Introduction: Two Canoes and a Crazy Idea

Picture of Two Canoes and a Crazy Idea

The idea began with a book I never read called The Six Hour Canoe. The idea of building a canoe in a short period of time seemed to open up the possibility of building the boat in a foreign country with local materials and leaving the boat when the vacation was over. I needed advice and went online to find a country, a boat to build and the skills and tools to create this project. I was overwhelmed by the information and support.

There were some skeptics, my friend Pete said, “Obtaining materials in a foreign land on a set time..I would suggest not bringing a watch but, instead, a calendar.”

Matt from Jem Watercraft suggested I build a prototype and, “beat the hell out of it,” to see if it would be up to my expectations. Then he offered to draft any designs I wanted for this crazy idea. I accepted his offer and had the plans drafted in both metric and inches. I thought since I might be building this outside of the U.S.A. I might as well use metric. I loved it try dividing 14' 7 19/32" by 11 in your head. (Stubborn Americans is all I can say.)

Step 1: Lofting and Cutting

Picture of Lofting and Cutting

I cut all the panels with a hand saw just in case I would not have power tools. This was not as hard as I expected. Just make sure you flex the plywood so as not to pinch the blade. The pull saw worked great and it did not raise near as much dust or make as much noise.

Step 2: Butt Joints and Testing

Picture of Butt Joints and Testing

I tried 4 brands of epoxy and three fillers plus drywall tape instead of fiberglass cloth. Wood flour and dry wall tape with no scarf or butt blocks. I used plastic film to stop the epoxy sticking to the table and boards. Instead of using a scarf joint or butt blocks one suggestion was three layers of glass cloth on both sides. This was brilliant it was quick and stronger than the wood.

Step 3: Tape Stitch and Glue

Picture of Tape Stitch and Glue

Duct tape was suggested as a method of holding the panels together. That was one idea I had to reject. Copper wires or cable ties worked much better. The putty was used to tack the panels into place between the wires and tape.

Step 4: Tricks We Discovered.

Picture of Tricks We Discovered.

Note the self stick drywall tape. When it would not stay put I used a strip of plastic. The plastic would stick to the epoxy and usually had enough adhesion to hold the errant tape down. Detail of capping the raw edges of the plywood.

Step 5: Bow Seat

Picture of Bow Seat

This shows how the bow seat was latched. Note foam rubber and bolts that go inside the holes to attach the rear of the seat. Wide shot of the bow seat

Step 6: Dry Box

Picture of Dry Box

Bungee cords were used to latch the rear hatch. The rear hatch makes for a great dry box. The rear hatch cover with bungee cords make a great spot to store the painter. The knot in the bungee cords are snapped in place under the notched boards.

Step 7: Testing If Wood Floats.

Picture of Testing If Wood Floats.

Testing the prototype for final stability. This took a few tries with the camera on a piling and the self timer.
Heeling position. The boat was more stable than my Grumman, Mad River or Coleman canoes full of water. Even full of water this floats.

Step 8: Canoe 2 in Chile Begins.

Picture of Canoe 2 in Chile Begins.

Billy Gerhard Ernst Elizalde from Chile (Billy from Chile) offered the use of his shed and tools for constructing the boat. He had built several wooden boats and lives a few miles from the Bio Bio River in Southern Chile. My son Andrew at the home of Billy from Chile. Setting the seats and bulkheads. This is not the way the prototype was built. In the second image I am screwing the inwales down.

Step 9:

Picture of
  • I used cable ties instead of wire. They were much easier to remove.

    This `was a better way to use the duct tape, to prevent putty leaks when turned over. I brought all the hand tools to build this boat in a small briefcase. When talking to Billy from Chile I did not know what to expect when he offered the use of his boat building shed. I was shocked at his generosity in the use of his precious power tools. In the background look at one of the boats he built.

Step 10: Finishing the Hull

Picture of Finishing the Hull

Andrew cleaning up the putty after removing the tape. Smoothing the seams before the final taping. Slopping on the epoxy over the fiberglass seams.

Step 11: Success

Picture of Success

Finished hull on Largo Grande in Concepcion Chile. I had 40 years of canoe prejudice about what hull design would be adequate. I wanted a rounded chine with some rocker and a slight V. I found plywood was manufactured in Chile and calculated two sheets would create a 15’6” hull (4.7 meters). That would be fine for 2 people and gear.

Step 12: Designed Around the Seats

Picture of Designed Around the Seats

When running white water I usually move the bow paddler behind the bow seat to a kneeling position to keep the bow from diving into standing waves and lower the center of gravity. I began with the seats in this position closer to the center of the boat and low in the hull. This allows for fore and aft bulkheads that serve as frames to simplify the construction process and provide storage.

A special thanks to Matt from Jem Watercaft ( for drafting the plans for any boat of my design. We exchanged 24 emails on how high the bow what was the rocker where are the bulkheads and seats.

Step 13: The Project As It Was Planned.

Picture of The Project As It Was Planned.

The plan was day one to cut the plywood panels, coat them with epoxy then build the seats. Day two the panels would be butt spliced with drywall tape and then epoxy resin and wood flour was mixed to make putty. Scarf joints would be made for the long boards on the gunwale and glued with putty. Day three the fore bulkhead and seats would be used as construction frames as the panels were attached with temporary screws and shaped with cable ties and copper wires. The outside seams would be covered with duct tape epoxy putty would be spread inside the hull between the cable ties. Day four ties and screws would be removed and the uneven hull seams shaped on the outside. Drywall tape would be applied to both the inside and outside of all seams and a coat of epoxy would be brushed on the tape and very dry epoxy putty would be squeegeed into the tape on both the inside and outside of the hull. Day five touch up the holes and coat the hull with one more coat of epoxy. That was the plan which went quite well except for a few problems.

One disaster occurred while using epoxy that was mixed by weight. I had read you could spread a nice even bead of putty by putting it in a Ziplock bag then cutting off the corner to squeeze out a bead like a pastry chef. The epoxy was curing too fast so, I figured a little less hardener would give me a little more time to get it spread into the proper place. I had built a scale to measure the 2 to 1 weight ratio. My crude scale was a board balanced on a sharpened piece of wood with the resin twice as far as the hardener from the fulcrum. This was working fine until I decided I needed more time and changed the ratio but instead of putting the hardener closer to the fulcrum I adjusted the resin. The putty looked good as I mixed the wood flour into peanut butter consistency then filled my baggie with goop. As I began to squeeze the baggie the putty began to get warm in my hand this quickly escalated to very warm then to hot. When I could not stand the heat I threw the baggie away and smoke began to billow out of the trash can while I worried about setting the rags sawdust and shop on fire.

I tested the online advice about glues, tools fillers joints and fasteners on my prototype. I tried 4 different brands of epoxy resin. I tested wood flour, fumed silica, white all purpose flour and sawdust for fillers. I tried fiberglass, and drywall tape for joint strength. I experimented with copper wires cable ties and dry wall screws for positioning the panels. I tried various tools and ultimately took a minimum of tools: my smallest surform two card scrapers (used instead of sandpaper on green epoxy) my contour gage, a pull saw and metric tape measure. I also packed a handful of screws and some ringed bronze boat nails.

Step 14: Lessons Learned

Picture of Lessons Learned

What did we learn? Joe and Andrew from Oregon, with drafting help of Matt from North Carolina and logistic support by Billy from Chile and advice from paddlers across the world can build a boat in a foreign country in 72 hours.

Sea snails, barnacles, mussels and blood sausage taste better than they sound. You can build a butt joint in plywood with drywall tape and epoxy putty that is stronger than the wood. When crawling about the floor of the shop with epoxy on your 12 panels make sure the dogs don’t come in to play with you.

There are a lot of wonderful people out there messing about in boats and their love of boats crosses all the cultural barriers.

I can't believe you read the entire story thank you. Go back to the top of the page and on the right select the Vote button if you would like to reward me.


aesquivel (author)2015-01-13

Hi! beautiful instructable, one question: can you stand on it? would that break the 5mm plywood?
could you please share the cutting patterns?

Dr. Joe (author)aesquivel2015-01-14

Yes you can stand in it. See the attached video.

Matt at Jemcraft drew the plans from my design please request them from him.

heavyweather (author)2017-10-29

Hi Joe,
How are the drywall tape joints holding up. I thought about that before but never tried it and Google searches came up empty. Stumbled about your Instructable by accident.

Dr. Joe (author)heavyweather2017-11-19

Have not had any failures with the drywall tape joints. I did have to repair a crack from running white water. It was not in the big stuff that I hit a rock but ran up on a sharp shallow rock in 2 mph current. The sound was horrible. I was certain I would be walking out. I pulled over and could not find the big hole I expected under my kneeling mat. The plywood had a fracture that did not really open up. I continued paddling for many miles to my take out. I did find water got under the fiberglass when I patched it.

Lorddrake (author)2016-06-27

Very impressive. Your finished product(s) looks fantastic.

Navier-Stokes (author)2016-03-17

I've just done a quick read so I apologize if this was already covered but what is the capacity of the canoe? I'm thinking of putting this together for a camping trip this summer, we don't canoe often enough to justify buying anything too fancy, it's just for getting out to the site and back, hopefully in less than ten trips with gear, hahaha!

Dr. Joe (author)Navier-Stokes2016-04-24

Sorry about the tardy reply. I just saw your question. Capacity is fine for 3 adults. Or two with camping gear. Or a mess of little ones.

vincent7520 (author)2015-04-12

Congratulations !

I fully restored a 10 m (33 ft) sail boat 10 years ago and I used plenty of epoxy on the wood job and as putty.

One lesson I learned (as you did) was NEVER, EVER play with the ratio of epoxy mix. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions and if you need to have a slower reaction use a different formulae that your manufacturer will provide ! Other wise you run the risk of having to do all your job again or worse a mix that will overheat and eventually set on fire : the risk is very real. It is written in the manufacturer's instructions for use (at least in France).

The only factor the user can have control of regarding the speed at which the resin cures is ambient temperature : the colder it is the longer the resins takes to cure. But usually one has very little power to change the course of seasons !… Also beware of very humid climates such as England / Normandy or tropical countries : some resins are specially mixed for thiese conditions, use them.

Also, beware of homemade additives to make putty or thicker epoxy. It may work … or not, depending on the nature of the additive, and its moist content. Most of the additive as wooden pulp, silica, etc sold by the manufacturer are cheap, really cheap when bought in bulk, and as they have no life limit you can use them as needed as long as you keep them in a cool and dry place. The epoxy hardener usually has a one year limit that asks for a more appropriate planning when buying in bulk.

This comment is posted for others to read. I am sure that you have learned all this by yourself.

Have a nice time on the water …

JM1999 (author)2015-01-26

Not bad!

What an amazing story. Yes not too long at all. Good stories never are. Good luck master craftsman. Thank you for taking the time to share this with the community.

BDix1989 (author)2015-01-24

I didn't see if you had downloadable plans. If anyone is looking for them I found this site that has plans for a canoe that is very much like the one you're making here.

Dr. Joe (author)BDix19892015-01-24

Thank you for the link. I had not seen that before. Matt at Jemwatercraft was the gent that drafted the plans for me too.

titchtheclown (author)2015-01-12

Congratulations on the beautiful build.

I do have to counsel against changing the mix ratio on Epoxy. The resin and hardener are meant to be mixed at the recommended ratio. Altering the ratio will result in a lower strength cure and, as you discovered, can lead to rapid overheating, or no curing at all.

Of slightly less concern is that the weight ratio is slightly different to the volume ratio. My epoxy has a 2 to1, or 1 to 0.5 resin to hardener ratio by volume but a 1 to 0.44 ratio when mixed by weight. In practice this difference is not that important.

Epoxy is also temperature sensitive so reducing the temperature (eg by doing your epoxying early in the morning, or late at night) will extend the cure time. I put my leftover epoxy in the freezer and it keeps for a few weeks. The epoxy I use can be purchased with a range of different hardeners, from low temperature cure to tropical cure.

Dr. Joe (author)titchtheclown2015-01-13

Thank you for the tips. I have learned the lesson from the school of hard knocks. Wish I had talked to you first. I like the idea of putting it in the freezer. How do you cover it to keep from contaminating the food? How do you warm it up to use it?

titchtheclown (author)Dr. Joe2015-01-16

I must confess i do not cover the leftover epoxy in the freezer. I usually do not have much leftover and it fits in the door shelf, which is usually empty. Just holding the container in my hand for a minute or so is usually enough to get it runny enough to use. Mine does not freeze solid but thickens, kind of like honey does when stored in the fridge.

Sapper12B (author)2015-01-16

Thanks for the info, I must try this.....

Dr. Joe (author)estructor2015-01-15

Thank you for the link. I was confused by the title How to build a canoe in 72 hours came from.

estructor (author)Dr. Joe2015-01-16

Looks like they kind of created some content by reblogging your story... Not 100% faithful to details. Somewhat odd.

JerryPT (author)2015-01-15

Nicely done Dr. Joe. I wanted to build a boat while in Ecuador for several months. Lumber was not a problem, but epoxy was. Only two sources in the entire country, and I was far from both. For other reasons we moved on to Argentina, where I was able go sailing on Lake Esquél in Patagonia and to visit Chile: Futaleufú.

What is the weight of your canoe? I built a Quick Canoe (15' 6" Michael Storer design, hard chine), and it paddled fine but was quite heavy (66 lbs) compared to my cedar strip (17', 52 lbs).

If you do build a skin-on-frame kayak, I recommend Dave Gentry's designs. They are quick to build and quite refined. I agree with the dacron cloth recommendation. I used dacron for Jozebote, a 16' hybrid (plywood hull, fabric decks). Also take a look at Platt Monfort's geodesic airolite designs: Those are light! A friend built one of those and it lasted many years.

Dr. Joe (author)JerryPT2015-01-15

I want to go back to Chile. The 15'6" canoe weighs 56 pounds. The seat and dry box cover are probably 5 pounds.

I do like that airolite design.

GardenFork (author)2015-01-13

Thanks for posting this, enjoyed your project. I've built some simple plywood boats. May I ask a few beginner questions?

When do you remove the cable ties?

Is the drywall mesh tape a substitute for fiberglass cloth, and do you remove it at some point?

Epoxy putty, is this the thicker version of the fiberglass epoxy or is this a certain brand-type of epoxy?

thanks for you time! eric.

Not sure this helps ...Look into MAAS epoxy, or West System epoxy...Both are excelent. West has a complete array of fillers etc. Micro ballon is easy to sand. I have been building small craft for over 25 years. I use regular glass tape, as I do not trust drywall mesh...I build 34' boats by myself so I use the best I can get. F/B page...>teddy flyfisher davis< There are photos. Dr. Joe's boat is sweet looking for sure...Ted.

Dr. Joe (author)GardenFork2015-01-13

Thank you for looking at my story. I remove the cable ties the next day, The key is when the glue holds the panels together. If you used 5 minute epoxy you could do it much sooner.

The drywall tape was a substitute for the fiberglass cloth. It is a looser weave but you can always put more layers. It is not removed. If you use duct tape clear packing tape or masking tape to keep the putty from leaking you need to remove it much sooner. Before the resin has bound too well to the tape and does not drip. That can be as soon as 30 minutes.

Epoxy putty is home made by adding a filler. You can purchase microballons or wood flower or you can use fine sawdust or even baking flour. You mix this into the epoxy until it is the consistency of peanut butter.

Build something awsome!

GardenFork (author)Dr. Joe2015-01-13

thanks Dr Joe, appreciate you taking the time to answer. i'll be building a plywood canoe this spring with cable ties and drywall mesh. thx, eric.

bettina-sisr (author)2015-01-14

Wowo! This is the Rolls Royce of DIY "off world" boats! Makes my plank and wood twine contraption look like a plank and wood twine contraption;-) Peace!

svkatielee (author)2015-01-14

Nice instructable! And a good idea to practice. Your friend is right about the time required. I did build a small wooden boat in a foreign country, on a small island, at a smaller village, with even less language in common. I had to order the epoxy and fiberglass cloth and wait a week for it to arrive. It took about a month with a local carpenter's help. He had tools but had never seen this type of boat. Me neither. With a little help from Google, lots of patients and $750 USD, my boat is 3 years old. Here is a link, but not instructions... Have fun! (The first of 4 posts.)

Dr. Joe (author)svkatielee2015-01-14

I enjoyed your blog. Thanks for sharing.

robolimbo (author)2015-01-14

Very nice build! I have built lots of stuff but never a boat. Your 'ible makes it seem very "do"-able.

pdriscoll4 (author)2015-01-14

Fantastic. I want to build one for our annual canoe trip with our club here in Wales.

Just need to persuade the wife I "need" it.

francoisphil (author)2015-01-13

Nice work , i built a prao on the same principle 30years ago , with a V hull , but now i am living in the Philippines , and i would not try to build anything with their so called "Marine Plywood"

garethllewelyn (author)2015-01-13

Super 'bl, so many boaters, so much water.

Boogity (author)2015-01-13

Great project, Dr. Joe. And it appears that you did a very good job. Please tell me why you wanted a soft chine instead of a hard chine. It seems that a hard chine would reduce the building labor and offer a more stable ride. Thank you very much for a wonderful 'ible.

Dr. Joe (author)Boogity2015-01-13

You are correct that a 3 piece hull would be faster to build. I have since paddled the 6 Hour canoe. I have to admit I dismissed it as a poor handler with the flat bottom and hard external chine. I was certain it would trip and bow wedges would be a failure. I was totally wrong. It performed much better than I suspected. I think the rocker helped it to turn and the lack of any keel. It was a great little boat.

Dr. Joe (author)Boogity2015-01-13

Stability is described as initial and final. A hard flat bottom has good initial stability but a rounded flared hull has better final stability. When this is leaned over to the gunwale it is still very stable. I paddle this standing often. Here is a link to a video of stand up paddling.

I like a soft chine in waves as it tends to let the waves roll under you. When teaching canoeing I always ask if anyone rides a bicycle. Most people do. I ask if a bicycle is tipsy which brings up the point canoes are like bicycles. You have to be attached to them to ride them properly.

Daveed (author)2015-01-13

Just looking at the boat, it is a beautiful looking wood project all by itself. Obviously you have had prior experience with most of the techniques and products that you used here.

It is--to say the least--an inspiring project. Kudos to you.

Dr. Joe (author)Daveed2015-01-13

You would be surprised how little I knew when I started. Thanks for the nice comments.

EulogioE (author)2015-01-13

the design is great sir! to lengthen the workability of my putty, I add some lacquer thinner to it. it is easy to handle to any consistency you want at lower cost.

nealbirch (author)2015-01-13

This the reference point for the butt joint by Dave Carnel:

Also has the article he wrote on repairing dryrot and preventing the same using antifreeze!

since that one looks like it's dying of bitrot:

aebe (author)2015-01-13

Great little boat ! I like your solution for widening the hull , and using drywall tape would weigh less when finished , having less glass and resin . How strong is it , compared to two ounce fiberglass cloth ? I built a six hour canoe some years ago , widened the bottom by gradually widening the bottom boards about 2" at the center , to 5" at 4' from the stern , and back to two inches wider at the stern . No seats , just butt boards that were also yokes for carrying .

Great little boat !

Kurt.M (author)2015-01-13

This is an awesome idea, thank you for sharing!

estructor (author)2015-01-13

What a great project, what a great story. Defying limitations, improvising, trialling methods & materials, proving the possibilities in order to do a favorite pastime far from home. Agree with reader borogoves that purposeful travel makes for a much richer experience. (Of course!, or, "si-pu!", they would say in Chile, short for "por su puesto.") I often get restless travelling, if I haven't brought my bicycle, (which is a great leveler) I'll go to the docks, visit hardware stores (herramientas) or look for some other way, to observe "la vie quotidienne." Thanks for this instructable!

I've built a few small boats myself, and reading your account was better than candy!

My skin kayak:

Essay on Wood & water:

Dr. Joe (author)estructor2015-01-13

I enjoyed your blog so much I want to build a skin on frame hull now. What thickness of fabric and what was the completed weight of your kyak?

estructor (author)Dr. Joe2015-01-13

Hi Dr. Joe,
I used 2.7 oz. Dacron fabric, sourced from Aircraft Spruce in California:

Many skin-on-frame boats use polyester throughout, usually being an 8 oz. weight cloth. I used the lighter Dacron, and it is unbelievably strong fabric. I've bumped and scraped many rocks and been surprised to see hardly any evidence--though I did eventually hole the floor on a particularly wicked bolt that would've holed my mahogany canoe. I still wouldn't want the weight of a fully-sheathed polyester kayak. (Ross Miller talks about this.)

I did work with some polyester (Xynole) when I later reinforced the garboard area after hitting that huge, sharp rusty bolt near some mudflats. (btw my Hei Matau still floated fine, bulkheads worked great and only 1" of water incurred into cockpit below the floor.) It was good for this purpose, but fabric weave is looser and hard to keep the bias if you tug on it too much while working. That was fine, as I just used it as a tough sheathing that I layered over my existing fabric hull. The cut edges of polyester were quicker to unravel; I worked to secure all with epoxy very soon after cutting to fit. It would have been slightly aggravating attaching a huge sheet as the primary hull layer, I suspect. But polyester is definitely done by others as primary hull fabric. Keep in mind 8 oz fabric (and I suppose polyester in general compared to Dacron) takes up a lot more epoxy, and this adds weight.

I used Dacron for the both the hull and deck, bought 12 yards to do a 17' craft. I can't emphasize enough how helpful and well-thought out Ross Miller's blueprint and book combination was for the build, though I'm usually one to create and improvise on my own. You still have to make decisions about choice of fabric & coatings yourself, though he gives you insight into what he did. He pretty much pioneered this borrowing of aircraft fuselage fabric for boat building, with a nod to old canvas craft. I see real improvements in the process and the result. I credit him on my blog, his plans are sold by Duckworks;

At Duckworks you will be able to read Ross's own words about his "Egret" kayak which is the subject of his book & plans, and the jumping off point for my "Hei Matau" build. He has some thoughts about type of epoxy, says MAS brand is more flexible and better than his other favorite, West Systems, for this type of fabric work. In past I've used West; I tried the MAS for this build, it was fine.

As to weight, I believe first launch saw about 43lbs? However since 2009, I've added little bits and today it weighs-in at 56lbs, if you trust my bathroom scale. I would guess the original Eskimo style kayak drawn by Ross Miller could be built as light as 36 or 38 lbs. if the stringers weren't heavy species or oversize.

The increase in weight is from several things: I added a xynole fabric layer to just to the 'garboard' areas for extra piece of mind, since I tend to paddle alone mostly and had a pesky bolt provoke a repair anyway. My version will be heavier from the blueprint version, as I modded away from the light but structurally amazing design of a circular coaming, for reasons I gave on my blog. (no need for spray skirt, room for quick access to photography gear etc.) I also did a curious thing for a potential future mod, just in case I ever make a daggerboard-type well to take a Hobie Mirage pedal drive. For that, I epoxied in 1/2" (13mm!) thick clear pine boards, inside the cockpit on either side of the keelson, down near the paddlers' feet, to which I might later epoxy a well. I also added plastic manufactured adjustable foot braces.

With thin maple inwales and cherry gunwales, and slotted pine reinforcements over the cut-out portions of the frames within the cockpit, the kayak the way I built it is quite rigid without any hogging or twisting in my open design. It has been cartopped over 2,000 miles with no ill effects.

At 56 lbs., I can carry it myself to the water just fine, though I use a tiny wheeled cart if it's a very long way from the parking lot.

Because I've become a fan of this skin-on-frame building style, I'm considering an open rowing wherry next, using plans for "Ruth" from Dave Gentry; ( ---- For my own use, I think I'll use Dacron again, though he specs 8oz. polyester.

rippa700 (author)2015-01-13

Fab! I made a simpler one 5 years ago and it is still being enjoyed. Yours looks a lot nicer!

handycrowd (author)2015-01-13

Awesome story (and build); for a moment there I thought I was back on the 'song-of-the-paddle' forum lol!

Thanks for sharing here and kudos for the project and inspiration.

B Takes a Bite (author)2015-01-13

This! Is! Beautiful!


rnorton2 (author)2015-01-13

wow!! bold and beautiful, well done, where are the plans?

billbillt (author)2015-01-13

Great!.....Thanks for doing this with hand tools instead of expensive power tools.... This way EVERYBODY can build this..

Dr. Joe (author)billbillt2015-01-13

I love the hand tools. You don't have to wear the protective gear and it really does not take that much longer and some projects.

About This Instructable




Bio: We celebrate creativity on the southern Oregon coast at our store, the Electric Hospital, and outdoors where we enjoy the wonders. We might be sewing ... More »
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