Red Cedar for gunnels


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Dear all,

firstly I am new on here.

I am attempting to make a 16ft Birchbark canoe from notes and materials supplied to me by Steve Cayard. I live in the UK and the only cedar available here is Western Red Cedar.

I have carved the two inwhales 1 1/4” depth x 1” wide using Western Red Cedar. I plan to steam bend them, my question is how long should I steam bend them for because I am using Red Cedar and not White?

Also what wood other than white cedar would be recommended for the ribs?
Others may post better help but, I have not had good luck bending red cedar, the few I tried, broke.

At the least, I would try some scrap to get the process down before I risked the real pieces, as long, clear stock is sometimes tough to come by. You only need to test with short pieces, 3-4 ft long, bending them over the same "forms" you are going to bend the gunwales over.

I'd start by soaking a day or 2 and then steaming for about 1 hour per inch of thickness, and go from there.

steam bending wrc


The Native people in the Pacific Northwest and SE Alaska have been bending red cedar into all sorts of things for centuries. The classic cedar boxes used for storage have 90 degree bends in them. Dugout western red cedar canoes are shaped by filling the hull with sea water and hot rocks and pulling the gunwales together to create tumblehome. I do not have personal experience with bending wrc but it is a foregiving material. Try some waste material first.
What probably makes the difference is the WRC used by the indigenous peoples was air dried or perhaps even green. If kiln dried stuff is all that is available then the bending will probably be more difficult because kiln drying changes the physical properties of the wood usually making it more brittle.
Is there not a native cedar left in the U.K. that you might get to try?
the only Cedar available in the UK is WRC and it probably is kiln dried. There are strict laws in the UK about cutting trees down so I don't think I'd get permission.

I will give it a try on scrap wood but would norway spruce or douglas fir work incase it breaks?
Do you know the scientific name for the Norway Spruce there. If you do let me know and I will look it up in the "Wood Handbook" and let you know what I find.
Picea Abies is not listed in either the "Wood Handbook" nor Hoadly's "Understanding Wood"
I did Google it and there is some information there. My take on it is that Norway Spruce is about the same as White and Black Spruce.
Spruce was/is used on gunnels so if you can get clear spruce I'd use it.
Norway Spruce

Tim & Dennis,

I operate a portable sawmill business and sawed some beautiful straight Norway spruce for a client that was relatively knot free. I bartered a few 5/4 boards for my and other Norumbega chapter members use in canoe restoration. What I found was the Norway spruce boards, at least the three trees that I sawed had very large sap pockets scattered throughout the wood and as Bill Clements and I found out when we ripped a board that looked free of sap pockets for inwale material, sap pockets were exposed that you could not see on either board face. This basically rendered the wood unusable for inwales or outwales as the pockets would be weak spots.
Maybe all Norway spruce does not exhibit this sap pocket problem but all three trees i sawed did and I suspect it is an issue with the species. My hopes that I had found a good gunnel replacement wood species for the very rare clear Black or white spruce faded fast!! Tim, check the wood you intend to use carefully for sap pockets.

Thanks for the information. When I looked for properties of Norway spruce I didn't find anything that mentioned this problem. It is great that folks that have experience with various woods are willing to share it.
Thanks again,Denis :)