Building a Cedar Strip Canoe

Building a cedar strip canoe necessitates a great deal of labor and love, including stripping the boat from scratch, building the strongback, stripping the boat, sanding, fiberglassing and adding trim to the boat.


| July/August 1982



Building a cedar strip canoe 1

1] Formers go on.


PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

MOM's boatmaker learned that labor and love are required when one tackles the task of building a cedar strip canoe. 

"I do not recall ever seeing a properly designed boat that was not also a beautiful boat. Purity of line, loveliness, symmetry—these arrive mysteriously whenever someone who knows and cares creates something that is perfectly fitted to its work . . . Nobody styled the orb web of a spider, nobody styled the . . . canoe. Both are beautiful, and for a common reason: each was designed to perform a special task under special conditions."
— E.B. White  

A good canoe, cleanly cleaving a glassy lake or haystack wave as it transports its passengers in silence and harmony with the outdoors, has a functional beauty that's unsurpassed by any other of the tools that connect humanity with the natural world. And surely the finest examples of such a craft's ability to combine utility and loveliness are found in handmade wooden canoes. While the boats may not withstand the mishandling that aluminum or plastic vessels can tolerate, their fluid grace sometimes lets them seem almost a part of the water . . . and, if treated with care, they can prove surprisingly durable.

In this day and age, though, the beautiful canoes—at over $1,600 apiece—are pretty damned expensive! The folks at MOTHER hated to think that less-than-wealthy paddlers would be limited to dreaming about such elegant craft, so we set about learning what it's like to build a wooden canoe. We selected the strip construction technique (which produces a boat consisting of long, thin wooden slats that are fiberglassed—inside and out—for extra strength), since it's the best method for novice boatbuilders to attempt. And to make matters easier still, we decided to work from a quality kit manufactured by the very reputable Old Town Canoe Company when building a cedar strip canoe.

Once we'd received our order (in an assortment of boxes, one of which was 20 feet long!), we had to hunt up someone who could spare the time to put it together . . . and decided on a warmhearted itinerant woodworker named Peter Webb. As a part-time staffer from the end of April to the beginning of June 1981, Peter built the impressive boat you see pictured here. We'd like to share Mr. Webb's experiences—adding a few words of advice of our own—to acquaint you with the intriguing process of boatbuilding and to help you decide whether, perhaps, you might one day want to create a "stripper" yourself.

BUILDING THE STRONGBACK

The Old Town cedar strip canoe kit contains all the necessary wood (including dozens of varicolored cedar strips, a spruce inwale and mahogany outwale, and the ash decks, stems, seats, and thwarts), along with brass hardware and precut pieces of fiberglass cloth . . . but Peter did have to round up lumber for his canoe mold, resin and hardener for fiberglassing, and an assortment of standard hardware and shop tools. He also, wisely, spent a number of hours;—before he set to work—reading the instructions in Old Town's fine building manual, How to Build the Cedar Strip Canoe, as well as those in David Hazen's classic text, The Stripper's Guide to Canoe-Building. 

bob ringler
1/3/2013 2:41:44 AM

I have built a total of 6 canoes based on Hazen's design and book. I was able to use recycled cedar decking AI salvaged from a carpentry job. It is well seasoned and occasionally when ripping, I would run across a screw hole that displayed the screw threads. Gives testament to the extent that frugality can become part of the process. It is quite believable that Mr. Webb put 160 hours into a canoe. A lot depends on your tolerance for slight imperfections versus the perfect sanding/glassing job.






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