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The Right Tool for the Job: What You Need to Build a Canoe


When you're about to embark on your first canoe build, naturally you'll want to outfit your workshop with the right tools. Even if you're just beginning to think about the process, knowing what's involved can help you decide whether canoe-building is for you.

Although our primary advice is to read Canoecraft two or three times before you begin, we thought an online list of recommended tools might come in handy. If the list looks lengthy, be reassured that not everything here is essential. You can even build a canoe using just hand tools, so long as you're aware that certain aspects may be much more time-consuming.

Exactly what you'll need also varies on whether you purchased a kit or are working from scratch. For instant, kit builders won't need to work about cutting out their station molds with a saber saw or band saw. Tools that are helpful but completely optional in either case are marked as such, and alternative choices are given in the comments column.

Simple tools made from scrap wood (e.g. jigs and push sticks) aren't included here. Instead, the relevant chapters of Canoecraft describe elements like this that can be made at home. 

Cutting Tools
Portable circular saw (optional) Cutting strongback parts
Saber saw Cutting out station molds and decks Alternative: band saw
Crosscut handsaw Cutting straight lines
Coping saw Trimming planks Alternatives: Japanese razor saw, dovetail saw, or backsaw
Table saw Ripping planks, gunwales, keel Use hollow-ground combination planer blade
Dovetail saw Cutting hardwood trim and planking to length Alternatives: fine-tooth hacksaw, backsaw, razor saw
Utility knife Trimming fiberglass cloth Keep sharp blades available
Scissors Trimming fiberglass cloth Don't use your best pair
Shaping and Fairing Tools
Block plane Fairing the hull and stems; shaping the ends of the planks where they meet at the bottom of the hull; fitting decks; shaping gunwales Alternative: spokeshave. Buy a good one. Low angle preferred
Surform Shaping curved surfaces; shaping cured epoxy Flat and curved bottom blades
Spokeshave Smoothing compound curves as in shaping thwarts; fairing hull in tight spots where plane won't fit Very handy general workshop tool. Buy a good one. Flat sole.
Paint scraper Rough-shaping hull; cleaning up epoxy Buy extra blade
Cabinet scraper Shaping hardwood Nice-to-have shaping and smoothing tool

Rasp (optional)

Shaping and rounding edges on epoxy and trim Both rounds and flat are useful
Router (optional) Shaping trim; putting bead and cove edge on planking Must be used in a router-table setup for planking. Handheld on trim
1/4" and 1 1/4" chisel Shaping and fitting Very useful
Sharpening stone Maintaining keen edge on cutting tools Sharp tools are safer than dull ones
Mill file Sharpening scraper blade;  Smoothing metal edges on bolts, stem bands
Sanding Tools
Sanding block Makes the most of your sandpaper Buy shaped rubber block, or make from scrap wood or foam
Long board Alternative to power sander; easier to avoid low spots Also called file board (speed file). Use with sandpaper for rough and fine sanding of hull
5" round or 6" random orbital sander Ideal for almost all sanding operations Fairly inexpensive, easily controlled power tool that will save a lot of time
Tack cloth Wiping off sanded surfaces before applying finish Indispensable
Fastening Tools
Staple gun Fastening planks to stations For use with 9/16" staples
Staple puller Lifting staples Tack puller, or bend and pad end of flat screwdriver
Needle-nose pliers Removing staples once heads are exposed
Screwdrivers To fit screws you are using
Drill and wood bits Predrilling and countersinking screw holes; driving screws Hand or power drill; countersink bit to fit screw sizes
Counterbore and plug cutter (optional) Counterboring screw holes for plugs in gunwales and seats
C-clamps Clamping stems, gunwales, decks, and thwarts Minimum half-dozen 2 1/2"; more will speed up some jobs; make your own
Center punch Starting holes in brass stem band
Fiberglassing tools
Mixing containers Mixing resin and hardener Use paper coffee cups or small tin cans. You will need about 1 dozen
Tin pie plate (optional) Pouring out mixed resin before application Resin will not set as fast in a thin layer
Stir sticks Mixing resin and hardener Scraps of planking or tongue depressors
Syringe Applying glue to bead-and-cove planking Curved nozzle is best
Glue brushes Gluing gunwales and trim Small, disposable. Acid brushes
Epoxy roller (optional) Applying last coats of epoxy; varnishing 1/8" foam; no substitutes
Squeegee Leveling first coat of resin and applying second coat
Paintbrush Applying first and last coat of epoxy and varnishing One 2 1/2" to 3" short-bristled, cheap. One 2" to 3", good quality
Mini-pumps Dispensing resin and hardener; one shot of each gives desired resin/hardener ratio
Putty knife Cleaning up excess glue; applying filler A flexible blade is desirable
Clean rags Cleaning up Keep large supply on hand; white, cotton
Measuring Tools
Metal tape measure
Tri-square Setting up mold Small (12") metal
Level Setting up mold 2' size
Taut line Determining long, straight lines Heavy fishing line
Dust mask or respirator Machining and sanding Disposable model or one with replacement filters
Waterless hand cleaner Clean skin without using solvents
Gloves Preventing epoxy skin irritation Disposable plastic; surgeon's gloves are ideal. Work gloves
Fan Controlling dust and fumes Window fan is acceptable
Basic first-aid kit
Barrier cream Prevents skin irritation Use above gloves; bad reaction if used under
Eye protection
Step stool or milk crate Improve perspective and safety Be sure it is absolutely stable

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