The Lapstrake Canoe

Dan Miller

cranky canoeist
Staff member
[H=1]The Lapstrake Canoe[/H]
A lapstrake canoe is a type of all-wood boat that has several planks on each side, each overlapping the one below it, much like the clapboards on a house. There are two construction techniques commonly used to build lapstrake canoes.

Traditionally-built lapstrake canoes have cedar planking that is clinch-nailed together with copper tacks. The planking is cut to a specific shape before being formed over station molds fastened to a strong back. Once the planking is completed, the shell of the canoe is removed from the molds and steam-bent ribs are inserted into the hull and fastened with either clinch nails or copper rivets.

Glued-plywood lapstrake canoes are a modern variation of the lapstrake construction technique. In this case, planking is made from high-quality marine plywood, and the laps are glued with epoxy. A hull built this way is stiff enough that no ribs are required.

While the two methods are very similar in final appearance, the means to the end is quite different for each.
Builders of Lapstrake Canoes
[/H]A handful of WCHA members build lapstrake canoes. A list of them can be found in the WCHA Builders and Suppliers Directory.
[H=2]Bibliography – Traditional Lapstrake Construction
[/H]Simmons, Walter D. Building Lapstrake Canoes. Duck Trap Press. 1981.
The only contemporary book devoted specifically to lapstrake canoes.
Stephens, W.P. Canoe and Boatbuilding for Amateurs. Forest and Stream Publishing, New York. 1885.
First published in 1885, this little volume, packed with information was issued in nine editions through 1908. While concentrating on the decked sailing canoes that were extremely popular at the time, the book is a valuable resource to all lapstrake canoe builders. Vintage copies are readily available in the antique book market (though it is rare that the accompanying plates with the lines drawings (between 25 and 50 depending on edition) are still with the book. Reprints are also readily available.
Gardner, John. More Building Classic Small Craft. International Marine, Maine. 1984.
Gardner, considered to be the “Dean of Small Craft” including a chapter about four canoes in this volume. Two of these are lapstrake, one being a smooth-skin lapstrake Arkansaw Traveler model by [manufacturers]J.H. Rushton[/manufacturers], the other a cruising sailing canoe by [manufacturers]R.J. Douglas Co.[/manufacturers].
Leather, John. Sail and Oar. International Marine, Maine. 1982.
One chapter in this book is relevant. It is about paddling canoes, with a detailed examination of a variation of a Rushton Nessmuk model double-paddle pack canoe.
Rossell, Greg. Building Small Boats. Woodenboat Books, Brooklin, Maine. 1998.
While not specifically about building canoes, this is one of the best books about building small boats using traditional construction methods.
[H=2]Bibliography – Glued Plywood Lapstrake
[/H]Brooks, John and Ruth Ann Hill. How to Build Glued-Lapstrake Wooden Boats. Woodenboat Books. 2004.
An excellent general reference for the technique (no canoes are discussed). Includes a chapter on adapting traditional lapstrake designs for glued-lapstrake construction.
Hill, Thomas J. Ultralight Boatbuilding. International Marine. 1987.
First of its genre, and still very relevant today. Hill offers several canoe designs, and one of them is used as a model for this book.
Oughtred, Iain. Clinker Plywood Boatbuilding Manual. 1998.
Oughtred is a master, with an eye for design. This is an excellent book, and his two canoe designs (MacGregor and Wee Rob) have been built many times.