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Favorite Canoe-Building Books

Favorite Canoe-Building Books

Over the years, I’ve read several books to teach me how to build my canoes. I thought I’d share the best ones with you today. 

When I began to build my first canoe in 2004, there were no websites or videos on how to build canoes, at least that I knew about. Now there are numerous resources on how to build a strip canoe or kayak. But having these books is very helpful, as they explain things in more detail.

So first to my list, and a bit about each one. Then I’ll expound on a few of them for those so inclined to read on.

My Favorite Canoe-Building Books,
in no particular order:

Ok, now onto some explanation…


Canoecraft would have been sufficient by itself—this very detailed book was all one needed to build a strongback, upon which the canoe is built, the forms which attach to the strongback, and the cedar strip canoe itself. 

This includes attaching the transparent fiberglass outside and in (which makes the canoe waterproof), and the trim— i.e., the decks, gunwales, seats and thwart. 

Canoecraft taught me that one can design and build his or her canoe to make sure it does what was intended. My canoe was built for lakes and placid rivers, not for white water, i.e. rapids in rivers. That meant it has less “rocker”, i.e., the curve along the bottom from bow to stern. 

canoecraft book

I also learned that varying degrees of “tumbledown” made a difference. That’s how vertical the sides of a canoe are from the gunwales down. By having more tumbledown and having the gunwales closer in than the canoe hull, it is easier to reach over the gunwales with a paddle.   

Building a Strip Canoe

building a cedar strip canoe bookBuilding a Strip Canoe by Gil Gilpatrick had detailed instructions on how to weave a cane seat, which I followed to build my seats. Gilpatrick did not use a steam-bent two-part stem made of hardwood for the bow and stern. He simply held the cedar planks on the sides at the bow and stern together and wrapped the fiberglass, which covers the outside and inside of the canoe, around the bow and stern, believing that was strong enough. I’m guessing it is, but I do like the looks of having a wooden stem at either end.

The Art of the Canoe with Joe Seliga 

Rather than cedar strip canoes, this book covers building the “original” type of wooden canoes, the ones with the picturesque ribs inside, covered with painted, waterproof canvas on the outside, which are still being built today. 

This book was given to me before I discovered that the original form used by Joe Seliga, who is now deceased, and some of his canoes are still in use at the YMCA Camp Widjiwagan, north of Ely, Minnesota.

History Meets the Present

I was fortunate enough to visit there on one of my annual canoe and fishing trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area which begins just outside Ely. Their teenage campers portage and paddle these beautiful canoes, some of which are quite old in the BWCA.

They also have the world’s “largest livery of working wooden canoes in the nation.” Their shop uses Mr. Seliga’s original form to repair and build new canoes. History preserved in its finest aspect. 

My Second Canoe

Joe Seliga canoe

*I built my 2nd canoe, skin-on-frame, made of narrow stringers and ribs bent with the use of steam, covered by ballistic nylon, without a book. It is basically the same shape as the first canoe and was built on the same strongback and forms as my first canoe, hence my use of the name, Sautrelle, for both—I and II. I got my info on how to build a skin-on-frame canoe from websites and youtube videos.

Can You Tell I Love Canoes? 

Canoe building is both a craft and an art. Just google cedar strip canoe and you can find numerous photos of these beautiful pieces of workmanship, as well as videos and websites on how to build them. And you will see why so many people have asked me, “you don’t put this beautiful thing in a lake, do you?” 

Yes, I do.

I have three blogs on my website on building this first canoe. To read the first, click here and you can follow through to the third if you so desire. I need to write an additional blog or two to finish the explanation, which I’ll get to one of these days. 🙂

For a good, brief history of canoes in America, click here.

To read about a discovery I made on one of my trips to the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, click here.

And remember, while Covid-19 is going on, my ebook is 99¢ on all the outlets except Amazon (it has to be $2.99 there due to the file size). It’s my way of giving entertainment to everyone while we’re all stuck inside. (Keep on flattening the curve, everyone!)

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