Northern White Cedar


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Hello everybody, how's the week end going for you? I'm a new guy here getting ready to try my hand at building one.
I'm working on the form right how. Taking my time, measuring twice and cutting once. This is something that I've wanted to go for a long time. I grew up in New England, Barre Massacuhsetts to be exact on the banks of the Ware River. There where alot of canoes around at the time, I just never had the chance to own one. (I live in Ohio now)

Now that the form is underway, time to look ahead and start getting the rest of the "stuff". Therein lays the problem, I'm not having much luck finding a mill or lumber yard that has cedar. I would like to be able to get rough sawn material, I have the equipment to resaw etc.. I've talked to some mills in Michigan but they are not interested in anything other than mill run plain sawn. I'm hoping that some of you other Ohioians might have a source you could share with me.

Maybe I should have found the cedar before I started on the form :) ?

In advance, thanks alot.


Hey Reddog...

I looked forever to no avail until I found Fingerle Lumber in Ann Arbor, MI. I don't know where in Ohio you live, I grew up in Warren, OH, but Ann Arbor is only a little way from the Ohio border.

The don't have white cedar which I don't think anybody has in long lengths anymore but the WRC that they do have is beautiful... I am in Garden City, MI just outside of Detroit so if you need some help, give me a shout. Fingerle's web site is or they can be reached at 800-365-0700. They will mail you a seasonal catalog...
CYA, Joe
To find white cedar, you usually have to go to where it grows, which means northern Michigan and northern Wisconsin in the midwest. Western red cedar can often be found at lumberyards, especially those that do millwork.

Don't discount mill-run plain sawn lumber. Basically they set a log on the mill and slice boards off it until the log is gone. Those boards that come off in the middle are quartersawn by default. You can sort through them and set aside the quartersawn for planking and use the flatsawn for ribs. Alternatively have them cut the logs into bigger boards. For example if you have them cut 3x6 boards, you can rip it in half and rotate the resulting 3x3 to optimize the grain when milling your stock.

Hey Dan...

Your quote: "Alternatively have them cut the logs into bigger boards. For example if you have them cut 3x6 boards, you can rip it in half and rotate the resulting 3x3 to optimize the grain when milling your stock." is worth the price of admission.

Just a great idea that I had not thought of before. I will store that one on paper and in the back of my mind next time I have to WRC hunting...

Thanks again...
Thanks for the info. Woodchuck, we have WRC around here. I haven't looked at the quality of it yet. I was hoping for white cedar and I will continue to look around. Heck I might get lucky.

Dan, that is a pretty good idea about the 3x6, gives me another option.

Another question! how important is knot free planking? if the knots are very small and very tight and where placed in the areas of least bend are they okay? or would that be just asking for trouble down the line?

I think it is great that you guys share this kind of info, especially you folks that build canoess for a living. It's really appreciated by somebody like me who is trying this for the first time.

how important is knot free planking?

Well, using the highest quality materials (e.g. clear quartersawn cedar) is a sign that the canoe is built to the highest standards. Certainly if you wanted to sell your canoes, that is what you should be aiming to do.

On the other hand, many canoes were built with less than ideal materials. I can show you several canoes in my barn with knots in planking and ribs. I've even seen canoes with a knot in the inwale...! You won't want to locate a knot on a rib in the hard part of the bilge, it won't take the bend well. You can often hide the occasional knot in the plank behind a rib, where it won't be seen when the canoe is done. Just call it a "B" grade canoe, just like the old-timers did.
Northern Michigan sources

I have the names of several mills in the northern lower peninsula or the upper just east of the bridge that sell white cedar. The material will be in larger cross ssections (cants) that will have to be resawn but there is where you get your premium stock as Dan pointed out.

The names and addresses are buried in the archives so I didn't pull them out for this post. If you are interested e-mail me at and I'll dig them out for you. Scott Barkdoll used them before he moved to Vermont. He's the source of the information.
Ron, there is an e-mail on the way. Thanks.

Dan, No doubt, no knots would be the best. I just did not want to shoot myself in the foot the first time by doing something that I could have avoided in the first place. My concern was giving something away structurally. I would feel pretty sad if I got it done and it broke.

I would like to think that someday I could build one that was of the quality that somebody would want to buy. Right now it's just for the challenge at hand.

Again folks, thanks for all the help.

The next question in the quest for white cedar!!!!!!!

There seems to be some of this northern white gold out there, what would you all consider to be a resonable price for clear plain sawn. There is not any 3"x material, all 1x rough, plain sawn at least the people I've talked only have 1x stock. Looks like I'm getting close (I hope).

White gold

I bought some Basswood Paddle stock cants from a local sawmill for $300 per thousand board feet. Another mill less than 10 miles away wanted $850/M. I'm assuming you will find the same variation in the cedar mills in the U.P. I would be buying a trailer load if I was to go north to get some wood. At least 500 feet. There are a number of other mills in the eastern U.P. and I'm sure that cants bigger than 1" can be bought by prior arangement. The Cedar I bought from Barkdoll before he moved east was in 4x4 sections and I'm reasonably certain he said it came from Prells. Since I sold my sawmill I'm out of touch with the market and have no idea what the cedar market is.
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Ron, Prells said he didn't have any "clear" stock at all in any form. He gave me another mill to check with but have not had any luck getting someone to answer the phone. The other mill further north wanted $3.00 bdft. and said he had plenty. I went to the Michigan Foresty Alliance web site and posted on their forum, no luck, not evan the name of a mill. Could be they are not interested in small quantities. Found a mill in Maine that has clear material for $2.50 bdft. and he would ship the cedar to Ohio in small quantities. He was checking on what the shipping costs would be.

Buying 500 bdft. would be okay if I knew I would be building more than one.
Heck, I might be the worlds best cedar wood butcher and end up with a bunch on cedar sawdust and scrape wood.

Having not bought any before, I have no idea on what to expect to pay.
The search is still young and I'm sure your right, there are surely other mills with clear cedar and other pricing.

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Pricing thoughts

Fully milled 5/32 stock 4"wide runs just under $50/bd ft if you use commonly quoted prices per lineal foot in the $2.50 range. $3.00/bdft for cants seems high to me but at a rate of only 25% recovery of usable wood you'd still be saving almost 75% out of pocket over buying your stock fully milled. Availability of band sawing and planing would have a big influence on the final decision. Guess I'll go paddle and think about my next boat.
Ron, you sure where right about the range of prices. Had an e-mail a short time age with a price of $1.50 bdft., and he would also ship. Things are looking up. I have the ability to resaw with either a band saw or table saw, I can also plane to thickness, mould and joint. working the wood is not going to be a problem (well at least not untill I start bending it around the form).