Help Sourcing Lumber in SE

Steve Ambrose

Nut in a Canoe
I grew up in the midwest and spent summers in northern Maine at the family camp paddling wood/canvas canoes. For many years now I've been living in AL - far from the north woods and access to the appropriate lumber for building canoes. A few years ago I stopped by Northwoods Canoe on my way back from an extended visit north and purchased plans and materials to build Rollin's 15' Cheemaun design. I finally completed the form and the boat last year. The local curiosity generated by that boat led me into restoring an 18' Old Town Guide. When I started asking all my usual sources about lumber to mill the 18' rails I ran into a real problem: 16' is the longest I've been able to find. Spruce is out of the question down here - I was going to substitute Cypress for the inner rails and use Mahogany for the outers. Does anyone know of a source for 18'+ stock anywhere in the Southeast? My only other solution is to order pre-milled, pre-bent replacements from Old Town at over $100 each plus whatever the semi-local Old Town repair dealer adds for tagging onto one of his shipments.
I live up in SE Ohio and I went through this same issue several years back. It's almost impossible to find commercial mills that will mill lumber this long. I was fortunate enough to find someone with his own semi portable band saw mill. He offered to cut me some 20 foot cherry and ash 5/4 stock. Several canoes later I'm still living off that stock.

A more realistic alternative is to learn to make a good 8 to 1 or longer scarf joint and make your rails each from two pieces scarfed together. Some canoe manufacturers used this technique. With modern Titebond III glue, such a joint is just as strong as a single piece and is very unlikely to ever fail. I recently did a repair on a friend's canoe on which portions of the rails had rotted. I scarfed in new pieces to the old and it came out beautifully.

If you aren't familiar with scarf joints I believe you can get some helpful information on this site by doing a search on "scarf."

Good luck!
Thanks Andy. I'm leaning toward scarfing the rails on the 18' Guide. I have a canoe at our Maine camp that a good friend built over 10 years ago - he used scarf joints and they've held up fine.

The 16' limitation was one reason I decided on Rollin Thurlow's 15' Cheemaun design when I built my form. The mahogany outer rails on my boat actually came out of the scrap pile at a local mill that was running molding! But 18' just isn't available.
Long outwale stock for your Guide


If you go to your camp in Maine, you have to drive within 10 miles of me in NH. I have 20' 6" ash, white oak and sassafras so I can help you out. Sent you a private email.

Scarfing: match your grain up well and use epoxy for the glue joint. I've done all of my rails using scarf joints. Unless they know where to look and look very closely, most people can't even see them. All of the older Old Towns I've taken apart had finger jointed rails. Using modern epoxy the scarf joint will last longer.
I just learned of a source for Honduran Mahogany. They ship to the U.P. so I guess they would ship to the S.E. too. The place is Boulter Plywood -888- 958-6237 , Somerville MA. Fancy boat builders from Calumet told me about this place. Said that the Mahogany was air dried. They say they have Honduran up to 18 feet. I have not checked it out yet. They are on line too.