Wood for guide boat ribs

Gary Jacuk

Curious about Wooden Canoes
So I'm the new guy starting my first guide boat and am looking for opinions (I know everybody's got one) on alternate wood for laminated ribs. Spruce (sitka) is rare and very expensive, like $10.00bf here on the west coast and most, if not all, construction lumber is doug fir. I'm wondering if anyone has used alternative woods for making ribs? What has worked for you? It would be a shame to put all the effort into making ribs and find they are inferior, so I'm looking for a bit of help and advice.
I found a site called Workshop Companion (sorry I can't post a link) with a chart comparing various woods and one wood which compared very favorably to spruce was poplar !! Anybody have any thoughts?
So here's the info I found on the two woods, sitka and poplar, and according to these numbers, the two are almost identical in properties. Significantly different in price and availability.

Wood Specific Gravity Compression strength Bending strength Stiffness Hardness


Spruce 0.40 5.61 10,200 1.57 510

Poplar 0.42 5.54 10100 1.58 540

I made a sample rib of poplar and am sending it off to someone who can compare it to a spruce rib and see how it stacks up. It's a number 8 rib for a 16 foot boat and weighed in at an amazing 2.25 ounces. Very stiff, but the laminating and epoxy probably contribute significantly to that. Still seems very fragile to someone not familiar with such things
My opinion is that the only drawback is tradition......"They've always had spruce ribs". Much like acoustic guitars have almost always have spruce tops. So the saga continues.
Your post dwelled without any responses...that's unfortunate. The obvious question that was never asked is what are you building? A guideboat built in the traditional way is constructed with spruce knees.... the spruce is selected from root/tree base stock and then sawn to shape.
If you are building a modern version of a guide boat laminating it to fabricate the ribs the wood selection seems less relevant in which case popler is probably fine..
I'm going to build a modern version of a guide boat and was looking for feedback on alternative materials like poplar. I made a poplar laminated rib and it compares very favorably with spruce, so I will go ahead with using that. You are correct in that with laminated ribs the ribs they are probably as strong as spruce ribs cut from stumps, perhaps stronger. So then it becomes a matter of tradition in using the original materials.
I live in an area where cedar is plentiful and have managed to hook up with a fellow who has a sawmill, some nice, dry cedar logs and is willing to work with me on cutting lumber for making strips. Should be interesting.
Going to turn this into a build thread and document things along the way. Hope you all find it of interest.
So progress is being made on the boat. Using John Michne's book (which is available on Amazon) I was able to use the CAD drawings and have a full size set of plans for the ribs and stems printed. Then off to the bandsaw and oscillating spindle sander to cut out patterns and make up forms for laminating the ribs.....lots of patterns and forms and lots of dust! I also got some flatsawn 8/4 poplar and back to the bandsaw and drum sander to make 2" x 1/8" x 32" strips for laminating. Cutting the poplar from the edge gives me quarter sawn strips which bend more easily and uniformaly as I learned in a recent adventure into luthiery. I was able to use a hot pipe that was used to bend guitar sides to heat the strips and form them to the bending forms, relieving at least some of the stress on the glue joints. Pretty easy to do once you get a feel for the wood releasing. And no sawdust !!! Soon some actual rib blanks.

A little background. I'm what you would call in the skiing world terms an "advanced intermediate" when it comes to woodworking. Got a nice, if messy, shop and some decent tools accumulated over the last 40 years. My interest in guideboats comes from the fact I grew up in upstate New York and was reminded of these wonderful boats on a visit to the Adirondack Museum a few years back. Now retired in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California with time and a strong interest to be creative and challenged by a project...I think this is a good choice.
As soon as I'm off probation I'll post some pictures of the progress.
So I'm back. Been busy "cooking ribs" you might say. After a 100+ strips and 1.5 quarts of epoxy I now have 17 rib blanks ready to be sliced and diced. Someone on another forum said that "making the ribs is project in and of itself" and all I can say is that's for sure. All went well, not perfection, but pretty darn well. I could only do 2 blanks a day due to clamp restrictions so it took a while. And since this is a non traditional boat, I added a walnut strip to each blank as an accent. Looks pretty nice on one blank. A whole boat full may end up looking like a zebra!! Oh well, that's why they invented paint. Next up is the stems, the bottom board (1"x 10"x 16' clear pine boards are not too common but I found one), and the work platform. Some pictures now that I'm off probation. The finished rib blanks, my trusty bending pipe, rib patterns, and bending forms.

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Did ya miss me? More progress being made in spite of a cold epidemic here at home.
So I got all the ribs cut and sanded to 5/16ths and a couple of inner stems also made and all goes well. My big lesson learned was that sanding or planing the strips to be laminated as smooth as possible (150 or 180 grit) makes the glue lines less noticeable. Also, made a couple of accent strips for the boat by laminating some poplar, walnut and snakewood strips I had around the shop. Working 18' strips alone is a challenge of it's own kind. Kind of like a mouse trying to move a strand of cooked spaghetti by himself! Going to be interesting cutting and shaping all those strips. Also spent some time putting together the work stand to build the boat on.

So, part of my time has been spent trying to find stock for the strips. 18 foot clear redwood or cedar is not very common around here. I found one place about 2 hours away that had 1 x 6 x 18' clear heart redwood and was prepared to make the drive. Talking with my friend Ken about the boat one day he said he had some old redwood siding at his house I was welcome to use. Eventually I get around to going over to take a look and about fell over. He had 5 - 18' and 5 - 16' pieces of clear heart redwood vertical grain 1 x 10 lap siding that had been milled in the 1950's up in the heart of redwood country. Wood of this quality is just not even available today, it is just spectacular. I almost feel guilty using it for my amateurish attempt. A bit nerve wracking putting it to the saw, but I will do my very best.
My bucket of ribs.....extra crispy
Accent strips awaiting a boat
The special redwood score
"Only" a 16 footer
Check out the grain count


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Okay, so I’m making some progress on my first boat. Got the bottom board cut and beveled according to my pattern. What I learned is that the ribs and the bottom board are a system that needs to match up. I took my bottom board pattern from the Durant book with a small modification and used the rib patterns provided by John Michne. But they didn’t match up, probably because of some error on my part. Matching up the center lines on a pair of 0 ribs comes to 8.5 inches wide, while the Durant pattern for the bottom board, with a bit of modification is 8.75 inches wide. Hmmmmmm. I chose to ignore the center line marking on the ribs and place them where they matched the bevel. Should be okay as I “mocked up” half a dozen ribs and it seemed to look just fine.

Spent a goodly amount of time cutting strips and picking small redwood splinters out of my hands. Ended up with 46 full length (18 foot) strips and a bunch of 16 footers that will need to be scarfed……and this is where I hit a snag. Titebond III does not bond this old redwood!! Apparently the tannins cause a problem with the glue and the scarf joints I’ve tried just fall apart, even after 24 drying time. Research shows that wiping with acetone will help and I’m currently giving that a try. Film at 11. I wouldn’t mind doing the scarfs with epoxy (which is what I used on the bottom board) but I’m not so sure about having to do all the cove and bead joints on the strips that way. Yikes!

Anyone have any experience overcoming this problem, or with an epoxy thin enough to be applied with a syringe? HELP!!

With epoxy’s slow set up time, this will turn this into a loooooong project if it is what I end up using. We’ll see, but my faith in Titebond III is somewhat shaken at this point and I’m not sure what I can do. We’ll see.

The bottom board
The aftermath of the striping marathon.
Old and new redwood. Old on the right.
My favorite beveling tool, the trusty four in hand. Comfortable and not overly aggressive.


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For those of you keeping score, it's redwood 1 titebond 0. Wiping with acetone had little or no effect on the bonding so I've been going the epoxy route to make the scarf joints. Every titebond joint came apart as if it was glue starved and with it's quick set up time I didn't think I could let the joint soak up glue for a while and the come back and add glue for a better bond. I know in luthiery, once titebond has set up, the only way to reglue a joint is to remove all the titebond and start over. Ah well...... I had 40 some full length strip, and I've glued up 3 or 4 a day so I'm up to 61 strips so far. Using a heat lamp and I can get the epoxy to set up in 3 or 4 hours, which speeds things up a bit. Just another 10 or so to go. Going to start hanging ribs on the bottom board in the next day or two and routing coves and beads on the strips when I need a break.
Just a quick bit. There is something about the lines and all the ribs that is just so appealing to me in a lot of ways. Started hanging ribs on the bottom board and the lines they create just do something for me that is hard to describe. To me one of these boats without the ribs might just as well be a Coleman tupperware canoe (The only other boat I've ever owned, by the way).


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50 years ago (hard to believe) a friend of mine and I were able to get our hands on similar quality vintage redwood. We built two canoes with it. I still have a few remaining pieces of planking gathering dust in the garage. I don't often work on OT's and the Carleton I have in queue won't need any planking so it could be around for a while longer.
I don't generally share CL listings but this one isn't for a boat. The knees could be useful for a future build. The traditional materials can be hard to come by.
Finally, I get to start using up all these parts I've been working on!!


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So stripping has begun and is going very slowly. Haven't quite been able to get the consistency right on the epoxy......liquid enough to apply with a syringe, but stiff enough to stay in the coves and not run all over. Spend a good deal of time cleaning up drips and runs. Yuck !! And of course there's the chemicals involved. Going to try adding some thickener to the epoxy in addition to the wood flower I've already been adding. Hopefully, things will get easier as the formula and my technique improve. So far the most I've gotten done is 3 strips in a day.......epoxy makes one the tortoise rather than the hare.
The decorative strips, which I made way back in the beginning were an exercise in making guitar purfling on a grand scale. Walnut, poplar, and snakewood
Here's a unique view.


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So I've increased my speedy process up to 4 strips on good day. If you want to go on vacation and not miss anything, now would be a good time......this will take a while. 17 more strips to reach the bottom board at the center. I've been gluing, clamping, and screwing each strip as I go and can't get too far out as the epoxy starts to set up in 60 minutes, so 2 strips at a time at most. The magic formula for the epoxy is 3/4 ounce of epoxy, 1 teaspoon of silica, and 1 teaspoon of wood flour applied with a 60 ml. syringe with about a 3/32nd hole. Sure wish I'd been able to use some other glue, although I don't think it would have made this 69 year old boat builder any quicker, just less tacky, if you know what I mean......epoxy is messy under the best of circumstances and I'm far from the best or neatest.


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So I continue to install strips as fast as I comfortably can. The last couple of days I've had the first couple of lines from a song I heard Pete Seeger do a long time ago called "The Garden Song" rolling around in my epoxy rattled brain.. The first two lines are, "Inch by inch. Row by row." Yup, that's strip building.
please elaborate on just what you are building?

I'm confused on whether this is a stripper or an all wood, tacked and clinched, design.
If a stripper then the ribs shouldn't be in yet and if an all wood, the glued B&C don't make sense.

Who's plans are you using?


I'm going to build a modern version of a guide boat a
Dan, With my limited knowledge of all the processes I would best describe this guide boat as a hybrid. I'm following the plans from John Michne's book, https://www.amazon.com/Building-Adi...coding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=FVW2J476XQ6T5VY4GPT3 which uses the basic bottom board and rib platform of the traditional boat and then offers the option of either stripping or planking the outside. I chose stripping which I guess in the traditional sense would involve a strong back and forms and fiberglassing the whole thing. I'm not going to fiberglass this boat but rather just varnish it, so the cove and bead I presume are part of the structure and making it water tight. I had to use epoxy on the strips, as I explained earlier, because the old redwood I'm using, for some unknown reason, would not bond using any of the PVA glues available. Helpful?

All I have to do is read the post under this one.
The disadvantage of using the "new post" feature and not knowing or seeing other posts on the subject.

Keep the pics coming, very interesting.

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You asked about fastening the strips to the ribs, well I'm using #3 x 1/2 inch wood screws on every other rib on each strip. Something like 1000 screws for all the stripping. All goes well and I'm to the point where the twists and turns toward the bow and stern start to get interesting. The strips basically twist almost 90 degrees along their axis as well as bending lengthwise to maintain the curve of the previous strip. Hurts just to think about it !!
Thanks for the information on how stripping these boats got started. Based upon my experience in trying to find decent material I could see where proper planks for a traditional boat would be hard to come by now a days.
John I believe is doing mostly plank construction these days rather than strips, so you are correct. His newest book spends a good deal of time covering the subject.

So I've acquired a new nickname (besides Goofy) because of this project. My wife's friend has started calling me "Gibbs" as in Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Those of you who watch NCIS will understand. The rest of you, Google is your friend.


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Well, I made it, not too gracefully, but I made it. Just finished trimming the strips flush with the bottom board this morning. Now I get to sand and see how well I did with my stripping. Hopefully not too much filling to do. Really looking forward to flipping it over and getting to see how the lines look. On to the sanding machines.

As you can see, I started sanding one side already and it looks okay other than some areas toward the bow and stern where I already talked about the difficulty bending and twisting the strips. Using the epoxy and having to glue and screw the strips in place as I went along, I found that I could used the old "hand clamp" and get the strip lined up and tight along the seam, but as soon as I went to screw it tight to the rib, it would pull apart slightly either on the inside or outside. I guess this is normal unless you were to bevel one or the other of the the cove legs making the inside or outside leg shorter to accommodate an inside or outside curve. Way above my pay grade!

So, from my furniture days I have always liked to seal the wood before I apply the wood filler. All of you know how filler always seems to make a mess and leave a splotch around the patched area even after sanding. In the past I have favored an oil based wood filler which doesn't dry out. So I glued up some scraps and put the sealer on and let it dry, but when I went to apply the epoxy filler, it wouldn't stick.....glad I found that out ahead of time. Fill first, seal after.

Short of hiring a couple of apprentices, anyone have a suggestion for a small random orbit sander for doing the inside of the boat? Only 5 inches or so between ribs, so my 6 inch sander won't work and Gary is not a fan of sanding to begin with, so I need to mechanize the process. Thanks.

No financial interest here, but if you're in need of screws or fasteners I've been working with these guys https://www.boltdepot.com/ and the service and quality have been top notch. Wednesday I found myself running short of screws for the strips (#3 x 1/2) . Ordered them Wednesday afternoon and they were here Friday, Massachusetts to California. Of the 1000 tiny screws I put in, only 1 head stripped out on me. Good stuff. Hope this is okay to post, if not just delete.



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