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Building a Canoe

Part Three in a Series

Stage Three of Building a Canoe

In this post I’ll explain the next steps in building a cedar strip canoe: cutting the shear line, adding the trim, and a mistake I made which you can hopefully avoid. I’ll also tell you a little about pack rats. Because I can.

Cutting the Shear Line/
Making My Boat Look Good

The next task in building my canoe was cutting the final “shear” line—where the sides of the canoe ended, which included the upswept tips. I cut through the hardened resin, fiberglass and cedar which was strong, yet flexible. Designing my boat was one of the best parts of building the canoe. I didn’t make the bow and stearn too high, as a high end would more easily catch in a wind. But I wanted it to look good. The “shear” line along the edge of each side had to be “fair”. 

Glen-L.com’s Boatbuilding and Boating Glossary defines a “fair” hull as:
“…one with no dips or bumps in the longitudinal lines of the hull. Fairness is checked by sighting down the longitudinal lines.”

Here’s a photo of my canoe with the shear cut on both sides, and a gunwale attached by clamps.Shear line of cedar strip canoe

Again, Epoxy is Your Friend

I could see how strong the fiberglass and epoxy made the hull of the canoe. Although the canoe was still somewhat wobbly, the hardened resin had greatly strengthened the canoe. It’s amazing stuff.

Trial And Error

Here’s a helfpul tip when building a canoe: always wipe away excess epoxy before it dries. When using epoxy, you sometimes thicken it to fill gaps by mixing in “filler”, which is really tiny fibers of different materials. White filler material can be purchased, but sawdust can also be used. Cedar sawdust will darken the epoxy greatly so it takes trial and error to figure out how much should be mixed together to match the color of the wood.

I made the mistake of leaving lumps of thickened epoxy on the canoe when called away from my shop. The next morning I found that the soft lumps had turned into rock-hard lumps, very difficult to cut and sand away. Trial and error. I also had to sand off excess, unthickened epoxy that had run (as happens when you use too much paint). And I unwittingly sanded too far down—into and through the fiberglass and into the wood. That caused me to patch that spot with more fiberglass. Hardly anyone else can see the patch now, but it sure took a lot of time to fix. More trial and error.


Then it was time to create the “trim” for the boat—the gunwales, decks, yoke and seats. I had read ash was the best wood for this as it is strong but flexible, so I got a 20’ board of ash (since the canoe is just short of 16’). I cut up four narrow boards ¾” x ¾” to form the outer and inner gunwales (or gunnels) on either side. These sandwich and stiffen the top edge of the hull.

My shop is only about 20’ long so I had to use my table saw outside the shop for enough room on either side of the saw. As I was outside cutting the boards a packrat casually walked from inside the shop out the large garage door and looked up at me. It appeared for everything that it was complaining about the noise! Maybe I had interrupted its nap. What the heck! A packrat in my shop! And it wasn’t offering to help with my project one bit. So I had to take a break to get rid of it.

Since I had been writing about squirrels and packrats in my novel and giving them names, I really didn’t have the heart to kill him or her. So I got a live trap and caught it, with peanut butter as bait.

A Bit of a Tangent (Come On, I’ve Been So On-Task)

Pack rats are properly called woodrats. They look and act nothing like Norway or black rats—the type of rat that is so common in towns and cities, can be aggressive, and like to be around others of their kind. Woodrats are more closely related to white-footed mice and are really just huge mice themselves.

They are solitary creatures, found all over the U.S., and are known as pack rats because they like to collect shiny objects, like bottle caps, in their nests. They build their nests (middens) out of sticks of wood, or with other vegetation if wood isn’t plentiful, and these nests can be several feet high, wide and long. Often the nests surround the bases of trees or an old stone fence and are even built up a few feet off the ground in trees.

They seem to like hedge (Osage orange) trees around here, possibly because we have so many or perhaps because they like eating the hedgeapples, which the female trees bear. The large green fruit, the size of softballs, are waxy and tough to open up to get to the hundreds of small seeds (about the size of sunflower seeds). But once the freezing and thawing of winter has softened the hedgeapples, you will find them chewed apart.

Packrats have different chambers in their middens used for different purposes—sleeping, urinals, storing foods. They urinate on the middens which prevents the wood from decaying. (Anyone want to try this instead of stain or paint? Eh?)

Bye Bye, Pack rats

Pack rats are everywhere, both in town and out in the country, and do a lot of damage chewing up wires in vehicles and tractors, or building their huge middens inside abandoned ones.

Obviously, I know a lot about them. You might even say I like woodrats in a way—they are characters in my books.

But I did NOT want them in my woodshop.

The pack rat I caught had light brown fur and dark eyes with some fur on his tail⏤nothing like a squirrel, but it had many more tail hairs than a Norway rat or mouse. “Bushy-tailed woodrats” are found some places which have tails more heavily covered with hair. This one was really a beautiful creature, but I wanted him or her elsewhere.

I took the trap with the packrat out to the country—to Corps of Engineer’s public land around Clinton Lake, to be precise—and released it. And that was the first of two packrats I transported away, since I also found a nest in my shed that year.

Maybe they were siblings and hung out in my back yard. (Yes, this is the way I think. Thus, my fantasy novel based on rodents.) But they have gone on to other adventures now.

In my next post in this series I’ll explain more about building the gunwales and cutting out the scuppers. In the meantime, check out this blog post on how my novel about squirrels (and pack rats and voles, owls and hawks) came to be. Written over 35 years, it’s been a labor of love.

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