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Beginning in January of 2014, I was part of a group build of a Cedar Strip Canoe. This is Part One of a photo album documenting that process.Click here for all the Canoe building Articles. Canoe Build Index »
PLEASE NOTE: To respect people's privacy, I have blurred the faces in most of these photos. The exception is people I know who have given permission.
At our first meeting, in mid January, there were just three of us, talking and making plans. We then ripped up a bunch of 7/16" plywood to use to make the strongback. The Moores book gives clear directions for this. There were no pictures of this day.
On the first "official" day of the build, we had a pretty good sized group of people, so we broke into three teams. Team one was two guys who were working on the stems.
Here is one of the canoe stem forms. The inner and outer stem pieces are being glued (laminated) into shape around the form with lots of clamps. The inner stem is pine, the outer is cherry. There are three (or four?) pieces in each. We glue them both at the same time. There is packing tape between the inner and outer stems, so we don't inadvertently glue them together. Albert had prepared these strips in advance.
Albert provided the gorgeous clear western red cedar, which is used. It's kind of amazing that three boards provide enough strips to make an entire sixteen-foot-long canoe.
We were fortunate in that we did not have to make the forms. These had been through a few hands and used to build a few canoes over the previous decade.
That was the extent of our work for this day one. We got all the strips cut out, the stems glued up, the strongback assembled, and most of the forms into place.
This is a view of the workshop we are using at our church. It is about 20ft on a side, with 10ft ceilings. It is also used by our Cadet boys club during the week, so we need to pack things away when not in use. The strong back is shown down the middle of the shop, with most of the canoe forms fastened into place. On the wall in the background are two large brackets where all the 18ft cedar strips are sitting. At the end of the day, the strong back will be carefully lifted up to rest on those brackets also, to clear room in the shop.
Just to be clear, the second router bit (on the left) is NOT in the fence. Rather, it is about 3/4" away from the fence. The first router bit is in the fence and mills the one side of the strip, then it gets to the second bit which mills the opposite side of the strip. This cut the work of milling the strips in half.
First we worked a bit more finessing the shape of the inner stems. This is done with a block plane or spokeshave. You want to end up with an edge that is only about 1/8" wide. We just lay a piece of cedar along the forms and use that to eyeball the shape. Near the strongback, this is pretty easy as it is a basic V shape. But up top, near the keel area, it is a much wider V, so it takes a bit of care.
But wait! Getting ready for that first strip takes time. We start with clamping all these notched jig pieces along the bottom edge (gunnel/gunwale edge) of the forms. These are to support the first strip as it's position is finalized. (You need every C-clamp you own and then some for this.)
Along the edge, as shown here, is pretty easy. Then we had to fuss a bit to make sure it fit well at the bow and stern. We start with aligning it to the edge of the form, but for the ends you just need to bend over and eyeball the curve and see. Your eye will show you if there is an unsightly dip or wobble that needs addressing. Then we staple the first piece into position. These staple holes are later covered by the gunwales, so they are not unsightly.
I also forgot to mention, we check the spacing between each form, to make sure we are maintaining the 12" spacing. The forms can tend to flop around at first.
First we clamped all those L-shaped jig pieces to each form so that they ready for use. We also cut a bunch of wedges from scrap bits of cedar. We need wedges for the top, and wedges for the face. Finally we practised a dry fit with one piece of cedar so that the whole gang knew what we were doing. Then it was time to go live and we laid a bead of glue down the cove of the strip, fitted the jig pieces into position and clamped them tight. And finally forced wedges in. Note that the jig pieces are not clamped tight to the strips; you leave a small gap so that the wedges can be forced in. Those will lock the beads into the coves.
Note that the wedges are made from bits of the cedar planks. So they have the cove shape along the one side. That side is what is wedged into the strip. A flat wedge would possibly damage the bead edges of the plank.
NOTE: in later weeks we went back to regular wood glue. We found his glue to be a bit too thick for our purposes. I've heard from several people who like this glue for trim work or crown molding work, but we found it not the best for canoe work!
As time went by, this got heavier and heavier. In order to feel safe, we usually wanted five (or more) people to lift and one or two standing by to help keep it from tipping, and to deal with the legs. For getting it down, four was enough usually. If I ever did this again, I might prefer to set up a hoist of some kind.
I was not able to be here on the 8th, so I only have a few photos hat I took the next day that shows all the work that was accomplished. The group made a lot of progress, as is shown in these photos, adding several cedar strips to each side of the form. Both sides of the canoe are now up to about 13-14 strips.
Clamping near the ends is tough, so they added these u-shaped frames for a place to clamp wedges that keep the strips pressed into place.
(This is a Wednesday. We soon realized that this was a huge project, and so we started meeting twice a week on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings when possible, so as to move along quicker.)
Being a weekday evening, we could only get together for a bit over an hour, but every little bit of progress helps!
We had to "slow down" and only clamp one strip at a time now. We are curving over the top of the form, and we need to force each strip to follow that curve. That is hard enough with one strip.
As each strip is glued, we work from the centre towards the ends, clamping as we go. The wedges are very important, as they force the strips against the form, to make sure they're following the curve.
Only four of us made it out today, glad I dragged my #2 son along, as with only three I'm not sure we could have safely lowered the canoe down to the floor from where it is stashed up top.
We got six (or seven?) strips added onto the canoe. We're going through the bilge area right now which is really hard. Near the center of the canoe, the strips are moving toward horizontal. But at the ends of the canoe, the pieces are still nearly vertical. So it is a fight with each strip to force it into position. Once again, we start at the center and work our way towards both ends.
Another small group tonight, but we still made some progress. We got 4 strips installed on the one side, and we are PAST the stem on that side. Hopefully on Saturday we'll get the one side completely stripped up to the keel. Hopefully.
Just a few pictures. You don't see much progress with these photos as it is mostly more of the same.
Should have done this LONG ago: under the blue clamp is a pair of angled glue blocks that I made with 80 grit sandpaper glued to the face. It makes clamping on the angle SO MUCH EASIER.
Here you can see how we have made good progress with adding strips on the right side of the canoe tonight. In this shot we're finished for the evening and starting to clean up.
Great progress today -- 5 strips at the top, and 2 partial strips at the bottom (really the top, since the canoe is upside down) of each end.
We were able to remove one of the frames from each end, as it is no longer needed, and it is getting in the way. We also removed 4 of the supports along the bottom that held up the first strip when we started. We needed to remove them as we were ready to start adding the partial strips at the ends that build up the bow and stern.
The next two photos are a top view and a side shot.
I am loving the curves. So much of what I do is square and flat. It is kind of exhilarating to be building something that is so curvy.
Thanks for reading!