Posted on April 26 2014
By Vann and Laura Evans
Chapel Hill, NC
I’ve been paddling canoes since I was 12 (now I’m 64). I’ve always been fascinated with canoes-particularly wood canoes. I’ve wanted to build my own for as long as I can remember.
My mother-in-law loved the wood projects I created. When she died, she left us a small inheritance. We honored her memory with an addition I built onto my workshop. We named it “The Miriam Annex”. We designed it to accommodate a large project (like a wood canoe). Mom would be proud.
Now that we had the space available, I began serious boat research. I scoured the Internet for information. I bought books. I read on-line forums. I collected photos of wood canoes for design ideas. I looked at canoe kits and plans.
I became obsessed with building a wood canoe.
Then, I discovered Bear Mountain Boats and “Canoecraft” by Ted Moores. Immediately, I knew I had found my “bible”. I lusted over Bear Mountain’s wood canoe designs.
I read Canoecraft. It was inspiring. My wife urged me to attend a Bear Mountain workshop to learn building a wood canoe firsthand. But, I wanted US to build our canoe and build it from scratch.
What kind of canoe to build? We wanted it for day trips-floating Florida springs, exploring swamps and lakes, birding or venturing down a small, lazy river. Our canoe needed to handle and paddle as great as it looked.
I contacted Bear Mountain and Steve Skillings with lots of questions regarding function, design, materials and tools. Between these patient folks and Moores’ excellent book, we had enough information. We bought the Freedom 15 plans. I was finally ready to begin my dream project.
I ordered 6 pieces of 1x6-16’ clear western red cedar and 2 pieces of 5/4x6-16’ white ash from our local supplier. When the boards arrived, they looked so inadequate! Was that really enough? Would they really build our Freedom 15?
Pushing ahead, I fabricated the strongback and mounted it on 3 heavy duty sawhorses I built. I cut and installed the forms. We steamed, bent and installed the stems. We were ready to make the strips.
We set up the tablesaw. To rip 16’ boards, we needed 32+ linear feet-16’ of infeed and 16’ of outfeed tables. The cutting assembly spanned the complete length of the shop plus outside under the porch roof. I fabricated a push/pull handle to overcome tremendous friction when sliding the boards along the infeed table to the blade. It took a while to convert all the boards into strips ¼” thick and ¾” wide. Then we ran all the strips through the router table twice, making the bead and cove edges. When finished, we had more than 100 ungainly, wobbly 16’ cedar strips. Hard to believe these would become a canoe!
The stripping process required lots of patience! Gluing strips against the forms took many days. We glued 3 strips at a time and secured them with lots of clamps, shims and straps. We could only glue up 6 strips a day--3 per side, limited by the number of clamps and glue dry time. Fitting the last few strips into the bottom of the hull was the most aggravating part. But, it worked.
Between phases, I consulted relevant sections of Canoecraft. Before we finished, I read Canoecraft at least twice cover to cover!!
My shop is 2 different rooms. The newer Miriam Annex is the larger room.. The older room is much smaller. We stripped the hull in the smaller room. We had to move the entire assembly to the Miriam Annex for fiberglassing and finishing. The 3 sawhorses, strongback and hull assembly was too big as a unit to navigate from inside the small room to the Annex. It took 6 people to pick it up, carry it outside, around the shop and maneuver it into the Miriam Annex! THAT was a job!!
We planed, filled and sanded the hull, ready for fiberglass. We laid the fiberglass on the outer hull – one full layer with an added football-shaped piece to reinforce the bottom and chines. We mixed batch after batch of epoxy resin and watched the fiberglass “disappear” as it became saturated. We squeegeed the glass meticulously to smooth out the glass, remove bubbles, distribute resin and remove the excess. After the epoxy cured, we sanded. Then, we repeated the process on the interior. Finally, we applied marine varnish for UV protection. The process was painstakingly meticulous and time consuming, but worth it. The finished hull was gorgeous.
Finally, our creation began to look like a canoe. There was much work left!
I fabricated and pre-finished white ash gunwales. I epoxied them into place and secured them with 50+ clamps. I fabricated and pre-finished thwarts and seat frames (3 seats for paddling solo or tandem). We used 2 colors of webbing for seats and cut/sealed it with a soldering iron. It took vise grips and the human vise (my wife) to stretch and pull the webbing taut to the seat frames. I used bronze hardware to attach the seats and thwarts. I fabricated the deck plates from African Mahogany.
The finished canoe was beautiful!!
On launch day, we christened our Freedom 15 with a little Jose Cuervo Gold for the momentous occasion. Then, we paddled across Bear Lake in the western NC mountains, a fitting place for our Bear Mountain Boats Freedom 15’s maiden voyage.
Book knowledge is a good thing, but DOING is what cements that knowledge and builds skills. Each step was a new experience. At the beginning, I was a hobby woodworker with moderate skills. By the end of this 9-month process, I was a wiser, more skilled woodworker, thanks to Canoecraft, my constant companion and reference.
We are extremely happy and proud of our Freedom 15. She is a joy to paddle and looks great. Her red cedar hull is enhanced by a mahogany and ash accent strips, ash trim and African Mahogany deckplates. Her smooth, clean lines and eased curves are lovely. She turns heads and attracts a crowd whether in the water or on the truck.
Our Freedom 15 stripper canoe is the culmination of a decades old dream. My wife and I worked together – a team effort. It took lots of work, but we are delighted and proud to have done it!! I’m sure we will enjoy it for the rest of our lives.
We owe it all to Bear Mountain Boats, Ted Moores, Joan Barrett, Steve Skillings, Canoecraft and Mom for this dream come true.
We’re ready to build another Bear Mountain Boats stripper!