Introduction: Cedar Strip Canoe

About: Watch me do stuff on my youtube channel:

The following is the quick and simple version of how I built my first cedar strip canoe. I'm in the process of building my second canoe right now and I've been posting detailed, short instructional videos for all the steps on my YouTube channel -

If you want to see a more detailed description of the steps check out my channel! I am also documenting the process on my Instagram -

Step 1: Strongback and Molds

The first step is to build this long skinny table called the "strong back". The canoe I have plans for is 15' long so I made the strong back a couple inches shorter than that.

I used plans I got from to cut the molds out of plywood. I wrap the cedar strips on to the molds. I mount the molds at every foot along the strong back.

Step 2: Milling the Strips

You can order pre milled strips online or you can spend a weekend cutting your own strips. I cuts strips on a table saw at 3/4" wide by (a little over) 1/4" thick, plane them to exactly 1/4", then route a bead and cove onto them (kind of like a rounded tongue and groove). The bead and cove lets the strips fit snuggly into one another even when rounding the contours of the hull.

Step 3: Bending the Stems

I didn't get very many pictures of this on my first canoe. There is an inner stem and an outer stem - each of which are made from 3 strips of Ash. I didn't want to mess around with a steam box so I soaked the ash strips in my bathtub overnight in hot water. The next day I add boiling water again, wait 15 minutes, then bend the strips onto the "stem mold" (as seen in the picture). After I let them dry for a couple days I glued the 3 inner stems together and the three outer stems together. You build the hull onto the inner stems, then you cap the ends with the outer stems.

This is kind of a complicated process - it's one of those steps that is easier understood by watching my video...

Step 4: Building the Hull

The next step is to mount the strips onto the hull. I used staples for my first canoe - you staple one strip onto the molds at the waterline (cove side up), then start gluing strips on upwards (I did 3 at a time). You glue the ends of the strips onto the inner stems. Some of the more dramatic curves are tricky to bend the cedar strips onto but staples make it pretty easy to form the shape.

After I rounded onto the bottom I start working one side only past the middle...

Step 5: Closing the Hull

I work one side past the middle the cut the centerline with a circular saw. From there, I custom fit each strip until the gap is closed.

Step 6: Attaching the Outer Stem

After I strip the hull, I cut the strips at the inner stem and cut a mortise into the strips as the end curves onto the bottom of the boat so the outer stem lies on the inner stem... There's also a video on my channel for this step.

Step 7: Fiberglassing the Hull

After the outer stem is attached, you pull the staples and sand the hull.

Once the hull is sanded to 120 grit I put a fiberglass seal on the outside of the hull. You drape 6 oz fiberglass cloth over the boat then pour two-part epoxy resin and hardener directly onto the fiberglass and spread it around with a squeegee. As the resin soaks into the fiberglass the cloth turns completely transparent.

I put three coats on - waiting three hours between each coat. After it cures I sand it to an even finish (orbital 60g>120g, wet sand to 220 grit).

For more instruction you can use this West System's website, or watch my youtube video about it:

Step 8: Fiberglassing the Inside

After the epoxy on the outside is cured you pop the canoe off the molds, flip it right-side up and do the same process to the inside of the hull.

Step 9: Gunnels and Decks

Again, I don't have very good photos of the first canoe for this step. After the hull is fiberglassed you mount gunnels (rails made of ash) on the sheer line. There are inner gunnels and outer gunnels that sandwich the edge of the hull. I use epoxy glue and screws to attach the gunnels. I also put small decks with handles in the ends.

I don't have videos for these steps on my youtube channel yet but it should be posted sometime in the next couple weeks/months.

Step 10: Seats and Yoke

I carved the yoke and sanded it clean. The seats are pretty simple to put together also. I coated these with epoxy also for water resistance and I wove the cane on the seats by hand.

Step 11: Varnishing

I put a couple clear coats of epoxy directly onto any exposed wood on all of my trim before I varnish. I used Epifanes high gloss clear varnish. It's pretty easy to apply onto the epoxy as long as you follow all of the manufacturer instructions:

The yoke and seats are varnished also but they are removable to make it easy to revarnish everything every couple of years.

Step 12: Put It in the Water

The whole process takes several months. My best guess for the number of hours I spent on my first canoe is somewhere around 300. It cost me about $1500 but it could get way more expensive than that depending on wood accessibility and several other factors. For a project like this there are so many variables and different ways of doing things. There are more and more people posting instructional stuff for cedar strip canoes online all the time so there's really no shortage of how-to resources. I have worked really hard on my YouTube videos to make them fast paced while still providing thorough instruction - if you're interested in seeing more of an in depth description of the processes watch my videos and feel free to leave comments on them if you have feedback.

I have done a lot of woodworking but cedar strip canoes are definitely the most fun, engaging, and difficult project I have ever taken on. If anyone has the resources, time, space and drive I would highly recommend giving it a go!

Brave the Elements 2016

Grand Prize in the
Brave the Elements 2016

Glue Challenge 2016

Grand Prize in the
Glue Challenge 2016

Survival Ready Contest

First Prize in the
Survival Ready Contest