Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Project: Canoes! (Yes, I did.)

Okay, I wasn't going to get into another project right now. I had other things to do. Three books to edit. Maintenance on the house and the cars. Three kids home for the summer. I'd have to be insane to start another project, right? That's a rhetorical question, by the way, and I prefer the word eccentric if you please. 

 Here's the thing: I can't write a lot during the summer. With the kids home, I get maybe two hours of writing time in the early morning. Occasionally, I can sneak away to a quiet corner of the house and do some editing, but children have a sixth sense for that kind of thing. They can happily play video games and watch Netflix for hours on end, but the moment I start working on a book, they NEED me. Almost without fail, I get one or two paragraphs edited before somebody is screaming. So I found myself with some time on my hands and just a little bit of money... not enough to buy some canoes(as discussed in a previous post), but enough to build some. (And of course, I really wanted some canoes for my family. Who doesn't?)

Yeah, I do have another project I'm working on, but it's a secret project, so no more hints until it's done... At any rate, I couldn't help myself. God love my poor wife, she actually let me do it: I made two canoes. Being a complete amateur at this, I did my research and then decided to break all the rules right off the bat. Naturally, I started by building two canoes at once. Why bother cutting one sheet of ply when you can do two? Of course, I didn't want to make two canoes exactly the same, so I changed the plans for one. 'Cause I'm like a genius or something. Oh, well. Give a guy credit for trying. 

For simplicity's sake, along with budgetary concerns and a complete void of experience, I decided to go with the stitch-and-glue method. This basically means you take a set of measurements from plans, and mark them onto sheets of plywood, which you then cut to shape, glue (with epoxy) and stitch with wire or zip-ties. 

As the canoe takes shape, you fill the gaps with wood filler and epoxy, and then fiberglass the seams. 

Hopefully, at some point, it begins to resemble an actual canoe. I can't even describe how exciting it is when this actually happens!

After many hours of cutting, gluing, and fiberglassing, you spend many, many more hours sanding. And then you sand some more. After several coats of epoxy inside and out, you sand again. Then, at last, you can varnish it to a nice gleam, stand back, and admire your own Frankenstein's monster.

That's my beautiful daughter in the background of course, and (ahem) my slightly under-irrigated lawn in the fore.

Happily, I have gotten a number of nice comments on these canoes already. The first guy who saw them at the lake said "Wow, that's an old canoe, isn't it?" Naturally, I explained that it wasn't actually old, it just looked like crap because it was homemade. He laughed, and appeared genuinely impressed with my first-time build. I know what he meant, though. There really is something about the character of wood, and the shape of an object like this brings it home. My plywood canoes don't just look old, they look historical. They have presence. For an inanimate object like a canoe, that's saying something.

 I had a lot of fun building these boats, and it only took about a month. I did have to buy a few tools (terrible, that-lol) and I did spend a little more than I had planned, in both time and money, due in part to my decision to make two at once and -like a good amateur- redesign the plans on my own. Another result of this re-design is the fact that the smaller canoe, which is narrower and has considerable rocker built into the design, really works best with just one person. The more weight you put into it, the more unstable it behaves. It's also got an unusually high center of gravity, so it paddles best when kneeling rather than in the sitting position. It floats and it goes from point A to point B, but it's not a very practical design and next time I'll know better than to start changing things right out of the gate.

So now, I'm all set for the next project. (Heh, heh.) Not really. I'm going to spend some time enjoying these with my family. We have lots of good canoeing and camping weather before winter comes. I would like to move up to a strip canoe next. They're more work, but I don't mind taking my time on a project that I know I'll treasure for years to come. Unlike these plywood canoes, a strip canoe is made of valuable hardwood and is an exacting, painstaking process by comparison. Then again, it's also possible to build rowboats, kayaks, sailboats, and even catamarans and fishing boats using this stitch-and-glue method... some of those ideas sound awfully tempting...

If you're interested in learning more, here are a few canoe and boatbuilding resources:

 And a stitch-and-glue fishing boat you won't believe!: