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Building A Canoe

Part Two of a Series

Stage Two of Building a Canoe

Welcome back to my series on building a cedar strip canoe. In this post I’ll explain the next steps: sanding and applying the epoxy resin, as well as link to the type I used myself. It was harder than I had hoped.


After the entire hull was built, still upside down, I smoothed the edges of each western red cedar plank and removed the glue that had squeezed out between them. From a distance the hull looked like one piece, but up close you could see the flat planks glued together, each ¾ inch wide. I used a block plane, a spokeshave, an orbital sander and hand sanding to get the entire hull smooth and rounded.

Running my hands across the surface told me where I still needed to plane or sand. As I did so, I realized that since the planks were ¼” inch thick, the hull was being thinned to less than ¼ inch, which made me wonder if the hull would be strong enough when finished. (That’s pretty dang thin, and red cedar is not a dense wood like oak or hardwoods.) But, I trusted the instructions in the books I was using and kept on.

The Outer Layer 

When the sanding was complete, I laid a large  piece of fiberglass cloth over the canoe.It was long and wide enough to cover the entire vessel. There are different weights of fiberglass cloth available—I used 8 oz. cloth. (A 6 oz. cloth would have been thinner [and the canoe lighter], but I had read that 8 oz. cloth would result in a stronger canoe.) Using a small, stiff plastic squeegee (used for applying body filler on autos),  I began applying the first of several coats of West System’s epoxy resin through the fiberglass to bond the fiberglass to the red cedar hull.

(Photo courtesy of Jim Clem https://www.instructables.com/id/Building-A-Cedar-Strip-Canoe/)

This was nerve-racking. It was the first time I had ever used so much epoxy and you must do it quickly. Once the two parts are mixed the combined epoxy begins to heat up immediately. When it heats up too much it “sets” and that’s that. It has to be applied evenly, not too thick and not too thin. Yikes! My brother, Dave, helped me which made a big difference.

Stronger is Better, But More Difficult

Applying the epoxy resin was made more difficult by using two pieces of fiberglass cloth. I had read that I could make the canoe stronger if I added a 2nd layer of fiberglass cloth to the very bottom of the canoe, and strong is good, right? (Yes. The answer is yes.) So I did that, cutting the 2nd piece into a long “football” shape the width of the canoe’s underside. The fiberglass cloth tends to fray at the edges and we had to be careful to smooth down the ends of the second cloth, etc. It turned out fine, but it was a stressful operation.

This coat of epoxy resin penetrated the cloth and the topmost layer of red cedar and then hardened, permanently joining the fiberglass to the wood. But I had to apply two more coats before the epoxy completely “set”. The 2nd coat needed to bury the cloth in resin, and the third to leave a coating of resin on top of the fiberglass so the surface was smooth, with no hint of the woven texture underneath. These three coats were completely done in a span of two days. 

Epoxy is Your Friend

What a difference the epoxy made! The hardened epoxy was shiny, though transparent, darkening the red cedar of the canoe just like a finish of polyurethane would. I was thrilled to see how the final canoe would look. But, it wasn’t done yet.

I then detached the forms from the strongback and turned the canoe right-side up. Here’s another photo from Jim Clem’s website showing his canoe turned over. You can see where the dried glue had squeezed between the planks.

Inside of Cedar Strip Canoe

Nobody Said This Was Easy

I planed and sanded the inside of the hull. That was more difficult as the interior ends are not as easily reached with a block plane, spoke shave or sander. A lot of hand sanding was necessary. But after the inside hull was smooth and even, it was time to put on another piece of fiberglass cloth, this time inside the boat.

Applying epoxy resin to the inside of the boat was trickier than the outside, (partly because I did this without help, which wasn’t the best idea). And once again I used a second layer of cloth to cover the bottom of the canoe. Getting the two layers to stay put and applying enough but not too much epoxy was not easy. I wanted to be able to feel the texture of the cloth beneath the epoxy so it would be less slippery.

Finally, I had the outer layer of my canoe finished. Whew!

In my next post of this series I’ll talk about a mistake I made building my canoe that cost me hours of extra work. And we’ll get to that pesky pack rat. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? See the first post in the series here.)

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