Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Basics of Building a Cedar Strip Canoe

The canoe has been around for many years and there are many different types. Some of the earlier ones were dugouts and Birch-bark. later there was a move to the Cedar strip but these were labor intensive to build. In recent years, there has been a move to the Fiber glass or plastic. However, I feel that the Cedar Strip is still the best type or all around canoe. It is also one of the most beautiful boat that you can find.
Building a Cedar Strip takes time and patients (and maybe a little skill). There are several basic steps that should be followed in order to complete the construction properly. However, there are numerous things that can be done to change the general appearance to please you. Some of the basic steps include Pre-Planning, Set-up, Milling Strips, Bending stems, Stripping, Sanding, Fiber Glassing Inside/Outside, Adding Trim/Gunwales/Decks, Adding Yoke/Thwarts, Varnish, and Testing.
Pre-Planning: In this stage it is very important to think the project through. You must consider which canoe to build, were you are going to build it, what tools are required, where you are going to purchase supplies, the type of wood you want to use (especially for the trim and accents), and of course - your budget. Some of these may seem like minor thing but if they are not considered, they may come back to haunt you.
Set-up: First step here would be to transfer the Forms from the plans to the wood. It is much easier if you purchase plans contain full size Forms (no need for dividers or math). Ensure the Forms are traced out exactly on the wood. I would suggest that you use 2 sheets of 5/8" (minimum) plywood. Cut these Forms out with a Jigsaw and sand them smooth. Next you will need to build a strongback. The plans usually comes with a description of the construction. This part of the construction does not have to be pretty but it has to be straight and sturdy. The Strongback is designed to hold the canoe until the outer shell is built. Finally, you will have to secure the Forms onto the Strongback. This step is very critical. If everything is not perfect, the whole canoe will be off. Ensure the center line of the Forms is line up with center line of the strongback. Then ensure the forms are level (vertically) and secure in place with screws. Remember that the screws will have to be removed after the canoe shell is built and you want to remove it from the strongback.
Milling Strips: These strips will be used the construct the canoe shell. It is important that they are all the same size. Thus, ensure that you make enough at the start (you will need about 80). Run all the boards through a planner to make sure that they are the same thickness. The boards should be approximately 3/4" when finished. Then set up a method of cutting the strips. Some people use a Band Saw but unless you have an industrial size one, you should use a Table Saw. Cut all the boards up into strips that are approximately 1/4" thick. You can also cut the accent strips the same size if you like. Next, you will need to run all of the strips through the Router to put a Bead on one side and a cove on the other. This cove and bead will help with the stripping process. The bead should be cut first because it is less fragile than the cove.
Bending Stems: The stems will need to be constructed prior to any strips being put on. Both the front and back will have an inner and an outer stem. They are made from small strips of wood being laminated together. Set up a small steamer and steam the wood for 20 - 30 minutes. Place all of the strips of wood in the correct order (the order that they will be placed in when finished) and bend around the stem forms. Clamp in place and allow to fully dry. Once drying is complete, they can be removed. The inner and outer stems should now be kept separate. Place some Epoxy between the strips and put some wax paper between the inner and outer stems. Clamp in place again and allow the Epoxy to dry.
Stripping: Stripping is relatively easy but it can be time consuming. Start at the shear line with the first strip. This is the only strip that should be screwed in place to ensure that it does not move. After you have one strip on each side, you can complete the remaining stripping. Go all the way up each side until the 'football' shape in the middle, is filled in.
Sanding Outside: This is where you will need lots of elbow grease and a Orbital Sander. The outer hull must be sanded very smooth. Start with 80 grit and work your way up to 220 grit. Remove all the flaws that were caused by the construction.
Fiber Glassing Outside: Once the sanding is completed, the hull is ready for Fiber Glass. It is best to apply a this cost of resin to the wood first. This will help prevent thing such as off gassing and air bubbles. Once the resin has dried you can apply the cloth. The cloth can be 6 oz and should be wide enough to cover the hull (60" should do it). lay the cloth over the hull and allow it to stretch for a couple of hours. Then you can apply the resin to the cloth. After this has fully dried you can lightly sand and add more resin. You can apply as many coats of resin as you like to remove any imperfections (but remember, resin adds weight). After this is all completed, the hull can be removed from the strongback and turned over.
Sanding Inside And fiber glassing Inside: On the inside, you will follow the same basic procedure as the outside.
Trim, Gunwales, and Decks: In these areas the work is pretty much straight forward but it can take lots of time. This is where you can really express yourself with lots of accent pieces. Decide what you would really like to see and just go for it. It am sure it will look wonderful.
Varnish: This is another easy step. Find yourself some quality Varnish and apply it all over the Canoe. Apply several coats (4-6 should be good). This will give you that final finish and lots of protection.
Testing: Some people would say that this is the best part (I like the building part). Find yourself some water and have fun. Make sure you take lots of pictures and share them with everyone else.
Buck Fillier writes on small construction project issues. You can learn more by visiting my blog, Cedar Strip RedBird Canoe - Buck's Blog Source:

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