I want a canoe. I want one really badly. New, it's going to run me $400 or more. Used, well, I just don't like Craig's List and haven't found any other listings in my area. So what's a boy to do? Build one!!!
There is no shortage of guidelines and tips and hints and clues and allusions to canoes out there in internet-world. What I had trouble with was finding step-by-step instructions. Every time I got close, the search results would morph into kayaks. There are several well-written guides right here on Instructables, and out in the Wild Unknown Internet you can find a lot of generalities or opportunities to buy plans, but none of them gave me the info or product I wanted at a price I would pay ($0, for the record).
So anyway, I decided that I would study the guidelines and tips and hints and clues and allusions to canoes and build one. Options are several: Skin-on-frame, plywood stitch and glue, strip planking. Right off, strip planking is out. Complex, demands skills I don't have, and would likely cost much more than the $400 of a new fiberglass unit unless I used plywood strips. Plywood stitch and glue gives you a durable, serviceable unit, but requires epoxy and fiberglass and the results are ugly as hell. A skin-on-frame is comparatively simple, very cheap and can give you a gorgeous boat. Besides, if it was good enough for the warplanes of WWI, it's good enough to float around the local flood control lakes.
Sites that inspired or informed me on this project:
http://www.bushcraft.ridgeonnet.com/canoe2.htm (This one in particular - the finished product is GORGEOUS !)
Read on if you would like to hear the tale of my trials and tribulations as I strive to build my own canoe for less than the cost of a new unit!
Step 1: A False Start.
After dreaming of this for some years, I finally put my foot down and decided to do it. I had been reading what I could find and had some general ideas as to size and construction method in mind. From this vague mental image I developed my take-offs and got together a materials list. I met up with my long-suffering cohort, Bob, and we headed to the big-box home improvement warehouse.
Most of my sources show frames with many ribs, all different sizes, all steam bent, all beyond my skills and patience. My plan was to buy regular 2x dimensional lumber and rip the parts I would need to frame the canoe with multiple stringers over a few frames. My "research" suggested that this is a common method in kayak construction, and since it looks simpler than 20-30 unique ribs, that's what I would do.
I knew I wanted a 16' canoe, so I needed 16' stock. 2 x 12 boards come from larger, older trees and so I expect that the grain will be less susceptible to splitting. My plan was to cut gunwales as .5" x 1.5" slices from the edge of the board, then the keel would be a 1.5" x 1.5" slice. After that, stringers would all be .5" x .5" strips. I still didn't know how many I would need, or how many useful parts I could get from a single 2 x 12. So we bought 2.
For the stems and a center frame, I used .75" plywood. Thick, strong, easy to cut curves - just the thing. We grabbed a 4' x 8' sheet and had the staff cut it in half for us.
Next came wood screws and tacks. Common and easy to find anywhere.
Fabric came from fabric.com. 6 yards of 60" wide 10 oz cotton canvas ran about $40, shipped. I checked first to be sure they wouldn't send me 6 1-yard pieces as I can't sew well enough to put them all back together. Delivered on time, as ordered, and ready for action.
We headed back to the house with our 16' boards resting comfortably on some pool noodles ($1.50 at Biggs) protecting the roof of the van. Once there we set up the backyard boatyard and started hacking away at the wood.
We still had no real concept of the dimensions we would need for the various parts, but decided somewhat arbitrarily that the sides would be 18" high and the stems would be 24" to give the ends that up-swept look. I took a minute to look up some basic sizes and found that a 16' canoe has 12"-13" sides. That seemed shallow to us, so we bumped it up to 18". More is better, right? A quick spin on Google SketchUp and we had our stem shapes. We cut out 4 and doubled them for each end, giving us parts that were 1.5" thick to secure the ends of the stringers and fabric to.
By the time we got to this point we were exhausted. True to form, I didn't start the project until summer hit it's stride and we were working in a heat index that hovered right around 100F. Too damn hot! We had the stems cut out and secured to the keel, the gunwales were cut out and secured to the stems, and the center frame was in place. The whole assembly was upside down on my sawhorses in the shady part of the yard and ready for more.