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  • Alick Burt

Building a Wood Canvas Canoe - Part 1

It’s been quite some time since I have had time to write anything to my blog but I thought as this Canoe is a different type of build then it deserves to be recorded.

For those of you who are unaware, wooden canoes come in many different types of construction.

First off there were Dugouts. These were made essentially from hollowed out logs. Then there were birch bark canoes. Made with a covering of birch bark over a wooden framework. These were followed by wide board and batten canoes often made using an old dug out as a form.

The Sailing Canoe in one of my earlier blogs that I reskinned with resin and fibreglass was of this variety and you can see the inside of it here.

An old wide board and batten wooden canoe keelson and plank repair.
Inside of a wide Board and Batten Canoe

They typically have planking about 4 to 6 inches wide and narrow ribs. Then came strip built canoes again with ribs built on solid forms but this time the planking was narrower and again these were often built using an old dugout as the form. The planks are held with tacks lots of them! making them very labour intensive to produce. The canoe known as Felix’s Canoe, below left is of this type.

A Mahogany and Cedar all wood canoe and a cedar epoxy and fiberglass canoe
An all wood 1890s 16ft 6" Thomas Gordon Canoe and 14ft Dabchick wood strip and resin Canoe

Next came the wood canvas canoes. These are made by making a hull that has ribs and planks tacked together over a solid form. The red canoe behind Peterborough No 1 is an excellent example of this variety.

14ft "Chestnut Playmate" wood canvas canoe by the Chestnut Canoe Co & a fiberglass covered cedarstrip canoe by
Wood Canvas Canoe made by the Chestnut Canoe Co and Peterborough No 1 wood strip and epoxy canoe made by Alick Burt

Wood Canvas Canoes are built on a form which has metal strips under the rib positions. This allows the tacks to be hammered through the plank then the rib, so the tips of the tacks are bent over by the metal strip underneath. The hull is then covered with a layer of canvas which is then filled and painted. This type of canoe is the predecessor to the canoes like Peterborough 1 which are strip built and then covered with epoxy and fibreglass so they don’t require ribs.

The first stage of any wood canvas build is to steam bend ribs and stems on the form with the inwales clamped in place. Next comes the planking. You wet the planks with boiling water to soften them enough so they will bend into place as you tack them to the ribs.

When planking one of these canoes the planking pattern can be very different to a strip built canoe. The idea is the planks are tacked to the ribs and the grain of them follows the line of the boat but short pieces can be joined on a rib as the ribs are wide. Planking patterns come in wide variety and you can see lots on old boats on the W.C.H.A. website that have been repaired and the repairs are not seen because they are behind the ribs on the inside and under the canvas on the outside.

Traditionally the planking used for these canoes is White cedar but this is not available in the U.K. or at least if it is then I couldn’t find it! I used Yellow cedar planed it up and sliced it on my circular saw. It is important to cut this so you end up with quarter sawn planks that is to say once the planks are cut the end grain should show growth rings running across the plank thickness rather than along its width.

sawing planking for wood canvas canoe
As the boards are quite long I had my rollers set up.

Cutting planking for wood canvas canoe
The planks are also only about 4mm thick so a finger board is used to hold the plank against the fence.

sanding planking for wooden canoe
Once the planks are fitted it will be difficult to sand their inside surface because of the ribs so this is done before fitting.

That’s where I shall leave it for now, read on in Part 2.



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