Wooden Canoe

I love the outdoors and an open canoe is a great way to get into the wilds, easily carrying all you need for your trip whether you’re camping, fishing, accessing the wild side of a loch for walking or climbing or just getting away for the day. Silently gliding along the shore you can get close to all sorts of wildlife while causing minimal disturbance.


Building my own cedar strip canoe was a natural step for me, appreciation of the beauty and feel of wood just seems to fit with a love of nature. What I was not expecting was how much better my wooden canoe’s perform than plastic ones. For a start my 16′ cedar strip boat is noticeably lighter than my 15′ ABS prospector and while still retaining enough flexibility to absorb a fair battering from waves and white water the wooden hull holds its form better than the plastic one which tends to go flat and loose its rocker once on the water. I think it is this combined with the smooth varnished finish and the ability to create an elegant line unrestricted by industrial concerns such as ease of moulding or the need to stack hulls inside one another for cheap transport that helps to make the wooden boat feel more alive, responding faster and with less paddle strokes and just makes me feel as if I am riding with the water rather than fighting against it.

Hand building a canoe means that I can adapt the design to fit a specific purpose, I like my own boats slightly fuller behind the stems than a classic prospector to give more lift in big waves and help keep the water outside- I do seem to spend a lot of time out in the open sea or on big loch’s and Scottish rivers. Boats built for sale on commission for other people can be any shape or size they want. I favour simple elegance, the natural wood and the functional form are the beauty to me, I build canoes to work well and that makes them look good. I’m sure I could add fancy flourishes if people really wanted them.

wooden canoe construction

My building ethic is simple; perfection will do until I can find something better. I use the best materials for the purpose put together the best I can.

I have enough Lawsons Cypress left for a few more boats from a tree that a neighbour took down about 150 yards from my work shop and sawn on my wood mizer mobile saw mill, (the timber too knotty for canoe building was used to clad various local barns and build my chicken house) while on paper Lawsons is slightly heavier than Western Red Cedar (also a Cypress- Americans call all cypress’ ‘cedar’) it is also stronger so that I can sand it thinner and more naturally oily so that it does not soak up so much resin resulting in the finished boat being the same weight or lighter than one build from wrc. I can use whatever timber you prefer.

Bead and coved 1/4” by 7/8” strips are laid on the formers starting at the gunwale line and this curve is maintained through out the building of the hull, strips are carefully hand cut and the joints alternated where they meet at the stems and bottom of the hull, it takes more time and care than straight line stripping or building the hull in two parts and glueing it together but it is stronger and more visually pleasing.

I use a 1.5m wide 200gram woven glass fibre cloth impregnated with West 105 epoxy resin and 207 hardener protected with Epiphane two pack polyurethane varnish for the skins which are fully finished inside and out- including right up to the stems, nothing is hidden by ‘flotation chambers’ in my boats. Unless you ask for a tubed low line attachment there is a dowel resined in below the decks to secure the ends of your air bags to. If you are going to get into water rough enough to risk filling the boat you need the volume of air bags to maintain enough buoyancy to manoeuvre and ease recovery. Lines can be attached to the hand turned hardwood carrying handles if you don’t want low line points.

Gunwales are screwed and resined to the hull, they can be hard wood or softwood to match the hull and save a little weight. They can be left plain if you want but I prefer to scupper the areas where cargo and air bags will be secured, seat and thwart mounting points are left solid for strength. I taper the outwales together where they meet beyond the stems to maintain the elegant lines.
The hand caned hardwood seats and carrying yoke are attached with bolts, an extra thwart can be added if you want. All screws and bolts are stainless steel concealed with wooden plugs where they fix through the gunwales.



Of course a wooden canoe is easier to scratch or damage than a plastic one but it is also easier to repair, maintenance is usually just a matter of keeping the UV protective varnish in good condition. I wouldn’t want to bounce one down a shallow rock strewn river as I have done with ABS boats but then as the great Bill Mason pointed out canoeing is meant to be about going around the rocks.

I find the major disadvantage of a cedar strip canoe is the amount of time it takes to get it out of the water- there always seems to be somebody waiting on the shore to admire it when you get there.