Build Your Own Cedar Canoe with This In-Depth Guide
The final product is, we think you'll agree, a true masterpiece. Follow this in-depth guide to find out how.
Like any project of this nature, you'll need some tools and materials before you get started.
Materials and gear needed
- Cedarwood lumber
- Walnut wood lumber
- Maple wood lumber
- Canoe plans
- Fiberglass cloth
- Canoe painters ring
- 2-part epoxy
- Mechanical wood planer
- Wood glue
- Hand plane
- Clear varnish
- Table saw
- Carbon tracing paper
- Belt sander
- Orbital sander
- Wood router
- Various nuts and bolts
Step 1: Begin to work the wood
The first step is to take your cedar wood planks and begin to prepare them for the canoe's hull. Plane the wooden planks to make them all the same overall dimensions.
Next, take your lengths of cedarwood and cut them down into strips using a table saw. You will want them all to be the same dimensions. No dimensions are provided in the video, but you can access the plans from the link above in the equipment list.
For reference, the finished canoe is 15 feet (4.57m) long.
With that complete, take some more lengths of cedar, and cut angled (trapezoidal) pieces using your table saw. These will be used to build a decorative waterline strip for the canoe's hull. You will want a variety of lengths and wood types of cedar and walnut.
Step 2: Fashion the decorate waterline strips
Take your angled pieces and begin to glue them to make the decorated waterline strips. Alternate lengths of cedar and walnut as you run along the waterline strips. The final length should have a zebra-like pattern of smaller and larger pieces of darker walnut and lighter cedar with longer sections to the stern and bow.
Clamp the pieces into place while the glue cures. Rinse and repeat to make three more pieces to the same dimensions.
Once the glue has cured, removed the clamps and begin to plane down the edges of the cedar and walnut blocks.
Use a mixture of a hand plane and your mechanical plane to get the job down. Once again trim down the strips using your table saw, as needed.
Next, take the two lengths of walnut and cedar composite beams and glue them together vertically. Clamp and hold until the glue is fully cured. Align the pieces to form a chevron pattern along the length of the waterline. Repeat the process to make a second chevron-pattern length.
Once cured, remove from the clamps once again, and plane/trim down using your table saw and a mechanical planer, as needed.
Step 3: Begin to build up the hull of the canoe
Next, more strips of cedarwood, as needed. These will need to be the full length of the canoe and all the same widths and depths. Use your table saw for the best results here.
When you are finished you should have a set of wooden lengths as shown in the image below. Obviously, these strips will need to be longer than the total length of the canoe as they will curve around the main body of the canoe.
Step 4: Make the mold for the canoe
Next, take some sheets of cedar and tape the plans for the "bulkheads" that we will use to help mold the canoe around. Add some carbon tracing paper underneath, and begin to transfer the plans to the surface of the wood using a ballpoint pen or similar tool.
With that complete, cut out the shapes needed using a bandsaw or hacksaw.
With the pieces cut, sand down the cut edges using a belt sander, as needed. Refine the shape by hand using sandpaper too.
With that complete, mount the "bulkheads" vertically using clamps to a solid surface -- like your workbench. Continue until all pieces are in place. These will not actually form the canoe but are in place to act as a mold for it.
Step 5: Begin to build up the canoe's hull
With the main shape of the canoe defined, we can now move on to preparing the wooden strips to build up the canoe's hull. Make composite lengths of cedar and walnut, and heat them up using steam.
This will make them supple so we can begin to bend them to shape. Take each strip of wood and then bend around another framed piece.
Glue the strips together and hold them in place using some wood clamps.
Once complete, add the pieces to the stern and rudder of the canoe mold. Clamp into place and begin to plane down the edges so that they will be flush with the curved strips of the main hull.
With that complete, begin to add the cedar strips of the main hull to the frame. Hold into place using small mounts along each "bulkhead" and ensure they are level along their lengths. Use a spirit level to help you out here.
Once you are happy, screw the mounting guides into place, and then begin to glue and clamp the cedar strips to the canoe stem molds. Use some wedges of wood to ensure a good purchase with the clamps.
Next, take another strip of cedar, align along the top of the first, and glue/clamp into place as before. Use more guide pieces of wood to hold into place as needed.
Clamp the pieces together to ensure a tight, and watertight, join between the strips. You can use small pieces of offcut wood and tape to help bind the lengths in places or use clamps. Also, make use of wood wedges to squeeze the strips together as much as possible.
Leave to fully cure and then rinse and repeat for the other strips of cedarwood. You may need to adjust the front and rear parts of the stern and bow using a chisel to ensure that the cedarwood strips align exactly.
When you get to the waterline of the canoe, add your chevron pieces into place using the same method as the main cedar strips. Clamp, tape, and wedge to hold it into place, as needed.
Keep building up the canoe until you reach the "keel" section. Here you will likely need to refine the mold shape to enable the strips to sit flush against one another. You may also need to sand down the edges of the previous strips in place too.
You will also need to cut off any excess at the stern and aft to form the curved portions of the hull. Clamp pieces into place as before, and tie them together in places using restraining belts to help keep the overall shape of the hull.
On the "keel" side of the canoe, continue to add shorter and shorter strips of cedar, mounting and securing as before as you go. This canoe will be flat bottomed, so bear that in mind while building it.
Once you reach the "keel" of the canoe, place a strip of cedar vertically along the centerline. Use this as a guide to mark off a straight line along the centreline and plane/sand the hull strips as needed.
Next, begin to chevron the strips as you get ever closer to the centerline of the boat. Mark this out as you go per strip, and cut down to size using a handsaw. You will need to do this ad hoc for each piece and adjust as needed to ensure a snug fit between the hull strips.
The wood for the main hull will tend to want to bend outwards as you do this so be sure to progressively adjust and secure the restraining straps as needed to hold the strips against the frame underneath.
Depending on your wants and desires for the final aesthetics, you can also alternate lighter and darker strips of cedar and walnut wood as you reach the centerline of the canoe.
Keep going until your complete the basic hull of the canoe.
Eventually, you should be left with a thin teardrop hole between the hull strips. Measure and trace the shape onto a single piece of cedar, cut to shape, and adjust to fit snuggly to complete the hull.
Glue and secure into place as needed and be sure to adjust the restraining straps as needed. Leave the entire hull to fully cure before moving on to the next step.
With the hull's shape now in place, take a hand planer and plane down all surfaces of the hull. Run your hand over the hull and keep planning until it feels nice and smooth in all places. Use sandpaper strips too where required.
Once you are happy, give the entire hull a once-over with an orbital sander.
Next, grab your stem pieces, and place them on the front, and rear, or of the hull. Mark out their dimensions onto the hull and carve away wood until they can slot snuggly against the main hull.
Glue and screw the stem piece into place as needed. Add small plugs of wood and glue into place over the screws, where needed.
Once dry, plane and sand the stem piece (and screw hole plugs) as required.
Step 6: Add the fiberglass coating to the hull
With the main hull basically complete, we can now move on to adding a waterproof coating to it -- in this case fiberglass. First, cover the entire hull with fiberglass cloth.
Next, mix up your two-part epoxy and begin to apply liberally over the surface of the fiberglass cloth.
Thoroughly soak the fiberglass with an epoxy cloth until it becomes transparent. The cedarwood main hull should be visible through the cloth when ready.
Once complete, thoroughly rub the fiberglass over the surface of the hull to ensure it fully encapsulates the wood underneath. Trim off any excess at the stern and prow and "glue" together with more epoxy.
Once dry, sand down and buff the entire surface of the hull with an orbital sander to remove any bubbles or bulges. You want it to be as smooth as possible.
Once complete, remove and anchoring, and completely lift the hull from its frame.
With the canoe now freed from its mold, begin to plane and sand the internal side of the canoe. Use your orbital sander to smooth out the entire internal face of the canoe as well.
With the internal surfaces prepared, lay another layer of fiberglass cloth over the entire internal surface of the canoe. Then begin to apply epoxy once again until the cloth clings to the canoe's inner faces.
Again, once soaked, the cloth should become transparent. Smooth out the cloth so that it fully adheres to the hull as before. Be sure to also spread out any excess over the surface of the hull to prevent the pooling of the epoxy.
Step 7: Make the gunwales, decks, and thwarts
With that complete, we can now begin to add some of the inner details of the canoe. Let's start with the gunwales.
Grab some lengths of dark walnut and cut them into long thin strips. To reach the full length of the gunwale section of the hull, glue shorter pieces together.
Glue and clamp and leave to cure. Once dry, plane and sand the lengths down as needed. Next, mark out sections at regular intervals and bevel/route out niches along the lengths of each gunwale.
Add a groove along one length of each gunwale and then glue it to the top of each inner surface of the canoe's hull after trimming off any excess fiberglass cloth, as needed.
Cut down the gunwale to fit it to the bow and stern stems internally as needed. Rinse and repeat for the other side of the canoe.
Next, grab some more dark walnut and it into thin planks, sand using your mechanical planer. Cut the pieces into two equally-sized wedges and glue them together to make a triangle. This will form the short decks to the front and back of the canoe.
Build a frame the same dimensions as the canoe's stern and bow and secure the decks into place to dry. Rinse and repeat to make a second deck.
Once the glue has fully cured, remove the decks from their frames and hand plane into a concave shape, as needed.
Place the decks onto the stern and bow of the canoe, mark out the internal shape of the canoe onto the decks, and trim them down (if required). Glue the decks into place and use wood clamps to hold them into place until the glue has fully dried.
Reinforce the decks by screwing them into the main hull as well.
With that complete, make two more long thin strips of cedar. Plane and sand as needed and then mount to the outside rim of the canoe. Screw into place as well.
Trim off any excess at the stern and bow using a handsaw. As before, make small wooden caps to fill and hide the screw holes.
Once complete, sand and buff using an orbital sander the outside trim, stern, and bow.
Now we can turn out attention to the central thwart (the cross-members of the hull) and seats. Take some more lengths of dark walnut and cut to the width of the canoe where they will be installed.
Shape the lengths with a concave well on one, or two sides. Plane off, sand, and buff any sharp edges. For the seats, route two holes to take the supports for the canoe seat frame later on.
For the seat pieces, cut and shape short cross-members to connect them together, and drill a series of holes around the central part of the frame.
Glue, clamp, and leave to fully dry the seat assembly. Once dry, sand and buff as needed and then put into place on the canoe.
Mark off any excess pieces of the seats, and trim the seat mounting arms down to fit the inside diameter of the canoe. Drill screw holes through the gunwale to enable the seats to be secured into place later.
For reference, the seats will be mounted to the aft and fore of the canoe so the arms will vary in length. Also, drill some more holes midships to mount the central thwart.
Give the canoe's top surface another sanding following the drilling.
Step 7: Polish the canoe and complete the final assembly
With those steps complete, give the canoe a once-over using a wet rag and some clean water to remove any invisible sawdust and other debris. Then, add a layer of tape just below the outer trim along the full length of the canoe.
Then, grab your wood polish, and apply by hand to the decks, gunwale, and outer trim of the entire length of the canoe.
Once applied, run over the varnished areas with a clean cloth to work it into the exposed wood underneath. You want it to leave a matt finish.
Do the same for the seat assemblies too.
Next, remove the tape, and apply a layer of varnish to the entire inside surface of the canoe as well. Do the same for the outside of the canoe using a roller too.
With the varnish dried to the seat, take some waterproof string or leather strips, and weave a mesh using the drill holes as anchor points. Start with right angles to form a grid, and then go over the mesh once again at diagonal angles.
This will act as the main seat for the canoe.
Once complete, transfer the seats to the canoe and bolt into place using the holes you drilled through the gunwale earlier.
Take your time here as you don't want to damage the varnish you applied to the canoe and the seat.
With that complete, we can begin to add some more decorative features to the canoe. Take your "painter's ring" and mount it to the stern of the canoe.
With that, your DIY cedar canoe is basically finished. You can now spend some time making DIY paddles to match your canoe, but she is otherwise ready to take to the water.
Now all your need to do is crack open some champagne and christen your beautifully crafted canoe.
If you enjoyed that project, you might want to consider testing your skill on another challenging project. How about this beautiful customized DIY dresser?