Whoa! The Eddy Line is for the whole family. Is the Hawk fix’n to write about drinking and stripping at GCA Galas? No way: this BYOB is Build Your Own Boat. This is the Hawk’s third Eddy Line essay on boat construction; the first 2 involved stitch & glue and skin on frame sea kayaks; this one concerns constructing a stripper canoe.

Why even consider making a canoe? First, it’s something the entire family (or club – e.g., Scout Troop) can do. Second, it’s less expensive (around a grand) than purchasing an equivalent kevlar or glass boat (aesthetically none are equivalent). Third, it’s not all that difficult (The Hawk did it). Last, and most important, it’s an opportunity to make a unique and elegant traditional expedition conveyance. 

Right now, if you’re seriously thinking about it, stop reading this. Go on-line to Amazon.com and order Canoecraft: An Illustrated Guide to Fine Woodstrip Construction by Ted Moores. This book will tell you everything you will need to know. Indeed, a sophisticated craftsman with a complete wood shop and her own timber would need only this book because it has 8 different hull plans with offsets.  
I’m not that sophisticated, so I bought plans, fiberglass cloth and resin from Bear Mountain Boats (www.bearmountainboats.com – 1-877-392-8880). Call them up and discuss your project: it’s a mom and pop shop and they’re helpful and interested in your project.

I purchased the wooden components from Ian McGrath at Great Northern Craft in Canada (604-886-8052). Again, I called him, discussed my project, and he helped me determine exactly what I needed. Ian selects western red cedar, Alaskan yellow cedar and various hardwood logs, has them milled into rough planks, then kiln-dries them and machines perfect bead and cove hull planks. To give you control over what your boat will look like, he packages planks from each board in the order in which they were cut.

The plans include overall perspective line drawings, a traditional table of offsets, and cross-section templates along with an instruction book. Basically, building a stripper canoe consists of making a mold based on the cross-sections, stapling planks to the mold, gluing the planks together, and then covering the hull with fiberglass cloth. 

So, I read the book; the plans came; I found some old pieces of plywood and cut out the cross sections. Then I fished some 2×4’s out of the basement, stuck plywood on top to make a 17 foot strong back and fixed the cross sections to it. This step is critical because if things aren’t perfectly aligned your boat will look funny and will likely paddle crooked.

By the time I had completed the mold UPS had delivered an 18 foot long cardboard tube full of wood. When your tube of wood arrives, pay attention when you’re removing the hull strips. Lay them out carefully. Remember, they are packed in the order they were cut and you’ll want the color transitions to correspond to what you discussed with Ian.

Then, starting at the gunnels, staple a plank (cove side up) to the mold; squeeze a bead of carpenter’s glue along the cove; squish the next plank into it and staple it to the mold. Pay attention to the way you have laid out the strips so that both sides are symmetrical and the color blends as you had planned.
Piece of cake. Well not quite. Things get complicated as you begin to reach the midline so read the book and think about it.  

Whoops, sorry, I almost forgot. Before you start stapling planks you must construct the stems, those thick front and back pieces that give the bow and stern their elegant shape and that you crunch into things when you’re paddling.  No biggie; make a steam box out of aluminum insulated foam; position it over your camp stove; bring a teapot to boil and steam the ash stem strips that were in your wood shipment (read the book for specifics). Laminate the strips together with epoxy over the stem molds using C-clamps to hold them for a day or so, do a little wood work to bevel them and start stapling your hull pieces. Depending on how rapidly you can staple and glue the hull will be done in a week or so.

Then comes some serious sanding and once the hull’s just right you cover it with fiberglass cloth inside and out. Then comes more serious sanding. Do this outside and wear a respirator. Repeat, DO NOT even consider doing this sanding indoors – the fiberglass/resin dust is insidious.

Glassing done, stick on the gunnels (relatively simple to make even with scuppers) and the decks (a bit more complicated) and settle in for six coats of marine varnish and corresponding wet sanding. Then bolt in the seats and a thwart (I bought mine) and you’re done.

It took me about 3-months to make a 17 foot Redbird. Once it’s done you have two final choices. The most logical is to sell it. The boat is beautiful but you know every little imperfection and how to avoid them next time. The mold is sitting in your shop so all the preparation is done. You should clear $3,000 or $4,000, which pays for your expenses, pays for the next set of wood and covers a nice expedition.

Or do what I did. I’d rather paddle than make boats. So load it on your well-padded roof racks and go paddling for a week.

William C. Reeves (The Hawk)