Traditional Cedar-and-Canvas Canoe Construction
Host Rich Hilsinger welcomes viewers to a fascinating glimpse into the world of wood-and-canvas canoes. He travels to Northwoods Canoe Company in Atkinson, Maine, where the master canoe builder and restorer-instructor-historian Rollin Thurlow and his assistant, Elisa Schine, practice the fine craft of building these boats.
Wood-and-canvas construction is rooted in the birchbark canoes of the First Nations people of Maine. We learn about the canoe’s origin and evolution into the present, the history of Maine’s canoe builders, Rollin’s early days working with fellow canoe enthusiast and master builder Jerry Stelmok, the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, and the captivating joys of paddling a wood-and-canvas canoe.
And we see firsthand how these beautiful craft are built. Rollin discusses canoe materials, and why northern white cedar and white ash are his preferred woods. We’re treated to a good look at Northwoods Canoe Company’s steam-bending operation, in which we see a canoe’s ribs being bent into place on the canoe form—and the stems being bent over a plywood jig. Then we observe the planking process, which includes a lesson in the careful selection of stock, the purpose of “goring” strakes, the best tools to use, copper tacking patterns, and proper nailing techniques.
Next comes the stretching of canvas over the completed hull. Using a come-along, hardwood clamps, vertical bracing, and a winch, Rollin and Elisa create a “canvas envelope” into which the canoe is placed, and they then pull the canvas taut for fastening. It’s a simple but ingenious rig that enables the canvas to conform to the hull, and the process is fascinating to watch. We also discuss canvas fillers, canvasing a square-stern canoe, paints and varnishes, gunwales, seats, and stem bands.