Join Canadian canoeist and canoe-builder, Jason Eke, as he takes us through his process for building a cedar strip canoe…
This film by Jason Eke (produced by his company, Trailguide Pictures) isn’t so much a “how-to” guide as it is an overview of the process and reward of building your own cedar strip canoe.
“There are a lot of reasons why people enjoy building canoes. But probably the reason that applies to everyone is this sense of immersing oneself.
“Of course there’s the great satisfaction we get from creating something with our own hands. But when you have an interest, like wilderness travel or recreational paddling, and you immerse yourself into building your own craft that’s going to carry you to those places—there’s really something special about that.”
Step 1: Set Up the Strong Back
The strong back is the building platform or workbench that the station forms are attached to during the building process. Combined, they’re essentially the building form, template or mold for the specific design of the boat.
(You’ll see this clearly in the video.)
Setting up the strong back and station forms is probably the most important stage of the building process.
The accuracy and detail you focus on now will determine how close your finished product is to the original design.
Step 2: Strip the Hull
This stage is when you’ll place the cedar strips. It’s relatively easy to do, as long as you’re careful to line up both sides evenly along the shear. The shear is the first strip you’ll lay on the station forms, usually where the gunnels will later be located.
It’s just a matter of glueing and holding the glued strips in place on the station forms with clamps or tape.
If your strips become uneven, you can simply add cheater strips to fill in any gaps you may end up with. They’ll be almost unnoticeable in the finished product.
Step 3: Fill in Gaps Between the Strips
Use thickened epoxy or wood filler to fill in gaps between strips, staple holes, etc. Once it’s dry you’ll sand it out, so don’t use too much.
Step 4: Fair the Hull
Fairing the hull is the process of removing the rough edges and filler to create a relatively smooth and "fair" hull before sanding it smooth. You’ll use a plane or rasp to do this.
Step 5: Sand the Hull
At this stage you’re preparing the hull for the fiberglass wrap. You’ll use an orbital sander first, with varying grips of sandpaper to smooth things out. Then wet the hull down so the wood fibers are raised, and finish by hand-sanding.
“Nobody likes sanding, but it’s actually a nice time because you get to get a good sense of how your boat feels. The shape really starts to come out. The rough edges disappear and it’s the time right before we do the epoxy where we can see and appreciate what we’ve created.”
Remove any dust on the hull with a soft rag.
Step 6: Lay the Fiberglass Cloth
Roll the cloth from one end to the other, making sure there are no big creases in it. Cut off the excess to prepare for the epoxy.
Step 7: Apply the Epoxy
Epoxy is a chemical, so wear a respirator and safety glasses (or whole-head respirator), protective clothing and gloves. Gather your tools (a good stiff brush, roller, squeegee). Mix small batches at a time.
Apply at the top of the hull and work your way down.
Step 8: Sand the Inner Hull
Once the epoxy has set, flip the canoe over and sand the inner hull. This is the same basic process as the outer hull.
Step 9: Lay the Fiberglass Cloth
When laying the cloth in the inner hull, the only difference is you’ll use spring clamps along the gunwale edges to hold the cloth in place. Keep smoothing out the cloth as you clamp the edges.
Step 10: Apply the Epoxy
When applying epoxy to the inner hull you’ll start at the bottom and work your way up to the edges.
Step 11: Add Decks
The bow and stern decks are added with thickened epoxy and glue. They’re hard to clamp, but screwing them in place as they dry is fine. You’ll remove the screws once it’s dried, and the holes will be covered by the gunwales.
Step 12: Add Inwales and Outwales
Once the decks are in place, you’ll add the inwales, also using thickened epoxy and a lot of clamps to glue it in place.
The outwales are installed the same way. Screws are fine to hold it in place, especially near the decks.
Step 13: Sand decks, Inwales and Outwales
Once the epoxy has set you’re ready for sanding. Again, start with an orbital sander and finish by hand.
“Hand sanding is a labor of love.” Take out any scratches in the wood before applying the varnish.
Step 14: Mark Seat Locations
Mark wear your seats will be (before applying varnish) so a little varnish can get into the drill holes.
Step 15: Apply Marine Varnish
Using a high-quality marine varnish, work from end-to-end and carefully seal up all of the hardwood. This will protect your canoe from water damage.
Step 16: Install Seats and Yoke
Jason uses brass carriage bolts to attach his seats and yoke.
Using a Cedar Strip Canoe
Cedar strip canoes aren’t for everyone. This canoe is an investment that will need extra care:
- They require some upkeep to keep the wood in great shape.
- They’re not inexpensive.
- The way you store it is important.
The weight of a cedar strip canoe will depend partly on its length. A 2-seater like the one in this video will be about 60 pounds, while a solo canoe will be closer to 45 pounds. Not as light as some of the composite canoes perhaps, but cedar strips are still very manageable on a wilderness trip over the portages you’ll face.
Some would say their beauty more than makes up for any small weight difference!
A cedar strip canoe has a couple benefits over synthetic canoes:
- Functional rigidity helps it move through the water very smoothly. It doesn’t have the flex some of the newer composites have, and so doesn’t have that slight drag.
- Jason doesn’t baby his cedar strip canoe. He’s found its durability to rival other fiberglass canoes.
“It’s a very rewarding experience to build a canoe. It takes a lot of time—around 120 hours on average. So when it’s finished and you’ve created something as beautiful as a cedar strip canoe, you should be proud of what you’ve done.
“I think it’s really worth the experience. I hope you try it!”
(At the end of the film is a list of resources for building your own cedar strip canoe. Photos courtesy of Trailguide Pictures.)
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