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Building my First Wood Canvas Canoe.

Hello Folks

It’s been quite some time since I have had time to write anything to my blogg what with illlness which was followed by lockdown! 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 bloggs that I reskinned with resin and fibreglass was of this variety and you can see the inside of it here)

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, that I restored a few years ago below left is of this variety.

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 owned behind Peterborough No 1 is an excellent example of this variety.

They 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 I normally make l(eg Peterborough 1) which are strip built and then covered with epoxy and fibreglass so they don’t require ribs.

I decided to try making a wood canvas canoe as I haven’t done it before and also I was lucky enough to buy a partly made canoe complete with a form and some materials.

It had been built up to the beginning of planking stage so the form is set up stems and inwales are in place and the ribs have been steam bent and nailed to them. This is no easy feat as I have had dealings with steam bending before and I know it is a steep learning curve!

I began my part of the build by continueing with the planking and to begin with this didn’t go too well.The theory is that you wet the planks with boiling water to soften them enough so they will bend into place as you tack them to the ribs. Problem was I kept finding my planking cracked. If it didn’t do it initally whilst I was fitting it, it did it later when it dried out. I couldn’t work out why so I headed to the best resource for this sort of question on the web. The website of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Heritage Association.

They have an excellent forum and lots of suggestions were given to my query. One of which was is the wood too dry. The planking timber had been purchased with the form although I didn’t quite have enough to finish the job so I had purchased some more. When I started using my new timber to replace some of the damaged planks it became apparent that the original timber had probably been too dry despite all the soaking of it that I did. Some even say it will not take up the moisture in the same way once it has been removed by the drying process especially if it is kiln rather than air dried.

Anyway after much deliberation planking continued. 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 cans see lots on old boats on the W.C.H.A. pages 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 was able to get some more Yellow cedar which is the same as the timber originally supplied with the form and to make a bit more planking I 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. As the boards are quite long I had my rollers set up.

The planks are also only about 4mm thick so a finger board is used to hold the plank against the fence.

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

and that’s where I shall leave it for now but I intend to be back with the next part soon.

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