Historically canoes have been constructed in a variety of manners, from hollowing out logs to the advanced composite plastic constructions of today. Most canoes you see in stores are made of a composite plastic called Royalex, which requires advanced (and expensive!) vacuum molding equipment to work with. However, two modern methods of canoe building are easy and affordable enough for the home builder: Fiberglass composites and wood strips.
Building a fiberglass canoe is faster, but is also a messy process and can be frustrating for those unused to working with fiberglass layups. Be sure to research types of fiberglass and resins carefully when choosing the materials for your canoe. Benefits to fiberglass construction include a faster build time and an end product which is durable and extremely lightweight compared to canoes built using wood or plastics.
There are six basic steps to building a fiberglass canoe:
- Choosing the design and creating a set of wooden forms called stations. The stations are attached to a long wooden support to create the backbone of the mold.
- Foam strips are attached over the stations to form the mold itself, and gaps are filled in with drywall compound.
- Layers of fiberglass are laid up over the form and impregnated with resin. This forms the basic hull of the canoe, but the bow and stern are open enabling the hull to be pried from the mold.
- After curing, the hull is pried off the mold, and the bow and stern are finished with additional fiberglass.
- Gunwales and ribs are attached, usually made of wood, giving the canoe its structural rigidity.
- Seats and thwarts are added last, along with any other accessories you wish your canoe to have, such as anchor points or fishing rod holders.
For a wooden canoe, the process is almost identical. However, instead of foam strips, wood strips are laid over the stations and form the hull of the canoe. The wood is varnished, and a single or double layer of fiberglass is then laid up over the wood for durability and water-tightness.
Remember, you can never do too much research before starting a canoe building project. Numerous books and websites are available to help you choose the right materials for your desired end result and to help with the construction process. Do your research, take your time, and the canoe you build will provide recreation for you and your family for many years to come.