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.

On scarfing

February 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have the facilities to deal with 16′ strips, so I have to make them out of shorter strips. Enter the scarf joint.

This is the preferred joining method. Our friends at Wikipedia have this picture:

I’ve used a block plane to scarf the strips in the past, but then discovered the following method (which combines scarfing with the possibility of a manicure). I usually use two hands, but one is holding the camera.

canoe building: belt sander

I have a little mark on the base of the belt sander to indicate the length and a block to achieve the desired angle. In this way, all of my scarfs are exactly the same. Because I’ve been so picky about keeping the strips together, I end up scarfing the same end of neighboring strips, and this ensures that the grain and color will be more or less the same and will make the joint less evident.

When I’ve scarfed two cedar strips, I glue and clamp the scarfed ends using little clamps that I thought were pretty useless before I realized that they could be used for scarfing. I now know what with canoe building, there’s no such thing as a useless clamp.

canoe building: scarf joints

Let’s strip!

February 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

stripper  [strip-er] -noun       A small watercraft constructed of strips of wood, usually cedar.

This is the part of canoe building that I find the most fun. Stripping.

I start by running a strip down the sheerline. I’ve decided to not use staples for this build, with one notable exception. The first strip is the one that subsequent strips will rest against. For this reason, it needs to be firm and unmovable. For this strip, I’ve decided to use brad nails to attach it to the form. Because most of this strip will be covered by the gunwale, I”ll have very few holes to contend with.

canoe building: first strip

Why brad nails instead of staples? Because brads leave one hole instead of two.

What’s the big deal about staples? Well, I cringe about putting holes in the face of the strip. I know there are a lot of ways to hide the fact that there were holes — steaming them closed, putty, toothpicks, the underestimated power of prayer — but they’re easier to deal with if they’re not there. Essentially, I’m lazy. No staples to pull, no holes to deal with.

What’s with all the goofy plastic wrapped blocks? I guess they do look goofy, but here’s the deal. I shoot the brad through a plastic wrapped waste strip so that I can more easily find the nail to extract it when I’m done stripping. The spacer block pulls away easily, leaving 1/4″ of nail sticking out. The plastic is so that the inevitable glue drips don’t glue the spacer to the strip. That would really look goofy.

Why do you have waste strips already? Didn’t you just start stripping? I prefer not to talk about it.

By the way, my eldest boy held the first strips for me when I nailed them in. He didn’t snarl at me when I pulled him away from the computer to help me out, nor did he say, “Gee dad, I’ve misunderstood your fascination with canoe building, like, forever. I get it now.” He just helped me and went away.

Maybe one day I’ll explain to him that this is one way I can spend a lot of time with a stripper without getting in trouble.

By the way #2: notice all of the clamps in the picture above. If you think you have enough, you don’t. Buy more.

Getting back to business: I followed the sheerline until I got about three stations from the ends. At this point, I let the strips hang naturally and had a look. I just didn’t want to follow the sheerline all the way as this makes the canoe look a little like a banana (unless, of course, you want a canoe shaped a little like a banana, in which case you’ll go ahead and follow the sheerline).

When I was happy with how the strip fell, I nailed it in place, measured its position and then nailed the other three ends in the same position.

Where the upsweep is the greatest (indicated by the triangle below), I’ll fill in the area with shorter strips.

canoe building: cedar strip at bow

You’ll notice that my picture-taking has gotten ahead of itself. I have two strips where I had one strip previously. I guess I got excited.

Speaking of which, it’s time to add a few more….

Making the strips

February 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

The most tedious part of the entire canoe building project has to be making the strips. If I had a lot of dough, I would have bought 17′ strips as a special order from the lumber yard. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of dough, nor do I have a workspace where I can easily accommodate such long strips.

So I settled for 10′ planks of select western red cedar (WRC). Beautiful stuff. But it had to be ripped. So I recruited a friend to share in the dust (my children being easily bored/afraid of rapidly-spinning saw blades) and got to work.

First, the tools of the trade. The table saw, of course, and the respirator.

canoe building: making cedar strips

There was dust flying all over the place (note the sawdust on the floor), so it’s foolish not to think some of it won’t end up in your lungs if you’re not suitably protected.

After ripping strips for hours and hours, the strips were ready for routing. I’ve decided to do bead and cove for most of the canoe. I’ll use a rolling bevel for the floor of the canoe (also known as the football). More on that later.

I was careful to maintain the sequence of the strips as they came off the board. Not only did this enable me to take the following pretty cool picture…

canoe building: cedar strips

…but it will also enable me to join strips that come from the same board and the same relative position of the board (given that the characteristics of the strip can change depending on where it comes from on the board).

On to the router.

canoe building: bead and cover router bits

I do the bead first because the cove is delicate and I’m likely to bash it up as I manhandle the strips in the narrow confines of my workspace. Note that the router is attached to a shop vac to keep the mess to a minimum. After I bead a batch of strips, I bundle them up and set them aside and move on to the next bundle. When all the strips have a bead, I then change the router bit and do it all over again with the cove bit.

At the end, I have strips that look like this…

canoe building: bead and cove strips

… and I’m happy because this means that I can put away my table saw and router and start thinking now about stripping the boat!

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