FAQ – Designing and building sailing and paddling canoes. Strip vs Plywood

This thread was somewhat rambling but covered a lot of ground.

  • How sailing and paddling canoe shapes differ.
  • How traditional canoe designs work really well and a lot of modern ones don’t.
  • Building a canoe – is ply or cedar strip better?
  • How to build a lightweight canoe – selection of materials – ply vs strip plank and timber species
  • Books for canoebuilding.

I don’t know why you guys are waiting for me to turn up – you have put the fires out nicely. A couple of loose threads I noted on the way through.

Strip Plank vs Plywood

Originally Posted by Biting Midge

Probably, but why? Stripping is not an easy, cheap or particularly efficient way of building. It’s there for you if you enjoy the process, or want to produce a particular hull shape, or (as in Mik’s case) want to produce a lightweight special, but you have to know what you are doing to achieve that.

So either build a nice stripper because you like the shape and want to produce a “collectable”, or build quick, light and efficiently in ply!

Agreed about almost all – but the cedar strip does allow you to work towards really effective hullshapes with hollow enough ends to give a huge amount of directional stability – which was the lesson I learned from the Balsa Wee Lassie. Great for classic canoes. It is interesting to see that a lot of the modern boats derived for stripping don’t have that same amount of hollow in the stems – so are a degrade from the original[

The other thing I learned is that you can cut the density of timber by half and the thickness of the glass by 5/6ths and the boat will still be strong enough for anything the water can throuw at it. You do lose some durability as far as handling on land.

Fitting a shallow keel to make a canoe sail

Originally Posted by Clinton

Keel: I was thinking about three things for my paddling canoe:
1. 2 or 3 inches of keel laid the length of the canoe for sideways “bite” (nice techo term!)
2. an offset keel so I can kneel in the canoe and paddle on one side only – keel balances the single side paddling.
3. I would like to be able to add a sail, and a canoe would be a dog of a shape for a sail??

1,2 Don’t do it – you will ruin the canoe. The traditional designs are beautiful compromises between directional stability and manoeverability.

3 Paddling canoes can make very fast sailing boats – their only real drawback is their reluctance to change direction – OK as far as course changes and gybing but they just won’t make it through a tack – just keep a paddle handy or be prepared to sail out of being in irons by sailing backward.

There are two ways of going with sailing canoes – build a more sailing oriented design or build some drop in outriggers and put a monster sail on for scorching performance. You don’t need a cantreboard because the leeward outrigger will take the lateral loads. The other way is just to put a basic little rig with an integrated leeboard – see website for simple light solutions.

Are skegs and rudders that are used on kayaks necessary or useful for canoes

Originally Posted by Clinton

Skegs and rudders are used in Kayaks, but not on Canoes. Each are subjected to the same conditions that make using a skeg/rudder a good idea on a kayak. So, why have a keel/skeg/rudder for the canoe?

Kayaks are open sea boats. If using them inshore like a canoe is designed to do you don’t really need a rudder for either.

Different types of sailing canoes

Originally Posted by Dingo

1) The one below the is not a canoe… well okay maybe it is but I bet its a superduper light weight flyin machine the wing he’s sittin on is the only way you can stear the thing!… my view? its a racing sailing scull rather than a canoe… the one on the right is a sailing canoe

here are the two photos that Dingo was talking about.

Photo of Beth Sailing Canoe taken at Tuncurry. storerboatplans.com

Both are sailing canoes – the one one with the leaning plank the jib and mainsail and going like the clappers is an International 10m2Canoe – derived from the same sort of craft that my Beth Canoe (above) is based on but updated over 100 years into a serious sailing machine – until recently the fastest sailing monohull in the world.

But the downside is that both boats will be rotten paddlers compared to a classic stripper design. The pure higher performance sailing shape will blow around horribly for a start and its leeboards might be JUST big enough to go upwind OK. It’ll be a bit of a dog upwind.

Which boat is better for rough inland water – Canoe or Kayak?

Originally Posted by Dingo

you want to shoot the rapids of some river or do some beach paddling find a set of plans for a kayak and go to it… however if you plan on gently muckin about on still quiet waters build a canoe if you want to include some quiet sailing then make a mast and partner and get a sail and some haliyards and go to it

There have been a lot of seriously big rapids handled with canoes as well as kayaks – I doubt whether many kayaks got the chance to see rapids ever until recently – whereas canoes were the vessels that opened up the whole interior of Canada and the USA. Including many wild rivers.

What is the difference between Canoes and Kayaks superficially and in terms of shape

Originally Posted by Midge

Canoes and Kayaks are fundamentally different craft, balanced differently, paddled differently. Sort of like sports car vs panel van (sorry canoe enthusiasts, I couldn’t find a better analogy in a hurry!)

Dangerous waters Midge!!! Not a good analogy at all. Canoes are open – kayaks are decked. End of story.

The only forming factor is that a canoe cannot be as fine and as low in the ends at deck level as a kayak – the water would come aboard – but still quite possible to make very fast paddling canoes.

Most of the classic canoes have been designed to carry real loads or paddle beautifully laden light – Chestnut Prospector (my favourite two person canoe – reputed to carry 1000lbs of furs and still paddle nicely with only one person aboard.), Sairey Gamp, Wee Lassie. But there are some narrower ones more oriented to carrying light loads – much like sea kayaks and with similar speed.

Comments on the International 10m2 sailing canoe

Originally Posted by Clinton1

Thanks Michael,
I was interested to see what comments came up on the International 10m2 class… its such a pity its just a ‘go fast’ evolution. It’d be nice if you could compromise between the two (sail/paddle) without losing so much from each aspect. I’ve been telling myself that this class is ‘not practicable’ for a while now – still want one though!

The 10sq Metre canoes are wonderful to sail – particularly upwind and crosswind – I sailed one for an hour or so on Lake Macquarie quite a few years ago. Very sweet and viceless and terribly fast. Proves once again that if you want good handling – go for a narrow boat with a narrow stern!! (this is just me venting!)

Hollow ends and fine entry angle – what are they – what do they do?


“really effective hullshapes with hollow enough ends to give a huge amount of directional stability”

– sorry mate, I’m a total beginner… can you tell me what that means (and why, if possible).

Now Mr Clinton – I need to speak some slightly harsh words to you – but my purpose it for the purposes of your education.

If you are a beginner – why are you coming up with all these ideas? I can tell you that in particular the keel idea was pretty awful.

What you need to understand is that wooden canoe technology goes back at least 300 years without counting the Indians in the equation at all (there are thousands of years of development really). And the boats were used for more serious adventures than either of us will ever undertake – people’s lives depended on them – they used them day in and day out to cover real distances with real loads often in adverse conditions.

The point is that the lessons are there in the traditional boats – that it actually is pretty hard to improve their shapes for their purpose. There are a number of things that you can do to improve their construction – epoxy glass does give a nice strong boat with low maintenance which is very unlike the old boats. But the older construction methods probably would have been more at home in rapids and other nasty situations – canvas covered ribs – you can afford to break a few and the boat will still be watertight. It is also pretty easy to stitch a patch into the canvas if it is torn.


hollow enough ends to give a huge amount of directional stability

If you look end on at any of the classic wooden canoes (my Wee Lassie here) the first foot or three of the boat at water level and below is a vertical fin. The stern is the same. The fin at either end keeps the boat tracking in a straight line even in big winds and waves. It also makes them harder to turn – but directional stability is an excellent property of a good touring boat.

This is one area (apart from their excessive weight) where fibreglass canoe designs mostly fall down badly. The people who often design them don’t know about the directional stability – so the first thing they do when drawing up a new design is make the forward part of the boat very full and get rid of those nice hollows – get rid of the vertical fins. Their idea is to make the boat easier to build – make it easier to get the glass into the mould. But wander around they do and they don’t cut the waves like the old boats.

Before you start worrying there is little problem getting the glass into that area of a stripper canoe – there is very little problem – it is a little more fiddly than the rest of the interior – but you don’t even have to do a particularly speccy job because it is inside the buoyancy tank for the bigger boats (though my Wee Lassie didn’t have them.

It is a revelation paddling one of the older designs too – particularly in company with fibreglass or polyethelene boats. They have to make three paddle strokes to your two. If you match their stroke rate you pull away and end up having to stop and wait for them around the corner.

There are some nice fibreglass boats around too – particularly in Canada and the USA – not so many nice glass canadians here in Oz or the Philippines.

Timber Density and saving weight


Your comment about reducing the density of the timber – is that by using a less dense timber, or by using thinner strips?

Density is the property of the timber. The balsa I used is around 12lbs a cubic foot. The cedar is normally around 23. Used 7mm vs the normal 6mm strips for cedar.

Paulownia (kirri) is a good compromise between robustness and light weight.

The wonderful Chestnut Prospector and strip dimensions and sailing


The Chestnut Prospector is the strip canoe that is in the latest Aust. Woodworker – it prompted this thread. It looks nice – 4935mm (16 foot?) long and 25-27kg.
It was made from 19 x 6 mm WRC.

Had a peer through the article at the newsagents yesterday. It goes to show just how cool these boats are. The one in the magazine wasn’t the best built I have seen but it was far from the worst. And even the worst worked beautifully in the water.

The thickness of the strips is normal but you can often get the width up more towards 22 or 24mm if the timber dimensions will allow it – saves a bit of labour and a bit of material cost.

The plans and method for the prospector are in “Canoecraft” along with around 8 other plans for some extremely cool canoes.

I think the Prospector is the nicest in the book – there is nothing bad to say about it. Carries a huge load, paddles well light, paddles nicely with one or two aboard, turns nicely and has a good reputation in rapids (for those who dare). A good honest boat with a wide range of capability.

Have a look at a couple of books – find a canoe that you think will work for you – and go for it. Stick to the traditional details – build the way the book suggests and you will end up with an excellent boat. Six months after launching you won’t be a novice any more.

I can promise you that.

Make a nice paddling boat and there are a couple of simple things you can do to make it a good sailor – without mucking up its paddling ability.

Which is better for a canoe or kayak construction – plywood or strip plank?

Quote Clinton1:

Which is the best method – plywood or strip plank

Howdy Clinton,

Happy to oblige – just did a much longer post and dammit – it got eaten up.

Ok this is my view on strip vs ply.

12lbs How to build a lightweight canoe: storerboatplans.com

If fibreglass canoes (in general – and in Australia – there is more choice overseas) were not so bloody awful to paddle and so heavy there would be little place for a ply canoe except as a fast building compromise type.

The classic timber boats are pretty near perfect in terms of speed, weight, paddling and load carrying.

My Eureka canoes are an attempt to get as close to this as possible in a plywood boat coming out of 2 sheets.

Eureka lightweight easy to build plywood canoe: storerboatplans.com

As you can see the “fin” (normally called a hollow entry) is there and it smooths nicely into a weight bearing midsection. You can see a similar transition in this pic of my Wee Lassie

Note how the volume of the Lassie’s mid body moves upward as your eye moves out to the ends of the boat.

This can sorta be achieved in plywood (picture below), but there is not as much freedom to really get the shape that would be ideal. You can see that the Wee Lassie takes it to an extreme which just can’t be achieved with ply to the same extent

How to lightweight a canoe: Eureka lightweight easy to build plywood canoe: storerboatplans.com

There is also some drag from the chines.


At somewhere between half and a third of the weight of a fibreglass canoe and with some of the features of the classic canoes and the ease of building – then there is a place for a good ply boat.

Won’t be quite up to the stripper, (people are going to be so disappointed if they Google “stripper” and get this page!) but the ply version will still cream (haha) the average glass boat.

Just to remind us all of what I am talking the attached pic below is of a pretty standard glass boat – the hullshape is just a blob. They make a great play in their advertising bumph that “has an external keel running the full length which allows it to track straight”.

More on Eyes, Sheerlines and Plagiarism

One other area where glass boats (mass market varieties anyhow and almost all manufactured in Australia)  fall down badly is that because they are generally marketing driven – ie have to look like canoes rather than be canoes they tend to exaggerate canoe features.

They almost all have the sheerline sweeping up into a high bow.

All it does is add weight and catch the wind – giving that poor overworked keel that they tout in their ads even more to do in terms of directional stability.

When I built the Balsa Wee Lassie I noticed that when put upside down on the floor the boat would tip over onto one gunwale. That gunwale lay flat along the floor its whole length apart from some fluctuations caused by my building skills.

Since then I have always drawn my canoe sheerlines in that way. It does mean that getting the width of the boat right at different points is rather critical to the appearance of the sheerline – but it does give the boat a lovely appearance.

There may be times in the future when I depart from this scheme, but for a general use boat it seems just about perfect.

And I can’t really take any credit apart from grasping the significance of what I saw with my eyes. The real work was done by J Henry Rushton before 1900.

Plywood vs Strip plank 2

Originally Posted by Wild Dingo

plans available from Flatducks youve got Iain Oughtreds McGregor Wee Rob and Beaver then theyve got CLCs plans then Bear Mountains designs and so it goes…

oh and mate? good luck!

There is a lot of choice out there – but the learning only really starts when you have built and have used boats – which even Dingo and Midge have done (how is that Eureka going Midge?).

One of the big problems is perfectionism – looking for the perfect boat – no such thing. Every boat is a step along the way and every boat is perfect in its own terms – so long as the designer has done a half decent job!

The basic question I always ask people when they say they want to build a boat is which is more important.
1/ The building process
2/ The use of the boat at the end.

If the buildig process is important – go strip or clinker.

If getting to the end use is more important go ply.

If going strip consider the Chestnut Prospector out of “Canoecraft” the boat has a huge reputation earned over a century.

Or if wanting a single consider the Wee Lassie – even though some of the more recent re-inventions of the Wee Lassie have a lot less hollow in the bow than the original – watch out for this type of watering down too.

Going clinker – it is hard to beat the detail of Oughtred’s plans.

Ply boats – with the preceding pics you probably have enough info to start judging them on their merits – look at the pics and see how they stack up against classic canoes.

Ha – Note I just gave you pretty much the same suggestions as Dingo!!!!!!!

Ply vs Strip vs Fiberglass Canoes

Originally Posted by Clinton1

Mik – your post will take a while for me to digest.
I think you are saying the ply canoe is a compromise…. but a damn good one? I see the sense in making the canoe/kayak out of the minimum # of ply sheets, and for that reason alone its very attractive.

I don’t suppose you could put a percentage on the performance loss between “identical design, one strip, 1 ply

Nope – not possible. I’ve been involved in high level yacht racing – and there is a huge time and effort spent getting this sort of information – you have to be so careful.

If you are used to fibreglass canoes then try a wooden one – speak to Midge and he can put you in touch with the Qld Wooden Boat Association (I can’t quite recall which participant here is directly involved in the Qld Assoc.)

In my mind the question is quite different.

It really comes down to how much building you can be bothered doing.

If you like the building process a lot – build a stripper for the ultimate in paddling performance.

If you want a boat to use with the minimum hassle on the building side – go ply – accepting that you lose a little in outright performance but you can still have a boat with good handling qualities if it has been done right.

Either boat will be a revelation after paddling an average glass boat. Not to mention when lugging it back to the car and lifting it onto the roof!

Redbird Strip canoe and timber cost – strip plank can be cheaper

Originally Posted by Ramps

Hi Guys
In fact I just purchased enough timber to do a caone for just under $130 whereas quality ply would be about $250 …

One question to Mik: I know that the prospector has proven itself for a couple of centuries but would like your comments on the RedBird design also in the Canoecraft book.

It differs a lot if you can do your own timber milling – strip boats can be done quite cheaply. But for most they end up having to buy the premilled strips which makes the strip boat quite a bit more expensive.  But you still have to buy more glass and epoxy.

These days you can often spend serious amounts of money on clear cedar if nothing falls in your lap (though paulownia would be my choice for my next stripper – unless I decided to go for Balsa again – there is something really nice about building in Balsa)

As far as the Redbird goes – what is there not to like about the Redbird! A truly striking boat that paddles really nicely.

A bit more speed (from the length and fineness) – a bit less carrying capacity (but plenty for a week away if you travel light).

The Redbird and Prospector are the best canoes in that book – in my opinion! And I give a few extra points to the Prospector because of its reputation and because, dammit, I have always been a sucker for straightforward looks and behaviour – workboats – you have to love them!!!

Chestnut Prospector vs Redbird

Originally Posted by Ramps

Why do you say the RedBird has a lower carrying capacity than the prospector?

I’m ambidextrous when it comes to beers and boats

Howdy Ramps,

The Prospector was a real prospector’s boat originally – so will carry enough for a winter up the Yukon somewhere and then bring 1000lbs of pelts back down to Hudson Bay. (I don’t promise that my geography is any good at all – but the names are so evocative I thought I would throw them in!)

If you are planning to head away for a month you would have to do some serious thinking with the Redbird to keep things simple and compact – but with the Prospector will carry a stupid amount of gear.

So for normal modern uses it probably doesn’t matter. Weekends away – a week away – no difference.

And you are right about the tracking. Redbird is a bit more straightliney whereas the Prospector has a balance. Generally again in modern use terms – probably little difference.

Both great boats and your heart seems to be a bit more with the Redbird – and that’s the main thing.

Originally posted by Dingo:

What are the dimensions of the Chestnut prospector

Hi Dingo,

Ramps is the man to ask – I think he has the book. Canoecraft.

But around 16ft x 34ins (I can even use traditional measurements!)

Actually still much more comfortable for talking about boats – I know EXACTLY what 100 square feet of sail means but have trouble wrapping my brain around 9.3sq metres!

Though Imperial are terrible to build with compared to metric. What is one third of 5ft 7 7/8 ins. It just makes me feel stressed!

But I think you (Dingo) would be a man for a Prospector – as I said – a real workboat! And it has that same sort of understated – fit in with the crowd type elegance of a Maine Lobster Boat or one of the smaller old Sydney Harbour Ferries or the commuting launches that used to cart the workers to the Garden Island and Cockatoo Island Naval Docks.

Until you look closely and start to see just what a sophisticated shape it is –
How they get those lovely ends to match in with that boxy midsection
How the boxy midsection doesn’t look boxy
How the high topsides don’t look high

For me it is up there with the Rosinante or Araminta or Oughtreds Whilly Boat (rerigged with a mizzen to look proper).

And just so people know what we have been talking about – here is Ramp’s Redbird. Redbirds are really striking boats

To put it back into the thread – Clinton – before you saw the Wee Lassie being compared with a glass canoe. You can see that these two have the same features as the Lassie. The hollow ends (the fins at bow and stern formed by the shape of the stems) fading very nicely into the load carrying mid section. See how the Redbird’s hollow is very long compared to the Prospector – also the fore and aft curvature (rocker) of the keel is very straight – though you can’t see it here – giving even more directional stability than the Prospector.

As you look at more and more classic canoes you start to see just how WRONG most of the fibreglass boats are – mostly designed by people building fibreglass industrial tanks or swimming pools. Foisted on us by the same people who sell outboard tinnies with a set of oars!!!

Have a look at my two quick building Canoes.
Fast and Cheap Quick Canoe
Classic but still quick to build Eureka canoe

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