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Jim’s canoe dream realized… finally

By on February 24, 2016 in Articles, Outdoor Fun, Sports & Recreation with 0 Comments

Jim Garrett and the wooden canoe he built

By Jim Garrett

I was never far from a canoe during my formative years.

My dad and an uncle owned a 17-foot aluminum canoe. Dad took me fishing at Jamison Lake and over to Sun Lakes many times. We paddled around Turtle Rock. A cousin and I journeyed part way up Lake Chelan in the canoe, camping along the way.

I’ve always loved being on the water. In the ’70s and ’80s, I lived in Wenatchee, working at a local hardware store and one of my customers was Ray Wonacott.

Ray manufactured and sold cedar strip canoes from his local shop.

The first time I saw one of his canoes I was amazed. It was more a piece of furniture to be placed in your home and treasured than a vessel to be tied to your car, launched in a lake and scratched by a dirty old rock.

Just starting out in life, I could not afford one of his canoes but I always had it in my mind that one day I would have a wooden canoe.

Fast forward 40 years. I was considering retirement and the usual question popped up: Will I have enough to keep me busy?

I acquired a fair set of woodworking tools over the years and had enjoyed building furniture, so I knew that woodworking would be a large part of my retirement.

Years ago I found a how-to book, Canoecraft, by Ted Moores. I read it several times and considered building my own canoe. But the time needed was more than I could find while working full time, keeping up a home, and all that goes along with life.

Now with extra time on the horizon, that “aha” moment occurred. I did a simple Internet search and found a whole society of woodworkers engaged in the home building of canoes; many websites and sources for tools, materials, and most importantly help.

Even after further reading and research I still had some doubts about my abilities to complete the build.

Our vacation was approaching and by chance we would be close to the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Show. So I attended it, taking part in some of the seminars on boat building and talking to several of the exhibitors. They convinced me.

I found the plans for my canoe at the Bear Mountain Boat Company. It is 16 feet long, weighs 68 pounds and took approximately 400 hours to complete.

The technique is called stripping, cutting cedar into thin strips and edge gluing them together to form the canoe.

You start out by building a strongback, a long narrow box on which you attach the canoe forms. This is essentially your workbench.

The strips (there are over 140 in my canoe) are then bent around the forms and glued to each other and to the stems (ends of the hull).

The strips are 1/4-inch thick by 5/8-inch wide by 17 feet long and each strip has a bead and cove edge.

When the edges mate they form a tight joint and have the ability to bend around the form and still maintain that tight joint.

Laying up one strip at a time, you work from the mid-point of each side up to the keel. Holding the strips together while the glue dries can be a challenge. I chose to use clamps to hold the strips, waiting at least five hours for the glue to dry, removing the clamps then gluing the next strip in place… very time consuming but it has a very clean appearance.

Hull strength is accomplished by laying fiberglass over the hull and soaking it with epoxy. With three coats of epoxy the exterior is complete.

It was time to lift the hull off the molds flip it over and repeat the processes on the interior.

For me, the epoxy was the scariest part of the whole build, especially the day I dropped the epoxy can, spilling it all over the floor, my shoes and my feet. I was scrambling to clean it up before it dried.

When the inside was complete then came the part that gives the boat a personality; attaching the trim, and designing the seats and thwart. I used ash for these parts and as accent strips in the hull.

This is what everyone will first see and what makes the boat different from all others. Of course it always had the shape of a canoe but with the addition of the gunwales and decks and that final shaping of the top curve and tumblehome along the gunwales it was suddenly an actual watercraft.

The final piece of the build was to lay on seven coats of varnish.

It was a fun build.

It challenged my determination and it challenged my knowledge and abilities but in the end I found all the answers to my questions.

Challenge is good, it keeps you alert.

There were times I was so discouraged I wanted to scrap it all. But thanks to my very smart wife Janet, I was persuaded to set it aside for a while, do more research, and come back to it later.

It was worth the effort and I’m looking forward to many hours of paddling and flyfishing.

 

Jim Garrett grew up in Waterville and is now living on the rainy side of the mountains.

 

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