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Skin-on-Frame Canoe

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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://ecketrailmates.org/event_files/colorado-canoe-trip/dimensions-tips.htm
http://www.dimensionsguide.com/canoe-dimensions/
http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/canoe+paddle.html
http://www.bushcraft.ridgeonnet.com/canoe2.htm  (This one in particular - the finished product is GORGEOUS !)
http://books.google.com/ebooks?id=g2UUAAAAYAAJ

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!
 
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astral_mage10 months ago
go with bicycle tires itill give u a rub area w/o the wood tearing in to any thing as well. 4 the botton keel u can go with used car tires. just cut off the side walls. screw them end to end. that way uill protect yr bottom as well.
astral_mage10 months ago
ok heres an idea us a router to make your ribs curved. like a watermelon. so if its done right u could have the majority of yr ribs done.
l8nite2 years ago
very nice project and well documented "ible" I wouldn't worry to much about half the boat being out of the water when your seated in the stern, many shorter canoes and even jonboats do the same thing. Of course you're supposed to kneel in the center of a canoe to paddle it but that's uncomfortable, and personally I never do it. Trying to make wood curve without steaming can be very difficult and you end up with cracks or splits, even at a half inch your wood was thick to attempt this but you made it work ! Plywood would make a good choice but you would need to scarf the lengths together. My great uncle was a boat builder, he always stuck his brass screws in a bar of soap, he worked primarily with cedar and had few problems with the screws splitting the wood. Thank you for sharing your project ! I hope you get many years of use from it
balloondoggle (author)  l8nite2 years ago
Having the bow up out of the water made navigation a challenge because of a stiff wind on launch day. There's nothing like trying to paddle a weather vane around a lake. Like you said, kneeling is painful, and it's a little wide for that - something to keep in mind next time! Thanks for the tip on soap - I've used paraffin before but I think soap may work better.
What kind of plywood did you use for the frames, and have you had problems with rotting or warping? Did you waterproof the plywood with anything?
balloondoggle (author)  machoturtle1 year ago
The frames are from some 3/4" stuff I had laying around. Didn't waterproof it because it only gets wet during use, which is infrequent. The only trouble I've had with rot is the fabric where it is covered with the rub rail. Water got in over the winter and didn't get out before ruining the cotton. I don't feel it's worth repair when I have another boat on the books.
mrdudej2 years ago
How much did the whole thing cost you?
balloondoggle (author)  mrdudej2 years ago
Around $200, not counting the ruined camera.
At least you know it's water proof now...
tunachocker2 years ago
Get the book "How to Build a Tin Canoe".
balloondoggle (author)  tunachocker2 years ago
That looks interesting. Thanks for the suggestion - I'm always looking for new books to read.
rickharris2 years ago
Nice build - If you decide to do it again have a look at the links in my instructable

When you car top put 2 straps one to each end of the bumper so the canoe doesn't shift laterally. A proper roof rack is a better idea. Stopping in a hurry is inclined to end up with the canoe on the bonnet - Don't ask!


Wetting the fabric and if possible placing on the frame corner to corner will allow you to pull most of the wrinkles out  - Cotton cloth will shrink as it dries and tighten - Nylon doesn't.  If you can get Polyester (Dacron) it can be heat shrunk somewhat with a hot air gun. see aerolight boats link.

Strong back is essential if you want the canoe to be straight. As a construction medium you might have been better off using plywood. Either wet bending 1/4 inch (9 mm) or dry bending 2 layers of 6mm ply ( a stronger option when the 2 layers are glued together.) The aerolight construction can be done this way producing a light strong result.
A note about Dacron & using a hot air gun. Not the right way to apply heat in this case. Inability to accurately control distance of gun to fabric always leads to uneven heating and often a tragic burn-through. A regular clothes iron is the ticket. Direct contact is the surest way to have consistent heat application, no wavering hands and changing distances to mess up the process. Check the iron's temperature with a thermometer of some kind. I use a non-contact thermomete from H Freight, and for my skin kayak with Dacron, ~200° F seemed to be a good number. At this temperature I could produce shrinking at a moderate rate and go back over areas if needed. No burning through. Of course keep the iron moving. Produces a wonderful drum tight skin. Your frame should be sufficiently constructed not to distort und the shrinking process. Mine was very light but had sufficient frames to locate and secure the ribs. If you go ultralight don't overdo the shrinking tension.
Clothes irons work ok, but after quite a bit of experience with model aircraft, I switched to a dedicated iron. Nice long handle, teflon-coated, non-steam shoe, and a precision temp control designed for shrinking Dacron.

Monokote sells a really nice iron, as do most of their competitors. Just browse through any hobby website for covering materials and accessories, and you should see one or two of these irons.

There's also a myth about hair dryers not being hot enough (at least for model work) and that's not correct. You do need to let them warm up a bit, but I've covered quite a few wings by tacking down the covering material (Fabric or film) at the leading and trailing edges, and then using a hair dryer to pull it tight. I might be a bit more skilled at avoiding burn-through, but I have seen another modeler blow a hole clean through his covering material with an actual "hot air gun" - looked up for a second, and *fwoomp rattle rattle* - hole opened up in the side of his plane about the diameter of the heat gun tip.

I do agree with the iron bit, though - on big flat faces, or following really tight curves, the shrink is smooth, even, and amazingly fast with the iron, and you don't worry about over-heating since the iron has a temp control on it.

Good luck with your future endeavours - I look forward to the instructables!
balloondoggle (author)  rickharris2 years ago
I'll have to see if your double strap will work on my car. I'm not sure there are secure places at the corners to hook to. It would certainly be better than a central strap through the back doors!

I hadn't thought about going corner-to-corner with the fabric. I'll try that on the next round. The cotton shrank nicely though, and except for the weight I'm pretty happy with that. I did see one where the builder used a white synthetic and whatever he sealed it with made it nearly transparent - that looked pretty cool!

I might try plywood, but cutting the strips will be a challenge with a bench saw. I would probably waste an inordinate amount of wood.

I'll definitely check out your links! Thanks.
If you put a rubber pad or blanket on top of the car, Open all four doors. Place canoe on top of car (I've done this with a 19 foot Grumman on a 1998 Mazda). Run ratchet type tie downs as far aft and as far forward, thread in ends, pull tight and then ratchet till you think the roof might bend in. Then shut the doors, and the canoe or other boat doesn't need a front or back strap. If when you tighten the 1.5 inch straps, the boat seems to start to squash, its too tight. Put one completely turn in the strap on both sides of the boat--this prevents very loud resonance thrumming completely. A flat strap will drive you bonkers above about 50 MPH. I've done this 30+ times and never lost a canoe due to wind forces. DO not roll down the windows to do this, the door then cannot be opened. Buy at least 1 inch wide straps and keep the ratchets lubricated. If your almost totatally useless mazda roof vent fails well so be it. In a hard top car I've ever had any problem. If you have two door car, run the straps thru the back windows. 2" straps might damage the roof or the boat but so will backing over the car with a D-9 Cat....I'm 66 and loading takes about 5 minutes on or off.

Wade
balloondoggle (author)  druthernot2 years ago
That sounds like a possible alternative. I haven't found a place under the back bumper to connect two ends without warping the cover, so I'll certainly give this a run-through next time I get to take it out. Thanks for the suggestion.
Ther is an instructable that puts 2 webbing straps under the hood on the side bolts to hold the canoe. Looks like it would work.
mjursic2 years ago
What's teh weight of the canoe? Looks good, also looks LIGHT!
balloondoggle (author)  mjursic2 years ago
Surprisingly heavy actually. The thick plywood I used for the basic frames, heavy cotton canvas and latex paint all add up quite a bit. A guess would put it around 50lbs, but I haven't weighed it. Looking at it now, I can see a few places where I could have saved some weight if I had been thinking about it at the time. Lessons learned for the next one!
I've covered quite a few model airplanes in quite a few materials. If you're looking for something RIDICULOUSLY light, then try *drumroll* polyester cloth.

Yeah, yeah, I know, it's a synthetic... but you can throw it on, stitch it to the rails (gunnels?) and then hit it with a hair dryer to tighten it up. Polyester naturally shrinks with the application of heat - Monokote plastic film for covering airplanes is actually just polyester film - nothing special except the heat sensitive adhesive on the back.

The only hitch is, with the thinner/lighter stuff, you may want to lay a strip down on your frame members, just tacked in place with some glue, and then cover the whole frame with the cloth, so as to avoid the sharp edges of the frame bits rubbing through the fabric.

There are a variety of waterproofing materials to paint on afterward, but a good quality nitrocellulose dope (ridiculously combustible) or a clear acrylic would let you stitch your design features on, and you can get the fabric in the color you like - so the coating is only for waterproofing, not for color.

I already have an aluminum canoe, but I can see building my own floats for my upcoming kitplane project.
Forgot to say... AWESOME JOB! ;)
Considering my fiberglass one weighs in about 85 lbs, 50's pretty damn light!
randomray2 years ago
Very nice job , as for a skin check this lumberjocks project out http://lumberjocks.com/projects/28617 he uses tyvek house wrap .
balloondoggle (author)  randomray2 years ago
That's very nice work, and I like how he was able to use scraps of hugely expensive Tyvek. His level of work is far beyond my patience or skills! Thanks for the link!
Chuckle , you can buy it from Home Depot a 3ft x 165 ft roll for $45 about the amount you spent on the cotton canvas . But I was thinking you might want to check Freecycle or maybe Graig's list for a 16 ft section of the 9 ft wide house wrap . There maybe stores that sell it by the foot or yard . I have a friend who would have given it to me . That hardly seems expensive . While I love his boat mine are way simpler , I made a canoe from luan , glue , screws and old house paint for about $60 , not nearly as elegant as your's though . Don't start thinking inside the box now .
balloondoggle (author)  randomray2 years ago
Last time I looked at Tyvek it was more like $150 for a roll that size, but that was years ago. Glad it's come down.
The 9 ft wide rolls are about $ 160 but they are 150 ft long , enough for ten canoes . Thanks for sharing your project .
balloondoggle (author)  randomray2 years ago
Economy of scale - nice! I wish I had room to store all the canoes I could make from one roll.....
RaptorWing2 years ago
Nice Job.  I've taken the Greenland Kayak from This site and built two Skin kayaks modified to a 12 foot length.  People have told me how great they look, but I alone know where all the flaws are.  Now that my two boys are getting old enough to enjoy boating, a canoe will be next, and hopefully it will have fewer!  

I especially like the rolling outfeed table.  Is that by Tonka?

And to Rick, just went to your instructable to check out the links.  Thanks for all the resources.
-Aaron
balloondoggle (author)  RaptorWing2 years ago
That instructible is where I realized I didn't need a dozen unique ribs, bent and fitted. It was probably the start of my desire for a SOF canoe. Maybe I should have acknowledged that - he did a great job on it.
Oops, missed the picture comment box on this... It is indeed a Tonka. :)
HWACK2 years ago
May have missed it, but what does it weigh?
balloondoggle (author)  HWACK2 years ago
See above :)
Verga2 years ago
Great job and great Ible
I have been looking at cedarstrip conoes, but this almost two good to pass up.
What is the approx load capacity? And how many hours of construction time?
balloondoggle (author)  Verga2 years ago
It handles >300lbs easily. I suspect someone out there can provide the math to calculate a specific number, but until then I can tell you it held 2 adults with no problem.

Build time was not tracked, but I spent roughly 2 months of random evenings and weekends working on it. Most of the time I only got an hour or two at a time before the mosquitos drove me into the house.

I want to do another one, this time with a deadline of 20 June, but the weather has not allowed me to get started. I don't think I will be able to get it finished and inspected in time for the event it is intended for. I also intend to use plywood as suggested by Rick Harris, below.
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