Tips For Building A Canoe

canoe tips

Kevin MacRae and his canoe

Have you ever wanted to build your own canoe?   Today on Trailblazer Tuesday, Kevin MacRae, my friend and fellow outdoor enthusiast, will share his experience building a canoe.  Kevin enjoys many outdoor activities including biking (road and mountain biking), fishing and hiking.

Today’s Trailblazer is Kevin MacRae.

Hi Kevin.  I’m so excited about having you on the blog today.  You are the first person I have met that actually built their own canoe.  I think that is so amazing.  And I have so many questions about building a canoe, so let’s get right to it.

How did you decide to build a canoe?  I take an annual trip to a friend’s cabin in the Adirondack mountains each summer.  While there, I saw a few cedar canoes on car tops, on the water, then in the Adirondack Museum.  I think they are beautiful, and have more character than plastic or aluminum canoes.  They look like floating furniture.  Just before leaving the gift shop I saw a book by Ted Moores detailing cedar strip boat construction and decided to read it just out of curiosity, never intending a build.  After reading Canoecraft, I knew I could make a boat, had plenty of spare time and money, so I figured- go for it.

Canoe Construction

Strongback and Forms

How did you learn how to build a canoe?  Canoecraft and various websites detail the cedar strip construction but I’ve always had an interest in woodworking.  I’d sneak into my dad’s shop when I was just a kid and build a pencil and paper holder, desk organizer, drawer dividers, toy cars and puzzles.

Was building the canoe a solo project or did it require more than one person?  I built it by myself.  I thought my dad would help with the epoxy, but it was like having two guys trying to cook on the BBQ grill- one guy too many.

How big is your canoe?  It’s almost 16 feet long.

How long does it take to build a canoe? Canoecraft says the boat can be built in about 150 hours.  The project was in process for about 15 months.  Some winter days the garage was just too cold for the glue to set, even with space heaters.  July was just too hot, August I was traveling, September I got a new mountain bike… so the work got done in fits and starts, over 15 months.

Canoe Assembly

Almost complete- gluing up the cedar strips

Give us a brief overview of the process for building a canoe.  First you decide what type of boat you want, a canoe or a kayak.  Then what you will use it for and the length of the boat.  A longer boat can carry more gear or another person.  Then figure out how much space and money you have and decide to make it smaller.  Construction begins by making a strongback- a 15 foot long, one foot wide table that is very strong and very flat.  Then cut the stations or forms to go on the strongback at one foot intervals out of plywood.  Cut about 100 16 foot long,  3/4″ wide, and exactly 1/4″ thick strips of Western Red Cedar.  It’s very light and flexible.  Using a router, put a bead on one long edge of the strips and a cove on the other so they sort of interlock when glued together.  Glue the strips over the forms. Plane, scrape and sand the boat smooth and fair.  When the wooden structure is complete, lay a long piece of fiberglass over the outside of the boat and cover it with three coats of clear epoxy.  Do the same for the inside.  Paint on about five coats of marine varnish, to protect the epoxy.  Wax the boat, just like a car, to protect the varnish.  Outfit the boat with seats.  I chose to cane mine.  Grab a paddle and go fishing!

Cedar Canoe

First coat of epoxy

It sounds like building a canoe takes a lot of commitment.  What other factors should be considered before someone builds their own canoe?  From a financial standpoint, there are kits available that take much of the intial woodworking out of the picture, for about $1500.  A nice boat can be built with one of those kits. I chose to do everything from scratch, which let me pick and choose upgraded materials and  have more options, for about the same cost but more work on my part.  A lot of space in required.  A canoe in construction takes up half the garage, tools take up the other half.  A lot of time is also required. I dedicated most of my free time last winter and really had to cut back on cycling.

Would you ever consider building another canoe?  I think I would consider building a kayak, but I’ll play with this boat for a while first.

Hand Caned Boat Seat

Hand Caned Seat

Are there any other outdoor projects or plans in your future? I’m building a BBQ table for a Big Green Egg for a coworker and may make a trellis for the backyard.  I’m also thinking of building a teardrop trailer.

I love teardrop trailers.  The wooden ones are just gorgeous.  If someone is considering building their own canoe, what advice would you give them? If you just want a canoe to paddle, not a piece of finely crafted floating furniture, pick up a plastic or aluminum canoe.  Make sure you understand what you are getting into before you start.  It’s a huge time, space and financial investment.  It will be beautiful.  No one but you will notice the flaws.

Paddling a canoe

Paddling with my dog

Canoe building requires a huge time and financial commitment, but you went the distance and came out on the other side with a spectacular cedar canoe.  I am very impressed.  Thank you so much Kevin for hanging out with us around our campfire.  Now before you go, I have one more question for you. 

Today’s Silly Question Sendoff-  What is your favorite commercial?  I get a kick out of the insurance commercials with Mayhem.

I like those commercials,too.  Now it is time for you, my readers, to answer the Silly Question Sendoff in the comments below.  Or leave a comment for Kevin.

I’ll see ya around the campfire.


If you are interested in being a featured Trailblazer, send me a note through my contact page and tell me a little about yourself and your outdoor experience.

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Tiffany loves tent camping and knows how to bait a hook.

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  1. Campy Mom says:

    I like the Mayhem commercials. You know what else I like…tacos.

    I like tacos.

  2. Hi Campy Mom nice blog

  3. Awesome. I’ve wanted to do this for ages!
    PaulO recently posted..AlpineAire Foods Freeze Dried Food Pouches – Food ReviewMy Profile

  4. Mary J. MacRae says:

    I remember going to Barnes and Noble with my brother when he bought books on “how to build a canoe.” I never thought it would be so gorgeous! He was so incredibly dedicated during the process, and his hard work has clearly paid off. I’m so proud of him! Hoping someone out there will be inspired by his story :-)

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