How To Build A Canoe At Home Using Cedar Strips

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This article will outline how to build a canoe with materials that can be easily obtained from a hardware store.

Canoes are among the oldest means of transport used by man. Archaeological evidence suggests that canoes have been in existence for thousands of years.

The earliest forms of canoes were mostly made from carved-out tree trunks. These canoes were very heavy and had limited maneuverability, making them only suitable for transport and fishing. Later on, more lightweight canoes were made by using animal skins and lighter wooden frames.

Looking for canoe plans, guides, high-resolution illustrations and more? Click here or scroll down to the bottom of this article!

The advent of modern technology has, however, made canoes obsolete as a means of transport.

How To Build A Canoe Image 1

Nowadays, they are mostly used for recreational marine activities ranging from racing and paddling over calm water bodies to the more extreme whitewater canoeing. Whitewater canoeing is among the most popular modern extreme sports that involves navigating through turbulent rapidly flowing rivers. Canoeing has also been an Olympic sport since 1936.

Structure and Shape

Canoes typically have a boat-like shape but are usually slimmer and pointed on both ends.

Due to their limited size, they tend to have a limited seating capacity that rarely exceeds four passengers. Canoes are driven and controlled using paddles.

Due to their remarkably similar shapes and usage, canoes are often wrongly identified as kayaks. The two boat types have a crucial structural difference.

While canoes have an open sitting area, kayaks have a sealed deck with the only opening being where the passenger sits. The paddles used in rowing kayaks also have blades on both ends unlike the ones used in canoes which have single blades on their paddles. In kayaks, the paddler sits with their legs stretched straight in front while the paddler in a canoe sits with their knees bent.

Canoes are built with slight structural variations to bring about differences in stability, speed, carrying capacity and overall weight. The variations in dimension that need to be taken into consideration when building a canoe include:


How To Build A Canoe Image 2

Longer canoes are faster in water and can accommodate more passengers than shorter ones. Shorter canoes nevertheless are easier to maneuver and are therefore ideal for sporting activities.


Wider canoes have more space on the deck and are more stable on water. Canoes designed with a slimmer profile tend to be faster but are also very unstable which makes them unsuitable for inexperienced users.


The overall weight of a canoe is determined by the material used in its construction. Wood usage results in heavy canoes while fiberglass and aluminum-built canoes are lighter. Heavy canoes tend to be less rocky on water compared to lighter ones and are easier to steer along a straight course. Their main drawback is that they are unsuitable for whitewater canoeing.

If you would love to have a canoe of your own, you might want to consider building one yourself. Canoes do not have a particularly complicated structure, and you shouldn’t have any problem constructing one at home as long as you have a good plan and the right tools.

Cedar strip canoes are the easiest to make and the most popular among DIY lovers.

Here’s What You’ll Need


  1. 3/4 inch thick laminated Cedar planking strips – Boards thicker than 3/4 inches might be difficult to work with due to their rigidity and resistance to bending
  2. Stainless steel screws and nails – Brass nails can also be used. Iron nails should be avoided at all costs due to their susceptibility to rusting.
  3. Wood glue
  4. Epoxy resin
  5. Woven 6-ounce fiberglass cloth (1)
  6. Hardwood lumber to construct the deck and seats
  7. Polyurethane varnish
  8. 1-inch thick plywood or particle board to create the frame
  9. Plastic tape
  10. A canoe-building plan – This will provide you with the detailed layout of the canoe and the measurements for the materials you will need. If you don’t already have a plan, don’t worry. You will find out where you can obtain complete canoe-building plans here.


  1. A jigsaw (2)
  2. A power drill to fasten screws
  3. Chip brushes to apply varnish and epoxy on the hull
  4. Safety gear – A pair of heavy duty latex gloves, goggles and a dust mask
  5. A staple gun
  6. Sandpaper

How To Build A Canoe Image 3

Construction Platform

To construct a canoe, you will need a platform from which the frame holding the cedar planks will be set. This platform resembles a normal table, but is much longer – about 12 feet long. It is on this platform that the entire canoe will be built.

It doesn’t have to be an elaborate setup; a strong wooden board about 2 feet wide propped onto a base raised to your waist level will do. However, the platform needs to be precisely level, so you will need to use a split-level indicator when setting it up.

Assembling The Frame

First trace out the outlines of the frame pieces on the plywood or particle board, and then carefully cut them out using a jigsaw. The exact sizes of these pieces and their shapes will be found on the design plan being used.

These pieces (also called forms) should then be attached vertically to the construction platform using screws in the exact order specified on the plan. This is the most important step, since these frames will determine the final shape and size of the canoe. It is therefore important to meticulously follow the instructions laid out in the design plan.

Once the frame has been set up, the outermost edges need to be covered with plastic tape. This tape will prevent the cedar strips from being permanently attached to the frame by the epoxy.

Attaching The Cedar Strips

The next step involves fastening the cedar strips to the frame to create the canoe’s hull.

Depending on where you buy the cedar planks, they can either be pre-cut or in the form of wide continuous boards. If you have wide boards of cedar, you will need to cut them up into slim strips of a width specified in the design plan.

The strips should then be glued together along their edges and stapled to the skeleton following a horizontal pattern. Most strips will stretch past the end of the frame but you shouldn’t worry about that.

The protruding ends will be sawed off after the whole frame is covered. All layers of cedar strips should be in contact with the layers above and below them to ensure that no visible gaps are present.

Once the whole frame has been covered, the protruding ends of the cedar planks will need to be trimmed using a saw. The staples holding the planks to the frame can then be taken out without destroying the shape since the strips will be securely held together by the epoxy.

At this stage, the canoe will have taken shape and all that will be left is waterproofing the hull and making the final touches.

Laying The Fiberglass Sheet

Fiberglass will form the first protective layer of the canoe to help prevent water damage on the hull.

Before laying the fiberglass, you will have to use sandpaper to smooth out the exterior of the canoe, and then dust it off. Using a brush or a piece of cloth, epoxy will be applied on one side of the fiberglass cloth which will then be laid on the outside surface of the hull, making sure that the whole surface is covered.

Using your hands, you should then press the fiberglass sheet onto the hull to ensure that no pockets of air form between the epoxy and the cedar. The fiberglass will take about an hour to stick to the hull, after which it will form a clear, glossy surface.

The canoe should then be taken down from the frame holding it on the platform and the process of sanding and laying the fiberglass repeated on the inner part of the hull.

Building The Seats

How To Build A Canoe Image 4

Seats will be built using hardwood lumber and fixed with screws across the inside part of the hull.

The seats need to be set as low as possible to lower the canoe’s center of gravity and ensure stability on water. The screws attaching the seats should be covered in epoxy to seal any gaps created.

Applying Varnish

This will be the final stage in construction of the canoe. The whole canoe should be sanded inside and out one final time before applying the varnish.

Two layers of varnish should be sufficient. The varnish will not only give the canoe extra waterproofing protection, but will also prevent degradation of the epoxy by ultraviolet rays.

After the varnish dries up, the canoe will be complete and ready for use.

Final Thoughts

A cedar-strip canoe is a visually appealing canoe that is durable and strong enough to be used for years after construction. It’s not too heavy nor is it too light, and thus it combines on-water stability with easy maneuverability, which are both crucial attributes of a good canoe.

With that said, the guide outlined above is only a brief summary of the canoe-building process.

If you are keen to pursue this undertaking, you will benefit tremendously from a valuable boat-building package that gives you instant access to:

  • Over 518 detailed boat plans, schematics, cutting patterns and material lists for canoes, wooden boats, kayaks and other types of boats.
  • A simple-to-navigate database with a search option that provides for quick cross-referencing between plans.
  • Fully illustrated 3D color photos and diagrams to aid in building, with visual explanations.
  • Over 40 how-to video tutorials and boat building construction tips.
  • and much more!

This is a “must-have” both for anyone interested in building their own canoe and for seasoned boat-builders. With this resource, you can immediately start building your dream canoe without the massive expense that comes with having someone else do it for you. Sound good?

I wholeheartedly recommend this resource.

For more information on how you can get access to this boat-building resource, go here! Alternatively, you can read my full review of the program.

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8 Responses

  1. Boatbuilder 91 says:

    It would have been nice to see specific images illustrating the process, but thanks nonetheless. I’m building a canoe – this is a great overview of what needs to be done.

    • Scott says:

      I completely understand that, which is why I linked to the special resource that I discuss in the article. There you can get full plans with detailed images and how-to videos for building a canoe. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Jack says:

    Thanks Scott for sharing this project with us. I was researching online for a step by step guide on how to make a canoe when I came a cross your article.

    Having been brought up by a fisherman, making and owning a personal canoe has been a childhood dream. My father used to own a small wooden canoe and he would take me along with him whenever he went fishing.

    This article offers a good overview of the building process. I once thought owning a canoe was only possible for the rich, but my perspective has since changed.

    I’m looking forward to starting my project, but I have a few questions first:

    1. What is the most appropriate length of the keel in relation to the whole body?
    2. How tall should my mast be and can I use a metallic mast on a wooden boat?

    I am asking all these because I had once tried a similar project that turned out to be a failure. The first time I took the boat to the waters it had a problem with balancing. I suspected either the length of either the mast or the keel. I almost gave up on the project but I feel motivated to restart it. Do you have this in some kind of an ebook or PDF?

    • Scott says:

      Hey Jack, thanks for the comment. Indeed, there’s nothing more satisfied than owning a well-built canoe that you can take out on the water. It’s difficult to answer your first question; it depends on many variables such as where you’re going to be using the boat, how it’s built, and what you want to accomplish. I think the answer is fairly involved and I would recommend doing some research on it. With regard to your second question, you can use a metal such as aluminum for your mast, and the length of the mast will depend on an array of factors also. You can research this or get the exact specifications of parts of the canoe in the design plans that I link to in the article. Good luck!

  3. gary says:

    This is a great piece on canoe-making, thank you for sharing with us. I hadn’t thought making a canoe could be this easy… my son loves canoeing and I was thinking of a project that would engage him this summer. I think my son and I will have something to keep us busy and possibly a birthday gift for him at the end of it!

    I was wondering if I can use an old timber from my cabin. I thought buying a new timber for this may be a little expensive for us. If the old timber can work then is there a special paint to protect it from water or we can just use the ordinary vanish and paint you suggested in the article? Thanks a lot. I am looking forward to hearing form you.

    • Scott says:

      Hi Gary. I hope you and your son have a ton of fun with this. I’d say that your old timber can definitely work if it’s in good enough condition. There are several ways you can seal it to be waterproof, such as with epoxy, varnish, waterproofing oils like tung oil, etcetera. Just be careful to make sure that you don’t do anything reckless. If you need more clarification, just ask.

  4. AJ Bebo says:

    About two years ago I decided to try and build a canoe myself. The whole canoe was about three meters long with keel extending to about an inch. I didn’t consider a mast necessary because I intended to row it. The project went well up to the point at which I went to test it on the water, but when I went to the water, I had a host of problems. First, the canoe seemed to be leaning more towards one side than the other. Also, water kept on leaking on the inside from the joints of the timber . I think it was because I used very little resin or because I didn’t give it enough time to dry properly. Then, I had problems whenever I approached the oncoming waves – the boat was hitting the water so hard that I would get drenched. I gave up on the project, but now that I’ve read this article, I think I’m going to give it a second try. I will let you know how it goes. Thanks Scott

    • Scott says:

      That sounds pretty disastrous; sorry to hear that it turned out like that. With the right design plan and the correct plan of attack, building a quality canoe should be relatively straightforward. I hope your next project turns out much better.

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