Building a Cedar Strip Canoe: Making the Stems

Updated on July 20, 2017
jimmar profile image

Jim is a retired software/electrical engineer who enjoys the outdoors. He likes to challenge himself with creative projects at home.

My Home-Built Cedar-Strip Canoe

This is the last of a series of articles on how I built my second cedar-strip canoe. For an overview, see Building a Cedar-Strip Canoe: The Basics.

Stems Form the Stern and Bow

Stems are laminated strips of wood that form the tip of the stern and bow. The inner stems are where the ends of the strips are stapled and glued, and tie the stripped hull together. The outer stems are glued on top to the inner stems and blended into the stripped hull with planes and sandpaper. They are usually made of hardwood and provide some protection for the soft strips and inner stems from collisions with shoreline obstacles.

For this canoe I made the inner stems with three ¼” strips, two cedar and one white pine. The outer stems were made with three ¼” strips, the outermost being maple and the others white pine.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Steaming the Stems

The stem strips must be steamed and clamped to the bow and stern forms and allowed to dry. Steaming the stems can seem a bit intimidating at first. I made a steamer out of a length of 4” PVC pipe and plugged the ends with a pieces of ¾’ particle board cut to fit with a hole saw. The bottom plug had a hole drilled in it to allow steam to enter the pipe. The source of steam was an old coffee pot with a short length of copper pipe replacing the bubbler. I filled the pot with water and set it atop a Coleman single burner backpacking stove. Once I had soaked the stem strips overnight in water I placed them in the PVC pipe, plugged the end and hung it from the rafters of my garage so that the pipe on the top of the coffee pot enter the hole in the plug. The secret to successful steam bending is lots of steam. I cranked the control of the stove all the way up to get the water boiling furiously. When I saw steam shooting from a tiny hole at the top of the PVC then I knew the steam volume was about right. About 30 -45 minutes is about right. The sides of the pipe will start to get soft.

Clamping the Stem Strips Onto the Forms

The hot strips, all six of them, are clamped onto the forms. Here is where I made a mistake with the forms. I only cut six 2” round holes in the forms, when I should have made them 1-1/2” and spaced them closer. Also I should have cut the first hole near the sharpest bend in the stems so that I could clamp the strips there first. This would have put less stress on the strips when bent since the ends have less distance between them and the form. But I made it work.

Combining the Stem Strips

Once the strips have been thoroughly dried, I glued them together and clamped them back on the forms. I used a mixture of epoxy, sanding dust and bits of fiberglass for the glue. The edge was first covered with plastic packing tape to prevent the strips from becoming permanently attached to the form. Packing tape was also used between the group of three inner strips and the group of three outer stems. This is a messy job and it is difficult to get all the strips aligned.

Shaping the Stems

After the epoxy glue mixture was sufficiently set I removed the clamps and cleaned off the dried excess glue with a sureform plane. I set aside the outer stems for later, and put the inner stems back on the stem form which I reattached to the strong-back table with the rest of the forms.

I attached one end of each stem to the form it butts against with a screw through the form into the stem and attached the other end with a screw through the stem into the stem form.

The stem must be now shaped. I drew a center guideline the length of the stem, and also a line 1/8” to the left and right of it. Using a plane, spoke shave, sureform plane or all three, the stem needs to be shaped to allow a glue-and-staple surface that will be flat where the strips will be attached. The area between the lines needs to be left flat after the shaping is finished. Near the top of the bow or stern the angle is sharper. The stem-to-strip interface should be as flat as possible to allow plenty of area for the surfaces to make contact.

I found that my bow stem form was off a little and I raised one end of the inner stem with a shim. I will continue to make small adjustments like this as the build progresses. It’s just part of building when you are neither an artist or carpenter, but just determined to build a useable canoe.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • jimmar profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Michigan

      just doing that now as a matter of fact!

    • Outbound Dan profile image

      Dan Human 

      8 years ago from Niagara Falls, NY

      Another good hub, and bookmarked for when I finally build my own canoe. Have you thought about including the links to your other articles on cedar strip canoes?


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)