Paper canoe help?

Rob Stevens

Wooden Canoes are in the Blood
You may or may not know that during the 1850's a lot of paper boats (rowing, sailing and canoes) were produced in Troy, New York.
See Ken Cupery's Paper Boat Page;

We hope to offer a paper canoe-building workshop for the Kid's Program at the WCHA Assembly this summer at Keuka. The challenge is getting the layup to dry within a couple of days, so a canoe can be completed.
This is done over a fibreglass canoe or plug protected by stretch wrap.

I have begun experimenting with various materials (kraft, newsprint, Gorilla Glue, Titebond III, Weldbond, shellac) to get the right structural strength and waterproofness, and have it dry quick enough so some lucky kid can take it home. The plan is to do the inner and outer surface in color comics.

So far, I haven't been able to find Titebond III in Canada. I'm not sure it's sold here.

The first adhesive I tried was Weldbond, which I thought would be similar to Titebond. Both full strength and 1:4 in water don't cure quickly enough, especially when built up to about 3/8" thickness.
Although a diluted wash of Weldbond is used as a sealer for concrete, etc, I am not sure glue alone will be the best waterproofing, if we can get it to dry quickly enough.

Does anyone have experience, advice or opinions (!) they'd like to share about how to make this activity doable in 4 days?

Hi Rob,

Doesn't seem to be a problem shipping it to the Great White North - see for example Ebay listing 290278956895

Let me know how much you want, I can get some and send it to you.

To speed drying, you might try putting a few lightbulbs inside your plug to warm things up.

What a cool idea. I know zip about the subject, but it seems to me that glue is the wrong approach. You're not joining hunks of 2x4 together, you're laminating 12-15 layers of a very thin material. You need something that will apply evenly, saturate the paper quickly and evenly without it buckling, apply and stay thin to dry fast, resist water and stick reasonably well to the layer below. The first thing that comes to mind would be a porous paper, like newsprint or rice paper and some sort of water-based (acrylic) varnish. My floors are varnished with Varathane water-based floor varnish and you can recoat it within an hour if you really want to. As long as the entire layer (the paper and the varnish) are kept neat and thin, it will dry pretty quickly. The paper most likely adds enough thickness to slow it down some, but it's hard to say how much without doing some testing and though these acrylic varnishes do contain water, there is a lot less of it in there that has to evaporate out than there would be in something like diluted Tightbond. Shellac would be another good possibility if you don't mind something solvent based and probably dries even faster. The biggest problem might be the expense. I wouldn't be surprised if it took 2-3 gallons which could get pricey at $40 or so per gallon.
I always thought the the old-timers built their paper boats with shellac. There was something about it on Dan's website a while back in regards to Nathaniel Bishop and Lucien Wilson... (No, NOT the Voyage of the Paper Canoe...)

That water based urethane idea looks interesting. I may have to go home and try that one out.
Thanks for the ideas Todd and Canoez.

Yes, shellac is relatively expensive, though I have some I can experiment with re drying time.

The Wilson's of Pennsylvania have offered to provide the ends of rolls of newsprint. Using a full length sheet will add some challenge in application, but may be stronger. I doubt there is enough directional "grain" in newsprint to make multiple directional layering stronger. We could alternate full length with transverse.

Shrinkage and deformation are other potential problems I am watching out for.

More trials to do.

One option might be to build a hull or two a few weeks in advance and have the kids finish off the inner and outer surfaces with comics, then help with trim (thwart, seats, decks, gunwales).
I did some more tests last night.

Water-based urethane was easy to use, adheres well, and is nearly dry.
Only problem was it stuck to the plastic film, really well!

The shellac test didn't go so well. The newprint didn't even adhere to each other. Probably need a heavier cut. (Don't know what I used as it was left over from several years back. Easy enough to add more flakes)

Rob, I'm really interested in this building paper canoes stuff. I see you're planning to do a build at the 2009 assembly. If I can make it I'll definitely want to be at the 'class.' I read through some of the links and at the end of Cupery's piece he says something like 'you can't build canoes like these any longer because the paper is not the same.' He's right that the paper is not the same, but mostly it has to do with the length of the fibers, and fiber length is related to strength. Using old newspapers but strengthening them with some material with longer fibers would seem a logical way to go. Can you suggest other articles I should read on this topic? Tom McCloud
"When Paper Boats were King"

Rob and others interested in paper boats:

There is a magazine named 'Invention and Technology', and in the new issue, Spring 2009, vol 24 #1, there is an article with the title above written by Ken Cupery. There is only a bit more information about paper boats than is already on Cupery's web page, but the magazine is printed on glossy paper, so sharp images. Anyone seriously interested in paper boat building might want to stop by a major bookseller, like Borders, and pick up this mag. Tom McCloud
Suggested reading

If you can find them, these might be interesting:

Jack Hazard article -Small Boat Journal, December/January 1983

Several by Francis Ehrhardt: The Rudder, January 1949, p. 30, "The Paper Boats of Elisha Waters", and June 1950, p. 14, "More Paper Boats"
also Popular Science, February 1951

( I have copies in my files if you can't find them)

These are all brown kraft paper strips over a canoe hull articles. A little cheese cloth is used for some more durability, if I remember correctly.

Some of you probably remember Walter Fullam who kept popping up at WCHA and other events building a newspaper and wallpaper paste canoe.
All of the above work with some degree of success if you take care to waterproof inside and out. I remember one poor fellow who built one with kraft paper but used only a latex paint. It was a rainy weekend and his canoe got real "lumpy".

Good luck with your project!

IN the early years of the WCHA there was a very wonderfull and active member, Walter Fullam, who was Mr. Paper Canoe. He died a few years a go but he left a wealth of information and resourse information in the early issues of the W.C. Journals. Check out issue #11. He used all sourse of paper and glues but as I recall what he liked was the cheap brown craft paper or newspaper with wallpaper paste. The hull was well varnished after it was all glued up.