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Traditional Wood-and-Canvas Canoe Construction

The art of the canoe with a master builder.

Tuition: $875

Note: This is a six-day course ending on Saturday afternoon.

wood and canvas canoe

Cedar-and-canvas canoes are more popular than ever. 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.

wood and canvas canoe

Rollin Thurlow has been building and using, writing and teaching about wood-and-canvas canoes for years. Elisa Schine has been using canoes since she was a teenager and building and restoring wood-and-canvas canoes for many years, including the last six at Rollin’s Northwoods Canoe Company. In this course, the instructors will lead you through the complete construction of two traditional Maine Guide canoes, the 17’ Atkinson Traveler and a 15’ Willow; and a 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 pre-bend 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.

Wood canvas canoe photo
Rollin Thurlow is widely recognized as a leader in the field of wood-and-canvas canoe construction. After taking his class, it is easy to see why!”
T.B., Kenosha, Wisconsin
Rollin Thurlow is a very patient and knowledgeable man and a great instructor. The course was exactly what I wanted to experience and most enjoyable. I had a wonderful week and met so many interesting people of all ages. Thanks!”
T.A., Florence, Massachusetts
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