood strip canoe. A belt sander for the rough sanding and an orbital sander for the final sanding. Using a belt sander is not mandatory, but definitely speeds up the process. An orbital sander is required. Start out with the lowest grit paper you can find like a 40 or 60 grit. Then gradually work your way down to about an 80 or 100 grit.

Some Other Tools You’ll Need as You Learn How to Build a Canoe

Other tools you’ll need are an electric drill, jig saw, and chop saw. The drill is needed to pre-drill holes for the gunwale and drilling holes in the seat frames before caning. The jig saw is for shaping the paddle blades, and a chop saw is handy for cutting boards to length during the building process.

These are the basic tools you’ll need as you learn how to build a canoe. Additional simple tools like screwdrivers, measuring tapes, pencils, a hammer, etc. will be necessary, too.

>>How to Build a Canoe – Home Page

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How to Build a Canoe – Which Design is Best?

How to Build a Canoe – Design Selection

how to build a canoeFrom my own experience in learning how to build a canoe, I discovered that the very first step is to decide, “What is the intended use of my canoe?” Will it be built for speed? Do I want an extra stable canoe, which won’t be prone to tipping? Will the canoe be used for hauling heavy loads? How many people will be riding in the canoe?

All these questions need to be answered before starting your canoe construction. The answers will determine the length, width, depth, and overall shape of your canoe. For example, a canoe built for speed will be longer and narrower. If you want a more stable canoe then you need a design that’s wider. A canoe built for whitewater needs to be shorter and more manuverable. If your canoe will be used for long paddle trips with a couple people and lots of camping supplies, then you need a long, wide canoe – probably 20 feet long and 44″ wide.

If you want a canoe for everyday recreational use that is stable and can easily carry two adults, a 16′ long canoe with two seats and 36″ in width is about perfect.

How to Build a Canoe – Two Choices

how to build a canoe out of plywoodAnother important design question when considering how to build a canoe, is the type of construction. The two choices are basically plywood or wood strip. I chose wood strip because I wanted a canoe that would turn heads when I took it out. Wood strip requires more build time, but when you’re done, it’s a work of art!

Plywood canoes are much faster to build, but I don’t think they look as good. If you want a basic canoe and you don’t have a lot of extra time to build one, a plywood canoe will serve your purpose.

how to build a canoe using good plansOnce you decide on a design and which type of construction you want to use, it’s time to search for plans showing how to build a canoe. There are many good books available describing how to build a canoe. Most have plans and instructions for several different designs, so you need to browse the contents to discover if the design you want is included. Make sure the book you purchase has very detailed plans, instructions, and templates. The one I recommend is shown below. It has several designs to choose from and the instructions are thorough and easy to understand.

how to build a canoe bookClick here to Preview Book

This book is beautifully illustrated with tons of photos. It shows you step by step how to build a canoe. It was written especially for the novice boat builder who wants to achieve professional looking results using common, everyday tools and techniques.

Here’s a video showing how to build a canoe.

In summary, the first step in how to build a canoe is to figure out which canoe design suits you the best. Once you have that nailed down, the rest is easy!

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How to Build a Canoe

Welcome to How to Build a Canoe

Welcome to How to Build a Canoe. My website is dedicated to people like you who have an interest in learning how to build a canoe yourself. I just finished building my wood strip canoe this year (2011). The picture below is a photo I took on her maiden voyage!

how to build a canoeI spent about 18 months building my canoe, but it could have been completed quicker. I just worked on it when I had extra time. I think I could build another one in a couple of months if I worked more steady at it.

Before I started I had no idea how to build a canoe. Being a contractor, I had quite a bit of woodworking experience, but no canoe building expertise. I suppose my background did help, but I truly believe that anyone with even a small amount of woodworking skills can build a canoe quite easily.

The Biggest Challenge as I Learned How to Build a Canoe

The hardest phase as I was learning how to build a canoe was applying the fiberglass cloth. With my 35 year background working with wood, I had no problem creating the hull, ripping and installing the gunwales, or shaping and securing the thwart. That was all a piece of cake! But when I started the application of the fiberglass cloth and resin, I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive!

You see, the resin has a hardener added to it that causes it to cure fairly rapidly. I knew no one who had previously built a canoe, so I couldn’t ask anyone how to build a canoe! All I had was my trusty book, plans, and a positive attitude. Let me just say that I think a positive attitude and a little courage are important when learning how to build a canoe or anything for the first time.

how to build a canoe seatProbably the second hardest stage while I was learning how to build a canoe was building the seats. Making the oak frames wasn’t difficult (at least for me), but when it came time to do the caning, wow! I have a lot of woodworking experience, but no weaving background! To cane a seat, you need small fingers, good eyes, and a lot of patience! It’s also very time consuming, so give yourself enough time to complete it. My canoe has TWO seats, so I had to do it twice! The second one went faster, but it still seemed like an eternity!

>>How to Build a Canoe – Home Page


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