Cedar rib construction books/articles?

Peter Rob

Curious about Wooden Canoes
I've recently joined the WCHA and this forum, having previously built two wooden canoes; a cedar strip and a wood & canvas. I'm thinking about my next project and am attracted to the idea of building an all wood cedar rib canoe, along the traditional 'Peterborough' lines. However, I don't seem able to find much detailed information about the construction process, unlike the books that I used for the previous constructions. Could anyone guide me to an appropriate source book or article or threads on this forum that would help me? I was planning to use an open form if possible as that worked well on my wood & canvas boat.
I'm also pondering the best design to use. It will be for solo and occasional tandem use and I would like to set it up with a simple lateen sailing rig. Any suggestions about plans would be most welcome.
Many thanks for your help and advice.

There is almost nothing out there on Cedar Rib construction. The fellow to talk to would be Jchu, here on the boards. I have one, and it needs HEAVY restoration. I had a set of custom router bits made for the T&G profiles. I've not dived into it as yet though.
I have one too, it probably needs more work than Mark's. I've toyed with the idea of taking lines and building one, but it sounds like it was such a pain to build in the factory, that I am not so sure about adapting it to my own workshop.

Not much else to read - go back to the old catalogs and J.S. Stephenson's patents. Also have a look at Nick Dennis's three-part article on restoring his cedar rib canoe that started with the December 2014 issue of Wooden Canoe. There is also an article by Michael Grace about his cedar rib in the ACBS Rudder that arrived in my mailbox today, but I have not read it yet.

Many thanks for your suggestions Mark and Dan. I'll follow those up and am also steadily working my way through previous threads on this forum to pick up ideas.
Where are you located? Have you seen one "in the flesh" yet? If not, as soon as you do, your enthusiasm might decline rapidly!
Hi Mark,
I'm in the UK so have followed the Nick Dennis refurbishment blog. Actually though, as a newcomer to some of the terminology, I'm wondering if I have described the wrong type of construction. The type craft I was planning to copy has multiple small half-round transverse ribs at about 2-3 inch centres and tapered longitudinal planking. I called this cedar rib but maybe it isn't. The craft built by canoebuildermark in 2005 and shown in a thread is what I'm trying to emulate, not the transverse planked style. Like the one used as background on this forum page! I thought this was a Peterborough method but perhaps I'm wrong - what should it be called? I have seen the short Walter Walker video and have the 'wood & canvas' books (clearly different in quite a few ways) but not much else apart from the one thread. I've sent a pm to canoebuildermark as he may be able to help.
Sorry if I have caused confusion and thanks again for your help.
Hi Folks,
Any more thoughts on the above? Also, what type of wood can be used for the multiple half-round ribs? Can these be cedar or is that a bit soft? Are they normally ash or basswood? Can anyone recommend a source of Northern White Cedar lumber - clear, knot free?
Many thanks again for any advice.
Hi Peter, If you are St Ives (Cambridgeshire) way come and have a look at my Peterborough Cedar Rib. It will scare you when you look at the detail and how they built them. That's why there are not too many around. Difficult and expensive to build!

Hi Nick,
Many thanks for your kind offer - I am hoping to see your Peterborough at one of the UK WCHA chapter meetings.

Hi Rob,
Thanks for the clarification on nomenclature. However, it is a bit confusing as many people use the term "cedar strip" to mean the epoxy/cedar/epoxy sandwich boats. Perhaps that is why the term "traditional cedar strip" is used in the description of this section of threads.
I am interested that elm of oak are used for the ribs but would think this was a bit heavy - has anyone tried using cedar?

Thanks again.
Hi Nick,

I am interested that elm of oak are used for the ribs but would think this was a bit heavy - has anyone tried using cedar?

When your ribs are 1/2-inch half-round, you need the strength of hardwood. Red (slippery) elm was perhaps the most commonly used rib stock in North America, white ash and white oak are also acceptable.

If you look at canoes with cedar ribs, you will find that they are rarely less than 1-1/2" wide, and more typically 2 to 2-3/8.

And yes, longitudinal (traditional) cedar strip canoes are heavy.
Many thanks for that Dan. I don't think I will be able to get hold of any red elm so it looks like it will be either white ash half-round ribs or back to the broad cedar ribs that I have used before. I'll ponder a bit longer!
I see it is a different construction.
As for a cedar rib, Hell do it.
There is a learning curve. I have been tossing the idea around in my head of doing one from scratch. I did a complete restore.
I have always wondered why no one has done one. Sure it is going to take some time, and be frustrating. I paddle mine every week in the summer and it is a beauty, everyone lets you know it to. Not only that, it can take a punch. It made a photo shoot for Dixie Dixon last summer for a new product. I guess its released as I wasn't suppose to say anything. My claim to fame, even paddled a super model around in it. I offered to take her out to the island but she didn't seem keen on it. It actually was a big deal. That is another story.

So, it would be better if you had a wreck of one for observation. I was told all the basics by a guy that use to research them. Where's Jack? I am more than happy to hand out any information. Get me motivated I'll get started on one.
Mark yours is not that bad. Dan I would like to see your wreck.
Yes Jack Wagner. He was really a nice guy and went way out of the way to do stuff for you. He had a heck of a lot of information on cedar rib canoes, and other canoes. He didn't work on boats but archived information, talked to people that worked the factories that might still be alive. I think he just over did it and got burnt out. I did catch a hint of maybe some canoe wars.
Last time I talked to him he was restoring vintage drumsets.
Was that recent?
I bought a few items from him and had some limited communications,
even did some looking at one point but it's like he disappeared.
The canoe site that I believe is his, is still up.

No it wasn't recent. Time is going by fast. I would say 10 years ago. I have his number but he won't take any calls. He must just no longer be affiliated with canoe stuff. I always thought he was planning a book. He shared many pictures of Walter W and his shop, several DVDs, conversations he had with Peterborough guys that worked on rib canoes. One with a nifty repair on broken ribs on a rib canoe. It was always like "don't share this with anyone". I think the embargo is over. Nothing that isn't a big deal. Unless you wanted it in a book deal.
Hello folks,
I've also just joined the 'Peterborough' ranks. That's the only term I know that describes these canoes even while later Peterborough's were wide cedar ribs and canvas covered. I'm also amazed at the detail and work involved in building these. Mine has not just ribs but a horizontal rib/insert on every plank.
This thread desperately needs some photos so we can all understand what we're talking about.

So the first photo below is a cedar strip canoe - the type that Peter Rob seemed to be thinking of when he started the thread. This one is a Walter Walker, and it has half-round ribs, narrowly-spaced, to which ship-lapped longitudinal planing is attached.

The second photo shows a Peterborough cedar rib canoe. Here, planking runs in the opposite direction, from gunwale to gunwale, and each "rib" interlocks with it's neighbors via tongue-and-groove treatment. This very tiny feature apparently worked very well because these canoes hold up surprisingly well over time if properly cared for.

The third photo shows a detail of a wide-board canoe, which is the type Treewater recently adopted (see the thread at http://forums.wcha.org/showthread.php?14513-UFO-Peterborough). It has wide planking fastened to widely-spaced half-round ribs, and junctions between edge-butted planks are covered with short segments of rib stock, precisely fitted between and perpendicular to the ribs.

Hopefully this is helpful. Search on these forums for any of these types of canoe and you'll find quite a few posts related to each construction style along with lots of photos of some wonderful canoes.



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Thank you Michael,
Whatever makes most sense. Indeed, the wide board seems the distinctive feature of my canoe and it's kind. The significant issue with these wide boards is that they split or crack. I just spent five days in camp slowing tracking down leaks and patching them. I watched water literally pour in where a board had spit. Some spots previous owners had patched with "backer boards" I call them which were then nailed in place. I just used gorilla tape. I'm interested in what others have done with these wide board canoes. IMG_4467.jpg
I recognize that boards shrink and butt joints separate. I've patched and refinished old wood floors where there was an 1/8" gap to each board. My canoe hung for 25 years on a top floor ceiling where it obviously was quite dry.