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To build a boat and never be done

Discussion in 'Wood and Canvas' started by Peetster, Aug 4, 2020.

  1. Peetster

    Peetster New Member

    Can anyone tell me how long it takes to build a wood/canvas canoe, as compared to a cedar strip like bear mountain boats? I am finishing my first cedar strip Prospector from Bear Mountain Boats, and I’m smitten by the wooden boat community. I realize I’ll have to build a steam box and get my paws on some clean white pine (which will be tough—I’m from Kentucky—are there alternatives?) I like the traditional look of wood/ canvas. Are they easier/harder?
  2. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Not pine. Eastern white cedar or western red cedar.
  3. Howie

    Howie Wooden Canoe Maniac

    How long it takes to restore a wood/canvas canoe depends on the following:
    • The canoe's condition when you start restoration. Are there broken ribs? How much wood rot is present? Do you need to make new outer rails? Do you need to remove fiberglass?
    • Your restoration skills vs what problems the canoe has
    • How meticulous you are
    • How much time per day you want - or allowed (ie, are you married?) - to devote to the project
    • And your environment. That is, do you have a place you can work on the canoe year round? or are you dependent on the weather.
    Add to the above some fixed time. Like it typically takes at least 6 weeks for canvas filler (aka mud) to cure. And perhaps 2 weeks to paint allowing for proper drying time between coats.

    On average I restore 2 to 3 canoes per year. But I'm retired. And I do this as a hobby. And I work on canoes in an unheated garage in upstate NY. And I'm married!

    Note that you don't need a steam box - many of us use a tube of plastic instead. And you can order most any material you'll need (like wood, fasteners, canvas, filler) through the mail.
    JimT likes this.
  4. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    Peetster's talking about a W/C build, not a restoration. First you need to build a form, which (I'm only guessing) takes a significant piece of time. You might want to start with a restoration, as the form is likely not needed...

    Check out the Local Area Chapters page here: where you'll hopefully find an established group of builders and/or restorers near you. Folks here are pretty willing to help with advice, and gatherings are just good, clean fun...
  5. Fitz

    Fitz Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Northern white cedar for ribs and maybe planking, eastern (atlantic) white cedar for planking, western red cedar for planking. Many trim options are available.

    Good luck.

    Last edited: Aug 4, 2020
  6. MGC

    MGC Scrapmaker

    There are many ways to skin that cat. Taking a canoe building class with one of the builders who offer that gives to access to a form, materials and expert instruction. In that situation you can have a hull ribbed, planked, decked, canvased, filled and railed in a week. The option then is to allow them to finish it or to take it home, allow it to cure before you do. Pat Smith, Rollin Thurlow, Jerry Stelmok are among those I know offer this option. There are certainly others.
    To build your own, you can buy form kits from some of these builders. Rollin sells a ready to build form. It should be possible for you to assemble it in a week.
    If you have a form and wood to work with (cedar for planking and ribs, ash, cherry, oak for rails, thwarts, decks, Oak or ash for stems) it will take a pretty good amount of time to prep the wood, a day to build a steam box, stem form, taper jig for the ribs. It will take a day to cut, shape and route the ribs, a day to make the stems, a day to 1/2 day to make the decks and inside rails. It will take several days to saw the planking out from rough boards and plane it. Thwarts can be made in a day. Seat frames can be made in a day but learning to cane and caning will take much longer. Many of these steps can actually be done more quickly if you are not working through a learning curve.
    The first step is to get your inside rails on the form and rib it. You can do the entire hull in one day. Next you plank most of it. Depending on the size of the boat, one day. Off the form and finish planking, install the decks, oil up the planking, one more day. Canvas and more day. Then you wait. The hull needs to cure for 6 to 8 weeks before you can do much more. The varnishing of the inside can be done before it is canvased. Make your seats, thwarts, shape the outside rails while you wait. Once the hull is cured you may start to sand, prime, paint...that takes at least a week depending upon the weather, how many coats you use, how fussy you are. Varnishing can also take a lot of time.
    Paint on, now you can install the rails, seats, thwarts and stem bands. An experienced builder can do that in a day but figure on two. The boats keel! We won't let you poke holes through that nice fresh canvas. Add it up and say without building a form you have about 14 plus full days of continuous work but about 3 or so months from start to finish when you consider the time it takes between steps.
    Most of us would figure on 6 months or so assuming that we allow time for mowing the lawn, chasing turkeys in May, working through the honey do list.
    There are a few good books available here on this site that can get you going and as Paul noted, a local chapter can help you get started.

    To make a good go of this you will need a good table saw to rip out the ribs, planks and rails (some vertical saw on a good band saw). It will be very helpful to have a planer to plane the boards and ribs. A good drum sander is useful for shaping thwarts, half ribs etc. You will need a router and router table to shape the edges of the ribs and seats and the outside rails. You will need a draw knife to rough out the decks and thwarts. A band saw can be used for shaping the stems and inside rails to fit the decks (but there are ways to do this with the table saw). You will need a clinching iron, good small hammer, flush cut hand saw, a few gauges and canvasing tools that you can make yourself to mark the gore, the cut of the top boards etc. You will build a couple clamps to stretch the canvas. For faring you can make a block sand paper holder. It sounds worse than it is but it's good to know the extent of what is involved.... It' exciting and fun work. Building (IMHO) is much easier than restoration. It's far more predictable.

    And for a bit of comical perspective, if you have the skills, parts, can be built in a day or two. This AA grade boat ( was built in one day. It was oiled, shellaced and canvased the next day. Then it was filled, railed, colored and shipped. 4 total days were applied before it was shipped.
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2020
    JimT and mmmalmberg like this.
  7. OP

    Peetster New Member

    I stand corrected—cedar.

    Thanks. That gives me an idea.
  8. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    For building a wood/canvas canoe without the need for a traditional building form (which itself is about as difficult to build as a canoe) you might take a look at these articles from our journal --

    Wooden Canoe issue 134, April 2006, “Building a One-off Canoe” by Alex CombWooden Canoe issue 7, summer 1981, “Building the Popular Mechanics Canoe” by Jack Davis. Both issues are available through the WCHA Store
    < >

    In addition to building wood/canvas canoes, Alex Comb also sells plans for building them – see Stewart River Boat Works < >
  9. jva74

    jva74 Curious about Wooden Canoes

    I built my w/c from zero to first paddling in 6 months. I used the plans and open form method by Alex, including traditional filler (5 weeks curing). Open form can be disassembled and it takes up only a bit space. Would do again the same way.

    I estimate I put in 800 hours of work + lot of reading books and this forum. Lots of work and time but very rewarding.

    Attached Files:

  10. shelldrake

    shelldrake LOVES Wooden Canoes

    I'm just finishing an Atkinson Traveler build. I wish I had kept track of the hours, but I"m estimating around 150 hours not including form and stem jig construction. May be way off, but I think I'm in the ballpark. As MGC points out, there are lots of steps involved in just getting ready to build. Once I really got started, it took me about 5 months from the time I steamed the ribs, to final finishing (I'm recently retired. This was my new "job"). That doesn't include pre making ribs, stems, inwales, decks, thwarts and milling planking.

    If you want to "ease up" to a new build, you may want to find a canoe or two to restore first to develop your skills and understanding.

    Good luck!

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