I find it interesting how few books there are on how to build a canvas/rib/plank canoe, and how late in time they are.
Canoe and Boat Building: A Complete Manual For AmateursW.P. Stephens, 1885
This is a very interesting book, which is available digitally HERE
. It was published by Forest and Stream Publishing Co. and the author, W.P. Stephens, is named on the cover page as the Canoeing Editor of Forest and Stream
, which was an outdoor activities magazine published in New York City from 1873 to 1930.
The 1885 publishing date of the book is quite interesting because, at least to me, there is doubt as to whether canvas-covered rib & plank canoes were being made as of 1885. For example, in an article in the Fall 2022 issue of Wooden Canoe
, Howard Herman-Haase argues the case that B.N. Morris was the first to make canvas-covered "solid-planked shell" canoes in 1887.
However, in one innocent appended paragraph, Stephens' 1885 book seems to prove this argument wrong. I'll quote that money paragraph shortly.
First, Stephens describes two primary canoe construction techniques as of 1885: carvel and lapstreak (clinker). In the carvel method, planks were laid edge to edge and nailed to ribs. The seams between the planks were caulked with string or oakum and sealed with putty or pitch. Lapstreak construction is familiar.
Next, Stephens goes on to describe other all-wood variations such as rib and batten, rabbetted planks, tongue and groove planks, and wooden "double skinned" hulls with paint-soaked muslin in between the two wood skins. He also says canoes had been built "for the past thirteen years" out of paper using a "patented process" and special tools, but that "they have not become popular." He also mentions that "[t]wo tin canoes showed up at the first meet in 1880."
Later, Stephens devotes an entire chapter to "Canvas Canoes," but the construction described is that of canvas being stretched over a frame of wood ribs and thin longitudinal strips. This is a sort of skin-on-frame type of construction that he traces to the pre-bark method of making boats by stretching animal hides over a woven frame of branches, as in a coracle. Herman-Haase describes this type of construction as the "Gerrish-style" of canvas canoe, which Morris supposedly replaced in 1887 with his canvas-covered "solid-planked shell" construction.
At the very end of his chapter on Canvas Canoes (p. 114), hearkening back to carvel plank construction, Stephens appends one short final paragraph, which says:
"Another method of building a canvas boat, as described by a writer in Forest and Stream
, was to build the boat, of whatever model desired, in the same manner as a carvel built wooden boat, but using very thin planking, no attempt being made to have the seams in the latter watertight. This frame is then covered with canvas laid in thick paint, causing it to adhere to the wood, and making a smooth, watertight surface. Such a boat can be easily built by those who have not the skill and training necessary to build a wooden boat, and it would be strong and durable, as well as cheap."
That's all, folks! But it's enough to prove that the idea of a canvas-covered solid-planked shell canoe existed sometime prior to 1885. Morris may have been the first to commercially manufacture canvas/rib/plank canoes, but he didn't invent the idea in 1887. I wonder who the unnamed writer was of that Forest and Stream