Intro: Shovel-nosed River Canoe Experiment
I can read a book and think I understand a topic, Watching a video I pick up some more information and am certain I have mastered it. Once I have actually done it do I find how little I know.
The natives of the Pacific Northwest used a river canoe that was unique. The shovel nosed canoe mystery haunted me for years. I felt I needed to build one to understand why they used them.
I did not find any plans but had a few pictures and descriptions. All descriptions had a common theme. A round bow, flared hull with low sides. None of the descriptions answered the why. I wanted to know the benefits of the design.
A thank you to: Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis's "The North American Indian," 2003. for haunting me with this image.
Step 1: Germ of an Idea
It all started with a plank found floating in the bay. If you are my wife. “you are thinking why not leave that nasty plank in the bay.” It followed me home,( as I towed it with my canoe).
Using a string and square I placed a center line with stations perpendicular every 2 feet.
I began using scrap wood to build a form.
I am Joe and I admit I have an addiction to not throwing out any scrap of wood. The wife calls me a wood hoarder.
My idea was to have a frame that would hold the plywood in shape while the epoxy was applied to the seams. Using a frame made it not necessary to draw plans or to loft designs on to the plywood.
The plan began with some boards laid on the plank. I sketched a shape of the center section on a scrap of wood (old packing crate) as the only plan. The rest was more of a sculpting than a drafting and designing. Come to think of it these amazing dugouts were made without drafting tables or CAD software.
Step 2: Build a Form and Modify It.
I changed the shape as I went along. It was more of a feeling. When I felt the boards were in too tight I threw it away. That is why scrap wood is so precious. I can change a design because it is only scrap wood.
Scraps of wood were added to brace the form stringers (old baseboards and shelves).
The forms were sculpted to put a little V in the hull and a pinch of rocker.
The stem and stern were reshaped for a smooth transition from a 22 inch wide to a 34 inch wide center station.
Step 3: Sheath With Plywood
At this point I had spent $5 on the project for screws.
When the plywood was screwed in place it was cut to fit the form. The goal was to not have any screws in the seams where the epoxy putty would be placed.
I ordered two sheets of 4mm marine plywood. Cost was $76. Pilot holes were drilled to reduce splitting.
Washer head screws were used to minimize the damage to the plywood. The first panels were spaced a ½” above the edge so that when the outwale was attached the edge of the plywood would be sheathed.
A simple marking tool consisted of two scraps screwed together and the outside scrap was shorter by the thickness of a pencil. In the third image you can see how the inner scrap was placed on the inside stringer. The pencil marked where to cut the panel to protect the stringers of the form.
I used different saws to cut the panels. A pull saw and a circular saw. I alternated between the two.
Step 4: Epoxy
After some sanding it was time to purchase epoxy, pumps, tape and cloth. This came from Fiberglass Supply in Washington State. Cost $170 total now $ 251. This is non blushing UV resistant resin. The importance of that was brought to my attention at the very end of the project. I purchased too much epoxy for this small canoe. So I did other projects like fixed a sewing machine case and leveled a floor. (That may be done as a destructalbe as it was a terrible experience. If you want the rest of the story ask me) At the very end I needed another 4 ounces of resin so purchased some locally. I finished filling the weave where it was thin. After it cured I applied spar varnish. Two days later it was still not cured. The amine blush is worse on damp days and leaves a sticky greasy film. This required a full day of scraping and sanding to get back to where I was three days prior.
The pumps have to be modified to get the 2:1 ratio. The pump is opened up and a section of slit tubing is installed blocking the catalyst pump. This makes the stroke ½ that of the resin pump.
The filler to make putty is sifted sanding dust. This came out of my belt sander from the cedar gunwales.
I sift it twice to keep the putty smooth. It looks light but gets darker when mixed.
When doing epoxy the chemicals are hard on your body. If possible do not get it on you. I use double layers of disposable gloves and throw away all brushes. Vinegar can be used for removing any messes it is not as good as lacquer thinner but not as dangerous. Some discussions suggest orange hand cleaner. I tried to remember to rub on the liquid gloves before I get started. This makes soap and water easy to remove any resin from your skin.
To reduce the clean up on the inside of the hull I removed the panels and placed a sheet of plastic.
The plastic kept the putty from sticking to the form. Thanks to my Bosch Screw gun it only took a few minutes to remove the 180 screws, put on the plastic, and reinstall the screws.
Prior to coating the hull I removed all the panels and weighed them. They totaled 19 pounds.
Before applying the putty it is good to penetrate the wood with non thickened epoxy. I coated all the panels as it also keeps them cleaner.
Resin gets in the screw heads, to facilitate removal I heated a screw driver with a flame and used it to soften the epoxy.
Step 5: Glass It
I coated the entire hull and applied it as thin as possible with a squeegee. Epoxy is difficult to work with. It applies easily to flat surfaces in warm dry weather. I am putting it on vertical surfaces outside in cold damp weather.
Mixing the resin with the wood dust (flour) until it is thick enough to not drip is an art. I apply it with a pastry bag formed with 6 mil plastic sheeting. Once it is in the approximate spot I smoothed it with a plastic spoon or squeegee. When cured it was sanded smooth and covered with a two inch strip of bias cut fiberglass tape. The tape was sealed with three layers of resin.
Next she was dressed in a shimmering glass gown (3.7m Oz,) of glass cloth. This thin layer was chosen to keep the weight down and it shows off the wood better.
One discovery to prevent the drips and runs was to use a heat gun. The epoxy generates heat and gets thinner when warm. After putting a smooth layer of epoxy often it would soften and drip after I had gone inside for the night. Heat speeds up the cure but it also thins the viscosity. The solution was to warm up the resin without overheating it.
The glass cloth is coated with resin and squeegeed to only get out the bubbles and wet all the cloth. The second biggest mistake of the project was the masking tape. It was suggested this would make for a nice clean edge. WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The reality was the tape glue mixed with cured epoxy was almost impossible to remove. Even after sanding and washing with alcohol the residue can still be seen.
Step 6: Remove From Form Add Gunwales
A plank of cedar was gifted to me and I sliced it on a table saw that was also a gift. This was ripped into 2” by ½ “ stringers. My friends either have a sense of humor to add to my scrap obsession or are just super kind.
I clamped these to a table and sanded them to a taper. Four of these were scarfed together to make the inwales and outwales. I used epoxy to attach the scarf joints.
The inside of the hull was sanded smooth before the seams were taped and filled with three more coats to fill the weave. The inwale and outwale were glued and clamped to the panel to hide the plywood edge.
All of my clamps were used to glue this together. Stainless screws were used to attach the gunwales to the ends in addition to the epoxy.
Step 7: Sand Scrape and Varnish
Spar Varnish with an ultraviolet blocker was applied to extend the life of the epoxy.
Holes were drilled for bow and stern lines in the braces. I could not wait for all the varnish coats to be put on before I began some sea trials. A quick evening paddle confirmed it floated and was stable. I carved a yoke that can be used as a seat or kneeling thwart.
Step 8: Final Test
I took it to the Willamette River to find some standing waves. The Kalapuya Indians lived on the Willamette River close to the location of the current Roaring Rapids Pizza Company..
Understand the marketing hype of Roaring Rapid Pizza. Yes you can hear the rapid. Yes it has a nice view of the river. Yes it has good pizza. But the rapid is not technical in the summer it has only two foot standing waves.
A white water canoe needs to be portable for portages, stable in the current (rounded hull) Good buoyancy for standing waves, and easy to maneuver for eddy turns. I launched below the rapid and tried to paddle up it. The current was too strong. I found a driftwood branch and used it to pole up the river. I had to ferry across a couple of times to work my way upstream always looking for the slowest water. It is strange how the water on the other side of the river looks easier to pole. After 2 hours I was above the rapid I jettisoned the branch and did the big sea trial.
I was pleased how the buoyancy in the bow rode up and over the standing waves. It was easy to make eddy turns and side slips made lining up on a route easy.
Step 9: Summary
The shovel nosed canoe needs to be revised for modern paddlers.
It was pleasantly stable, easy to maneuver, light to carry, and had greater buoyancy than any similar sized canoe or kayak.
Total cost $297.
Total weight 35 pounds.
Total Length 9' 11"
Total Width 34"
Total Depth 13"
Total pleasure from building canoe for my son, priceless.