How to Build a Canoe – Wood and Canvas Canoe

How to Build a Canoe – Wood and Canvas Canoe

Canoeing is a most delightful outdoor sport, and one of the healthiest in which a boy can indulge during his vacation days. Its popularity can plainly be seen by visiting any lake or stream, and noting what a large percentage of the small craft dotting its surface are canoes of various shapes and sizes, paddled by boys of all ages.

Excerpt from the book – THE BOY CRAFTSMAN (Published, August, 1905.)
Practical and Profitable Ideas for a Boy’s Leisure Hours
BY A. Neely Hall

For speed and the ease with which it can be carried about, the birch-bark canoe has no equal, but very few boys own them, as they are expensive, and their construction is more difficult than those of other material which will satisfy a boy fully as well.

The canvas canoe is more widely used at the present time than any other form, which is no doubt due to the fact that it is very simple to make and keep in repair, and the cost of its material is small.

In building a canvas canoe there are two important things to consider,—its weight and strength. These depend upon the material used. The framework must be made stiff enough to hold its shape, as the canvas adds but little to its strength, and at the same time the wood should be as light as possible. There are a great variety of

Materials from which to choose for building the framework, among which basswood, ash, spruce, and pine may be classed. The canoe described and illustrated in this chapter may have its ribs, ribbands, and gunwales made out of lattice-strips and barrel-hoops, which will save the cost of having them cut to the right size at a mill. Pine or fir lattice-strips of good sound stuff are generally easy to obtain in all locations.

1 piece of 2-inch by 8-inch plank 6 feet long for bow and stern pieces.
15 2-inch by ⅜-inch lattice strips 12 feet long for ribbands, gunwales, keel, and bilge-keels.
20 barrel-hoops for ribs and deck braces.
1 strip 8 feet long, 2 inches wide, and 1 inch thick for keelson.
2 strips 4 feet long, 2 inches wide, and ⅝-inch thick for deck ridge pieces.
2 strips 8 feet long, 4 inches wide, and ¼-inch thick for cockpit frame and coaming.
Several 6-inch and 8-inch boards from which to cut deck beams, patterns, etc.

Copper nails and brass screws should be purchased for fastening the framework together, and copper tacks for putting on the canvas. Iron nails will rust and break off, and therefore should not be used in any part of the canoe’s construction. Use nails only where their ends can be clinched, and screws in all cases where this cannot be done. For covering the framework, three and one-half yards of canvas forty inches wide will be required for the lower portion, and the same amount thirty inches wide will be required for the deck. Boiled linseed-oil should be purchased for filling the canvas and the best grade of mixed paint for painting it. A drab, or cream color and white trimmings, are both suitable for a canoe. If the latter is used, buy white paint, and, after pouring out enough to cover the finishing strips, mix the rest with enough yellow ochre to make a pretty shade of cream.

Below will be found a bill of the material required to build a canoe such as this chapter describes, and although the prices of canvas and a few of the fittings are likely to fluctuate somewhat, the price of the canoe should not exceed this amount, and there are locations where it may be less.

BILL OF MATERIAL (!!! in 1905   !!!)
3-½ yards No. 10 Duck, 30 inches wide, 27 cents    $0.95
3-½ yards No. 10 Duck, 40 inches wide, 36 cents    1.26
1-½ pounds 1-inch Copper Nails, 30 cents    .45
2 pounds ⅜-inch Copper Tacks, 35 cents    .70
2 dozen ¾-inch Brass Screws (Flat Heads), 7 cents    .14
6 dozen ⅝-inch Brass Screws (Flat Heads), 6 cents    .36
3 dozen ⅝-inch Brass Screws (Round Heads), 6 cents    .18
½ gallon Boiled Linseed-oil    .25
½ gallon Best Quality Mixed Paint    .75
15 Lattice-strips, 12 feet long    .90
1 Piece of 2-inch by 8-inch Plank 6 feet long    .20
Miscellaneous Strips and Pieces (see page 202)    .50
Total cost    $6.64 (!!! in 1905   !!!)

Having procured the necessary material for the canoe, the first things to make are

The Bow and Stern Pieces

The proper way of laying these out on the eight-inch plank is shown in Fig. 201. First cut the plank in half, and then place these two pieces side by side upon the floor or work-bench as shown in the drawing one piece upon which to draw the pattern, and the other upon which to locate the centre for drawing the curves.
How to Build a Canoe - Fig 200
Fig. 200.—Bow and Stern Pieces.
Then square the line AB across the planks, and locate the points D and E on either side of it, by means of the measurements given upon the drawing. The most satisfactory scheme for
How to Build a Canoe - Fig 201
Fig 201
Then with a ruler lay off along the line AB the distances for the other arcs, as shown in the drawing. FG will be two inches from DE, HI an inch and one-half from FG, and JK an inch and one-quarter from HI. Having located these points and described the arcs, draw the lines CD and CE, extending them so as to cut off the arcs, as in the drawing. At the upper end of the pattern draw the line LM one inch from and parallel to FD. With a radius of an inch and three-quarters and the centre N describe an arc as shown in the drawing. At the lower end of the pattern draw the line OP two inches from and parallel to GK, and the line QR one inch from and parallel to PK. Having carefully drawn out this pattern, turn over the plank and draw the same thing upon it, locating the points exactly opposite one another, by squaring lines across the sides and edge. Prepare the other piece of plank similarly. To cut out the patterns, place them in the vise of your work-bench, one at a time, and rabbet the surfaces between DE and FG, and FG and HI, as shown in the section drawing, Fig. 202. This done reverse the piece and do the same to that side. When these surfaces have been trued up carefully, remove the piece from the vise and saw the pattern from it. In doing this, first saw along the lines DJ and EK, and cut out the corners FLMD and PQRK. Then follow roughly the curves of lines DE and JP, after which place the work in the vise and trim them off nicely with a draw-knife, rounding the outer curve as shown in Fig. 202. The portion OQRG should be cut down to a plain surface as shown in Fig. 200.

Fig. 202.—Section through Bow and Stern Pieces.

With the bow and stern pieces completed, the most difficult part of your work has been accomplished.

Now pick out the eight-foot strip procured for

The Keelson.

Square off the ends so that it is exactly eight feet long, and then, commencing six inches from one end, lay off mortises for the ribs (see Fig. 203). These mortises should be cut half an inch deep and the width of the barrel-hoops, and their centers should be spaced twelve inches apart.

How to Build a Canoe - Fig. 203.—The Keelson

Fig. 203.—The Keelson.

In order to give the correct shape to the canoe in putting the framework together, it will be necessary to make
A Mould similar to Fig. 204. Fasten together two boards about two feet long with battens, as shown in the drawing, and with a piece of cord to which a pencil has been attached describe a semicircle upon it, using a radius of eleven and one-half inches. Saw out the mould carefully, and in the center of the bottom cut a mortise two inches by one-half for the keelson to fit in.

How to Build a Canoe - Fig. 204.—The Mould

Fig. 204.—The Mould.

Everything should now be in readiness

To put the Framework together.

In order to give the keelson the proper slope of one inch between its center and ends, nail two blocks of wood one inch thick to the work-bench eight feet apart, and rest the ends of the keelson upon them. Then fasten the ends of the keelson in the mortises cut in the bottom of the bow and stern pieces. Set the mould which you have prepared over the exact center of the keelson, and fasten it in place temporarily. When this has been done take two lattice-strips for

The Gunwales, and after locating the exact center of each, screw them at this point to the ends of the mould just below the top. Drive these screws but part way in, as the mould is to be removed later on. Commencing at the bow end of the canoe, draw the end of one gunwale to the bow piece, and, after marking it the correct length cut it off so it will fit nicely in the rabbet cut in the side of the bow piece. Then screw the other end to the stern piece, after which attach the gunwale on the opposite side in the same way (see Figs. 200, 205, and 206).

Now take the barrel-hoops which are to be used for ribs, and fasten them in the mortises cut for them in the keelson, bending their ends until they come inside of the gunwales. Then fasten them to the gunwales and trim their ends so as to be even with the top of the canoe (see Figs. 205 and 206).

How to Build a Canoe - Fig. 205.—Top View of Canoe, showing Gunwales, Ribs, and Ribbands in place.

Fig. 205.—Top View of Canoe, showing Gunwales, Ribs, and Ribbands in place.
How to Build a Canoe - Fig. 206.—Side View of Canoe, showing Framework completedFig. 206.—Side View of Canoe, showing Framework completed.
How to Build a Canoe - Fig. 207.—Top View of Canoe, showing Framework completed 
Fig. 207.—Top View of Canoe, showing Framework completed.

After fastening the ribs in place,
The Ribbands should be put on. Pick out eight of the soundest lattice-strips you have, and fasten these at their centre to the sides of the mould, placing four on each side of the keelson and spacing them at equal distances. As the mould is only temporary, do not fasten the ribbands to it securely, but drive in the nails part way.

Then, beginning at the bow, draw the ends of the ribbands to the bow piece one at a time, and cut them off so they will fit neatly into the rabbet. Screw them in place, being careful to space them as equally as possible, after which attach the stern ends in the same way. Figure 205 shows the top view of the canoe at this stage of its construction.
The Deck Beams should now be made and put in place, one each side of the cockpit, or fourteen inches from the centre of the canoe (see Fig. 207). At this point measure the exact distance between the gunwales, and lay it off upon a four-inch board (see Fig. 208). The top of this piece should be curved as shown in the drawing, and a mortise two inches wide by five-eighths of an inch deep should be cut in the edge for the deck ridge pieces to fit in. As a means of preventing the gunwales from spreading, it is best to dovetail the ends of the deck beams into them (see Fig. 207). Cut a tongue half an inch long and half an inch thick on each end of the beams, as shown in Fig. 209, undercutting it slightly, as in the drawing, to make it wedge-shaped. Then, having prepared the ends, place the beams in the positions they will occupy in the framework, and mark upon the top of the gunwales the shape of the tongues. Mortise the gunwales at these points (Fig. 210), so the tongues can be slipped into them and fastened in place. By examining the corners of a drawer you will see clearly how the dovetail joint is made.

How to Build a Canoe - Fig 208 - 211

The Ridge Pieces are strips running from the deck beams to the bow and stern pieces (see Figs. 206 and 207). For this canoe, they should be made out of a strip two inches wide by five-eighths of an inch thick. Cut them of correct length to reach from the mortises in the tops of the deck beams to the mortises cut in the tops of the bow and stern pieces. Mortises two inches wide and a quarter inch deep should be cut along the top of these ridges, as shown in Fig. 211, to receive the deck braces. Securely screw the ridges in place. Then cut twelve pieces of barrel-hoops for

The Deck Braces, and fit them in the mortises made in the ridge pieces. Screw these in place and bend their ends until they can be fastened to the inside face of the gunwales. The curve of these braces should be the same as that of the deck beams, so it will be possible to put on the deck canvas neatly (see Figs. 206 and 207).

The space between the deck beams is left for

The Cockpit, the frame for which we are now ready to prepare. First remove the mould, being careful that the framework does not spread in doing so. Then cut two two-inch strips to fit between the deck beams, and fasten one on each side of the cockpit two inches from the gunwale (see Fig. 207). When this has been done take the strip eight feet long, four inches wide, and one-quarter inch thick, procured for the cockpit frame, and bend it around the opening, fastening it to the sides of the deck beams and the side strips. The top edge of the frame should now be shaved off with a draw-knife, so that it will be on a line with the deck braces at every point (see Fig. 206). This is necessary in order to make the curve of the deck around the cockpit the same as elsewhere.

The framework of the canoe is now completed, and should be painted and left to dry before you go on with the rest of the work.

It is no easy matter to stretch

The Canvas Covering over the framework without having it wrinkle, but with the help of a boy friend it can be stretched fairly even, and with care and patience may be made to look neat.

Turn the framework bottom side up and, after finding the centre of the forty-inch strip of canvas, lay it along the keelson from bow to stern. Smooth it over the surface with your hands, and start a few tacks along the keelson to hold it in place. As a means of keeping the canvas stretched over the bottom of the framework while working upon it, attach several weights to the edges; then, with your helper on the side opposite you, commence at the middle rib and stretch the canvas down that rib to the gunwales, starting a couple of tacks in the gunwales to hold it in place. Then work along each rib from the centre of the framework toward the bow, and then from the centre toward the stern, stretching the canvas as tightly as possible, and driving tacks along the gunwales not farther than one inch apart. You will find that the only way to get the canvas on smoothly is by removing the tacks wherever any wrinkles appear and, after restretching it, replacing the tacks. As the tacks will probably have to be removed a number of times during the operation, it is advisable to drive them in but a little way at first.

It is most difficult to make a neat job at the bow and stern, and a few wrinkles will probably remain, no matter how much pains are taken in fitting the canvas, on account of the narrowing of the canoe at these points. Fill the outer mortise made in the bow and stern pieces with paint, and, after folding the edges of the canvas, tack it in these mortises. Place the tacks as close as their heads will permit, which, together with the paint, will make a joint that water cannot penetrate. Now examine the canoe carefully, and, if you have smoothed out the wrinkles as much as possible, drive home the tacks and trim the canvas close to the gunwales.

The Deck is much easier to cover. Spread the piece of thirty-inch canvas over it from bow to stern, with the centre of the canvas running along the centre of the deck, and place a tack in it at the bow and another at the stern. Stretch the canvas in the same manner as when covering the bottom of the framework, and lap it over the gunwales, tacking it along the outer edge. Cut through the canvas at the cockpit, and trim it off so there will be just enough to lap around the cockpit frame. Trim the canvas along the gunwales so that it does not project more than an inch.

After the deck has been covered, the canoe is ready for


A coat of linseed-oil should first be applied to the canvas, to fill the pores and make a good foundation for the paint. Then allow the canvas to dry thoroughly, after which give it a coat of paint,—cream, or whatever color you have selected. When this has dried, rub it down with pumice-stone or fine emery-paper, and apply a second coat.

All that now remains to complete the canoe is the attachment of the cockpit coaming, the keel, bilge-keels, and the outside gunwales. Take the strip eight feet long, four inches wide, and one-quarter inch thick, which you procured for

The Cockpit Coaming, bend it around the frame of the pit, and cut off the ends so they will join neatly. Then fasten it to the cockpit frame, allowing two inches to project above the deck, and shave off the top edge the same as you did the cockpit frame, so it will be two inches above the deck at every point.

For a small canoe built for paddling only, it is unnecessary to have anything more than a strip fastened to the bottom for

The Keel.

So cut a lattice-strip eight feet in length, and screw it along the bottom of the keelson (see Fig. 212).

The Bilge-keels are lattice-strips fastened along the sides of the canoe as a protection to the canvas, and should be attached directly over the ribbands. One of these on the centre ribband of each side will be sufficient (see Fig. 212).

How to Build a Canoe -  Fig. 212.—The Canvas Canoe completed

Fig. 212.—The Canvas Canoe completed.

For a finish to the upper edge of the canoe,

Outside Gunwales should be attached outside of the present ones. These will cover the joint between the canvas of the deck and the lower portion of the framework. All of these outside strips should be fastened in place with the round-headed screws, after which they should be painted. Figure 212 shows the canoe completed.

A Seat is desirable for the bottom of the canoe, for comfort as well as to prevent your feet from wearing out the canvas. This seat should be movable, so it may be taken out to drain the water from the bottom of the canoe, and may be made as shown in Fig. 213. Batten together two six-inch boards upon their under face and notch the two side edges to fit over the ribs of the framework (see Fig. 207).

Fig. 213.—Seat.

In order to keep your canoe in good condition, do not allow it to remain in the water for any length of time when not using it, as the canvas would soon rot by doing so. After a spin, pull it out of the water, and turn it upside down to dry; then put it away under cover to remain until again wanted for use.

With the greatest of care a boy will puncture his canoe once in a while, so it is a good idea for him to know

How to mend Punctures.

There are several ways of doing this, but the best is by either sewing a piece of canvas over the puncture and then painting it with white lead, or daubing the canvas around the hole with varnish, and then laying a canvas patch over it and varnishing it.

The making of a well-shaped paddle is no easy matter for an amateur to accomplish, so it is advisable for a boy to procure

A Hand-made Single Paddle, such as can be bought for a dollar and a half. This is generally made of selected spruce, with a copper-tipped end, and is nicely finished. The length of the paddle will depend upon the size of the boy who is going to use it, but should be between four feet six inches and five feet.

It may be well to warn those who build canvas canoes about the ease with which they are overturned. As long as the boy remains seated he is perfectly safe, but the moment he attempts to change his position, he need not be surprised if he receives a ducking. Upsets are common in canoe-racing, and especially in a close finish, where one paddler after another overbalances himself in his efforts to beat out his companions. But these only add to the fun of such a race, and no harm is done if the canoeist prepares for them beforehand by putting on his bathing suit.

Excerpt from the book – THE BOY CRAFTSMAN
Practical and Profitable Ideas for a Boy’s Leisure Hours
BY A. Neely Hall
With more than four hundred illustrations by the author and Norman P. Hall
Published, August, 1905.