20ft, Freighter Canoe Build


BFC fan

Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes
It's a BOAT! Well almost. They decided to finish the outside complete with Brass stem band before pulling her off the mold. They have the inside of the transom glassed and they are prepping the inside hull for glass.


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BFC fan

Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes
they have the inside glassed, applied 2 coats of Hurculiner to the floor and installed the seat risers.


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BFC fan

Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes
last details and launching. They told me "the boat surpassed our expectations"


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New Member
20ft freighter canoe

Im interested in building this freighter canoe. Does anyone have a set of plans or patterns? I want to build one out of Alaska white spruce.


New Member
Tim this is an awesome looking canoe! I've been looking for something along these lines for some time now. I'd be happy for any info you could send my way. My email is joncsquires@gmail.com Also my ph# is 907-323-2559 and address is Hc 62 box 5220 Delta jct. AK 99737. I sure do appreciate this.

Dave Osborn

Looks like an operating room in a big city hospital...not a workshop!
Not being critical....just envious of your organizational abilities. Obviously it spills over to your attention to detail.
Nice boat!


Curious about Wooden Canoes
I am new to this forum though I have been building small wooden boats, and in recent years especially, canoes, for most of my adult life. Never building as a living but rather as a hobby built around the history of all kinds of small boats and canoes.

This article is quite nice. It is an excellent photo essay of the project from beginning to end. The finished product is lovely and shows good workmanship. What I can't quite figure out is that the "scantlings" (as John Gardner would term it) seem on the heavy side to me. I build all my canoes out of 1/4" strips of red cedar. My largest so far is an 18 1/2 ft White Guide model. It weighs less that my son's 17 ft plastic old town canoe! It is a bit awkward to get on my shoulders but I can carry it alone if I get it up there.

I would appreciate it if the writer of this article could explain the thought behind the heavy wooden strips that this canoe pictured was built of. It seems excessive to my eyes for a "canoe" even a 20 footer.

Engineering wise I believe the wood is primarily used to define the shape and make the center of a sandwich between the layers of glass and epoxy. This "epoxy and glass sandwich" is what gives the boat strength. If it were possible, I think a person could build a small boat out of cardboard, then glass both sides, and still create a very strong structure.

A Massachusetts company, called Bruno and Stillman, built fiberglass commercial fishing boats in several sizes, at least to 42 feet. They used BALSA wood as an inner core, in many places, to increase the distance between the layers of glass as there is little stress in the inner part of this sandwich, ie, where the wood is. The thicker you can make the sandwich, the more strength it has, as increasing the depth of an I beam adds considerable strength to it!

As I said, the pictured craft is one to be proud of, I am just curious as to why it was built so heavily.


Todd Bradshaw

I didn't write the article, but I have been building strip canoes and boats off and on for about 40 years, so maybe I'll qualify.

The main function of the thicker core is to generate stiffness. A freight canoe with that kind of beam running through a chop with a good sized motor will encounter drastically more stress than your recreational canoes will ever even come close to seeing. They're either stiff enough and strong enough to take it, or they break. You could certainly build the same shape and size from cardboard and fiberglass (or even without the cardboard) but to do so would require much more fiberglass in order to get the needed stiffness for the boat to hold its shape. By increasing the core thickness and separating the load-bearing inner and outer fiberglass skins of a stripper (or any composite boat) more, you get a substantial increase in stiffness with the least amount of additional weight. The main reason your 42' fishing boat example has a balsa core (just like many of the early fiberglass Old Town canoes did) is that it is a much lighter way to get the hull to have the stiffness needed to work properly than just piling on a very thick (and very heavy and expensive) amount of additional fiberglass.

The thicker you can make the sandwich, the more strength it has, as increasing the depth of an I beam adds considerable strength to it!

This isn't really true and you need to be very careful how you use the word "strength". It is stiffness that will increase, not so much impact strength or breaking strength and they aren't the same thing. A true "strength increase" in cored construction is primarily a function of increasing the tensile and compression strengths of the inner and outer skins, not the core. You can certainly make your I-beam stiffer by increasing the web dimension, but if you want to increase its breaking strength you're also going to have to increase the thickness of the top and bottom plates, because that's where you will get the big increases in tensile and compressive strength for the entire beam.

What this all boils down to is that the scantlings have to meet the task at hand. If you were to build yourself a similar freight canoe using the same construction you used on your White, just walking around in it you would feel the whole boat wiggle like a hunk of Jello and you would most likely be able to watch the bottom bounce up and down (if it would even resist oil-canning enough to stay down, as wider boat bottoms need more stiffness). Once underway, this all just gets magnified greatly and you would be lucky to get a hundred yards before the movement exceeded the construction scantlings' ability to flex and the boat would split open, tearing the glass and shattering the core. The only way to generate adequate hull stiffness and fix this potential problem without increasing core thickness would be a very substantial increase in the weights of the fiberglass skins - which would mean a big increase in overall hull weight and materials cost.


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Like you, I too have been in and around commercial boat building yards since May 1970. I have worked on some interesting craft, perhaps the most interesting was a total rebuild of the two masted schooner Nathaniel Bowditch. She is a full sister to the Schooner Bowdoin that Admiral McMillan sailed into the artic on so many adventures. These vessels were ruggedly built and designed to be frozen into the ice and stay with the hull intact.

Of course we worked on lots of commercial fishing boats as well as lots of small craft. John Gardner was writing in the Maine Coast fisherman at the time and was THE expert on small wooden boats and their history.

I have built a number of small boats, including for commercial fishing in the open sea, and know full well the stresses that boats are expected to withstand. I got interested in canoes about 15 yrs ago and have built several. Intend to build some more when I have time from my other projects.

Many boat designers have made the point that a boat needs to be built strong enough and heavy enough, to withstand the stresses that will be placed upon it. I have taken this to an art form of sorts and like to build my boats and canoes now to be strong enough to stand the usage that was predicted for them, and come through that in fine shape. I see absolutely NO advantage in "overbuilding" as it adds weight not necessary to the welfare of the boat.

Strip built canoes are a perfect examply of the "cold molded" boat building process.Many boatyards on the coast of Maine now, especially in Brooklin, ME (the home of Wooden Boat magazine) and where i worked for several years, are building large sail yachts with this technology, using vacuum bagging to get good compression of the veneers and glues. They get a LIGHT but very strong and durable hull, that can stand considerable punishment under adverse conditions.

The early masters of cold molding were the Gougeon Brothers of Bay City Michigan. In fact they wrote about cold molding.....a lot. I have their handbook on boatbuilding and it is a treasure. I believe it is still in print. There are several methods of cold molding. Strip building is just one of many. They included a section on strip built canoes. As you and I have both said there are two ways to increasing strength of strip built boats, by increasing the wood thickness and/or increasing the glass on the sides.

They did some testing of various thicknesses of strips and layers of glass. They created 12 inch squares, from different sizes of strips and added 6 oz cloth and a layer of resin to each side, then tested them to destruction.

3/16 strips.....................214 lbs to destruction.
1/4 strips.......................221 lbs to destruction
5/16 strips.....................300 lbs to destruction
3/8 strips.......................298 lbs to destruction

3/8 strips were the largest strips they sampled in that test!

I like to build a canoe that has the strength and durability to do what I want it to do, without being excessively heavy as,keep in mind, this canoe must be handled by hand bringing it ashore and portaging it. Adequate strength and light handling weight give one the best of both worlds. My big White has been loaded with all our camping gear, coolers, extra clothes, fishing gear, three people and the dog and performs admirably. Yes, the hull can be limber under certain conditions, but I don't see this as harmful. After all a wooden boat is designed to work in a seaway, by giving and following the water surface whereas a boat that is too stiff and unable to "give" to the surface of the water, can have undue stresses placed upon the hull.

That was a beautiful photo essay and I enjoyed following the construction very much. But I will still say that I would not have used such heavy strips as they did. That's just me and my design philosophy. I don't want to pick anyones boat apart but the first time I looked at that finished product I could see easily that it would be quite heavy. That was the design criteria evidently, as you say. But I look at some of the details and see where weight could easily have been saved. The rails have full thickness SQUARE ends where a bit of taper and better treatment of the ends could have reduced weight and made a much better looking craft. Same for the spray rails or whatever they are called, tapering and treating the blunt ends could have saved more weight and given better looks. The knees are all square cut on a bandsaw and not rounded over to look nicer.

I may sound pretty picky but am a fanatic for weight reduction where I can get it, particularly if it does not diminish overall strength while at the same time adding more artistic looking features to the finished product.

The 20 ft freighter is certainly well built and the owners should be proud of it. I am just glad that I don't have to try and work it up the beach by hand some day.


Todd Bradshaw

That's all nice. However a fair bit of it simply is not accurate.
- I have never heard anyone (including both Gougeon Brothers and WoodenBoat) label woodstrip/fiberglass construction "cold molding". It is not the same concept. Cold molding involves the lamination of layers of multiple wooden veneers (and/or plywood on big boats) at angles to the keel line and each other. It can be as simple as two layers of 1/8" cedar at 45 degrees to the keel on small boats (Gougeon 8' pram, for example) to boats over 100' long (Whitehawk). Some will have a layer of longitudinal wooden strips, but generally it's the inside layer and no effort is made to construct the I-beam-style layup of a strip canoe. Fiberglass or other composite cloths may be used on the outside, but are there primarily for abrasion protection and an increased water barrier. They are seldom if ever used on the inside as part of the layup. The only person I know of who recently produced cold molded canoes was Bob Lincoln (RKL Boatworks) back in the 1980s. They were built from opposed diagonal layers of 1/8" western red cedar. Since shaping the individual diagonal planks so that they fit together properly over an irregular curve is a pretty tedious process, and since the building mold needs sturdy lengthwise stringers that make it's construction much more complex than the "mold" of a stripper, cold-molded canoes and people building them are very rare these days. They're simply too much work for one-off construction.

- FYI The book "The Gougeon Brothers on Boat Construction" is still available, but now instead of costing $30, it is available absolutely free online as a PDF you can download. It is still the bible for wood epoxy boat construction and well worth reading. There are also some canoe-specific articles available to read in their "Epoxyworks" on-line magazine. Most of those pertaining to woodstrip canoes are authored for them by Ted Moores of Bear Mountain Canoe Co.

After all a wooden boat is designed to work in a seaway, by giving and following the water surface whereas a boat that is too stiff and unable to "give" to the surface of the water, can have undue stresses placed upon the hull.

In the case of strippers, this simply is not true. There is a definite limit of flexibility to strip canoe construction, and it is not as high as that of a solid composite construction. Push it past that point and the fiberglass and/or core will fracture. Since there is no cross-bracing other than the glass fibers crossing the strip joints, they tend to split lengthwise, usually on the inside from tension breaking the inside glass and then the core if it flexes enough. There is a thread on this very forum right at this moment that demonstrates what happens when the boat is underbuilt. The idea that strippers are designed to "work in a seaway" like an old lapstrake or carvel boat with calked seams will is pure hogwash.

Flexibility to absorb impact is a good thing on any canoe, but for strippers it has to be limited so that it doesn't break the boat, which it will certainly do with inadequate scantlings. Also, hulls with bottoms that bounce up and down in the water are very inefficient (thus the reason that high-end inflatables these days are almost all R.I.B.s (inflatable boats with stiff fiberglass or aluminum bottoms - Rigid Inflatable Boats). Bounce in a stripper bottom will eventually kill the canoe.

- Your quoted destruction test figures are nice, but the increase in panel stiffness would be a much more useful and meaningful figure to have for strip building - or figures that kept the core thicknesses the same and varied the fiberglass weights to see the changes in tensile strength yielded. You still seem to believe that the thickness increase for big boats is there to generate some sort of nebulous "strength". It's main role is to generate adequate hull stiffness on larger, wider hulls, and to keep the hull's flex out of the "danger zone" through both core thickness and skin thickness (layup tensile strength). This is how you create a strip boat that will motor through a big chop at fifteen or twenty knots with a big load without falling apart. Your theoretical lightweight boat would never be able to do that, just as your 18' White will never be able to do it. A freight canoe is a very different animal than your recreational canoe. You don't just pick one up and toss it on your shoulders, and unlike your canoe with three people, a dog, a cooler and some packs aboard, it will hold the contents of a small recreational vehicle.

The 20' traditional wooden freight canoe from Norwest Canoes, which is essentially the official "pickup truck" of northern Canada, weighs in at around 325 lbs. - so this freighter isn't doing bad at all for a freight canoe. By comparison, my 22' woodstrip fur trade canoe is about 145 lbs. with 1/4" thick side strips, 3/8" thick bottom strips and 10 oz. glass, doubled over the bottom inside and out. However, it is a paddling canoe. It was designed to hopefully survive a rock impact at four knots with six people and their gear aboard creating the momentum. It would never survive strapping a Honda 25 to the back end and pounding it through waves on a plane - just as your White would not. That sort of proposition simply requires more beef, and if it's going to be wood strip construction, more strip thickness or a massive increase in the lamination schedule (and weight) to achieve adequate rigidity, durability and safety.

It's good that you are enjoying building canoes, but in this case you are reaching far beyond your knowledge and experience with your comments and theories.


Curious about Wooden Canoes
I have thought about how to respond to Mr Bradshaw for several days now, and finally can put it into words.

First, I apologize for registering on the WCHA forums and, by asking some simple questions stir up such a response. It is clear, as Mr Bradshaw took time to point out that I am just a dolt with no business talking about any of this stuff. I thank him for taking the time from his busy schedule to point that all out in a really nice way!

Though I am not a professional boat builder, and never claimed to be, I have built a number of different craft over the last 50 yrs. In addition I have built a significant number of high quality homes. Thankfully I have built both boats and homes for customers who liked and appreciated my work and passed word along to others. I am grateful for that as the only people whose opinions I really care about are them. Anybody can buy a $350 Wal mart laptop and, seated at his kitchen table, can tell the whole world how much he knows about anything and everything. Those opinions are worth far less to me than opinions from people I know and respect. I have far more respect for someone who has demonstrated,with his work, what he can do, his work speaks for itself! I have far more respect for him than I do for the guy who has to TELL me how much he knows!

Mr Bradshaw seems to enjoy demonstrating his wealth of expertise (nearly 7000 posts on Wooden Boat forums!) at the drop of a hat. Frankly I don't know how he has time to be able to share his opinions with so many of us "stupids", as I am 67 yrs old and still working two jobs in order to get by. Actually that is a good thing as I enjoy my work much more than I enjoy my writing on forums like this one. I only registered on here as I thought it might be fun but, as I have found in other places, there are always a few that dominate the discussions. I surely won't waste much time in the future on this blog as there are other places to share ideas where disagreement is not considered a faux pas.

I have been a member of WCHA several times but it has currently lapsed as we have had some financial misfortune and have not had any money to spare. I received a questionnaire via email a couple of weeks back from a man who was working on an advanced college degree program and was doing a study on the WCHA and asking questions as to why, or why not, some of us did not renew our membership. I responded and remember one of the questions was did I think there was any sense of "elitism" in the association and did that bother me. I responded by answering "some" as I don't really know the group that well. But somebody, or several somebodies, at the WCHA must be wondering if indeed this kind of thing has driven any former members away or surely that particular question would likely NOT have been asked.

I do know one of the top wood and canvas canoe builders in the country. I live about 10 miles from his shop and I drive by it now and then in the course of my travels. I have met him personally and have seen him at shows demonstrating his work and speaking about it. I worked for a boat builder in Brooklin, ME for several years who was a personal friend of this gentleman. Never in all that time have I ever heard, or read, of this fine gentleman having any negative words to say about anyone, nor has he ever said anything to disparage anybody that he might have disagreed with. That is the mark of a true professional who is comfortable in his work, his position and within himself. Contrast that to some of the abrasive "opinions" one can find on various blogs....such as this one above! That is the difference between a true gentleman and one who will never be that.

I never could understand those who could not disagree with somebody else...without doing so in an arrogant and abrasive way that put other people down. I have known a few folks in my time on this planet that knew a lot, or thought they knew a lot about most everything.....and never hesitated to share that knowledge with those they thought to be beneath them in ability and knowledge.

I have never liked even a single one of them!

I have thought about this a bit for several days and am trying to get my mind around to the place where I don't hold it against the association that one poster saw fit to take me to the cleaners. It is not the fault of the membership what any one poster chooses to say on this blog.

I registered on this forum as I have been pondering, for a year or so, how to build a strip canoe without the staples. I think the holes are unsightly and a blemish on the finished product. I don't think it is difficult to build a strip boat without staples but think it is extremely difficult to build one without staples.....quickly, as in a production atmosphere. I had hoped that browsing around on this forum might have caused me to run into other people who feel this way, and to see some of the ideas that they have come up with. I did find a tiny bit of info here, but found lots more on the net. All the people that I have read about who are trying to do this are always interested in how others try to solve this problem. This, in my opinion is what it is really all about. This is how innovation comes to pass in any field. Not by having some know it all claiming to have the last word on whatever the problem of the day is!

Todd Bradshaw

Well, if you jump into a thread on a boat building forum and start telling them they they're doing it all wrong when it is obvious that you have little or no experience with that sort of boat and the stress that it has to survive, and the "scantlings" you are suggesting are quite likely to make a boat that will likely break in use and be potentially dangerous to its passengers - then somebody is likely to come along and correct you. If that makes me a know-it-all, I can certainly live with that. Whether or not you choose to learn anything is up to you, but if nothing else, maybe it will help keep someone else who might be interested in building a similar boat from making an expensive and dangerous mistake. A big, wide, outboard-powered freight canoe is a very different animal from a typical paddling canoe. It's either sturdy enough to exceed the potential stresses it will be subjected to and be safe, or it isn't. Your paddling canoe scantlings are clearly not. If telling you so makes me arrogant, I can certainly live with that as well.

As far a stapleless construction goes, there is plenty of information on the web about it and plenty of first-time builders have done it quite nicely using a variety of techniques that you could try and learn from. The problem with doing it at a "production atmosphere speed" is the time needed for the glue in the strip-to-strip joints to dry, which pretty much has to happen before the clamps (or whatever) can be removed to place the next strip. This problem has persisted at least as far back as the mid 1970s when Bob Wonnacott was building some of the first commercially offered stapleless strippers. Aside from switching to something like a UV cured acrylic glue (similar to what dentists use and probably pretty pricey) where you could walk along and zap the joint and 20 seconds later it's solid, the answer for production building seems to be working on multiple hulls at the same time. Wilderness Boats, for example, built using staples, yet they were turning out canoes at the rate of around 75 total man hours per finished canoe. One of their tricks was to have a separate set of forms just to make the bottoms using the football method of stripping their hull bottoms. It could later be transferred to the main forms, edge trimmed and the side strips added. If you had three or four boats to work on at the same time, you could probably often get a full day's work out of it. If not, it's probably going to be a couple hours here and a couple there and most of the time you're going to be waiting for glue to dry.

peter osberg

LOVES Wooden Canoes
I think the input questioning weight saving construction is valid, many canoes could be built with lighter materials without loss of critical strengths. A good example is the weight of commercially produced freighters, that can be built more strongly and durably, with more care and time, using lighter materials. No one should pretend to have all the answers.

Jim Dodd

LOVES Wooden Canoes
I'm a staple guy myself, but have seen many stapleless builds on the Bear Mountain boat forums.

The two biggest problems is of course the extra time, but stressed strips are hard to keep on the form without some form of fastening.

It's a puzzle I often entertain, but haven't found the answer to yet.

That's why I join these forums !


BFC fan

Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes
Well I've been away from this site for a while and missed this whole pissing contest. Mr. Bradshaw is spot on with his information. This is a BOAT designed to carry a lot of weight and be pushed at high speed thru pounding seas. Even if it were a double ended canoe for paddling with this wide a beam it would oil can like crazy if not built to spec. Get a copy of "Sheathed Strip Construction Scantlings Rule" by Thomas A MacNaughton and do the math. I built the prototype hull, an 18 footer with the same beam, but a narrower transom with 3/8" strips and 10oz. glass overlapped at the bottom inside and out and it oil cans more than I would like it to. These boats live on a trailer and not meant to be carried around,. That said, they are not all that heavy for their length and beam.
Here's the same boat with a 23hp Mud Buddy on the back flying up the Yukon