Traditional Wood-and-Canvas Canoe Construction
The art of the canoe with a master builder.
- Rollin Thurlow — June 30–July 6
Note: This is a six-day course ending on Saturday afternoon.
Cedar-and-canvas canoes are coming back. Not only are they wonderful to look at and a pleasure to build, they also perform quite well. This construction method permits a clean, sharp entry and a subtle shape that is difficult to achieve with aluminum or fiberglass. The century-old technology of clenching thin planks to steamed frames and then covering the hull with a tight canvas skin yields an amazingly flexible and rugged craft. And the ingenious forms developed years ago by companies like Old Town and E.M. White make the building process relatively quick and easy.
Rollin Thurlow has been building and using, writing and teaching about wood-and-canvas canoes for years. In this course, he will lead you through the complete construction of one traditional Maine Guide canoe, the 17′ Atkinson Traveler, and one traditional Maine fishing canoe, the 15′ square-sterned Kingfisher.
You’ll start by steam-bending the clear cedar ribs onto the two forms. While they cure, you’ll make up ash thwarts and prebend the stems and gunwales. Then comes the fitting and fastening of the planking—a good chance to practice hand-tool skills in a very satisfying process. Working this thin cedar is a real pleasure.
At week’s end, you will canvas the canoes in the traditional manner, using the “envelope” method, stretching the canvas drum-tight, tacking it in place, and filling the outside weave with a special compound. Between steps, there may be time to carve your own paddle—a fascinating project unto itself. Three students will leave this course with a new canoe nearly ready for paint and varnish; all will leave with knowledge and experience of what is probably the most indigenous of American boatbuilding techniques, a process directly evolved from birchbark canoes and still very much alive today.