Building a Cedar Strip Canoe: Cutting and Milling the Strips

Updated on May 27, 2016
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Jim is a retired software/electrical engineer who enjoys the outdoors. He likes to challenge himself with creative projects at home.

The construction of this canoe hull is a laminated core. The fiberglass and hardened epoxy form the outer laminate and the cedar forms the core. This forms a very solid structure, something like human bone where the surface is dense and hard and the center is softer and porous. The wood does not necessarily need to be cedar, but light weight is definitely a major consideration. The hull could be made entirely of hardwood such as Ash but it would be extremely heavy. The type of wood traditionally used is Western Red Cedar. I use what is readily available. For this canoe I will use a mixture ¾” rough sawn cedar boards I purchase at a “big box” store and 5/4” cedar deck planking. The deck planking was on sale at the time and I figured it was worth a try. The design of this canoe is not too radical and curvy so I thought the wider planking would be useable. Look for straight non warped boards with few knots.

doesn't look like a canoe yet
doesn't look like a canoe yet

How much wood do I need? This is how I estimated:

Widest station is 53” measured along the contour of the hull

Assume a ¾” strip and loose 1/8 in for the bead and cove, so strips are .75 - .125 = .625

Full length strips needed : 53 / .625 = 84

I have 8 3-1/2” X 12’ X ¾” rough sawn cedar and 4 5-1/2 X 12’ X 1” cedar deck plank so:

Assume strips will be .2 and the saw kerf is .0625 (it will be more but this is an estimate) so

The 3- ½ boards yield (3.5 /.2625) *8= 106 strips

The 5 – ½ board yield (5.5 /.2625)*4 = 83strips

Since they are on 12 ft long. Multiply the number of strips by 0.75:

106* 0.75 = 79 and 83 * 0.75 = 62 total 141 strips

I set up my table saw with a feed table (saw horses actually) and a table to catch the strips coming off the saw. I used a thin kerf Diablo 7-1/4” circular saw blade. This is a great blade. Next the rip fence was adjusted to get the appropriate thickness. The first canoe I built was 15 ft long and I used 16 ft. boards. The kayak I built was 16.5 ft and I used a mix of 16ft boards and shorter boards. This boat is 16 ft. and will be constructed with the longest strip being 12 ft. This will required every strip to be butt or scarf jointed. Normally strips are 1/4” thick, but I decided to try to reduce a little weight by making them 0.2” thick. It is recommended that rough sawn lumber be planed to uniform thickness to ensure strips remain uniformly thick when ripped. I don’t have a planer so I make do and probably end up with more scrap. I check the thickness at each edge of test strips cut from scrap wood. Checking each edge thickness is a better way to tell the blade is square with the table than using a carpenters square. Some of the boards have a little warp and that makes some strips have thinner spots i.e. they will not have uniform thickness. This means more scrap also. I ran the strips through the saw by hand, without any additional jigs or spring fingers. In a few hours I had a big pile of strips ready to be milled.

I set up my router table in a similar fashion with feed and catch tables. The bits needed for the router are ¼’ bead and cove bits. I originally had a combo bead&cove bit with a ½” shank but halfway through the milling my el cheapo router burned up. I found another el cheap router and table on sale at Lowes for 40% off, but it had a ¼” collet. Luckily I had some ¼” shank bead and cove bits. I clamped homemade spring finger boards onto the table and ran some test strips. This takes a while to get set up properly. I ran the bead on all strips first then the cove. The rotation of the bit was such that it wanted to pull the strips through. This is not recommended but I found that I get less shredding of the soft cedar this way. The finger boards help keep the strips from becoming missiles.

I ended up with lots of strips broken where knots were encountered and several that had thin spots, but I planned to do a lot of joining so some planks may have more than one joint. My concern is matching grain and color to get a pleasing appearance.


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      3 years ago

      Good to see your post. Still enjoying my original wood strip canoe, built from Bear Mountain plan book back in 1984. With some occasional maintenance its stood up well

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      4 years ago

      cordial saludo. como adquiero los planos de estas canoas.


      mauricio jaramillo/Colombia

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      6 years ago

      Like your postings on the canoe construction.I just purchased the book from Bear mountain and also ordered the video.I hope I have as good as looking boat when I get finished. Many Thanks,Jack


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