Building The Prospector Canoe — Part 2

It’s August!  And I’m not paddling yet.  “Free time” has been in short supply.  My canoe project has taken a backseat to work.  But, here we are again and I’ve got some progress to share.

The last Prospector chronicle left us with a fully constructed mold and some stems.  My dad, Ron Klebba has helped with some of the process as well as my girlfriend, Laura Buchan.  I’ve been hanging it from the ceiling from a pulley system and bringing it down when I’ve had time to work on it.  That orange spraypaint you see on the strongback legs matches up with some orange spraypaint on the floor so I know it’s consistently level.

We’ve since milled that pile of cedar strips to it’s final thickness and put a cove on one edge and a bead on the other edge of each strip.  We sent all the 18 foot strips through our wide belt sander then each strip went through two different router table set ups.  That process was a bit annoying.   It was pretty much a half day of router noise…  not a glorious refined noise.  If you’re planning on making a canoe and are not concerned with building or milling every aspect of your canoe, here’s a helpful link.

After the all the router milling, we spent some time fairing the molds to the curve of the boat.  We spent a couple hours with handplanes and rasps, beveling the edges of the molds.  We tacked a strip of cedar to the center mold and gently curved it towards the stems.  This gives you an idea of the eventual shape of the hull and you shape the molds to it.

Then we shaped the inner stems.  We took a shorter strip of cedar, curving it over the first and second molds towards the stems.  From there, it was easy to see how to shape the stem to accept the planking.  Dad excelled at this task.  We made pretty quick work of the top near the shearline, then down the bow.  We didn’t shape the stems all the way down — Dad recommended shaping them a little at a time — this made a whole lot of sense later, because it’s really hard to  accurately tell exactly what the hull was eventually going to be shaped like — it’s easier going bit by bit and not taking off too much.

Ted Moores book “Canoecraft” primarily uses the staple system to make a canoe, wherein you adhere a strip to a strip with glue, then staple it to the molds to hold it in place while the glue dries.  He discusses another, more elegant method in his book called the “stapleless system”.  We opted for that.  I didn’t want the look of staple holes in the side of my canoe.  And, realistically, using wedges and shims to push the strips into each other creates a tighter gluejoint than just stapling a strip to the mold.  And who doesn’t like a challenge, right?  We’re fully grown mammals.

There was a lot of preperation next.  You have to put packing tape or wax over the molds so the strips don’t stick from their glue squeeze out.  We used packing tape.  Then you have to make all sorts of small blocks out of plywood or hardwood to accept the first strip.  Then you need to make a small army of hold down blocks that will accept a wedge and shim to push one plank into the last.

The first strip sets the stage for everything else.  Bead down, cove up, set on blocking to hold it tight to the sheerline.  You get to set a nice gradual curve with that first strip to start most of the other strips out on.  I clamped it in place, stepped back, let gravity do most of the arch, and went for it.  It is very important you level that first strip on each side to the other side — port and starboard.  Or left and right.

Each strip gets glued to the next with a bead of glue in the cove and glued to the stems at the bow and stern.  I handled the stems with my trusty cam clamps — they apply an appropriate amount of pressure and are quick.

The stapleless system makes good use of shims and wedges.  You hammer in wedges til you see that sweet glue squeezeout over there in the right of the photo.

Move blocking.  Glue.  Place next strip.  Screw blocking back in.  Wedge.  Shim. Clean glue squeeze out.  Repeat.

Early in the process of stripping the hull, Dad went back to Michigan for the summer.  I realized very quickly that I needed a second pair of talented hands…  My girlfriend rules.  Our date nights working on a canoe were much cooler than that romantic comedy you had to go to…

We used some of that color variation in the cedar to create some stripes on the canoe.

The strips flew on initially.  When we got to the bilge (the underside curve of the hull) around the future waterline, the strips had a compound curve to them that was tricky to hold in place.

When clamping the ends of the planks to the stem, you have to get inventive.  I made different wedges, odd shaped shims, used packing tape (Ted recommends this) and the occasional precarious clamp set up.  Squeeze out?  Check.

At this point, we’re past the stems.

The sheerline on the Prospector extends up (down on the mold) past the first strip.  One thing that wasn’t too thoroughly explained in the book was this process, but I basically wedged cut off strips UP into that first strip.  it worked really well.  Later, we cut the gentle curve of the boat into these strips.

After both stems are covered by strips, we crossed the centerline on just one side of the hull.  This process goes really fast compared to the bilge.

Once the centerline has been crossed completely with odd, jagged cutoff planks sticking out into the other half it’s time to cut the centerline.  This process was very gratifying.  We tacked a nail into the center of the bottom of each stem, then ran a piece of string between them.

From there, we took a nice, straight flat ruler sighting along the string and put a sharp line with pen into the cedar.  Then we used chisels to cut right up to that line

That’s Laura Buchan chiseling up to the centerline.  Laura is an amazing sculptor and I highly recommend you check out her work — she currently has pieces on display at The Northwest Woodworkers Gallery in Seattle.

After chiseling really close to the centerline, a rabbet plane puts the final edge on.

Center LINE.

Each strip from here on out has to be fitted from end to end.  And because of the fact that there’s a bead that is going into a cove, each strip has to be a little bit longer than you think it should be…  Laura and I had some serious cedar wrangling.

In Ted’s book, the last 2 strips are glued together at the curve, then basically scribed into place.  The above shot is a picture of the setup we did on my workbench to glue them to the approximate curve.

Notice all of those curly shavings?  I would try to fit it…  then realize it was too tight, mark it, take a little bit more off with a hand plane, then do it all over again…

…until FINALLY I had the shape I was looking for.

Then, we put the glue on, put it in place, and tightened it with packing tape.

The final shape of the hull.

I really wonder now how many people have been ambitious enough to take on a canoe project around April and expect to use it by summer time, only to reassess and aim for fall.  Or spring.  Next up, we’re fitting the outer stems, SANDING, and then some…  Enjoy the rest of your August…  summer is fading FAST!




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10 Responses to Building The Prospector Canoe — Part 2

  1. Raphael Dagold says:

    Dude, you’re so fly.

  2. Tim Roth says:

    This is incredible! I’ve often dreamed and alluded to building a canoe, and this write-up gives a much more realistic assessment of what to expect should any of us attempt to undertake such an ambitious project. Would this even be possible for a layman woodworker? It seems like you have every tool you need and I anticipate it taking a lifetime to amass anything similar to your library.

    • Ben says:


      Thanks. I do have a pile of tools I’ve collected over the years and so do my shop mates and so does my dad… that happens. But I think this is totally possible for the layman… I’d recommend buying Ted Moores’ book “Canoecraft” first. Read it over and see what you think is possible with the tools you do have. You may have to buy a kit instead of doing every stage of construction and you may have to buy a few tools, but the initial investment will be very rewarding.

  3. Mike Payne says:

    This is really amazing. I have been wanting to take on a project with my son that we could work on in phases and as time permits. This could be an awesome learning experience for both of us. Thanks for sharing the steps and information. Might be a little cheaper, and take up less space than a ’55 Chevy pickup rat-rod project that I had in mind. Looking forward to seeing the finished project.


  4. Katie says:

    Ben, it looks fantastic! You’ve come so far and put in a ton of good work. I can’t wait to see it after a good sanding! Ryan and I thought we’d be able to finish in August – we started in mid-February – but it’s taking MUCH longer than anticipated. So far I think the hardest part, even just mentally, has been shaping and putting in the final few strips to meet the centerline. Ugh. It’s taking forever!

    Anyway, I can’t wait to see more progress, keep it up!

    • Ben says:


      Thank you! Your canoe is looking reaally nice on the ‘Gram. Where you at? Are you done with the strips? I’m going to fit the outer stems next weekend, then start sanding… I’m really looking forward to the sanding and not looking forward to it at the same time… I want it done!

  5. Leroy says:

    I am so glad that I found your site. I am building a Prospector as well and I was a bit foggy on how to build without nail or staple holes. You guys sure have it down to science.
    I have my strong back built and have the formers cut out and sanded. I’ll hopefully be placing the formers in place today.
    I found some wonderful Western Red Cedar in West Bend, Wisconsin. These guys had material from 16 to 24 feet in length and 4″ to 12″ in width. I bought 1″x4″x18’s, 12 of them. I have them planed and am going to try my hand at ripping the strips today. My shop is 24×24 so the neighbors are going to get to hear machines running for a while. The planer isn’t too noisy until you pull dust collector air over the cutter head.
    Thank you so much for taking the time to post your photos and porogress.

    • Ben says:


      Thanks for comment. The ripping will take you a while — featherboard featherboard featherboard — and 2 people REALLY helps on boards that long. I don’t know how I would’ve done it solo. We just finished gluing the outside stems on. This weekend we sand and shape the hull and make a keel. Good luck. And ever onward. Keep me posted on how it’s going —


  6. gerry says:

    Laura is seriously talented and an amazing good person. I had the opportunity to see her work at Western Oregon University where we did our undergraduate work; I am glad to hear that she is doing well.

    Your canoe is awesome. Your ambition commendable.

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