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Lots of stuff goes on in this shop, located in Lorette, Manitoba.

Primarily it's the building and repair of classic wood & canvas canoes, and the making of premium canoe paddles. I also do custom boat building, composite fabrication, and special projects. A growing passion of mine is the making of classical guitars, I'll post about that, too.

I want to be able to share with my clients the progress of their commissioned work. Later I started thinking that there might be other people who are interested in what goes on inside a wooden canoe shop operated by an artist and a recovering teacher.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me by email, phone, or by post. My mailing address is:

Red River Canoe & Paddle
24249 River Rd
Lorette, Manitoba
R5K 0Z6

Monday 30 March 2009

Now that the stems are closed in and the decks installed, I have install some cant ribs. Cant ribs are required to support the planking in the very ends of the canoe where it is not possible to actually bend them. They are not bent over the stem but are half ribs, and are fitted into the space. Boiling hot water coaxes them into shape.

Once the planking is fastened to these cant ribs, then the tops need a little extra fitting. The outer gunnel needs meet the inner gunnel at the very end. If all the ribs are full width, then the outer gunnel has a very hard time being brought close enough to the inner. What to do? Well, the inside face of the last three ribs needs to be shaped so that each rib is tapered. It's one of those things that is harder to explain than to do...once you know how to do it.

Here you can see the line for the taper on the very last cant rib.

Here is the canoe at the end of Monday afternoon. I'm hoping to have it all closed in and first coat of varnish on Tomorrow. I only have tomorrow left to work on it this week. It's Spring Break for the kids in school, I have to take some time off to spend with them this week.

For anyone wondering, "Gee, how is he coming along with those charming little Torres SE117s?" Well, I am just about finished doing the binding. I have the back on just one left to do. The binding has to be one of the most time consuming and challenging bits of woodworking in building a guitar because of all the prominent joinery. After this, the progress will all be much more obvious. I can only get so much work done on these guitar in one day. After all, this is supposed to be a canoe shop, and I've got this canoe to build!

Thursday 26 March 2009

The new canoe is off of the mold, and it is time to start closing it up. First step is to install the decks and fit the stem. I work in the tradition of Peterborough and Chestnut. One of the details that this sets up is the mortise and tenon stem-gunnel joint.

There are many ways that builders have addressed this joint. The tradition that I work within has the tip of the stem trimmed down from the wedge shape to a rectangular tenon which fits into a mortise that is formed where the gunnel tips meet. The mortise is cut into the gunnels while the parts are secured to the mold. This ensures that when it comes off of the mold everything lines up as it should.

Its always a thrill when a new canoe comes off of the mold!

The pipe clamps hold the gunnels from spreading the canoe out & the packing tape holds the stem in place until the planking ends are secured. It looks pretty floppy at this stage, and it is, until all the parts are secured.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

I have very few photos of myself, so yesterday I had an opportunity to have some taken. I'm almost always the guy on the other side of the camera.

I used up the planking that I had on hand and needed to prepare some more. Once you set up to cut some, you may as well cut a lot. So I did.

I had company! Usually I work all alone, it's nice to have company. Here we are discussing the mysteries of woodworking that has no straight edges or square lines.

After 5 rows of planking, it's time to start wrapping around the bilge. Three pieces of planking need to be tapered from full width to 1/3 width. Of course, the taper is not a straight line. fast the weather can change! A view of the river this morning.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

A friend and neighbour has dropped by today to learn some things about planking a canoe. He is preparing to build a Red Fox for himself. From time to time I rent out a canoe mold, in this case, I traded the canoe rental for a Besler 4 x 5 photo enlarger. I am pleased with the deal!

Prior to installation, the planking needs to be pre-sanded on the inside face. This make a nicer varnish job. running the dust collector on the sander takes the dust away so well that a dust mask in not needed. The sander being used is just "ok", not even good enough for capital letters! I could really use a more substantial unit.

Here is the result of an afternoon's worth of planking effort.

I have to make a little transom cap for a fiberglass canoe. I used a simple mold made of MDF covered with packing tape. The packing tape is used as a mold release. I used some green resin pigment so that the piece is done without any further work. All I need to do is to clean up the edges.

Every spring the water rises. There is a small river that runs along the back our property called the Seine River. Makes me think of being in Paris!

Yesterday morning.

This morning.

Friday 20 March 2009

My daughter's skating coach is not continuing with coaching after this season, so I was given the responsibility by the skating club to select an appropriate gift of appreciation. I thought that if wouldn't be too hard to find a nice poster to frame. It is. So I figured that I could make something myself faster than it would take for me to go all over the city looking for something.

After I bent the ribs for the new Boreal, I made this up.

After the ribs dry out, it's time to fair them all. The process of bending them around what is essentially a cone shape, results in a number of small irregularities of the outer faces. These all need to be evened out for the planking to run smooth. Customers don't seem to like bumpy boats.

I used to use commercial long sanding blocks, but was never satisfied with their performance. Now I use a 6" wide belt sander, coarse grit, belt with a piece of Styrofoam shaped to fit tightly inside. Rub this over the ribs and they get nice and smooth.

Prior to planking, I'll need to apply some boiled linseed oil to the rib faces.

Thursday 19 March 2009

Every canoe gets a serial number stamped into the stem. My particular numbering system is: model, sequence, year. My Boreal model is the third 16' canoe that I have come to offer, so it is 163. This is the 5th canoe built from this mold, and it is being built in 2009. Therefore, the number is 163 5 2009.

The stems are milled to finish width, a bevel is cut along the leading edge, a tenon is cut at the tip where the gunnels come in, and notches are prepared where the ribs get bent.

Here, after soaking for about half an hour, the ribs are placed into the rack for the steambox. It is important that they are all placed in correct sequence because there is no time to be thinking and wondering about what you are doing as you pull hot ribs out of the clouds of steam that emerge from the steambox.

It becomes evident why the stem has the notches cut.

All done bending ribs! This is the most exciting stage of canoe building. It feels like alchemy using heat, water, steam. Bending wood can feel like magic. Once the ribs have dried out, Its time to fair all the outer surfaces and treat the cedar with linseed oil prior to planking.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Building new canoes are an exciting time in the shop. A new Boreal is about to take shape. First step is to make all the parts. Here are the blank ribs, milled to 5/16" thick by 2 1/4" wide.

Each rib is tapered in width at each end using a jig that rides in the channel. I used to cut a bunch of ribs all at once, but it's easier to control doing just one at a time.

Shortly, I will be using this steambox for bending the wood. This is the best steam generator and steam box that I have had so far. There is a water reservoir that feeds directly to the generator, which is a steel cylinder with two electric hot water tank elements inside. As the water evaporates into steam, it is replaced with water from the reservoir.

Air dried Ash is bent for the stems.

Here is the mold, ready to be set up for building. Today, I got as far as preparing the gunnels, ribs, stems, and bringing the mold down and into the shop. I'm planning on bending the ribs on Thursday. I could probably do it tomorrow, but I have arranged for extra hands that can only come Thursday.

Friday 13 March 2009

All done the canvassing and filling.

Now it just has to sit and wait till the filler is cured, which should be 2-3 weeks. In the meantime I have new gunnels to make for this canoe, then they need to be installed, sanded, varnished, keel put on, stem bands on, etc... then I get to paint it green.

Getting the canoe in canvass. This is always one of my favourite stages. It's when all that preparatory work finally seems to accomplish something.

It's also clean, quite, dust free, and not stinky.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

This is an amazing tool. I use it for all kinds of wood shaping. One of the things that I use it for is to fair out the splints that are used for the rib repair.

After I had the canoe all closed up, I found one more broken rib. I couldn't let it go. Oh, well

After it's all cleaned up, time to add some tacks to the loose spots. There are a lot on this canoe.

Time to sand the hull. Not only were there a lot of loose spots, there were lots of lumps and bumps, too! A vacuum attachment for the sander helps control the dust. Dust, there's always dust around

A coat of linseed oil and wood preservative mix to keep the wood from being too dry, and to help keep water from being absorbed into the wood.

Sand the interior, clean out the dust (Did I mention that there's always dust?) and give it a fresh coat of varnish. Now the old girls is all ready for canvassing tomorrow.

Saturday 7 March 2009

There are a number of broken ribs to attend to. Not so badly as to require a rib replacement, a back side rib repair will do fine. Luckily, there are only 4! Not like on the old Chestnut that I just finished.

I won't bore you with another detailed description, just look up the posts on canoe repair, or century chestnut.

The rib ends were getting a little punky, too. Three of them required that the ends be repaired.

Friday 6 March 2009

Here come the next canoe into the shop. No markings on this one, but it has Chestnut written all over it, at least to my eye. Not sure what model it might be, but I'm guessing that it might be a Cruiser. It looks pretty good, from a distance.

But look a little closer and you can see the rotten wood at the ends. Always the ends.

Take the decks out...

Cut the rotten wood out...

Fit and glue in new wood. Its much easier to fit all these pieces before hand. When I started out, I fit them afterward. It's hard to do the fitting once its all together. Once the epoxy is cured, then its time to get all the planking back on and get it ready for canvas.

Wednesday 4 March 2009

I just set up a Facebook group for anyone who has a canoe or paddle made by Red River Canoe & Paddle, has a canoe restored by Red River Canoe & Paddle, or owns or is interestedin wooden canoes in Manitoba.

Look for Facebook Groups with this name, "Red River Canoes & Paddles"

There won't be much happening there until the group is larger than just me!

Monday 2 March 2009

Building a mold for wood & canvas construction is a big project, an investment. I just sold a set of plans to a fellow who wishes to build the canoe using wood & canvas construction, not the woodstrip and fiberglass construction that most home builders choose to use. I told him that I have a few tips to help in the mold construction, so I thought that I would put that info here for all to share, seeing as I have to write it out and send the photos anyway...

The biggest difference that I have to offer from what might be found in other sources, is the substitution of plywood for the spine and base plate, instead of using lumber. My first canoe mold used lumber 2 x 8's for this, and It was a chore to accommodate for the inevitable tendency for that lumber to twist. Plywood won't do that, so its more predictable. Building the mold is complicated enough without having to deal with that, too!

After the necessary allowances are made for material thicknesses, 2 plywood components are made using 3/4" plywood. Building the mold is an investment piece of work, so you should choose good quality materials. This is not the time to be cheap, its a false economy.

Start by making a baseplate that runs the length of the canoe. The maximum width is not critical, but the minimum is. 8" is a pretty good width.. A wider baseplate provides a nice stable base for the mold to sit on. The baseplate is two thicknesses of the 3/4" plywood. The bottom one is full width, the top has a 3/4" wide slot running the full length. Set a perfectly straight line on the face of the bottom plate, and glue and screw the top aligned to the this reference line. This will ensure that the canoe mold is built straight.

The other major component to the mold structure is a spine made of 3/4" plywood. This spine is made to the same reductions as each station mold, and it runs the full length of the canoe. Some builders choose not to have the spine support the stems. I'm in the camp that does. I build in the Chestnut/Peterborough tradition, and running the stem mold full length facilitates the type of joinery for the stem-gunnel area that is used in this approach.

The 8' plywood piece will not run full length, a simply but joint with blocks on either side will suffice..

Ensure that the bottom of the spine is perfectly straight. This is a major reference line.

Set the station spacings on the spine and draw plumb lines at the required intervals, indicating which side of the line the stations will be placed. Draw a lengthwise line along the spine, about halfway up fro the baseplate. You will be cutting notches into the spine into which the stations will be set, this line establishes that the notches are cut uniformly. Cut the notches into the top of the spine The stations will have a corresponding notch cut into their bottom. The stations fit into the spine egg-crate fashion.

Set the spine into the slot of the baseplate, secure it using glue and screws. Ensure that you are using a good pilot bit for each screw hole, plywood likes to split between the laminates. Draw square lines from the spine, onto the baseplate for each station. Set the stations in place and secure them

Set the gunnel backers in position and secure them. At the stem end, make sure that they are well secured, and that they join in such a way as the gunnel end join can be made correctly. Draw out on paper beforehand, how you plan on making the gunnels join. This will ensure that you set the backers correctly for your planned build method.

Start sheathing the mold with clear lumber. I like to use pine because it is so easy and pleasant to fair with hand planes. The thickness of the sheathing will have been established when you started planning the mold and made the deductions on the drawings. Use 3/4" square, or 7/8" square. Make sure that it is milled square so that it can take the twists of the mold without distorting. 3/4" is easier to work with than 7/8", but the 7/8" makes a stiffer sheathing when done.

The first piece on is one 3/4" wide pieced down the center, just capping the plywood spine. This center piece ends where you determine where your stems will begin. The sheathing added after this will determine the slot for the stems.

The next pieces on are the same thickness, but are cut from wider stock. Make sure that when you mill your sheathing stock that you leave two pieces at the milled thickness but not cut into strips! Run a batten lengthwise to establish a fair curve from the full width down to the sheathing strip width at the ends. These pieces help accommodate for the changing girth of the canoe from center to end.

As you put on the sheathing, make sure that you put screws securing each new strip to the one already on the form, this ensures that the sheathing skin is much stiffer inbetween the stations. This is an issue because of all the hammering that will take place on the mold during the actual construction of the canoe.

So there you have it. More detailed information is available in the book "The Wood & Canvas Canoe" by Rollin Thurlow and Jerry Stelmock. After I started using plywood for the spine and baseplate, I learned from Rollin that he has gone over to plywood, too.