Builder Stories: The 25-Year Canoe Build by Alex Cutting
Many woodworkers take years to realize their dream of building a canoe, but Alex Cutting's story is unique in that he laid the first planks as a child and finished the work as a full-grown adult. His story struck us as a testament to patience and perseverance—and the final product was worth the wait. Read on to hear Alex's account in his own words.
When I was a kid I wanted a canoe more than anything. I begged my Dad for years and he eventually conceded, but the condition was that we had to build it. I had no interest as a 12-year-old in building a wood strip canoe, but as that was my only option I jumped into the project head first.
I have strong memories of holding a flashlight in dim light while my Dad traced paper cutouts on sheets of plywood to cut out the forms, and long days of feeding cedar decking boards through our table saw, then twice through the router, and the excitement of finally putting down the first strip.
My dad and I only ever got about 10 strips on the forms before life got in the way and progress drew to a halt. Then after about a year of no progress I decided to strip the rest of the hull on my own. After school I would try to put on a strip a day and after a few months I had finished stripping the hull of my canoe. My woodworking skills as a 14 year old were still developing and the canoe hull had a great many flaws, too many for either my dad or I to know how to navigate the next steps at that time… So the canoe sat for years bouncing from this place to that and narrowly avoiding getting turned into kindling more than a few times.
Alex's canoe before the late-stage restoration
The canoe sat for the rest of my high school years, my college years, my 10.5 years in the Navy and then for 3.5 years while I was in San Francisco getting my startup off the ground.
Finally, this past year I returned home to Rhode Island and after the striped bass headed south for winter, my dad and I dug out the old canoe hull out from the attic of his garage. The cedar was heavily oxidized, had some bird droppings on it, and was broken in more places and ways than could have reasonably been expected. I then brought the canoe back to my garage and spent an hour or two most nights over the past winter undoing the damage of time. To start over from scratch probably would have been faster and definitely resulted in a final product with fewer flaws, but the satisfaction of completing a project that started as my childhood was well worth the extra effort.
My dad and I milled every piece of wood on that canoe together, my wifey helped cane the seats and fiberglass/epoxy the hull, and my son and daughter helped me sand the hull and build the seat frames.
Finally after 25 years in the making… I took my family canoe for its first paddle this past weekend.