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  • Alick Burt

Building a Wood Canvas Canoe - Part 3

The stem to gunwale joints can be made in a variety of ways but it is usually some form of open tenon or bridle joint. Even so to many people it doesn’t resemble a mortice and tenon very much and I have to agree its not much like those used in furniture making.

First a tenon is cut on the top of the stem. The stem can be trimmed down a little to make this easier but it is still a little tricky with the stem moving around. I carefully cut the shoulders of the joint with my Japanese saw before paring down each side with a chisel I take care to watch the grain in case it decided to run into the tenon itself. If it does start doing that I stop and work across the face of the joint from each side trying to slide the chisel in the opposite direction away from the shoulder to avoid it tearing.

 Joint between stem and inwales on wooden canoe
Tenon on top of stem

The decks will sit over the end of the tenon so the tenon is then cut short to about half the thickness of the deck. I made my decks in my usual way that you will see in my other blogs so I won’t go into too much detail just to say they are joined with a biscuit jointer and I use a wooden moulding plane and scrapers to make the underside concave. Here is a sequence of pictures showing the process.

Deck pieces of a beautiful wooden canoe
Mahogany,Walnut & Sycamore deck parts ready for assembly
Mahogany walnut and sycamore deck
Deck parts being glued together prior to shaping
Alick Burt uses these tools to shape a canoe deck underside
I use an antique moulding plane and swan neck scraper to clen up the underside of the decks on this wood canvas canoe
Canoe deck held in vice
Glued up deck placed in vice in order to plane the edges to fit.

The decks are trial fitted with screws so I can check the gunwales and everything are in the right place using a string line and level and checking sight lines.

Level and line positions for checking deck position
Test fitting of decks showing string line and spirit level set up to make sure your canoe is straight!

The ends of the gunwales were also trimmed to length so they fit neatly against each other enclosing the tenon. I took the decks off again and shaped the inside edges before sanding.

Deck stem and gunwale joinery
Deck point is cut to fit over the stem like this.
Rounded edge of wooden canadian canoe deck
Inner edge of deck shaped and sanded and alternative is to add coamings

The gunwales are given a slight taper where they run to the decks using a block plane.

Shaving gunwale on fabulous wooden canoe
Smoothing gunwales end taper with block plane

Next comes tacking the ends of the planks to the stems and this is best accomplished with the canoe upside down. I also discovered that I would need shorter tacks for this than I had in stock so as there aren’t many of them I decided to trim down some of my longer ones with pliers. They are ring shank nails and I am pre drilling them into the stems so the points are not really needed. This meant I spent 20 mins or so cutting some down with pliers. Tedious but quicker than going online placing an order and waiting for it to arrive! I made myself a simple jig to set the cutting length eliminating guesswork.

Shortening a few tacks on wooden canoe build
Shortening tacks with pliers ( I didnt need to do the whole box just a few where the taper makes the inwale a but thin for them)

With one set of end planks fitted you can clearly see the problem my planking layout created I mentioned earlier and now we come to what many may see as a controversial solution!

plank gaps at bow and stern
Diverging planks at bow and stern

Cheater planks are used to fill my gaps. Polyurethane glue is a relatively new invention so wasn’t around when these canoes were invented just like routers were not available in Chippendale’s time, but I bet he would have used one if he had it!

I carefully shape each triangle of planking to fit then clamp them in place using as much ingenuity as I can muster often including delicately balanced quick cramps and tiny wedges like this.

Beautiful wooden canoe planking at bow
Glueing cheater planks

The glue I used was quick setting only taking around 5 minutes for an initial cure so I was able to alternate ends as I worked and keep going till they were all done. I could also clean off excess glue relatively easily before it became too hard.

All of a sudden it is starting to look so much more like a canoe instead of a loose collection of planks and ribs! That's all until next time when I will fit the cant ribs, as the last ones are called at the bow and stern.


Bow of wood canvas canoe with planks nearly finished
The planking of your beautiful wooden canoe is almost complete

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