Sanding and the sealer coat

February 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sanding is one of those things where it’s difficult to know when to stop. After all, how smooth is smooth enough?

Usually I get to the point of diminishing returns. In other words, continued sanding serves only to reveal gaps between strips and doesn’t add much in the way of smoothness. When I get to this point and the canoe is as smooth as it’s likely to get, I put the sander away for a while.

I should have mentioned something about the crack-filling process. There will be gaps between strips, either because of imperfections in the wood or a bad mating of strips. These gaps are easily filled with wood filler or a mixture of epoxy and sanding dust, mixed to the consistency of peanut butter. Wood filler (or plastic wood) tends to appear lighter than the surrounding wood when epoxied, while the epoxy/wood flour mixture tends to appear darker. While I’m glad that I didn’t use wood filler between strips, I should have used it to fill screw holes on the ash stems. Ash doesn’t darken as much as cedar under epoxy, and as a result, the epoxy mixture gave me dark dots on the stem. Live and learn.

When the sanding was done (or rather, when I was done sanding), I put a sealer coat on the canoe. The sealer coat is optional, but I like doing it. For one, it allows the wood to absorb epoxy so that it doesn’t absorb as much when the fiberglass is applied. The sealer coat also gives you a great idea of what the canoe will look like when it is glassed.

And here is a pic of the completed hull.

Next step: fiberglassing.


Shaping the external stem

February 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Canoe building factoid #3 — Your spouse’s appreciation for the canoe grows inversely to the number of times you invite her to look at it per day.

The external stem serves two purposes:

  • it provides a hard edge that protects the ends of the boat.
  • it hides the gnarly strip ends and the fact that you didn’t shape the internal stem properly.

As opposed to the internal stem, the external stem should be made out of hardwood. I chose ash, partly because I bought so much of it and partly because I wanted my son to be able to tell his friends that he cut a piece of ash.

My son and I ripped several strips of about 1/8″ which I then laminated with Gorilla Glue and mounted on the boat.

canoe building: external stem

Given that I had lovingly soaked the wood in the tub (stopping short of adding my wife’s lavender bubble bath), it bent easily and without the use of clamps that made the internal stem shaping process look so impressive.

canoe building: external stem

I screwed it into the internal stem using drywall screws and metal brackets that I happened to find after cracking the stem despite having pre-drilled holes. Live and learn.

With any luck, this side will turn out as well as the other side.

The football filled

February 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

canoe widow [kuh-noo wid-oh]  -NOUN    The partner of a canoe builder whose recollection of his/her spouse is prompted by a whiff of sawdust that emanates from the garage.


After what seems like an eternity of stripping, the football is now filled. The children will now have to do without the tedious and vaguely distressing jokes (and associated mental pictures) of their father-as-stripper.

I got ahead of myself a little and started planing and sanding parts of the hull. The left side of the picture above shows how smooth the hull will eventually look against the roughness of the right side of the hull. There are minor gaps to be filled, but overall the strips are tight and level.

But there are a few details to complete before I turn my attention completely to planing and sanding. I’m using some of the off-cuts from the main portion of the hull to fill in the bow and stern of the canoe. These shorter pieces will be shaped after glassing the outside of the hull for form the upsweep of the bow and stern.

Once I have these pieces in place, I’ll be able to form the outer stems, but that’s a topic for another day.

Today, I’m taking out a canoe widow.


canoe pronunciation [kuhnoo]

Filling the football

February 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Canoe building factoid #1: You spend half your time looking for that thing that you just had in your hand.

Canoe building factoid #2: That thing that you want is always on the other side of the boat.

Filling in the football. The stripping has gone quickly and without any of the problems that can arise. From time to time I measure from the edge of the center strip to the edge of the side strip. The last thing I want is to have the last strips on either side to look different. As fun as the stripping has been, I can’t wait to get to the next phase of the project. I can taste the sawdust that I will be creating soon when I start sanding  the hull.

There are a lot of acute angles. I’ve found that the best way to pare the wood away is with a block plane.

note the fashionable, canoe-building garb

It takes about 20 seconds to rough in the angle. If I’ve marked the angle correctly, the test fit will reveal that the strip fits tightly. Otherwise (and is normally the case), I have to fine-tune the angle. Either way, the block plane does quick work and you end up with a neat little pile of gerbil bedding.

Nearing the football

February 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Doghouse [dog-hous, dog-]   -noun       The place where canoe builders go for neglecting their household chores.

A quick post (before I vacuum and do the dishes).

It was a very productive weekend. I’ve run the strips to the point where I’m left with what is known as the football (for reasons that are evident in the picture below).

cano building: football

Here’s a picture of the canoe in profile.

So I’m left with a decision as to how to fill in the football. I’m leaning toward running a pair of strips down the centerline and then filling the halves with a herringbone pattern.

That’s something I’ll have to consider while vacuuming.

On clamps

February 10, 2011 § 4 Comments

I mentioned earlier that when building a canoe, you can never have enough clamps. Having said that like a know-it-all, I wish I had more. The following picture shows my two favorite clamping methods:

canoe building: clamps

In the foreground, you see a spring clamp with an “L” bracket made out of plywood. This is my favorite clamping method, as it keeps the strip tight against the form and allows pretty good pressure to keep the strip in the cove of its neighbor. For pesky strips that need a little more force to keep the strips mated, I use bar clamps. These clamps have very good strength, but too much force tends to make the strips bow out from the station form.

I’ve also started to experiment with bungee cords:

Note that I use the bead from a scrap piece of wood when using bar clamps and bungees to protect the cove.

At any rate, here’s a picture of progress thus far:

The dots, by the way, are hot melt glue residue that will be sanded off.

On stapleless construction

February 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

You might look at the picture below and say, “Whoa, dude, that canoe you’re building has leprosy.”

canoe building: stapleless construction

Actually, those unsightly blobs are hot melt glue. Essentially, I glue and clamp the strips, and then apply hot melt glue between the strips on the outside of the boat. The hot melt glue keeps the strips together while the wood glue cures. In this way, I can move on to the next strip without having the previous one move around on me. All in all, I prefer this method to stapling the strips to the forms. One caveat though is that the strips will have a tendency to bow away from the station forms when you clamp them (particularly when using bar clamps).

Of course, if I’m doing just one strip, I glue it, clamp it, and leave it.

I can then scrape off the blobs of hot melt glue and the resulting surface (after a bit of sanding) looks none the worse for wear. And no staple holes!

The darkness, by the way, occurs when you wipe the surface down with a damp rag. I was just curious about the final color of the boat.

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