The Incredible Paper Canoe




About: i like ice-cream.

I had the (perhaps) dumb idea about making paper mache boats after doing some research on paper mache racing shells (
From the first couple of experiments with paper, I found that the material was pretty strong and light, so I made a canoe out of it!
Using several pounds of homework from last semester school, I created a super awesome canoe!

Why paper?
Since it's light, cheap, and flammable (but don't light it)!

Step 1: How the Boat Works

The canoe is basically super strong paper mache that was shaped by a mold.
I built a mold first and put paper on top.

What you need:
Lots of paper (stuff that soaks up water)
Waterproof glue and flour
Scrap wood (more on what kind on the next step)
Mesh or strips of something flexible
Epoxy, glue, or paint for waterproofing

Sorry no pic.

Step 2: The Mold

A mold is basically the mirror image of the canoe.
You can build one (like I did) or use a different canoe and use that.

I hammered together a 10ft long 2 by 4 with 1.8ft bars coming out horozontally and 1.5ft bars coming out vertically like in the picture below.
Then I bent "U" shapes where the "T" is (diagram on the second picture.
All that was left was screwing or stapling the rest of the wooden strips so that it looked more like a boat.

Another way of making a mold, which may be easier is using mesh for window screens and such and make a canoe shape out of that and some wood.

If you have a spare kayak or canoe you can borrow for perhaps a week, it would save you the trouble of making a mold. However, you will need to dry the outer side  of the paper mache and flip it over to dry on the other side. This is sort of risky.

Your best bet on building a mold would probably come from a different websource or you can check out some boatbuilding books at the library.

Remember, since the final result is the mirror image of the mold, it has to be close to perfect.

Step 3: Paper Mache

The shell of the canoe will be made of paper layered and glued together by a mixture of glue, flour, and water.

I made a crude mixture of Weldbond adhesive, flour, water, and a dash of vinegar (mold growth prevention) to make a non-toxic paper mache paste. I would suggest making the consistancy of the paste a little thicker than heavy cream.

I didn't really measure my ingredients but just dumped them into a blue container from Ikea.

Some people may want to use wallpaper paste or something else but a flour paste should work. If you want ideas on the best paste for the boat, go on google and search "paper mache paste recipe." 

Step 4: Putting Paper on the Mold

This the most exciting part of building the canoe (not)!
All you have to do is wet the paper and layer it onto the mold. Before you start, I suggest making one layer of paper with just water (not paste) since the glue in the paste will probably stick to the mold and make it nearly impossible to get it off after. I learned that the hard way. At the end, you can just put some paste on the boat where you didn't put paste on to strengthen it or you can remove it while it's damp.

I didn't cut the paper into strips since it takes too long, but it probably would have made the boat stronger and less likely to fall apart, but i was too lazy. 

I started from the front of the boat and worked my way back with the paper. If you have a hose, you can wet the first, not pasted layer so that it doesn't dry out and fly off the mold. Once you get the paper with paste on it, it should stay on. If not, the paste isn't working very well.

Some tips:

Make sure to remove all the air bubbles from undernieth the paper so that  the paper all sticks together properly.

If you wear gloves while working with newspaper, you won't get ink all over your hands.

You don't need much paste when layering the paper so take some off by running the sheet on the rim of the bucket or container with the paste in it.

Don't let the paper mache dry off more than once since it makes it all wrinkly I think. It might be the reason why my boat is all wrinkly. 

Step 5: Waterproofing

I used epoxy from Home Depot and painted a layer of it on the boat. Make sure you use plenty and cover ALL EXPOSED SURFACES.

Tip: Buy some paintbrushes from the dollar store so you don't have to clean them after you use them but can just throw them out when they're hardened. Also, milk jugs (not cartons) work well to put the epoxy in, but too much epoxy in it at once can melt the plastic.

I was talking to some people in the states and they said that I should paint it with a thick layer of waterproof paint. I insisted that epoxy would work. Well, both would probably work, but epoxy is clear and kinda like a shell. You can see the paper underneath, which is cool. It's your choice. I hear people use shellac as well.

By the way, if your boat gets wet, it'll disintegrate, so waterproof it well.

Step 6: Wood Bracing

Although, if i put more layers of homework on my boat, wood bracing wouldn't be needed, I put some in 'cuz I was low on homework and I was lazy.  Anyway, I put in a wood bar along the bottom of the boat to keep it from "taco'ing" A crossbar acts to keep the sides from bending in and as a handle. 

Tip: Careful when putting screws into your boat because sometimes they rip out. Using washers and doing it after the epoxy/paint waterproofing will probably help.

Choosing how much bracing you need is your choice.

Step 7: Done!

When everything's sturdy and waterproof, it's time to hit the water!
Sadly, I didn't have the time to go paddle it, but I will sooner or later.

I see my boat as a piece of art, representing the ridiculous amount of paper I went through in a school year, but also as transforming it into something fun. For homework haters, perhaps this will encourage you to do something in school.

My final product is light enough to easily carry with one hand (est. 10-15 pounds) and kind of rickety. It's also a bit wrinkly too. anyway. Paper mache is a great material to build random things (like boats) with!

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    15 Discussions


    6 years ago on Step 4

    When I make bulk paper mache I soak the paper in a big bin overnight then stir it with a stick next day. Very easy to get a really good mix that way. Doesn't matter if it is too wet - just squeeze it out. Much stronger than layering paper.


    7 years ago on Step 2

    got any bamboo handy? use strips for your could even shred it to add criss/cross with the papier mache and strengthen it further...might preclude you having to use cross braces later on.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Bamboo will suck water all along its length. You see that on counter tops. A drop or two of grape juice will quickly wick for a few feet in bamboo. Bamboo rafts work as they have a pipe like shape with the pipe holding air but you can bet that bamboo gains a lot of weight every time it gets soaked.
    I think that when working with paper and glue or even papercrete it is best to keep the mix on the dry side so there is less water to shed out of the final product.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    There used to be some really pretty and highly functional paper canoes about 1900 and even earlier. But we now have a problem. The paper they used contained a lot of fabric much like a dollar bill does. It was quite superior to paper we can buy today. Matter of fact the centers of wheels on railway cars were paper and a metal rim just surrounded the wheel centers. A varnish like paint kept those wheels water free and the layers of paper were put under huge pressure until they dried.
    Also I would use Elmer's Exterior paintable carpenters glue to join the paper layers. That is a super strong, water proof, glue. Since that glue tends to grab plastic as well you might be able to glue on a layer of blue tarp to toughen the build.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Great boat!
    A couple of thoughts for your next one.
    Structurally the boat gains most of its strength (for resisting folding up under your weight) from the vertical sides of the boat, so the thicker and taller you make them, especially in the middle the stronger the boat will be.

    If you look at how surfboards and many kitplanes are made, they make the shape out of some kind of stiff foam (urethane or styrofoam, it does not matter for this) and then cover the foam with a thin hard shell, in their case fiberglass and in yours paper mache'. The benefit of this is that the thickness of the foam allows the hard shell to simulate a much thicker hard shell without the extra weight because most of the stress is carried on the outside edges of the shell and not by the foam. The foam helps keep the shell from buckling by giving it a stiff stable base to stick to.

    Good luck on your future Paperventures.


    7 years ago on Step 7

    Not bad at all. Good idea about using window screen as reinforcement. I think I.d put a bit more wood into it, keelson ,gunwales and some ribs . It'd help maintain the shape.
    You might find these of interest,,,


    7 years ago on Step 7

    tres cool! mui excellente'! I like it! I'll suggest this to my students...a great motivator to get them to put something on paper!


    7 years ago on Step 4

    try a 'release' layer of plastic cling wrap first so you don't stick!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    thats awesome ! check out some of my "ibles" I use a paper mache made with acrylic paint, it dries very hard and virtually waterproof by itself