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Canoebuilding - which building method to choose?

Building a wooden canoe yourself is a big but also very fulfilling project. Depending on how much sill, time and equipment you have available, different building methods come into question for you. You want to build a wooden canoe yourself and you are still unsure which building method you want to use? Maybe you will find an answer in our comparison:


The most challenging building method is probably the stripbuilding method, in which concave and convex milled wooden strips are glued together on stations to form a filigree hull. This can be done easily and quickly with staples or, much more laborious but also more beautiful, stapleless. Basically any type of wood is suitable for making the strips, since the wood plays more of a shaping role due to the subsequent sealing with GRP (glass reinforced plastic). The wood properties are of secondary importance here. Only ensure that the wood can be processed well and is not too heavy. It is not without reason that the wood of Thuja plicata, known as red cedar, has become popular for this building method. It is very light, homogeneous, easy to work with, extremely durable and, by the way, smells very good. To make the strips you need a table saw and a router table. Depending on the width of the boat, you will need about 80-100 pieces, preferably in full length. If the strips are too short, you can also join them together. Next, you need a strongback on which you can place the stations. The strongback should be as stable and straight as possible. On it, you set up the stations, which you saw out yourself with the help of a construction plan. Take your time to align the stations on the strongback so that your canoe will be symmetrical later. Start the planking from the gunwales and work upwards towards the keel. The first strips are still easy to attach, but from the top of the stems you have to fill the hole at the keel, where more demanding adjustment work is required. This is followed by sanding the outer hull and finally applying the fiberglass reinforced epoxy. This is an art in itself and does not have to be done perfectly the first time. What is important is a suitable temperature, a matching system of glass fabric and resin, concentrated and speedy work, and good safety protection. After laminating the outer hull, the wooden canoe is lifted from the stations and sanded from the inside. This is followed by sanding and laminating the inner hull, which is much more challenging than the outside simply because of the shape. After both sides are laminated, the cured epoxy is finely sanded to prepare it for later varnishing. Before the varnish will be applied, the inner and outer gunwales, seats, thwart and decks have to be installed. We could write several blog articles about these parts alone, so you can see that it's not all that easy to build a wooden canoe yourself. If you have a little bit of skills and read up on the many good books about canoe building, you will definitely be able to do the project!


The stitch-and-glue canoebuilding method is similar to the stripbuilding method, but instead of narrow wooden strips, the hull is built from plywood sheets. These are sawn out according to a construction plan and, following their special shape, result in the hull shape of the canoe. The planks of 5mm thick plywood are first "stitched" with wire and then glued with epoxy, sanded and finally laminated with GRP. The stitch-and-glue method inevitably results in a hard chined or multi chined hull, which are hull shapes with edges. Who does not like this is better advised with the strip construction method, otherwise the stitch-and-glue construction method is our tip for you if you have little time but still want to build your canoe yourself.

Skin-on-Frame / Fuselage-Frame

Our favorite building method is the skin-on-frame method, which can be realized in the traditional way with steam-bent ribs or in the modern, fuselage-frame method. In traditional construction, a wooden frame is built up from gunwales, steam-bent ribs (the transverse frames) and stringers (longitudinal frames), which are knotted together with artificial sinew. In the fuselage frame construction method, the steam-bent ribs are replaced by components made of plywood, which is less time-consuming and does not require a steam box. The wooden frame, which gives the canoe its shape, is then conscientiously oiled, covered with fabric and varnished. Polyamide (nylon), polyester or even cotton are suitable for covering. The varnish waterproofs the fabric and finally turns the wooden frame into a canoe. This construction method is recommended if you want to build a very light and yet robust canoe yourself. The materials used are more user-friendly than in the stripbuilding method. Also, the SOF construction method requires less diligence work, such as days of sanding. Should you decide to use the traditional SOF building method, you can look forward to steam bending, which is really the highlight of craftsmanship in skin-on-frame canoebuilding! We wrote another article about building you own steam box, by the way...

The delicate-looking wooden frame and transparent exterior, through which the sun shines and shows the frame and the canoeists' legs as shadows, often lead to the conclusion that SOF canoes are not very robust. Many encounters with rocks and branches have shown us that they are, so we would recommend Skin-on-Frame canoes for rivers as well!


In addition to the demands on your craftsmanship, the choice of design and the area of use of the canoe as well as the material, the price also matters, of course.

1. Costs

Stripbuilding is significantly more expensive than the other canoebuilding methods. If you want to use red cedar and ash wood you should calculate about 1000-1200€ for the complete material for a self-built strip canoe. The stitch-and-glue construction method is a bit cheaper here and certainly attractive for many because of the less time required. The skin-on-frame construction method is the cheapest. Here you should manage to build a canoe with about 500-600€ if you use Red Cedar and Ash wood.

2. Time

In terms of time, which of course depends on your skills and experience, you will need to spend the most time for the stripbuilding method and the least for the skin-on-frame method.

3. Ecologial aspects

Considering ecological aspects, the skin-on-frame construction method has clear advantages. The wooden construction is treated exclusively with natural oils and remains decomposable. Only the artificial sinew, with which the frame is knotted, as well as the painted skin are made of plastic, although here you can opt for alternatives made of cotton and natural-based paints.

Can't decide yet?

No matter which method you choose, eventually you can paddle in your self-made canoe in a while and the feeling is simply indescribable! We hope that we could help you with this article in choosing the right building method for your wooden canoe and wish you a lot of fun building it yourself!

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