How to Build a Canoe – Wood and Canvas Canoe Plans – excerpt from the book “The Scientific American Boy” by A. Russell Bond
A strip of spruce 1 inch thick, 3 inches wide and 12 feet long served as the keelson. At the stern a post 1-1/2 inches thick, 3 inches wide and 13 inches high was secured to the keelson with brass screws. This was braced as indicated in Fig. 104.
At the bow a stem piece was attached to the keelson. This stem was cut to a somewhat semicircular form, as shown in Fig. 105.
The outer edge was tapered with a draw-knife to a thickness of 1/4 inch and a brace was nailed to the inner edge. Our next work was to cut out three forms, one of the shape shown in Fig. 106 and two like that shown in Fig. 107.
The first form was set up on the keelson midway between the stem and stern, and the other two were spaced about four feet each side of the center form.
The center form was used only for shaping the frame of the boat, and was not intended to be permanently affixed to the canoe. Therefore, we fastened it to the keelson very lightly, so that it could be readily removed.
The other two forms, however, were made permanent parts of the frame, serving as bulkheads. The gunwales were now secured in position.
These were of spruce 3/4 inch thick and 2 inches wide. The ends were beveled off so as to neatly fit the stem piece and the stern post, to which they were fastened by brass screws. Then we applied the longitudinal strips, or rib bands, which were of 1/4-inch thick spruce 1 inch wide. Ten of these bands were used, equally spaced apart on the center form, to which they were lightly tacked; but they were nailed securely to the bulkheads and the stem piece and stern post.
The cross ribs were made of barrel hoops which we had soaked in water for a day or so to render them pliable of the Canoe Frame. enough to be bent into place. These hoops were split to a width of 1/2 inch, and secured first to the keelson, then to the longitudinal strips and finally to the gunwales.
Copper tacks of the Canoe Frame. were used for nailing the ribs in place, and these were long enough to be passed through the rib bands and clinched on the outside. Forty cross ribs were nailed on, and at the center of the canoe they were spaced about three inches apart. The center form was then removed and cut along the dotted lines shown in Fig. 106.
The semicircular pieces thus obtained were now strengthened with strips on their inner edges, and wedged in between the keelson and the gunwales, to which they were nailed, as shown in Fig. 108.
A pair of cleats nailed to the cross ribs served as supports for the seat of the canoe. The frame of the boat was completed by nailing in place two deck beams of 1/2-inch square pine and four corner pieces between the gunwales and the bulkheads, so as to make an elliptical well hole or deck opening.
Before laying on the canvas covering the edges of the gunwales, keelson, deck beams, stem and stern posts were smoothed down with sandpaper.
Stretching on the Canvas.
The frame was laid in the center of the canvas and the latter drawn around it. Then with a large needle and strong twine we sewed both edges of the cloth together with long stitches, lacing the canvas over the frame as a shoe is laced over a foot.
This done, the boat was turned deck downward and the canvas was tacked to the keelson. In each case, before driving in a tack a daub of white lead was applied, to water-proof the spot.
At the stem and stern a gore (narrow triangular piece) was cut out of the canvas so as to make it lie smooth on the frame, and white lead was painted in between the overlapping edges.
The canoe was then turned deck upward and the lacing tightened, while we carefully worked out all wrinkles in the cloth. After tacking the canvas along the gunwales on the outside, it was trimmed off, leaving sufficient margin to be brought over the gunwales and tacked inside.
Two triangular pieces were cut out for the decks, and these were lapped over the outer canvas and tacked to the gunwales. A narrow molding along the edge of the boat served to cover the tack heads and added a certain finish to the canoe.
A keel plate 2 inches wide and 1 inch thick was attached to the outside of the boat, and then, after wetting the canvas, it was given a coat of white lead and oil. When this was perfectly dry it was sandpapered and the second coat applied.
The canoe was now complete except for the rudder, which was cut from a 1/2-inch board to about the shape shown in Fig. 114. Strips 1-1/2 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick were nailed to each side of the blade, forming a post, to the top of which a crosspiece or tiller was fastened.
A cleat nailed to the pillar at each side of the rudder post served to greatly strengthen the joint. The rudder was hinged to the canoe by a rod, which passed through four brass screw eyes, two threaded into the rudder and a corresponding pair screwed into the stern.
For convenience in steering we ran our tiller rope clear around the boat, through screw eyes in the gunwales and a pulley at the stem, so that the steersman could guide his craft from any point in the canoe.
The Deep Keel.
We planned to use our canoe as a sailboat, and had to provide a deep keel, which, for convenience, was made detachable. This keel was 6 inches wide, 1/2 inch thick and 6 feet long, and was fastened at the center of the canoe. Screw eyes about twelve inches apart were threaded alternately into opposite sides of the keel plate.
Corresponding hooks were attached to the keel in position to hook into the screw eyes, and thus hold the keel firmly in place.
Our boat was fitted with two masts, a mainmast and a mizzen or dandy mast. The former was 6 feet long and the latter 4 feet long, and each measured 1-1/2 inches in diameter at the base, tapering to about 1 inch diameter at the upper end. They were held in brass bands, or clamps, bent around them and secured to the bulkheads, as shown in Fig. 117.
The sails were of the lanteen type.
The mainsail measured 8-1/2 feet along the boom, 9-1/2 feet along the yard and 10 feet at the leach.
The dimensions of the mizzen sail were: along the boom, 5 feet; along the yard, 5-1/2 feet; and at the leach, 6 feet. The boom was attached to a strap of leather on the mast, and was thus given freedom to swing around in any desired position.
The yard was similarly attached, and was raised by a cord, which passed through pulleys at the top and at the base of the mast and extended to a cleat within easy reach of the occupant of the boat. A double paddle was fashioned from a board 1 inch thick, 6 inches wide and 6 feet long. The blades were shaved down to a thickness of 3/8 of an inch at the edges.
It will be observed that we used no iron in the construction of this boat. Uncle Ed has warned us not to, because iron rusts out so easily and is apt to damage both the canvas and the wood with which it is in contact.
A canoe is rather a tipsy thing to sail in, as we soon learned, and it was lucky that we could all swim, else our vacation might have ended very tragically; for the very first time Bill and I tried the boat an unexpected gust of wind struck us and over we went. We were very poor sailors at first, but it didn’t take us long to catch on.
One thing that bothered us greatly in sailing was the keel of our canoe. It was forever getting twisted, particularly when we tried to make a landing. There were only a few places along the island where the water was deep enough to permit our coming right up to shore without striking the keel. The fastening was not very strong, and every once and awhile it would be wrenched loose.
The matter was made the subject of a special letter to Uncle Ed, and in due time his answer was received. As usual, he offered a first-class solution of the difficulty. “Don’t use a keel,” he wrote; “lee boards are much better.” Then he went on to explain what was meant by lee boards: “The leeward side of a boat is the opposite of the windward side; that is, that side of the boat which is sheltered from the wind. Lee boards, then, are boards which are hung over the lee side of a boat to prevent it from drifting to leeward, and they serve to take the place of a keel or centerboard.”
Following Uncle Ed’s direction we fastened a strip of wood across the canoe about six feet from the bow, nailing it firmly to the gunwales. This provided a support to which the lee boards were secured.
The lee boards were paddle-shaped affairs of the form and dimensions shown in Fig. 121. Each paddle near the top was hinged to the end of a board three inches wide and a foot long. The paddle was held at right angles to the board by means of a hook.
Each board was fastened with door hinges to a baseboard which extended the width of the boat and was attached to the crosspiece of the canoe by means of a couple of bolts. The bolt heads were countersunk, so that the hinged boards could lie flat over them. To the top of each lee board two ropes were attached, one passing forward around a pulley and thence back to a cleat within easy reach of the occupant of the canoe, and the other passing directly back to this cleat.
By pulling the former rope the lee board was lifted out of the water, while the latter rope was used to swing the board into working position. When tacking to port (left), the board on the left side of the canoe was lowered and the other was raised, as shown in Fig. 123, and when tacking to the starboard (right) the board on the right side was lowered, while the left one was raised.
The Indian Paddling Canoe.
Our sailing canoe proved such a good one that we decided to build a second. This was to be much lighter, for paddling only, and of the true Indian shape, with wide, bulging sides and raised stem and stern. The dimension of the forms used are given in Figs. 124 and 125.
These forms, it will be observed, were notched to receive the keelson and gunwales. The keelson was formed of 1-inch spruce 3 inches wide and 10 feet long. The stem and stern, which were both of the same shape, were cut from a 12-inch board to the form shown in Fig. 126, and were firmly secured to the keelson. This made the boat 12 feet long.
The forms were then set in place on the keelson, one at the center and the 122 others three feet each side. The gunwales were formed of 3/4-inch by 2-1/2-inch spruce, and the twelve rib bands used were of the size used in our first boat.
As none of these forms was to remain in the boat, nails were driven very lightly into them, with heads projecting so that they could easily be withdrawn when it was time to remove the forms. The cross ribs were passed under the keelson inside of the rib bands and outside of the gunwales, as shown in Fig. 128.
After they were set in place and firmly secured with copper tacks, a band was nailed to the keelson to form the keel. To produce the raised stem and stern, four wedge-shaped pieces were nailed to the tops of the gunwales, as indicated in Fig. 129. The forms were then removed and were replaced with cross sticks braced between the gunwales. The center cross stick was provided with two corner pieces, as shown in Fig. 130, adapted to fit under the gunwales and against the rib bands.
The canvas was then applied in the manner described before, but was tacked to the upper edge 123 of the gunwale instead of the outer side, and the tacks were covered by a half-round molding which extended around the entire boat. After the lacing was cut the edge of the canvas was secured to the under edges of the gunwales. The canoe was then completed by fastening on a 1-inch square keel and treating the boat with two coats of paint. The paddle was a duplicate of the one described in connection with the sailing canoe.
I remember that we eventually equipped our paddling canoe with a sail and a pair of lee boards, though no record of this fact appears in the chronicles of the society.