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My Redbird by Bill Toups, Louisiana, USA

Posted on February 19 2014

By WW Toups

I first became interested in building a strip canoe while looking at and issue of Southern Living Magazine.  In the background of one of the pictures there was a beautiful canoe in a pond.  There was a reference to the builder of the canoe being Wood Song Canoes.  After visiting their website I was truly  impressed with the beauty of the canoes that they built.  My interest was further enhanced after visiting several websites on strip canoe building.  Bear Mountain really caught my attention.  After looking at the plans and materials offered, I became determined to try my hand at building one.  I picked out the Redbird as my favorite.

About that time the annual Wooden Boat Show in Madisonville, Louisiana was in progress.  I decided to go in the hopes that someone might have built a strip canoe.  To my surprise and joy, a young man had built my "choice"---the Redbird.  After discussing at length just what he had done in the building process, I was sure that I had to build the Redbird.  I purchased a copy of Canoe Craft and a set of Redbird plans and started on my adventure.  I built my strong back per the instructions in Canoe Craft and started cutting out the mold stations.  At this time I became aware of the builders forum that was available at Bear Mountain.  The forum became an invaluable source of help and information throughout the construction.  I met and became very good friends with a gentleman named John Michne.  We became good friends via email and shared many questions and answers throughout my adventure.

I had access so some 100+ year old cypress lumber that I used for most of the material for my Redbird.  I planned down, ripped, beaded and coved all of my strips for the canoe.  I was aware that I could have bought all the strips already for to use, but I wanted to be able to truly say I had done all the work myself.. It was time consuming but very rewarding to see the bulk cypress turn the strips for construction.  I commenced applying the strips to the station molds.  I had to make a decision on how to hold the strips to the molds as I applied the next strip.  I did not like the way some had approached this situation by stapling each strip to the molds.  Although it was a fast method, I did not like the fact that the staple holes would be seen upon completion of the canoe.  There were several different solutions that other builders had come up with, clamps, shims, etc.  I came up with what I thought was a very simple solution.  After clamping the first strip to the molds, I just used twine and looped around each previous strip in as many places necessary and tightened.  It was a slower method as I had to wait several hours for the glue to set before proceeding with the next strips.  But there were no staple holes to spoil the looks of the finished canoe.  Progress was slow and steady but very rewarding.  I did mix several other woods, which included mahogany, walnut and pine in the construction.  This is where individual ideas come into play.  The basic canoe is like an artist's canvas, many combinations of different woods and pattern designs are possible.  It was a  lot of fun coming up with different design ideas.  Now came the moment that had bothered me the most.  The canoe construction was finished, fiber glassing was next.  But as per Bear Mountain and Canoe Craft instructions, everything went off without a problem.. I now had before me my finished Redbird strip canoe.  Needless to say I was very pleased and proud of the outcome.

For the maiden voyage of the Redbird, my wife and I decided that surely a beautiful canoe should have her maiden voyage in the most picturesque setting possible.  We picked several sites in Arkansas and Missouri that had beautiful streams and scenery.  Being from Louisiana, we do not have streams with rocky bottoms.  The first site that we had picked was beautiful but upon looking at the stream, which unfortunately was during  the low water time of year, I say rocks and more rocks below the surface.  I did not feel too keen on launching the Redbird in these conditions.  It just did not seem right to possibly scratch up the bottom on the first outing.  We rented a canoe with the intentions of surveying what we would be facing and then make a decision on whether to launch the Redbird.  After many encounters with rocks and other underwater obstructions, we decided to postpone the Redbird launching.  It was an amusing situation, because wherever we stopped, for food and lodging along the way, people would come up and admire the beauty of the Redbird.  Everyone made the same comment----"you're not going to put that beautiful canoe in the water around here are you?"  The Redbird never left the top of our vehicle for the whole trip.  Her launching was postponed until we got back home.  Louisiana has many State Parks with lovely canoe trails which we have enjoyed in our Redbird.

My whole experience with constructing the Redbird was extremely enjoyable and rewarding   I was very proud of the results and have received many compliment, of which I appreciated very much.  It also showed that such projects can be done by people with little or no experience but are willing to give it a try, especially with all the help that is available from so many people.  I look forward to passing my Redbird on to my heirs, sometime in the distant future.

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