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Thread: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

  1. #1
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    Default Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    Hi all, new here. I'm sure you've all seen the 50 plus year old plan from Popular Mechanics. A 15 foot SOF canoe using plywood forms. It's my first attempt at boat building, and this looked like a simple way to start. I finished making the templates and picked up some plywood today.

    Anyway, to my question...I am pretty sure I want to use 10oz duck canvas for the skin, but I am a bit confused over: Dyed canvas sealed with urethane, or Natural canvas and a colored exterior paint.

    I don't know if there is a functional reason NOT to used dyed canvas. Any input would be greatly appreciated.

    Great forum, thanks for the add!

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    Welcome Aboard!
    I have not built such a boat, but I think times and materials have changed. Some Skin on Frame builder will drop in and tell the virtues of modern fabric. If you search Geodesic Aerolite boats, or Dave Gentry Boats, you'll find some suggestions.
    If you decide to build with canvas, that will work too. My Dad did so in 1966.
    Keep us posted.

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    Quote Originally Posted by LarryM View Post
    Hi all, new here. I'm sure you've all seen the 50 plus year old plan from Popular Mechanics. A 15 foot SOF canoe using plywood forms. It's my first attempt at boat building, and this looked like a simple way to start. I finished making the templates and picked up some plywood today.

    Anyway, to my question...I am pretty sure I want to use 10oz duck canvas for the skin, but I am a bit confused over: Dyed canvas sealed with urethane, or Natural canvas and a colored exterior paint.

    I don't know if there is a functional reason NOT to used dyed canvas. Any input would be greatly appreciated.

    Great forum, thanks for the add!
    Canvas will work but I'd suggest a 10 - 12 oz polyester from gdyson@gmail.com . The advantage of polyester ( also known as Dacron ) is that it is heat shrinkable with a regular heat gun , it holds paint well . George Dyson also sells nylon fabric but it doesn't heat shrink and while paint or similar coatings work ok , they don't get absorbed into the fibers compared to polyester.

    Canvas soaks up a lot of paint so it will weigh twice what the synthetics do. Canvas will rot unless put away fully dry and stored in a dry place well off the ground or ideally in a dry airy building . Canvas is torn easier than the synthetics . Also canvas has to be stretched lengthwise which takes some muscle , the synthetics are not stretched lengthwise more than an inch .

    Whatever fabric you choose be sure to have a rub strip on the bottom of your canoe and don't run aground on concrete or rocks , sand is ok

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    I built a "Little Chief" canoe from Science and Mechanics magazine plans in 1971. I was living in a 10 foot by 16 foot room at the time and built it alongside my bed, trying to keep dust to a minimum. I found a heavy cotton / canvas painter's cloth in good condition for free. It covered the canoe's stringers with lots to spare. I used oil based house paint which I also found for free. A bit crude, but not a bad little boat for tranquil water. I added a section of 1/4 inch ply on top of the stringers for a "floor."

    I was on a budget and the canvas and paint was free. I'm sure modern materials would be lighter and better, but the whole thing can be / is so simple and cheap that you might not want to spend much on it. I gave it away after one season.

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    Thanks!

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    Yes, I have done some reading on this forum about the Geodesic Aerolite material. Dave is one of the many great contributors to the forum. My main concern is durability, but I am all about light weight as well. Being 64 with a bad back it is important.

    I did a lot of BWCA tripping in my younger years using rented Wenoah Kevlar boats, 39 pounds for an 18 footer. I loved those boats. Sometimes solo, at which time I would put a rock in the canoe so it handled better. Ah the good old days. I thought I was done with canoeing and in fact gave away my beloved Sawyer bent shaft paddle to a nephew. Then I moved to South Carolina. I live three blocks from the Ashley River, and they just built a brand new canoe and kayak access in the new Ashley River Park. That got my blood running again, and I dragged my Tevas out of the closet.

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    Quote Originally Posted by Three Cedars View Post
    Canvas will work but I'd suggest a 10 - 12 oz polyester from gdyson@gmail.com . The advantage of polyester ( also known as Dacron ) is that it is heat shrinkable with a regular heat gun , it holds paint well . George Dyson also sells nylon fabric but it doesn't heat shrink and while paint or similar coatings work ok , they don't get absorbed into the fibers compared to polyester.

    Canvas soaks up a lot of paint so it will weigh twice what the synthetics do. Canvas will rot unless put away fully dry and stored in a dry place well off the ground or ideally in a dry airy building . Canvas is torn easier than the synthetics . Also canvas has to be stretched lengthwise which takes some muscle , the synthetics are not stretched lengthwise more than an inch .

    Whatever fabric you choose be sure to have a rub strip on the bottom of your canoe and don't run aground on concrete or rocks , sand is ok
    Thanks for the advice!

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    If light weight is a priority then it doesn't get lighter than the Monforte geodesic designs. The skin is a polyester dacron called Ceconite commonly used on aircraft but about 3oz so it is much less durable than the 10-12oz already mentioned.

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Wright View Post

    I was on a budget and the canvas and paint was free. I'm sure modern materials would be lighter and better, but the whole thing can be / is so simple and cheap that you might not want to spend much on it. I gave it away after one season.
    I plan to spend as little as possible. I know how it goes with any new project, there are mistakes made and lessons to be learned. This is a warm up for bigger and better things.

    To be fair, the Popular Mechanics designers knew what they were doing way back then when it came to hull design. It is a shallow arch with a fair amount of tumblehome. I modified the design, adding 2 inches to the overall height to allow for better seating arrangements, which gave it even more tumblehome. I will post pictures as soon as I cut the forms/braces.

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    The Little Chief canoe is very similar to the Trailcraft kit canoe, one of which I built many years ago.

    Just a couple of comments (based on that, and other, experience with wood canoes) -- if you go with canvas, it is readily stretched over the upside down frame by tacking or stapling at one end to the keel, stretching by hand lengthwise and then tacking down at the other end, and then working alternately stretching from side to side, starting in the middle. No strain, no pain, no need for heat.

    Canvas rot is not really an issue. Treated canvas is available from a number of suppliers – see Rollin Thurlow’s site for Northwoods Canoes < https://www.wooden-canoes.com/ > or Jerry Stelomok’s site for Island Falls Canoes
    < http://www.islandfallscanoe.comhttp://www.islandfallscanoe.com >. Other suppliers can be found in the builder/suppliers directory on the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association website < http://www.wcha.org/ >.

    When I built my Trailcraft, I simply applied a couple of coats of house paint, as per their instructions. Not elegant, but it kept the water out. Modern materials can work well, but they are not always an improvement in all regards. Dacron would be a bit lighter, but canvas that is painted without being filled is not a whole lot heavier, and while in some ways Dacron is stronger, in one significant way it is not – it rips more easily than canvas. Another modern material, nylon, can be much stronger, but it tends to sag when wet.

    If I were to build a Little Chief, I would add seats, rather than sitting on the floor of the canoe. The photo at the beginning of the Little Chief plan article shows a fellow using a traditional single blade canoe paddle sitting on the floor of the canoe with his legs stretched out in front of him, and he looks awkward and uncomfortable. That seating position calls for a double-bladed paddle; using a single blade paddle with the gunwales of the canoe up under your armpits is not only uncomfortable, but also terribly inefficient.

    I think there is no need to add to the depth of the Little Chief -- the 12” center depth that the plans provide should be more than adequate for installation of a seat or seats. 2” of additional depth is just not needed, and well may cause problems. Where have you added your 2” – just at the sheer, or at the turn of the bilges, or somewhere in between? If at the sheer, the extra tumblehome will mean reaching out further sideways when paddling; if at the turn of the bilge, you will either have to reach out further sideways, or sit well off-center when paddling. The Little Chief is quite a beamy little boat, especially for a fifteen footer – 38” – and I would be very concerned that making it deeper will not only make it ungainly, but will make it awkward and very inefficient to paddle and control. A naval architect designed the boat – why not trust his judgment?

    As a point of comparison, my 15’ Old Town 50 Pound model from 1931 has a beam of 34 ½” and a depth of 11” – it paddles quite nicely from its seats, is very stable, and it readily carries two people and an amount of gear appropriate for a 15’ canoe.

    You might try visiting the forums at the WCHA website < http://www.wcha.org/forums/index.php > -- lots of information about SOF canoes.

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    Quote Originally Posted by Greg Nolan View Post
    The Little Chief canoe is very similar to the Trailcraft kit canoe, one of which I built many years ago.

    Just a couple of comments (based on that, and other, experience with wood canoes) -- if you go with canvas, it is readily stretched over the upside down frame by tacking or stapling at one end to the keel, stretching by hand lengthwise and then tacking down at the other end, and then working alternately stretching from side to side, starting in the middle. No strain, no pain, no need for heat.

    Canvas rot is not really an issue. Treated canvas is available from a number of suppliers – see Rollin Thurlow’s site for Northwoods Canoes < https://www.wooden-canoes.com/ > or Jerry Stelomok’s site for Island Falls Canoes
    < http://www.islandfallscanoe.comhttp://www.islandfallscanoe.com >. Other suppliers can be found in the builder/suppliers directory on the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association website < http://www.wcha.org/ >.

    When I built my Trailcraft, I simply applied a couple of coats of house paint, as per their instructions. Not elegant, but it kept the water out. Modern materials can work well, but they are not always an improvement in all regards. Dacron would be a bit lighter, but canvas that is painted without being filled is not a whole lot heavier, and while in some ways Dacron is stronger, in one significant way it is not – it rips more easily than canvas. Another modern material, nylon, can be much stronger, but it tends to sag when wet.

    If I were to build a Little Chief, I would add seats, rather than sitting on the floor of the canoe. The photo at the beginning of the Little Chief plan article shows a fellow using a traditional single blade canoe paddle sitting on the floor of the canoe with his legs stretched out in front of him, and he looks awkward and uncomfortable. That seating position calls for a double-bladed paddle; using a single blade paddle with the gunwales of the canoe up under your armpits is not only uncomfortable, but also terribly inefficient.

    I think there is no need to add to the depth of the Little Chief -- the 12” center depth that the plans provide should be more than adequate for installation of a seat or seats. 2” of additional depth is just not needed, and well may cause problems. Where have you added your 2” – just at the sheer, or at the turn of the bilges, or somewhere in between? If at the sheer, the extra tumblehome will mean reaching out further sideways when paddling; if at the turn of the bilge, you will either have to reach out further sideways, or sit well off-center when paddling. The Little Chief is quite a beamy little boat, especially for a fifteen footer – 38” – and I would be very concerned that making it deeper will not only make it ungainly, but will make it awkward and very inefficient to paddle and control. A naval architect designed the boat – why not trust his judgment?

    As a point of comparison, my 15’ Old Town 50 Pound model from 1931 has a beam of 34 ½” and a depth of 11” – it paddles quite nicely from its seats, is very stable, and it readily carries two people and an amount of gear appropriate for a 15’ canoe.

    You might try visiting the forums at the WCHA website < http://www.wcha.org/forums/index.php > -- lots of information about SOF canoes.
    Thanks for taking the time to type all of this. There is some very good info in there.

    I am definitely adding seats. That is the whole reason for the added height, to add more legroom. I'm 64 with bad knees--which I'm willing to bet the Naval architect was not --and I wanted to raise the seat up a bit for that reason. I cut the plywood today, and will post pics soon so you can see the extra tumblehome.

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    You all can follow the progress here if you like.

    https://youtu.be/Ts8CkdXR17U

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    I found my 1968 "Boatbuilder" magazine with the "Little Chief" plan. I remember buying a Sears "Companion" saber saw for $4.98 to cut out the frames. (That was my beer money for two or three weeks) My magazine is so fragile and yellowed I think it might fall apart on the scanner. But I see someone has put a PDF of tbe plans online:

    https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&sour...6jPCqNadrVuL0e

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Wright View Post
    I found my 1968 "Boatbuilder" magazine with the "Little Chief" plan. I remember buying a Sears "Companion" saber saw for $4.98 to cut out the frames. (That was my beer money for two or three weeks) My magazine is so fragile and yellowed I think it might fall apart on the scanner. But I see someone has put a PDF of tbe plans online:

    https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&sour...6jPCqNadrVuL0e
    So it is from 1968, good to know. I was not able to find that info anywhere. Yes, the plans are posted at several sites.

    Did you take a lot at the YouTube pics? What do you think of the design now that two inches has been added to it?

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    Quote Originally Posted by LarryM View Post
    So it is from 1968, good to know. I was not able to find that info anywhere. Yes, the plans are posted at several sites.

    Did you take a lot at the YouTube pics? What do you think of the design now that two inches has been added to it?
    My magazine is from 1968, but I would guess that the plans are much older, probably early 50's.

    I prefer and like "low" in boat sheers, especially in kayaks and canoes so I didn't form an opinion of your two inch addition (builders should do whatever they want and see how it turns out). Did you modify the stems too, to add height, or are you simply going for a flatter, straighter sheer?

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    I did not add height to the stems, I do prefer a more modern look with the flatter sheer. At the same time, I think I will leave the outside edge of the stem rounded rather than more of an L shape, I guess as a bit of a throw back.

    I haven't talked about stringers yet. I am going to use treated 5/4 decking, for a number of reasons. Cost is one, plus availability. I could get ash or white cedar, but the cost isn't justifiable in my mind for this boat. Also, the treated decking I have seen is more clear than any of the other low cost choices I have come across. I just came from the lumber yard and 16' boards are void of anything but small tight knots.

    So the stringers will be 1" x 1/2". What can I say, it's a practice boat. The next one will please the purists.

    I am thinking seriously about Ceconite instead of canvas now, though.

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Wright View Post
    My magazine is from 1968, but I would guess that the plans are much older, probably early 50's.
    I have the plans that were published in the August 1946 issue of Science and Mechanics​ magazine. I have another undated copy from Boatbuilder's Annual.

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    Quote Originally Posted by Greg Nolan View Post
    I have the plans that were published in the August 1946 issue of Science and Mechanics​ magazine. I have another undated copy from Boatbuilder's Annual.
    Wow, I guess everyone was passing them around. There must be more to the story behind these plans.

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    Quote Originally Posted by LarryM View Post
    I am definitely adding seats. That is the whole reason for the added height, to add more legroom. I'm 64 with bad knees--which I'm willing to bet the Naval architect was not --and I wanted to raise the seat up a bit for that reason.
    If you are planning to attach your seats from gunwales after increasing the depth of the canoe from 12" to 14", I expect you will be needlessly creating a very, very tender canoe.

    In this picture taken a few years ago of me paddling our 15' Old Town 50 Pound model, 11" deep at the center, I am paddling solo "backwards" from the bow seat, which is hung about 2" below the gunwales.

    ss sitting.jpg ss sitting cr.jpg

    The stern seat is at a similar height from the bottom of the canoe because longer hanger spacers compensate for the curve of the sheer. There is ample room for me to put my legs and feet under myself or even further back, under either seat, when I want. And being 73 years old, less flexible that I once was, and prone to feeling stiff when sitting in one position for a long time, I do tend to move about on the canoe seat. I no longer knee much because of my knees, but there is enough room under the seat should I ever want to kneel as I once did regularly.

    I have paddled other 15' 50 Pound models where the stern seat is mounted right under the gunwales -- purportedly to give a better line of sight to the stern paddler -- and those canoes are noticeable more tender than when the seat is hung lower.

    The Little Chief designer may not have been old and stiff like us, but he clearly meant the weight of the movable ballast (the paddlers) to be carried very low in the canoe -- he expected the paddlers to kneel of to sit on the bottom of the boat (as demonstrated by the lack of seats, and as illustrated in the magazine article). Nonetheless, I think it reasonable to add seats, BUT . . .

    Be careful of how high you mount them. An inch or two or three below the gunwales on a canoe that is 12" deep should give ample room for feet while sitting -- certainly no more than the original design height of the gunwales.

    Mounting them on gunwales raised 2" above design height is just not a very good idea.

    Little Chief is beamy, which helps initial stability, but a beamy canoe his harder to paddle efficiently than in a narrower boat -- you have to reach out more with your paddle to hold it properly perpendicular to the water -- something that undoes a good deal of the stability granted by the wide beam. Sitting higher only exacerbates this.

    Before you proceed, check the specs listed in current canoe ads and catalogs. You will find than most, which virtually all have seats, are 11" or 12" deep in the center, even much longer canoes (and the seats are hung at or below gunwale height). Generally, only canoes designed for serious camping or expedition work have center depths in the neighborhood of 14".

    That should tell you something. Experimenting is fine -- but a lot of people, many with a lot of experience, have build a lot of canoes to a lot of designs over the last century or so -- and the result is that most canoes have seats, but most canoes are not 14" deep.

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    Quote Originally Posted by Greg Nolan View Post
    Little Chief is beamy, which helps initial stability, but a beamy canoe his harder to paddle efficiently than in a narrower boat -- you have to reach out more with your paddle to hold it properly perpendicular to the water -- something that undoes a good deal of the stability granted by the wide beam. Sitting higher only exacerbates this.
    Again, I thank you for the reply. I appreciate all feedback. I'm no mathematical expert, but it seems to me that a higher seated position would decrease the angle of the paddle to the water, not increase it.

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    More importantly, the higher seat raises the center of gravity.

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    From the PDF 'here is one example of the red man's boat.' From now on I will refer to my canoes as my 'red man's boat.' What should I call my kayaks?

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    Well, the Eskimos were of Asian heritage I believe so....

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    Default Re: Building the Little Chief canoe, have question about canvas

    I believe the search for the right material has come to an end. Due to the wider beam of the Little Chief, it requires a wider material than most and that considerably narrows down the options. I have contacted George Dyson and he has some 10 oz. Polyester in a 73" width that I believe I will be using.

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