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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
(AND A BIT OF CHAT ABOUT SUITABLE MATERIALS ETC)

(Last up-dated 12/10/07)

 

Here are some of the more frequently asked questions we get :-

1. What is the easiest way to build my own canoe? The easiest way is to use the stitch and tape method.
2. Just how easy is stitch and tape? Unlike the more trad way of ply construction where you make a frame first and then sheath this with a plywood skin, stitch and tape involves marking and cutting out the ply hull planks/panels first and then stitching these together without a framework - this cuts down on time, cost and the skill level required.
Our stitch and tape canoes are built by many first timers, Scout and Youth Groups, Prison training groups, schools etc. - see the photo below.
3. What about the costs? Most of our stitch and tape canoes are built using Exterior WBP ply, joinery grade Deal (White Pine) and exterior household paints and varnishes.
Typically in the UK, a 16' canoe will take :-

Material

UK cost in Sterling
(2007)

4 sheets of 4 to 6mm WBP ply 52
Softwood for the gunwales etc 30
2 kg of epoxy resin, tape etc 112
Paints and sundry screws etc 26
Total 220

The expensive item is the epoxy resin - 2kg has been allowed although in some simple canoes l have just about got away with 1kg. The above price includes for cleaner, dispensing pumps and filler powder. Also, although much stronger than conventional polyester fibreglass resin, polyester is still often used and this would halve the cost of the resins.

Going to a good Marine plywood plus exotic timbers to do a really nice job will obviously increase costs.

4. Is WBP Exterior plywood really ok to use? Yes, l have used many sheets of it. It sometimes has voids or even overlaps in the central core and paper thin outside veneers but the canoe is going to spend much of it's time upside down in the back garden or hung up in the garage, so marine plywood is not necessary. The first Waterman 16 was built using Exterior plywood over 18 years ago and as far as l know is still going strong.
5. What skills do l need to build a stitch and tape canoe? So long as you can follow simple instructions and mark out reasonably accurately anc cut a relatively straight line, you are ok - if you have the basic skills needed for simple home DIY and learnt a bit at school you will be fine - plus we run a back-up help service over the phone/e-mail and there are two SFDesign User's Groups full of helpful home builders to offer advice.
6. What tools do l need? Nothing more than simple home DIY tools - measuring tape, pencil, ruler, a drill, single speed jig-saw, a hand saw, small chisel, the usual screw drivers, as many G-cramps as you can get hold of something to hold the canoe hull off the floor (a couple of cheap plastic saw horses) and a workmate type folding bench.
7. Are the plank shapes given full-size on the plans? No, for one main reason - accuracy - first the sheet of paper would have to be at least 8'x4' in size. Unless this was high quality drawing paper or better still Mylar film it would be subject to stretch and distortion - for the long narrow planks involved in canoe building this is disastrous and causes major problems when stitching the hull planks together - if full size patterns are given it is essential to have a 4' wide piece of paper so that the plank shapes are orientated onto the ply sheet accurately - the centre join between the fore and aft pieces of the plank is critical - a small discrepancy in angle here will produce all kinds of problems.
The only way to mark the panels down yourself with millimeter accuracy is to use dimensions - with each set of plans we send a 2 page instruction sheet on how to draw the planks directly down onto the plywood accurately so that you will have no problems when you come to stitch the planks together - the process is simple - typically pencil lines are drawn across the plywood at 305mm (12") intervals, the tape measure is then laid along each of these lines and the computer generated dimensions we give are ticked off along the lines - these are then joined up - the curves are very gentle and l use a piece of plastic conduit or curtain rail held in place by nails and weights.
8. Is there any alternative to marking out the plywood planks myself? Yes, we can e-mail or post to you the DXF computer files for the plank shapes and these can then be used to have the plank shapes laser cut or plotted out full-size with someone who has the equipment - there are companies like Jordan Boats (www.jordanboats.co.uk) who are happy to laser cut the plank shapes for you using our DXF files.
9. If the canoe is longer than a standard plywood sheet, how do l make up the plank lengths? Because the planks are longer than 8' (2440mm) they need to be made up out of 2 or 3 pieces of plywood. The way we draw out the plank shapes for canoes up to 15'10" (4.8m), the planks are joined in their centre (mid point) - this can be done with a scarf join but typically for home DIY construction a simple plywood butt strap or glass butt strap is used - l like the glass butt and this consists of a glass tape in epoxy resin applied over the join on both sides of the join - the planks are simply butted together, the glass tape applied, the resin allowed to cure then the plank is carefully turned over and the tape applied to the remaining side.
10. How long does it take to build a stitch and tape canoe? Depending on how many planks are involved, your skills and available tools, anything from 35 to 60 hours - for a typical 16' open canoe (a Raven or Waterman) l reckon on a Saturday morning and part afternoon marking the plank shapes onto the ply by hand - the remainder of the afternoon to cut the planks out.
Sunday morning to plane the plank edges to shape, the afternoon to do the glass tape butt join to join the 2 parts of each plank on one side of the planks and to mark and cut out the temporary centre mould and any bulkheads.
Monday evening gently turn the planks over and do the other side of the glass butt join. The next 2-3 evenings to stitch the planks together (this is the fun bit!) and run in the first epoxy fillets to lock the planks together.
The next Saturday to tape the inside of the chine seams, Sunday to fit the inwale and outwale turn the hull over and tape the outside of the chine seams.
Monday evening sees the seats made up and fitted - Tuesday the decking and bottom runners.
The canoe is now complete bar the sanding and painting.
11. How do l finish my plywood canoe? Unless l am doing a Boat Show job (when l use marine Polyurethane paints - International, Blakes etc), l use a good quality exterior product. You can get International Marine Varnish from your B&Q store (UK) and l use this on the inside - l wait a good week for the epoxy on the tape to properly cure and attack the tape with a palm sander using heavy grit sand paper - this removes much of the bumps in the epoxy and tape and then apply a thinned coat of varnish as a primer and then simply build up using a total of 4 or 5 coats, sanding between each - the varnish goes over the gunwales.
For the outside of the canoe l attack the glass tapes in the same way as the interior and then apply a good quality primer (Dulux, Crown etc) and after this has dried l apply a filler (Tetron, Polyfiller etc) with a wide knife. Once this has dried l lightly sand and coat with a good undercoat. I apply 3 undercoats filling between each coat as necessary and finish with 2 coats of gloss.
12. How does a Strip Plank canoe compare with a plywood canoe in terms of cost? For a typical 16 (4.8m) open canoe you will need approximately 1400' (430m) or 1/4" x 3/4" (6x18mm) Western Red Cedar and this is going to cost between 450 and 600 sterling depending where you get it from and how much machining is involved. on top of this you need materials for the building jig and the hull is usually sheathed inside and out in glass/epoxy - so the cost may be at least 4 times that of a similar sized plywood canoe.
13. What about the skills required for a strip planked  canoe? A canoe is a long thin shape, so planking in Cedar presents few problems and l have seen very nicely built strip canoes built by first time builders and those with few wood work skills but you do need to be able to use a hand saw, plane and chisel and you do want a good work bench and at least a decent set of chisels.
14. And the time to build a strip planked canoe? 4 to 6 times the length of time for a plywood canoe, but then, you are going to end up with a real craft of beauty and something you can feel really proud of.

 

Here is a gaggle of Selway Fisher canoes - some Wrens a couple of Rangers and Alec Jordan sitting in a Little Kate - this was an activity for teenagers who built the canoes under the guidance of Alec and then were taught by Alec how to use them - a very satisfying project for all those involved and typical of many projects where our designs have been used for training, and education in schools, youth groups etc.

 

 


  

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