I have great boat-building plans tumbling around inside my head, but I thought I'd better start on something small. Thus I purchased two books, each on building a canoe - one out of wood and one out of Kevlar. I'm hoping that the skills I learn whilst building these two little vessels will stand me in good stead for the next project - a dinghy of my very own design.
The dubious honour of 'inaugural boat-building project' went to the wooden strip-wood design from "Mac" McCarthy's book, Featherweight Boatbuilding, called 'Wee Lassie'. What follows is a photographic journey of the building of my very own 'Wee Lassie'. If you'd like to see how it should be done, take a gander at "Mac" McCarthy's own web site.
(In case anyone is interested, the second canoe design comes from James Moran's Building Your Kevlar Canoe: A Foolproof Method and Three Foolproof Designs, but that will be the subject of a future project.)
Building 'Wee Lassie' - The Photos
And What Did We Learn...
I enjoyed building my 'Wee Lassie' using Mac's book. I did, however, learn a few things along the way, so I thought I'd jot a few down here in case they will be of some extra help to those wood-working novices (like me) out there who attempt to build their own wee canoe...
I built my canoe in Sydney, Australia and was therefore required to allow for differences between the availability of materials in Australia and the USA. The most obvious difference is that Spruce timber is just not available in Australia (which is a shame because Spruce sounds like a pretty wonderful timber - very light, yet very strong). After a lot of research I decided to use Damar instead (although I would have used Huon Pine, from Tasmania, had I been able to get any).
Another difference that caused a small amount of anxiety was Imperial versus Metric measurements. In Australia, 12' planks are cut and sold in 3.6m lengths (which is 6cm, or 2½", less than 12'). I purchased my timber without having any idea as to whether this 6cm difference would be significant or not. As it turned out the longest strips required still had 5cm (2") of overhang on either end - not a lot, but enough. Phew!
- Used: Western Red Cedar; Damar (inner stems, feature strips, curved deck supports); Brazilian Mahogany (outer stems, rails, thwart, seat).
- Western Red Cedar, Damar from: A. W. Swadling Timber & Hardware Pty Ltd. 92 - 94 Lilyfield Rd., Rozelle, NSW 2039, Australia. Ph: +61 (0) 2 9810 4177.
- Brazilian Mahogany from: Anagote Timbers. 144 Renwick St., Marrickville, NSW 2204, Australia. Ph: +61 (0) 2 9558 8444. Fax: +61 (0) 2 9558 8044.
- Alternatives: Instead of Damar use Hoop Pine or Huon Pine.
- Used: AV190 made by A. V. Syntec.
- From: Swadlings Timber & Hardware. 767 - 779 Botany Rd., Rosebery, NSW 2018, Australia. Ph: +61 (0) 2 9317 2299.
Which Design: 'Wee Lassie' vs 'Wee Lassie 2'
I was well into building my 'Wee Lassie' before I was lucky enough to get to speak to a canoeing expert about my project. He was a bit shocked to learn that I was building the 11' 6" version of the design. At 90kg (200lbs) I was going to be severely overweight for my new canoe (it would float lower in the water than it was designed to do and thus would not perform well). He even expressed doubt that the 13' 6" 'Wee Lassie 2' design would be big enough for me. I wasn't too bothered by this revelation, but it might have been nice to know before I had got started. The only thing I would add, however, is that I found the 11' 6" design to be at the very limit of my abilities to work solo - I don't think I could have tackled the 13' 6" design without a very regular extra pair of hands.
Strip attachment: 'Clamp & shock cord' vs 'nail & staple'
I used the 'clamp & shock cord' method to hold the strips in place as the glue dried. I only resorted to using staples when I got up to attaching the last few strips to the keel. I am not sure I'd entirely recommend using the 'clamp & shock cord' method...
The clamps exert their main hold onto the molds, and are less effective at holding each strip onto the one below it. The shock cord works in the opposite way. Using these two methods together resulted in a subtle 'undulation' in the lay of the strips on my canoe. In addition, the tension provided by the shock cord tended to bow the sides away from the molds (because the clamps only hold the sides against the molds at their top edge) and to cause a slight inward droop between the molds. The end result was still completely acceptable (the various deformations are barely noticeable in the final hull), but it did bother me during the stripping phase of the construction. One possible solution would have been to reduce the shock cord tension, but I'm not convinced that a satisfactory inter-strip pressure would have applied. Another idea would have been to use double the number of shock cords (i.e. two between each pair of molds) and to nail every 4th or 5th strip to the molds - together these ideas would probably have reduced the amount of deformation.
Not having tried the 'nail & staple' method, it is more difficult to offer any opinion. I would speculate that the strip-to-strip and strip-to-mold pressures would have been much more even. However, even the small amount of 'staple removal' I did was enough to make me realise that there are some down-sides to this method as well. These include noticeable hull perforations and a significant amount of work required to remove all the fastenings.
Making The Molds: Clamp Holes
If you're going to go with the 'clamp & shock cord' method, then you're going to need to cut clamp holes in your molds before you erect them. I cut three slots of equal length along each side of my molds. Unfortunately this 'regular' placement of slots lined up horizontally once the molds were erected. This meant that there were several strips that crossed more than one mold at a point where they could not be clamped effectively. Recommendation: off-set your clamp holes.
Whichever strip laying method you use, be aware when constructing each mold that each comes to a slight point at the top (if you cut them to plan, that is). This point is not quite compatible with the horizontally-laid keel strip. Recommendation: grind off the point of each mold such that the keel strip will be well supported when it goes in.
The Inner Stems: Bevelling
Bevel the vertical (forward/rear facing) portion of each inner stem into an acute, blunt 'V' (I drew up and cut out of cardboard a silhouette of the bow and stern and used these to get the bevel right). Bevel the horizontal (top) portion of each inner stem to match the slope of the mold each is perpendicular to (i.e. much less acute than the vertical portion). Fair the transition between these two portions.
Cutting The Strips
If you can buy your strips ripped and 'beaded & coved', I would - doing this yourself is a big, dull job. If you decide that you want to do everything yourself (as I stubbornly did), then permit me to recommend using a saw table with continuous support for the full length of your timber on either side of your saw (ditto with your router). I tried to make do with a couple of roller stands on either side and thus made a cumbersome process all the more difficult. Having an extra pair of hands for this job is a must. Also be aware that this phase creates a lot of sawdust - install a sawdust catchment system before you start and save yourself a lot of clean-up work.
The Feature Strip
I had a couple of goes before I produced a feature strip that was up-to-scratch. Recommendations: go chunky - my first attempt was too finely detailed and was invisible from more than a few feet away; and use as many clamps as you can - I used two-dozen clamps on my second attempt and still ended up with gaps between the various blocks of material used due to too low a frequency of clamps along the strip as it was glued.
Laying The Strips
This phase went reasonably smoothly for me, but there are a couple of tips I can offer (in addition to the 'strip attachment' advice, above). First: let the glue dry between each strip before stacking another on top (this may not apply if you are using the 'nail & staple' method) - any strip deformation was exacerbated on the occasions I broke this guideline. Second: the transition to the keel strip was much more 'sudden' than I was expecting (see progress photos, above) - the final result looks fine, but I would have liked to have seen a few more photos of how Mac did this bit on a genuine 'Wee Lassie'. Third: once I began to butt the strips into the keel I found it easier to taper the end of each strip 'on the bench' rather than 'on the hull' - I simply used a strip off-cut to find the point at which the taper needed to begin and then transferred this measurement to the next strip to go in. I also bevelled the vertical edge of the tapered section with sandpaper to ensure that the strip and keel faces met flush. Fourth: the last strip is the hardest - just remember that there is little that filler and sanding can't hide. ;-)
The Outer Stems: Laminating
Before I started this, I clamped a continuous line of shock cord blocks around each end of the hull, and boy am I glad I did. The original intention was that the shock cord would merely be a back-up to the nails that would hold the laminate in place as it dried. With glue all over everything, I began applying the laminate strips with nails only to discover just how easy it is to split these thin bits of timber. And once a split starts, it just gets worse. The shock cords thus became the primary method of holding the laminates in place and they worked very well. The resulting stems were firmly and evenly attached and had no fastening holes in them. Once dry I planed each overhanging side down almost flush to the hull and then finished off the shaping with the orbital sander.
One element of this phase that I had not been expecting was just how loud using a rapidly vibrating orbital sander on what is effectively an 11' 6" wooden drum is - the neighbours were not impressed. My attempt to muffle the noise by securing the hull with heavy shock cords and stuffing the interior with old blankets was only marginally successful.
The Journey Continues...
... in Canoe Building: Wee Lassie (Part Two)...
Buy your 80-grit sandpaper on a roll. I went through about a zillion dollars worth of sandpaper-by-the-sheet before switching to a roll. 100 metres/yards should do you.
Buy power tools for the job in hand. I subscribe to the adage "if your need to buy something you want to use over and over, buy the best you can afford". In applying this to the power tools that I needed to buy to compete this project (which was all of them, as my toolbox was just a random collection of hand tools before starting this), I ended up with some big, beasty and powerful power tools. Unfortunately some were a bit too "big, beasty and powerful" for the delicate work required of them during the execution of this project. Permit me to suggest down-grading the power and bulk of your router, orbital sander and belt sander - sometimes bigger isn't better.
Mac talks about having "lots of clamps". I had 12 small C clamps, 16 spring clamps and 16 shock cord blocks. I'd recommend having 50% more of each than I had. Another issue I struck with my clamps was size (specifically the maximum jaw opening). The ones I bought were perfect for stripping the hull but didn't have the span to handle building the inner rails the way Mac suggests (they need to open at least 2" to span the thickness of two rails + two blocks, which was more than the clamps I bought could handle). Ditto for clamping the rails in place whilst their epoxy glue set.
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