How to Make a Bent-Frame Cane-Woven Canoe Seat

Updated on March 2, 2020
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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.

I am currently building a cedar-strip solo canoe which is planned to have only one seat. The seat will be set fairly low to lower the center of gravity adding some stability to the canoe. So that’s why I decided on bent frames.

I began the canoe build in my unheated garage just before cold weather set in, and I cannot use glue on the strips unless the temperature is above 50ºF. During a few months of below-40º weather, I tried to get ahead by doing some tasks indoors.

Plans

The first thing to do was to figure out where the seat would be mounted and take a measurement of the hull width at that point. I found I needed to make the seat frames about 29”, which included an extra inch or two. I decided to make the seat area 13 x 10 inches with about a 1-1/2” bend in the frames. The frames would be about 1-1/4 wide by ¾” thick.

In order to make the bend I needed to cut the frame wood into three pieces with a ¼” thickness, then laminate the three pieces together when bent. The shorter cross-member pieces would not be laminated.

I constructed two jigs onto which I would clamp the steamed wood causing it to bend. The jigs were made from scrap 3/4” plywood with two-inch diameter holes cut for the clamps. The bend would start about at the edges of the frame cross members and flatten out at about 3 inches past that.

Materials

I purchased a nice looking piece of ¾" x 4” x 6’ curly maple at Home Depot that I ripped to the frame width, plus a little to account for trimming, on my table saw. After cutting the frame cross member pieces, I ripped two 29” pieces to ¼” thickness. I decide to make the center lamination from some redwood that I salvaged from an old hot tub that I demolished. The long pieces of seat frame would be a maple-redwood-maple lamination. I purchased a chair cane kit from Amazon which turned out to have only four pegs: I recommend the slightly different caning kit below.

Constructing the Frame

After soaking wood in the bathtub overnight, I placed the long frame piece in the steam box I used when building my acoustic guitars (see my other articles), which used a camp stove and old coffee pot filled with water to make steam. Once steam was leaking from the box for at least one half hour I removed the frame pieces and clamped them to the jigs.

When they had thoroughly dried (a few days) I was ready to glue the frames together. I used epoxy mixed with sanding dust and some chopped fiberglass strand for glue. Getting the frames clamped and glued and straight can be a little messy and frustrating but I eventually got it done. The glue was allowed a few days to cure under the clamping pressure before I trimmed the excess glue and uneven edges with a hand plane.

Next I drilled 3/8” dowel holes in the cross members and long frame pieces. A doweling jig would have been useful but I didn’t have one. I drilled small holes in the cross members where I wanted the dowels to go, then inserted little pieces of finishing nails, leaving about 1/8” sticking out. I placed the cross members between the long frames then clamped them together, leaving alignment marks for where to drill holes for the dowels. I drilled the holes using a drill press with a 3/8” Forstner bit, then clamped and glued the parts together with Titebond III.

I next rounded the frame edges and sanded the whole thing. Next I drilled 1/4” holes, ¾” apart for the cane. The holes need to be aligned so that at outside each corner of the seat opening, there is a hole. I measured horizontally making a line every ¾”, then vertically doing the same, using the corner horizontal hole markings to align the ruler on the vertical. I drilled the holes with a ¼” Forstner bit. I tried to tape the back side to prevent chip out, but I should have first drilled small pilot holes then drilled the larger holes partially from each side, because I did get some chip out. Each hole was then slightly counter sunk on each side.

I decided to stain the seat for two reasons. I wanted the curly maple grain to stand out more and the frames had slight dents where the clamping jigs pressed into the steam wood that I had to fill with epoxy and sanding dust. I wanted to try to hide the fill marks. In hindsight I should not have stained.

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Caning the Seat

This process took way longer than I expected. I probably spent 8-10 hours doing this. I watched some youtube videos and read some articles before starting. I planned to use 3-mm wide cane, which the seat frame hole spacing is designed for, but ended up using the 2.5-mm wide cane that came with the kit. It worked but I wished I had ordered the wider cane.

This kit came with only four cane pegs; I made more. I think it would have had less of a tendency to twist, which caused a lot of delay.

I will not describe the whole weaving process here. Just check out the video, this article by Wicker Woman, and the photos below.

The first step is to soak the cane.
The first step is to soak the cane.

I ended up with some flaws in part of the weave, so I would urge taking your time, maybe spread the project over a couple days.

I also dabbed cane knots on the underside of the seat with epoxy. Next I sealed the cane with a mix of mineral spirits and Helmsman exterior polyurethane then followed with a few coats of full polyurethane.

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