How Long Will My Canoe Build Take?
We often get asked how long a canoe build will take from start to finish. It’s a fair question – knowing how long you’ll have to dedicate your workshop to a particular project can be pretty important. There’s no simple answer, though motivated builders might reasonably anticipate spending around two months. Thanks to our friend Ron Frenette at Canadian Canoes, we can also offer some ballpark estimates for each stage of the process. Your mileage may vary based on a number of factors, including whether you’re working alone or with helpers, your previous woodworking experience, the model you’re building, and even the weather. Still, we hope the following will help you size up the challenges you’re about to tackle.
Setup: ~15 hours
Making the building jig consists of two operations. First is constructing the strongback, a long narrow ‘table’ on which the station molds are attached at 12” intervals. This process is outlined in Canoecraft, as well as the Canoecraft Companion Video.
The second operation is cutting/installing the station molds. Bear Mountain kits can include accurately cut CNC forms. These are an optional item, as many customers choose to lay out the paper plans on 5/8” particle board then cut them out on a band saw. This is the more economical method but depends on the tools one has; in this case, a band saw is essential.
If you purchase the CNC set pre-cut, budget around 3 hours to set them up. If you choose to lay out and cut your own then set up, anticipate 7-8 hours.
Planking: ~25 hours
Regarding the time to strip up the hull, longer and/or deeper canoes will obviously take more time than shorter, shallow canoes. Canoes with complex end curves (e.g. Redbird, Champlain) take more time still. However, on a typical canoe such as a 15’ Ranger, the addition of strips progresses quite quickly once the stems are made and faired (shaped so strips lay flat to the outer edge).
For a first-time builder working with a partner, 25 hours is a fair estimate.
Epoxy Application and Sanding (the wild card)
The sanding of the exterior epoxy application is a wild variable. To cut down on sanding time, be frugal during the application process. Use just enough epoxy to wet out the glass (coat #1), then just enough to fill the weave (coat #2), followed by just enough to bury the weave (coat #3).
Many first-time builders follow the rule that if some epoxy is good, clearly more must be better. Resist this temptation! If the final coat is well applied and brushed out then left to cure for 4-6 days, two woodworkers using 5” variable-speed disc sanders can sand the entire hull in 1 ½ hours, being sure to change the 80-grit sanding disc 6-7 times per side. Good sharp grits are a must when sanding epoxy.
This is a preliminary sanding. The final hand sanding to make a silky-smooth exterior is done much later-by hand (~3 hours). The interior sanding usually proceeds much quicker. In our workshop we used to make really smooth interiors. However, old running shoes with not much tread plus a wet and smooth interior were a recipe for slips and falls. These days we recommend only two coats of interior epoxy. This we sand largely by hand to remove any high spots and runs.
Protective varnish is added later when the epoxy has fully cured. Budget time for four coats.
Thanks again to Ron Frenette for his estimates. Again, we provide these figures as a starting point, but don’t worry if your canoe takes much longer. Many builders chip away at a project on evenings and weekends, taking pleasure in watching its evolution. If you’ve got the time to spare, don’t worry about watching the clock and lose yourself in the process instead.