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Thread: Desperate help needed - first cedar strip canoe build

  1. #1
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    Sep 2021
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    Default Desperate help needed - first cedar strip canoe build

    Hello, as the title suggests I'm in desperate need of help. I'm a novice woodworker building my first cedar strip canoe (stemless 16 footer) and the build has become a complete disaster. I could really use the forum's help and advice in salvaging this project. I have too much time and money invested to let this go.

    My problems started early on. I was unable to use my 1/4" shank router to rout the bead and cove strips on my planks. I opted not to upgrade to a 1/2" shank router because my costs were spiraling out of control and winter was rapidly coming in, when it would be too cold to work. I started building my hull without routing the strips. I knew it wasn't ideal but didn't realize just how terrible of an idea that was.

    Taking this shortcut proved more damaging than I had initially thought. I was unable to sand it smooth enough to get a good fit with the fiberglass and as a result I have air bubbles and it just doesn't look very good. I can live with the exterior but fiberglassing the interior was a complete disaster and it seems that in some areas the epoxy even became gummy for some reason. Sawdust bonded to these areas and now I have huge patches of gummy, stained epoxy.

    I tried sanding through these areas to get down to the wood and reapply epoxy, but it somehow seems to be making things worse. I have no idea what to do. I'm considering painting the boat.

    I also really screwed up both ends. My wood planks were slightly too short and I couldn't get the ends to fit together. I used a moldable epoxy to try and sculpt the ends of the canoe but it was hard to work and the result was yet another disaster. It's very lumpy after fiberglassing, as you can see, and I painted it green to hide the epoxy I used to fuse it together.

    I'll do anything to prevent painting the boat entirely. Does anyone think applying acetone to the gummy epoxy on the interior would be helpful to make that clear again? Is there anything at all that can be done to get the ends of the boat looking a little smoother and better? Is any of this fixable?

    I've learned my lesson and am hopeful I'll get another chance soon to build a canoe properly, without taking any shortcuts this time. If anyone could help with some ideas on how to salvage this one I'd be forever grateful. I'm not expecting perfection but would like it to at least be pretty from a distance! Thank you so much.
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  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2015
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    Dorset, UK
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    1,577

    Default Re: Desperate help needed - first cedar strip canoe build

    Experience starts when you begin...remember "it's just a boat"...and there may be an upside that events are steering you towards, you just don't know it yet like painting it cream.

    Epoxy is like a war...sometimes 'the plan' that evening doesn't survive first contact. We've all been there.

    Todd Bradshaw will be along in minute. He's built alot of strip canoes besides sails. He's an expert. Do exactly what he says.

    Meanwhile load up as many photos in the goriest detail! Lets see the lesions...again we've all been there don't worry.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2015
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    "Driftless" Wisconsin
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    652

    Default Re: Desperate help needed - first cedar strip canoe build

    For a first timer, what you have there isn’t that bad. And you’re learning as you expand your skills all the while.

    Cove & bead’s pretty simple (even w/ 1/4” shank router) when you turn your router upside down & drop it into a ‘table’ so you can move strips easily against a fence in which the cove & bead bits peek through. Try it with some scraps (not too short!!) for practice before you start your next stripper.

    If you have a heat gun that’ll help get that gummy epoxy off. If you don’t, start shopping for one. Even cured epoxy yields when warmed up.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2000
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    Madison Wisconsin
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    Default Re: Desperate help needed - first cedar strip canoe build

    It's really hard to say a lot from just seeing a couple of photos, but what strikes me is that you have a cascade of unfinished or rushed building steps all piled on top of one another. Bead and cove strips are an optional convenience and by no means required to build a great boat. Hundreds of perfectly good strippers have been made with square-edged strips right off the rip saw and some of us did all or nearly all of our strip building before the bead and cove technique was ever developed. The one thing that it requires is the ability to securely fix the strips in position on the forms, either with staples or plenty of clamps, etc.to keep the joints tightly together. Bead and cove tends to yield a bit more of a fudge factor in that regard, though not an awful lot. If your intention was to use bead and coved strips, then it would be wise to do so, rather than proceeding without them.

    Once stripped, the fiberglassing should not begin until the wooden surface is as smooth and fair as you can get it. The glassing process isn't going to fix the problems if the wood is not smooth and fair under it. The typical two layers of 6 oz. fiberglass cloth when saturated yields a skin that is only about as thick as the sidewalls of a plastic milk jug. That's not enough thickness to fix irregularities, dents, lumps or rough spots. Rushing to glass the hull before the wood part is really ready for it is a mistake, and one that is quite difficult to fix later.

    The big green blob is pretty hard to justify. If your lumber won't yield strips which are long enough for the hull (actually they really should be a bit longer than what is required) then it is possible to scarf or butt joint any (or even all) of the strips as needed. Some folks like to scarf them before they go on the forms. I always just used butt joints, done while stripping, which require good localized clamping ability (or staples) and which avoid locating the joints in areas with a lot of twist if possible. Joints or scarfs then just need to be staggered, allowing them to be helped and held in place by their unjointed neighbors until the glue sets. In any case, before the strip goes onto the forms, you need to have an idea of what's going to remedy the fact that it isn't long enough to do the job solo - and there should never be a whole bunch of them happening in the same area.

    The paint creates its own problem. You can certainly paint areas with some sort of graphics or designs which conveniently hide a problem, but you want to make sure that the problem has been faired, smoothed, reinforced (or whatever it is going to take) before painting over it. Once you add a layer of paint you have made it difficult to do anything more with epoxy in that area as it is not likely get a good bond. Again, a case where you need to complete one step and fix any problems before proceeding to the next step.

    Sticky epoxy: Properly measured, mixed and hardened epoxy resin is not sticky. Any epoxy which is sticky is generally a pretty serious structural problem which is not likely to get better. About the only things that I know of which will create sticky epoxy are incorrect measurement of the ingredients, poor and insufficient mixing, or contamination with other chemicals (including water which can wash out hardener). The areas may get less sticky with time, but that certainly does not mean that the problem is fixed (or cured, pun intended) and I wouldn't trust their structural integrity. A stripper is a bunch of lightweight, bordering upon flimsy, materials working together to produce a reasonably strong and rigid hull. That pretty much requires all the parts to function properly. I'd try a heat gun and a really sharp blade to see if I could cut out the bad spots and patch them with new fiberglass. Acetone is not the answer and is likely to cause even more problems. The sticky and unhardened epoxy is most likely the biggest issue you face, because it is structural. Whether or not those areas can be cleaned out and patched with solid fiberglass is going to be the number one issue in getting the boat into acceptable condition - far outweighing the importance of whether or not it ends up being painted.

    Again, it would seem to be a case of rushing through the process and proceeding to various steps before the previous one has satisfactorily been completed. The good news, if there is any, is that you're learning as you go and the next one will be better. No matter how good you ever get at stripper building, there will always be those little spots on any boat that didn't turn out quite as planned. Bystanders telling you how beautiful the boat is aren't aware of them, and actually those folks are pretty easy to fool with some shiny woodwork. You have to become your own worst critic and make those important decisions between steps - that good enough is actually good enough and that it is OK to proceed.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2021
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    Roscoe, NY
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    Default Re: Desperate help needed - first cedar strip canoe build

    Thank you all so much for the replies and advice. I'll try a heat gun and hopefully that will get the canoe to be in good enough condition until I can start on a second. I definitely learned some valuable lessons about rushing during this build. The poor butt joints in the strips that contributed to the lumpiness in the bow and stern were just another example of me not taking my time, rushing, and allowing carelessness to to creep in. Building a wooden boat has been an incredible challenge - for me, just slowing down has been quite a challenge as well.

  6. #6
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    Sep 2015
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    "Driftless" Wisconsin
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    Default Re: Desperate help needed - first cedar strip canoe build

    With that heat gun… please obtain and use a respirator fitted with cartridges to mitigate exposure to organic vapors, activated charcoal type.

    Epoxy is complicated chemistry & until it’s fully cured the chemicals - particularly hardener as it’s rather strongly alkaline - aren’t good for our bodies.

    Adding heat, so as to soften materials to be removed, will only increase your exposure as the heat will also produce toxic fumes.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Desperate help needed - first cedar strip canoe build

    ...and heat-wise, most epoxy resin will start to soften as low sometimes as 140 degrees F, so don't go too crazy with the heat gun and scorch things. A decent putty knife may end up being the best tool to lift the heated cloth. It's a slow and tedious job, but rushing it will just pull splinters out of the wood, creating an additional problem to fix. Just remember that although building strippers isn't terribly difficult, none of us were born knowing the ins and outs of how to do it well and those of us who built several of them over the years learned something new with every build.

  8. #8
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    Sep 2021
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    Roscoe, NY
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    Default Re: Desperate help needed - first cedar strip canoe build

    Thanks again everyone. Going to look for a heat gun and charcoal mask today at my local home depot. I've certainly learned my lesson about rushing and will take the repair slowly and carefully. I really appreciate all the advice and kind words.

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