Buying a Canoe - Tips on Canoe Construction Materials

Canoe construction today is very different from in the past with newer materials being used to replace the traditional materials of wood and cedar strips. Traditional methods were very labour intensive and required a great deal of skill. Although you can still buy a traditionaly made canoe today it will be extremely expensive and out of the price range of most of us! Canoe construction materials used at present include aluminum, aluminum alloys, polyethylene, fiberglass and Kevlar. We will look at two of these materials, aluminum and polyethylene in detail to find out if they would be suitable for your needs when buying a new canoe.

Canoe Construction with Aluminum and Aluminum Alloy

Aluminum Canoes

Aluminum has been, until the last few years, the most popular preference for material to use in canoe construction but it has now been supplanted by polyethylene. Although aluminum is extremely tough and durable, and is one of the lighter metals, it is much heavier than polyethylene. It is able to stand up to being dragged on rough bottoms and is not affected by exposure to the sun as polyethylene is. Canoes constructed from aluminum do need to be fitted with buoyancy chambers and they may often be tricky to maneuver particularly for unskilled paddlers. In addition they are often heavy to carry and dent when hit with plenty of force. Repair of punctures is also hard and cannot be completely covered up.

Where to Use Your Aluminum Canoe?

For flat water and for recreational use an aluminum canoe may be ideal, particularly if you don't have to carry it very far on your own. For those who lack inside storage, a canoe made from aluminum could be a better choice than polyethylene since it will not suffer damage from the sun or suffer deterioration from bad weather.

Where Shouldn't You Use an Aluminum Canoe

Aluminum canoes are not good for white water or for rivers that have many rocks and are usually too heavy to be used when you will be on a long trip and would need to carry the canoe.

Aluminum Alloy Construction

Canoes constructed of aluminum alloy are usually lighter weight and more durable than only aluminum and a few may be lighter even than polyethylene. Still, make certain that you find out the actual weight of an aluminum canoe as they may vary considerably.

Polyethylene Canoe Construction

Polyethylene is light and flexible, is robust and is one of the most widely used materials used in canoes today. It's quite straightforward to patch and cheap although it is susceptible to damage from pointed edges such as branches, rocks etc. However, it's elasticity does present a problem so measures need to be taken to make the canoe more rigid. One method is to use aluminum to give it a stiff skeleton and this is the the construction method used in canoes designed by Coleman and trademarked as Ram-X.

Another means of providing rigidity is by means of a thick layer of foam between two layers of polyethylene. This is the means of construction employed by Old Town Canoes under the trademark CrossLink 3. The core of foam ensures buoyancy and this construction method is better able to stand up to damage from abrasion than polyethylene alone.

Polyethylene does have some disadvantages however. It is not buoyant so most canoes made from polyethylene do need buoyancy chambers. This construction material is also extremely at risk from abrasion damage which is the most widespread for a canoe to be abandoned. Canoes manufactured from polyethylene are by and large among the cheaper models and you might be able to pay even less by buying a model you can assemble yourself.

Where Can You Use a Polyethylene Canoe?

For flat rivers and water with no jagged rocks, a polyethylene canoe made with an aluminum framework such as is used in the Coleman canoes would be an ideal option. For more extreme conditions a Crosslink 3 construction is more suitable as it will have increased durability and strength and can stand up to abrasion and jagged edges much better.

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