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Ojibway Canoe
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A Skin-on-Frame Ojibway Canoe

This skin on frame canoe was loosely based on Ojibway bark canoes illustrated in Adney and Chapelle's Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America. Total length is 16'. Beam is 36".

The finished boat with seats comes in at 60 pounds, not light but still 10 pounds less than my aluminum canoe from years ago. Cedar floor boards instead of Doug Fir might help also.

I had been meaning to make a skin-on-frame canoe for some time, but just hadn't gotten around to it. I finally made it a priority and started building it. Details of construction aren't that complex. Critical parameters are length, depth and beam. I wanted this to be a two-person boat with lots of room in the middle for gear. So the standard two person recreational canoe was a general model. Lenth of the gunwales would be 16 feet since that is what I had in stock. Beam would be 36 inches, again, pretty standard and still narrow enough to fit the roof rack on my car. Depth amidships would be 14", again fairly standard for recreational canoes.

A typical Ojibway bark canoe as drawn by Adney.

For shape of the canoe, I looked to Adney and Chapelle for inspiration and found an Ojibway canoe that looked reasonable. Traditional bark canoes were symmetrical for and aft and could be paddled in either direction. Spacing of thwarts was also the same on either end. There were no seats. The boat was paddled from a kneeling position. Bottoms were flat across with sides having a slight flare. Ends curved over gracefully. Along the line of the keel, the boat was flat as well in the middle with a slight upsweep starting two feet from either end.

Adaptation of bark to SOF construction
Bark canoes have a characteristic form and shape by virtue of their bark skin and method of construction. Bark is laid out on a building form and ribs and planking are laid up inside the skin and the whole thing is tensioned. In the case of SOF (Skin on frame) construction, the frame is built first and then skinned over. This form of construction depends on its strength and longitudinal rigidity to a large degree on its gunwales.

In SOF construction, there is also an interaction between the amount of flare in the gunwales and the amount of upsweep in the ends. The greater the flare, the greater the upsweep of the ends. But flare on a canoe is fairly small so that upsweep of the ends is minimal. Since a canoe is an open boat and fairly sharp ended, it depends on sharp upsweep of the ends to keep waves breaking over the bow. There are two approaches to increasing upsweep of the ends of the boat beyond what the gunwales are willing to do by themselves. One approach is to pre-bend the gunwales to exagerrate the upsweep of the ends. The other approach is to let the gunwales take what shape they will and build up the ends for proper elevation. This is the approach I took.

The picture above shows the more or less flat gunwales and the additional rise in the ends added by lashing some battens to the top of the gunwales.

The building process
The building process followed more or less standard skin on frame procedure. First I built the deck. Then I cut the stem pieces out of plywood. I set up a temporary keel as a depth guide for the ribs. Then I added the ribs. With the ribs in place, I installed the stem pieces and the keelson. Next I lashed the stringers into place. Lashing was fairly time-consuming since there were six stringers on each side of the boat. I used a continuous lashing running along the rib. Once the frame was done, I added floor boards so the passengers and gear don't poke into the skin. When everything was in place, I varnished the frame.
I took the finished boat out for a solo paddle on its first voyage. I sat in the middle and paddled alternately on one side and the other to keep the boat going straight. The skin is translucent so you can see the water moving around the hull. Very nice effect.

The boat moved through the water nicely. The bottom is a little rounder in cross section than is common in canoes so the stability isn't as great as in the conventional canoe. But it wasn't unmanageable.

Moving along nicely, thank you.

After the maiden voyage, I added seats. I took the boat out again with Joan. This time the boat handled a little more sluggish than when I paddled it solo. I suspect that the front seat was a little too far forward and the boat was trimmed nose heavy. I also suspect that the boat may have been hogging a little in the middle with weight on either end and none in the middle. But it may just have been nose heavy trim. In any case, it felt like I had to do a fair amount of steering. Next time out, we'll put the person in the bow farther back and see how that works.

All in all, it's a fun boat though. Also, next time some waves kick up on the bay, I'll have to take the boat out solo and see how it rises to the waves.

Who would think that shoveling water could be so much fun?

All content copyright © 2005 Wolfgang Brinck.