Containing plain and comprehensive directions for the construction of canoes, rowing and sailing boats and hunting craft.

Sample from: Canoe & Boat Building for Amateurs


Forest and Stream Publishing Co.

The character and object of this book are set forth on its title page. It is a manual designed for the practical assistance of those who wish to build their own canoes.

The number of boating men who find pleasure merely in sailing a boat is small compared with those who delight not only in handling, but as well in planning, building, improving or "tinkering" generally on their pet craft, and undoubtedly the latter derive the greater amount of pleasure from the sport. They not only feel a pride in the result of their work, but their pleasure goes on, independent of the seasons. No sooner do cold and ice interfere with sport afloat than the craft is hauled up, dismantled, and for the next half year becomes a source of unlimited pleasure to her owner - and a nuisance to his family and friends. We know one eminent canoeist who keeps a fine canoe in his cellar and feeds her on varnish and brass screws for fifty weeks of every year.

This class of boating men, to whom, by the way, most of the improvements in boats and sails are due, usually labor under great disadvantages. Their time for such work is limited; they have not the proper outfit of shop and tools, nor the practical knowledge and skill only acquired by the professional builder after years of careful and patient labor; and the latter as a class are unwilling to communicate freely what they have acquired with so much difficulty, and are seldom willing to assist the amateur, even with advice. His only other source of information is reading, and while there are books treating of the construction of large vessels, and others of the use of boats, there are none giving precisely the instructions needed by the beginner in boat building.

Having experienced most of the trials and mishaps that fall to the lot of the tyro, we offer in these pages such help as has proved of the greatest value to ourselves. To the professional builder, some of the instructions may seem elementary and unnecessary; but it must be remembered that we are not writing for him, who by long practice has acquired an accuracy of eye and dexterity, that enable him to shorten, or to dispense altogether with many of the operations described. We are writing for the amateur who, in default of this training, must make up for it by extra care and patience, even at the expense of time, and the methods given are those which have proved best adapted to his peculiar requirements.

Canoe building is treated in detail, as the processes involved are common to all boatbuilding, only requiring greater care and skill than ordinary work; and the principles, once mastered, may be applied to the construction of any of the simpler craft, such as rowboats and skiffs.

It has been impossible to give due credit to the originators for many of the devices and inventions described; but to all such we return thanks in behalf of the great army of amateur builders and sailors, in which we claim a place.


The word canoe has two distinct meanings, having been applied, for how long a time no one knows, to boats of long and narrow proportions, sharp at both ends and propelled by paddles held in the hand, without a fixed fulcrum, the crew facing forward. The members of this great family vary greatly in size and model, from the kayak of the Esquimau, to the long war canoes, 80 to 100 feet long, of the islands of the Pacific. Within the past twenty years the word has been applied in England and America in a more limited sense, to small craft used for racing, traveling and exploring, as well as the general purposes of a pleasure boat, the main essentials being those mentioned above, while sails and a deck are usually added, the double paddle being used exclusively. In Canada the term has for a long time been applied to a similar boat, used for hunting and fishing, without decks, and propelled by a single paddle. The following pages will refer only to the second meaning given, as the one of most importance to the amateur builder, and as the instructions given will apply equally to the simpler and less complicated Canadian open canoe.

The modern canoe which, although in use for some years previously, may be said to date from Mr. MacGregor's cruises and books, 1865, 6 and 7, was in its early years divided into two distinct classes, Rob Roy and Nautilus, to which a third, Ringleader, was afterward added, but the many changes and improvements have so multiplied the models, that such names as Nautilus, Pearl, Shadow, Jersey Blue, etc., convey no definite idea of the boat's model or dimension. There are now no less than nine widely different models named Nautilus, six named Pearl, the Jersey Blue has changed entirely, and half a dozen builders each offer a different Shadow, while dozens of other models have sprung up, so that such a division is no longer possible.

Modern canoes may, however, be classed in a different manner, according to the relative proportions of their paddling and sailing qualities, thus:

Paddling Canoes - Propelled solely by paddle.
Sailable Paddling - Sail being used as auxiliary, as in the early Rob Roy.
Sailing and Paddling - Both qualities being about equal, as in most cruising canoes.
Paddleable Sailing - Fitted mainly for sailing, as the later English boats, the paddle being auxiliary.
Sailing - Larger boats for two or three, using oars as auxiliaries, as the Mersey canoes.

For racing purposes a different classification has been adopted here, which, with the English, is given in the Appendix.

The first point in building a canoe is to decide on the model and dimensions, and this each man must do for himself, considering carefully the purpose for which be will use his canoe, the water she will sail on, the load to be carried, and similar details. The designs given cover all the different classes of canoes, and from them one can be selected as a basis for modification and improvement, to suit the builder. The following general directions will aid the novice in deciding on the main features of his craft:

For small streams and rivers, where portages have to be made, and sailing is of but little importance, a canoe 14 ft.x27 in. is most commonly used. She should have a flat floor, little or no keel, ends well rounded, little sheer. For general cruising work under sail and paddle, a canoe 14 ft.x3O in., with flat floor, good bearings, sternpost nearly upright, model full enough to carry crew and stores easily, a keel of 2 to 3 in. or a centerboard. For large rivers, bays and open waters, a canoe 14 ft.x33 in. or 15ftx31 1/2 in., fitted with a metal centerboard of greater or less weight. The tyro will be safe in following either of these types, according to his purpose as they are the ones usually preferred by canoeists.

Any object floating in water will sink until it displaces a weight of water equal to its own weight, thus with a canoe, if the hull weighs 9Olbs., fittings 13lbs., sails and spars 15lbs., crew 145lbs., and tent, stores, etc., 5Olbs., the total weight being 313lbs., it will sink until it displaces 313 lbs. of water, or 313/62.5=5 cubic feet, as one cubic foot of fresh water weighs 62.5lbs. If in salt water, the divisor would be 65, a foot of the latter being 2-1/2lbs. heavier than fresh.

Now, if that portion of our canoe which is below her proposed waterline contains less than 5 cu. ft., through being cut away too much, the boat will sink deeper than was intended, diminishing the freeboard and increasing the draft. This fault is found in some of the smaller canoes with fine lines, as when loaded to their full capacity they sink so deep as to be hard to paddle, and unsafe in rough water. To guard against it, a rather full model is desirable for cruising, where stores, etc., must be carried, it being hardly necessary to calculate the displacement, as is done with larger boats.

If, in making a model, a block of wood be taken 14 in. long, 2-1/2 in. wide and 1/2 in. thick, or one-twelfth as large each way as the portion of a 14 ft. canoe below water, it will contain 17.5 cu. in., and if our model, when cut from this block, contains but 5 cu. in., it will be 5/17.5 or .28 of the original block. This fraction, .28, is called the coefficient of the displacement, and expresses the proportion between the bulk of the boat below water and a solid whose dimensions are the length on loadline, the beam on loadline, and the depth from loadline to the outside of the bottom next the keel. In yachts it varies from .25 to .50, the former being called "light displacement" and the latter "heavy displacement" boats.

The displacement can be obtained, if desired, by first weighing the entire block, and after cutting out the model weighing that also, the ratio of one to the other being the coefficient of displacement mentioned above.

In the first class of canoes referred to, it is important to have the draft as light as is possible, as they are used often in very shoal waters. If built with a flat floor they need not draw over 4-1/2 or 5 in., the keel adding about 1 in. more. Canoes of the second class usually draw 6 in. exclusive of keel, which varies from 1 to 3 in., the latter being the extreme limit allowed by the Association rules. The larger canoes are mostly centerboard boats, and draw from 6 to 7 in. with no outside keel. The draft should be decided on and the position of the waterline fixed in the design, and the canoe trimmed to it as nearly as possible at first, changes in the ballasting being afterward made if they seem necessary.

The freeboard is the distance from the water to the deck, and in most canoes it is less than it should be. The "least freeboard," or the distance from the water to the lowest point of the deck, may be 4, 5, and 6 in. respectively for each of the classes.

The curve of the gunwale from the bow downward to the middle of the boat, and up again at the stern, is called the sheer. The height of the bow above the point where the freeboard is least, is usually 3 in. in the first class of canoes, and 6 to 7 in. in the latter two, the stem being about 2 in. lower than the bow in each.

The rocker is the curve of the keel upward from a straight line. and should be about 2 in. for a 14 ft. boat.

The midship section is a section across the boat at its greatest beam, and on its shape the model of the boat largely depends. As a canoe must carry a comparatively heavy load on a light draft, and must sail with little ballast, a flat floor is desirable. The sides should be vertical or slightly flaring, the "tumble home" or rolling in of the upper streak detracting from stability, and being of no use.

The round of deck may be 3 in. in a 27 in. boat, and 3-1/2 in. in a 30 to 33 in. boat, as a high crown adds greatly to the room below, frees the deck quickly of water, and no valid objection can be made to it.