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The building of my canoe - a 1908 BN Morris reproduction

Updated on November 5, 2015

Why buy when you can build?

1996 I went canoeing with some friends in Hayward WI. and thought 'hey I need a canoe' - no I didn't need one but wanted one. Rather than buy stuff ready to use I like to build it, however my completion rate is low. This lens tells of the 14 year journey of my canoe.

Searching for a canoe

So my search was on. I started looking around the internet and found the Northwoods Canoe Co. Contacted them and a week later my catalog showed up. My dad and I selected the reproduction of a 1908 BN Morris. Up until this point all we had build were square things like kitchen cabinets. $60 later our plans arrived. Not being boat builders our learning curve was steep, but enjoyable.

Canoe websites and supplies.

These are some sites that I used in researching canoes before, during and after building.

Kat and the canoe form.
Kat and the canoe form.

Building the form.

The plans for a canoe are actually two projects. First you have to build a form in order to build the actual canoe. Any of the detail or thinking that 'oh that little bump won't be a problem gets magnified by ten into the final project'. The form took us approximately 100 hours to build. Considerable time was spent in sanding it smooth. There are lots of compound curves in this project. Many times in this en-devour that we questioned why we built one of the harder canoes. The canoe is then built over the form to retain its shape. Pictured is Kat (my wife) and the canoe form. A 17' foot canoe and form takes up quite a bit of space. Did I mention that she was helping so that her car could get back in the garage?

Here are some canoe books I read during my building journey .

These books were invaluable during the construction of our canoe. The Wood and Canvas Canoe contains study plans as well as step by step instructions. Lots of great pictures are also included. It's Sunday afternoon and I had a question - found it in this material.

Northern White Cedar

Traditional materials were used in the build of this canoe. Back to the internet (remember Prodigy and their bulletin boards?) I went and was able to locate the lumber that we needed in Hibbing, Minnesota. Road trip! Dad and I took off north. Great trip, I was able to spend some neat time with my dad, plus we saw some of the country that we haven't seen.

Steam box
Steam box

Steaming the wood

This is the steam box. It is used to soften the wood and make it easier to bend. Once the wood dries it retains its shape, however it will spring back a bit.

Rib bending
Rib bending

Rib bending

After the ribs come out of the steam box they are bent over the form and nailed in place.

Ribs installed and ready for planking

All ribs in place
All ribs in place

Here is the canoe with all the ribs installed.

Planking the hull.
Planking the hull.

Planking the hull

The planking holds the ribs and the shape of the canoe. All the planks are nailed in place with a special canoe tack. The iron is used to steam the stubborn planks in place.

Hull in canvas / interior varnished
Hull in canvas / interior varnished

Canvas applied and interior varnished.

This photo shows the canoe in the canvas. Canoes from this era were covered in canvas fabric and the weave filled with a proprietary filler. Once filled the canvass hardens and keeps the water from leaking in. The inside of the hull has been sanded and varnished at this stage.

Upside down and painted!


Here the canvas is finished. The paint is applied. When we were looking for colors we were after richer colors. Most of the modern colors we found were loud and fast not fitting for this canoe.

Caning the seat frame
Caning the seat frame

Caning the seats

Here is an almost finished seat

Finishing touches

Finishing touches
Finishing touches

Cargo rack, gunwales, and thwarts installed. The cargo rack and thwarts are mahogany, gunwales and seats are ash. The ash in from Mooresville, IN, we stayed as local as we could when getting out material.

In the water!

We launched our canoe in 2010! From start to finish it took us 14 years, 10 of those years doing absolutely nothing. Finally in 2008 I made a decision that it's going to float or the project has to go away. My thinking was if I touch it I work on it for one hour. It became a family event. This link

B.N Morris canoe progress will show you all of the pictures. I took most of the photo's for this album. I'll add more as I learn more. Thanks for looking!


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