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Building a Cedar Strip Canoe: The Details: Stripping the Hull

This is an expansion on the directions in my article, "Building a Cedar-Strip Canoe: The Basics." When you attach the strips, you finally start to feel like you are making some progress. When you have attached the last strip and stand back to admire your work, it actually looks like a canoe. Don’t be fooled into thinking you are almost finished, however; you still have a lot of work to do.

Starter Strip

The first thing to do is to attach the starter strip at the sheer line mark you have on the forms. I attached that strip just below that mark because I want the canoe just a tad deeper than the design calls for. I’ll see how this works when it is done. This strip is cove side up so there is a channel to hold glue. My canoe is just under 16 ft. and my longest strips are 12 ft.

Scarf Joint Vs. Butt Joint

I scarf joined that first strip. A scarf joint is just a joint cut at a sharp angle. I soon decided just to use butt joints, which made stripping go much quicker. When attaching the first strip the tendency is to follow the sheer line, bending the strips to follow at the bow and stern. Too much of a bend here looks unnatural on the water. It is better to let the strip just droop to where it wants, attach it then add short filler strips at the bow and stern. I didn’t follow that advice, exactly. I thought that since this design does not have a very drastic curve at the ends, it would be ok to follow the sheer. Again I’ll have to wait and see if that was a mistake. Make sure the strips extend a little past the stems. This will be trimmed later.

Leveling the Strips

The starter strips need to be level across the canoe. I attached one side then attached the other side while laying a level between the right and left strips all along the length of the canoe. Now the rest of the strips can be attached. I found it best to attach only about 3 or 4 on each side then letting the glue dry.

Before you start randomly laying down strips I would advise that you sort them first. Discard the ones that have thin or very thick spots or are damaged in some way. Also it is a good idea to sort them by color so you can match them to make a natural colored/shaped design as the strips are applied.

Stripping the Sides of the Canoe

I have chosen to staple the strips to the forms but some builders use clamps and jigs to hold the strips down. I want to go fast and don’t mind all the tiny staple holes, I think it somehow looks more traditional. Like I have said before, I’m no artist. My objective is a functional boat. I use 9/16” staples and a cheap staple gun. In the book Canoecraft, the author suggests using a syringe to dispense a uniform amount of glue. I use Titebond II and apply it right out of the bottle. With a little practice the glue dispensed is fairly uniform. Titebond is waterproof but it is not necessary, since everything will be encapsulated in fiberglass and epoxy.

After the first few strips are glued and stapled, I go back with a wet cloth and wipe up the excess glue from the inside and outside. It can be a pain to remove once it has dried. I then check that all the bead and cove joints are mating the best possible. My strips are not perfect so the mating surfaces are not always perfectly matched. Oh well. I try to press the strips together between the stapled points on forms, then if there is some movement, masking tape is used to hold them together.

Rounding the Corner

The sides of the canoe are fairly easy to strip. It gets more difficult to attach strips where the hull rounds the bilge from the sides to the bottom. The strips not only need to be laid along that curve on the forms, they become twisted since the bow and stern stems are not following the same curve. You may eventually get to a point where staples just won’t hold the strips down. The twisting wants to pull out the staples. This is where the clamps and jigs become handy. The butt joints will sometimes want to twist out of shape also, so clamping a short piece of scrap strip, covered with tape, on the hull inside and outside over the joint will hold it in place. I didn’t worry too much about cracks of dips or butt joints, I’ll be doing a lot of patching. Oh well, I’m hoping to get this boat done in 2 more months to use on my Canadian fishing trip.

Finishing the Bottom One Side at a Time

Once you round the bilge, you want to continue to attach strips to just one side until they cross the centerline of the forms. They can then be cut along the center line with a utility knife. Next the other side of the bottom can be stripped. However these strips must be cut at angles on the ends where they butt against the center line.

Some other observations during stripping: I have a tendency to put my tools on the strongback between the forms and I spend a lot of time walking the length of the canoe looking for them. I advise resisting that urge and having a table to set them on. I should have taken more time sorting strips, I have a lot left over. You can make some cool effect with the natural color in cedar. My forms are not perfect which cause a few flat spots in the hull. With the previous boats this happened also, but it seemed that when the staples are pulled the hull sprung out a little, making these areas disappear.

Skip is excited to help
Skip is excited to help

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