New Atkinson Traveler

Jerry Fruetel

A well built wooden canoe is a work of art
Finally, after 18 years, my first canoe is finished (no sense rushing these things)! In the early 1990’s, I bought the plans and some materials from Rollin Thurlow, and built the mold in my basement family room. After a Boston business trip, I drove a rental car to Maine to see Rollin and Jerry Stelmok. I returned to Logan Airport and got in line to check my luggage--- a small suitcase and a big stack of 12’ cedar 1x4’s. Two ticket agents went out of their way to help and got me onto one of the bigger jets with adequate cargo space. I suspect if I tried that today, the TSA would show me the door and put me on the ‘no fly list’.

I started canoe construction in 2008, finishing a few weeks ago. I recently launched it with my wife and family in my home town Bemidji, MN, home of Paul Bunyan and Babe and the first city on the Mississippi River. In the bow was my 91 year old Dad, on his first ever canoe ride. The canoe handles beautifully--- quiet, stable, responsive, and faster than I expected.

Stelmok and Thurlow’s “The Wood and Canvas Canoe” (now dog-eared and duct-taped) was my construction guide, along with Pam Wedd’s excellent painting/varnishing series in Wooden Canoe (issues 132, 133, 135 in 2005-06). Rollin and Pam generously shared their knowledge and advice several times along the way. Likewise, Greg Nolan provided many helpful suggestions for creating the sheer line triangles.

Actual construction took 400-500 hours, which is slo-o-o-w. I almost felt guilty taking so much time, but it was enormously satisfying to work at such a leisurely pace. It’s hard to match the pleasure of entering a cedar/ash-scented wood shop in the morning, with no deadlines and an uninterrupted day lying ahead to plan next steps, solve the various construction challenges that arise, and slowly but surely see a new w/c canoe take shape.

Most of my paddling is in the BWCA/Quetico. I represented the region by painting a traditional Ojibwe motif of red triangles along the sheer, and inlaying the Canadian maple leaf and American eagle (both made of cherry) in the decks.

I like the look and comfort of contoured seats, so I made a jig to steam bend the seat frames, not knowing whether they would retain such a slight bend. It worked, and I can confidently recommend steam bending seat contours, though cutting the contours on a band saw would be simpler and faster. Traditional seat caning was fairly easy to learn, but more time consuming and tedious than I expected.

The gunwale end caps are 24 gauge sheet brass (‘cartridge brass’). Annealing the brass with a propane torch made it much easier to hammer into shape without cracking or crimping. To avoid hammer blossoms on my newly varnished gunwale/deck tips, I initially shaped the end caps over a separate hardwood mold of the same triangular shape and size as my canoe tips.

I had a near disaster when I left the uncanvassed hull sitting upright on saw horses for two months. That was foolish, but until then I had no idea that a w/c canoe should never sit upright on saw horses for very long. When I turned it over and found two big dents in the hull, I thought it was ruined. But thanks to Rollin’s advice, temporary bracing, and plenty of boiling water, the dents disappeared.

Consider me hooked on w/c canoe building. I plan to make several more, and would love to hear from and compare notes with any of you in or around Minnesota.

Length--- 17’ 4”
Weight--- 72 lbs
Ribs and planking—white cedar
Inwales—sitka spruce
Outwales, yoke, thwarts, handles, seats, decks, stems--- ash
Deck inlay--- cherry
Primer--- Epifanes Werdol
Topcoat— Kirby’s #24 red, #12 bottle green, lemonade yellow
Varnish--- Epifanes Woodfinish Gloss (final coat 50% matte)


  • 1. Lake Bemidji waterfront IMG_6510.jpg
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  • 2. Side view IMG_6590.JPG
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  • 3. Bow quarter view IMG_6589.JPG
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  • 4. Stern quarter view IMG_6605.jpg
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  • 5. Mississippi River IMG_6333.JPG
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  • 6. Bow deck IMG_6559.jpg
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Jerry Fruetel

Jerry Fruetel

A well built wooden canoe is a work of art
More pics

Attached are three more pictures of the Traveler.


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  • 8. Yoke IMG_6609.jpg
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  • 9. Seats IMG_6103.JPG
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Wooden Canoes are in the Blood
One Word

Very Sweet!! (okay, that was two words).

Thank you for sharing the photos.


Dan Lindberg

Ex Wood Hoarder

Very nice work.

As for the MN Chapter, most are located in the south but there are a few guys in the North. There is another guy in either Grand Rapids or B, can't remember which.

Barry C is the Chapter lead and while it may be a bit far for you, they are paddling the St Croix in July.

Below is a piece of his message.

MN and MI WCHA Chapter member

"So please join us for a day paddle on the upper St. Croix (exact area still to be determined) on July 17. At this point, if you can put it on your calendar, that will be great. We will determine the exact put in and take out locations and send more details in a future email.

Please don't hesitate to contact me with questions or suggestions for future paddles.

Hope to see you on the water,

Barry Christenson []
Jerry Fruetel

Jerry Fruetel

A well built wooden canoe is a work of art
Thanks, Dan. I live in Bloomington, and will try to reach Barry Christenson and hook up for the July 17 St. Croix paddle.


Dan Lindberg

Ex Wood Hoarder

If you're in Bloomington, you'll fit right in.

And in fact, for several yeafrs there has been a evening paddle near you of folks who like to solo paddle and just play in the canoes. i can connect you if you are interested.


Rollin Thurlow

member since 1980
Very nice work Jerry! Its certainly rewarding to see someone take their time, do such a good job but even more importantly is that they truly enjoyed the whole process.
I like the the deck design. Not only is it distinctive but it will also encourage users to use the carring handles for lifting the canoe instead of the deck. a very clever design.
Thank you for sharing the pictures and the story.

Douglas Ingram

Red River Canoe & Paddle
Nice job! Especially nice that you didn't get discouraged and let the project fall be the wayside along with all other abandoned projects!

While I'm not in MN, Manitoba should count as near, as in "Hi neighbour". If you're ever up this way feel free to stop and say hello.