Building a Winisk Canoe

For my second canoe, I decided to build a Winisk. The Winisk canoe is a modern design by John Winters. I obtained a license to build the canoe from Green Valley Boat Works. The Winisk is a long, 17'6", canoe, made for serious canoe tripping.

I bought a kit for the Winisk from Classic Boat Kits. This kit included forms, stem laminations, cedar strips, gunwales, and seats. Instead of buying epoxy and fiberglass from Classic Boat Kits, I instead bought directly from System Three.

I used my garage as a workplace. This is not an ideal location, but who has one? At least the garage is mostly clean and mostly dry and I won't have any problems with getting the canoe out when I'm done.

The Stems

The Winisk has unusual stems. The stems taper from 1.5 inch at the end of the gunwales down to 3/4 inch just below the waterline, and remain at 3/4 inch until their end. This means that the stem laminations are about 1 3/4 inch wide.

There are very good notes on making stems on the Green Valley Boat Works site. By and large, I followed the advice there.

The only significant change from the instructions was that I marked the outside lamination of the inside stems with the final shape before I bent the stems. This meant that I didn't have to mark the final shape on already-bent wood. It did mean, however, that when I bent the stems, I did have to place them correctly on the stem forms. However, this placement does not have to be exact.

I made a makeshift steam box from a cardboard tube and steamed each set of six stem laminations in it for about an hour. I then bent the stem laminations on the stem forms and left them to dry for a day on the forms. I then removed the stem laminations from the forms and let them dry for another day before gluing them on the stem forms. Finally, I planed the inside stems down to size, using the marks on the outside lamination.

Bending and gluing all the stems and shaping the inside stems took about 10 hours spread out from 10 to 15 July. I interspersed work on the bow and stern stems, as each had to dry for various periods of time. (I did this on vacation, and didn't have a digital camera with me so there are no photos of this process.)


Mounting the Forms

I used the same strongback for the Winisk as I had used for my Peterborough canoe. Even though the Winisk is almost 2 feet longer than the Peterborough, I expected that I could easily use a 16' strongback, just having the stem forms stick out a few inches. This turned out to be the case. I did have to reposition all the form-mounting blocks, as the Peterborough has 15 transverse forms, with a center form, and the Winisk has 16 transverse forms.

I again used the hint from Green Valley Boat Works to employ carriage bolts to bolt the forms onto the strongback. I drilled oversize holes in the forms and regular-size holes in the mounting blocks. This allows the forms to be easily repositioned.

I set up the strongback on sawhorses, leveled it, moved all the form-mounting blocks, mounted the forms, and adjusted their positions to align them. I then used a scrap cedar strip to hold the top all the transverse forms in place. Finally I covered the edges of the forms with duct tape so that they wouldn't end up glued to the canoe. All this took about 10 hours on 20 and 21 July.

[Inside Stems]

Mounting and Fairing the Stems

I next mounted the inside stems on the stem forms. At this point I discovered my first serious mistake. I had assumed that the stem laminations I received in the kit were the usual 1/4" and that the leftover laminations were extras. However, the stem laminations were 3/16" and I should have used eight laminations instead of six. This meant that my stems were a little thin. I raised the stem forms by the missing 3/16". This, however, left the canoe a bit too short, but I figured that this would not be a problem. I also faired the last transverse form to make up for the shortness.

I then placed the inside stems on the stem forms and faired them. (It turns out that I didn't take enough off the stem forms, leaving them a bit wide. I left them wide in most places, but near the turn of the bilge, I refaired the stems as I was gluing the strips.)

Mounting and fairing the stems took a couple of hours on 21 July.

Stripping the Canoe

The strips were already at hand, as I had ordered them along with the strips for the Peterborough canoe. The strips were Red Cedar bead and cove strips, ranging from just over eight feet down to about 4 feet. Most of the strips were 3/4", but I also had some 5/8" strips for the turn of the bilge.

[First Strip]

The First Strip

I decided to make the strips parallel to the sheer line. I attached the first strip to the forms with small nails, as I didn't have anything clamp to. As this strip would end up under the gunwales, the nail holes would not show. As I had no full-length strips, I had to build up the first strip incrementally. Attaching the first two strips took a couple of hours on July 21.

At the strip joints, I made simple 1-to-1 scarf joints, instead of just butting the strips. I again used fiber tape to hold the strips to the forms during the stripping process, with dowels placed the cove to protect it. (For more details see ``Tips & Tools'' on the web site for Classic Canoe Kits.) To make the tape hold on the forms, and for reusability, I put extra duct tape on the forms.

[Sides Stripped] [Accent Stripe]

Stripping the Sides

I glued the strips to the inside stems as I went and cut them off to within about an inch of the stems, so that the next strip could be easily attached. As I alternated from side to side, I found that the glue would set up fine and I did not have to wait between strips. I trimmed each strip to almost to its correct length as soon as the glue had set up. When the strips would rebound from the forms I glued a small block of wood to them using hot melt glue. I then attached this block to the forms using a screw. This made it quite easy to keep the strips in contact with the forms. I made an accent stripe, consisting of a narrow Mahogany strip enclosed by two White Pine strips, as the fourth through sixth strips.

Each full-length strip on the sides took between 1/2 and 3/4 hours to lay out, cut, prepare, glue, and tape down. I finished the sides of the canoe over the weekend of July 22 and 23, about 40 strips in total.
[Twisting a Strip]

Turning the Bilge

As I neared the turn of the bilge, the strips had quite a twist over the last two forms and to the stem. Here I used the narrow (5/8") strips, which made some difference. However, I don't think I would have needed the narrow strips. The last wide strip had a similar twist, and I placed that strip by using a bar clamp and a weight (a spring clamp) to put a nearly-correct twist in the strip. Here I often waited between strips, just to ensure that the glue had completely set up as the clamps on the end interfered with the placement of the strip on the other side of the canoe.
[Start of the Football]

I also had to trim the end of the strips after the glue set up so that the end would not interfere with the strip on the other side. Some of the strips were hard to place correctly, as there was less and less room in the middle of the canoe. I used various means to clamp the strips, including running the fiber tape over the top of the canoe and using webbing from a canoe car-top carrier.

I found that it was best to have the strips leaning out a bit from the forms, then pulling in the top of the strip with the fiber tape. This resulted in good contact between the strip and the form. The opposite situation, where the strip ``leans-in'' is much harder to deal with, as one has to use the between-forms tape to twist the strip the right way. I think that I will pre-twist most of my strips in future, even in cases where it might not be completely required.

When I had done most of the strips in this area, when I was waiting for glue to set up, I trimmed and sanded the earlier strips flush with the inside stems.

The strips in this area took about 3/4 hour each, as I had to tape them in much more securely. I prepared and glued these strips on July 24 to 26.

Stripping the Football

[First Side of the Football]

After the turn of the bilge was finished the strips didn't have to twist nearly so much and were much easier to place. I went back to the wider (3/4") strips. However, I was now reaching the end of the inside stems, and had only a couple of strips that could be placed before starting on the football. I placed these strips on July 26 and 27, trimming them back close to the outer stem line as I went, so that the next strip could be placed.

I decided to strip one side of the football, trim all these strips to the centerline, and then strip the other side of the football. The first side of the football went fast, as I did not have to trim the end of the strips.
[Trimming to the

When I had done the first side of the football, I trimmed all the strips on that side down to the centerline. I first cut the strips close to the centerline with a saw, then trimmed them some more with a chisel, and finally sanded them straight using some sandpaper glued to straight wood.

Finishing the first side of the football and trimming it to the centerline took about 5 hours on July 27 and 28.

[Filling in the Other
Side of the Football] [Filling in the Other
Side of the Football] I then placed strips on the other side of the football. This work went very slowly, as I had to trim each strip to fit against the centerline. To do the trimming I used a combination of a saw, a chisel, and a sanding block.

I had problems making the strips fit in exactly, even when I clamped the sides together. The glue line between the sides of the canoe was often quite visible.

[Filling in the Other
Side of the Football] For the last few strips, I had to cut out part of the cove so that the strips could be placed. I glued the cut-out bit back in after the next strip was place. I cut out the entire top cove of the second-last strip to get the last strip to placed in.

Filling in the second half of the football took about 12 hours on July 29 and 30.

[Fitting the Outer Stem]

Attaching the Outer Stems

I had done a lot of work on the outer stems already, during the times I had had to wait for glue to set up. I had planed and sanded the strips back to the inner stems at the ends of the canoe when I was starting on the football. I had cleaned out the slots for the outer stems to the correct width when I was working on the football. I had test-fitted the outer stems as I had gone along. This all took about 4 hours in total, spread out over the period from 26 to 30 July.

[Gluing the Outer Stem] All that remained was to glue the outer stems to the canoe, which I did with expoxy on 30 July. In the usual fashion I mixed up some epoxy and painted it on the both surfaces. Then I added some plastic mini-fibers and a bit of wood flour for colour to the rest of the epoxy and applied it to the inner stems. Then I put the outer stems in place and clamped them with the canoe straps and some fiber tape. The gluing itself took about an hour on 30 July.

The Outside

[Fairing the Outside]

Fairing the Outside

I faired the outside of the canoe with a combination of a a small plane, a random-orbital sander, and a hand-sanding tool. First I took off the ridges with the plane. Next I sanded with the random-orbital sander, starting with 40-grit paper, and finishing with 60-grit and 100-grit paper. I used the hand-sanding tool to smooth out some of the undulations.

I wet out the outside and marked off places that needed more work. I then fixed those places. Unfortunately, I missed a couple of places before I did the fill coat, and had to do a bit of sanding after the fill coat. Even more unfortunately, I missed one mark from the random-orbital sander until after I glassed the outside, and will have to live with that mark.

The planing and sanding took about 5 hours on 4 and 5 August.
[Sealing the Outside]

Epoxy and Glass for the Outside

I sealed the outside of the canoe with a sealer coat of epoxy. Throughout, I used System 3 Clear Coat epoxy and applied it with a foam roller. I found that this technique works fine and results in a very uniform surface, needing little or no sanding between coats and little sanding at the end.

[Placing the Fiberglass] I next put the fiberglass on the outside, smoothing it down flat to the surface and cutting it roughly to shape. I did do a bit of sanding before placing the fiberglass, just so that there would be no really rough spots to catch the fiberglass. I trimmed and cut the ends of the fiberglass so that it would wrap around the ends of the canoe nicely.

[Sanding Outside] [Final Epoxy Coat] [Sanding the Fiberglass] [Gluing the Fiberglass] Then I put a layer of epoxy over the fiberglass with a roller. Soon after I applied the epoxy I went over it with a squeegee to push the fiberglass in close to the hull. I put three more coats on the outside, waiting until the epoxy was at least tacky between coats. Before the final coat, I did a light allover sanding to remove any bumps and to smooth out the fiberglass edges at the bow and stern. Each of these coats took between 30 and 45 minutes to apply. After the final coat, I sanded the outside, in preparation for varnishing the outside.

The entire process of fiberglassing the outside took about 7 hours, from 5 to 8 August.

The Inside

Fairing the Inside

I took the canoe off the forms and put it on my canoe stands.
[Sanding Inside]

I didn't use a plane or spokeshave on the inside, as I couldn't figure out how to get a plane or spokeshave to work on the concave surfaces. Instead I started out with the random-orbital sander with 40-grit paper. This worked well to take most of the irreguarities out of the inside. To smooth out the inside, I switched to 60-grit and then 100-grit paper.

On the ends, where the sander didn't fit, I used the foam block and also pieces of sandpaper attached to a flexible 1-inch scaper and to a squeegee. This allowed me to put pressure just where I wanted, and to either sand a small section (with the scraper) or a larger section (with the squeegee).

Nevertheless, I found sanding the inside to be a pain. I had to bend down over the canoe, which was tiring. I also had to tightly control the sander so that I sanded the section that needed sanding, which was also tiring.

I made a serious mistake and another not-so-serious mistake. I almost sanded through in one spot, trying to get the turn of the bilge smooth. I patched this spot with epoxy mixed with wood flour. Hopefully, it will turn out OK. Further, I didn't smooth out some spots, and left scratches from the initial sanding. I even wetted out the inside to look for such scratches, but they didn't show up (at least to me).

Sanding the inside took about 8 hours from 8 to 10 August.

[Trimming the Fiberglass] [Placing the Fiberglass]

[Sealing the Inside]

Epoxy and Glass for the Inside

As mentioned above, I almost sanded through in one spot. I mixed a small batch of epoxy with lots of wood flour and patched this spot. Then I sealed the inside with epoxy. When the epoxy had set I lightly sanded it to remove any protrusions and sanded the patch area smooth. I then placed the fiberglass on the inside. I pinned it in place with spring clamps and cut it to fit at the ends and around the stems.
[Epoxy the Inside]

I then put one coat of epoxy over the fiberglass. I left the inside with only this amount of epoxy as I wanted a textured, non-slip inside surface.

Fiberglassing the inside took about 3 hours, from 10 to 12 August.

The Trim

I had seats for the Winisk in the kit I bought, but I wanted to make a sliding bow seat, as the Winisk is supposed to benefit from good trim. I bought plans for seats from Green Valley Boat Works. I also wanted to try the hidden hardware system used by Martin Step so I bought a Heli-Coil kit from Reid Tool Supply. I decided to use a slightly different method than Martin Step uses, using threaded rods instead of screws. I could easily find such rods, whereas I had problems locating long screws.

Using the hidden hardware system meant that I had to plan out where everything went before I installed the inwales. Fortunately, the Winisk plans included placement for the seats and thwart(s), so I could really just measure them out on the inwales. The only problem would be to determine the angle to drill the mounting holes, as I would have to do the drilling before installing the inwales.

The Gunwales and Decks

I bought pre-formed gunwales from Classic Boat Kits. Each came as three pre-scarfed sections that I glued together with epoxy. I then attached the outwales to the canoe and glued them in place. Next I formed short decks from bird's-eye maple and glued them in.

Then I cut the inwales to length. I drilled and installed locking #10x32 Heli-Coil inserts for the thwart and seats. Next, I glued the inwales in place. Finally, I put a coat of epoxy on the gunwales and decks and sanded them smooth.

Attaching the gunwales for the Winisk was much easier than attaching the gunwales for the Peterborough Canadien because the shear line is much straighter for the Winisk. Gluing and attaching the gunwales and forming and attaching the decks took about 6 hours from 23 to 28 August. Unfortunately I didn't have access to a camera during this period, so I don't have any pictures of the gunwales in progress.


The Thwart

I made a thwart from 1"x2" bird's-eye maple, cutting it to length, bevelling the ends of the thwart, and drilling holes for the machine screws that screwed into the Heli-Coil inserts. This took about an hour on 30 August.

[Installing the Sliding Seat]

The Seats

I had two seats from Classic Boat Kits already, so I decided to use these seats until I build custom seats using the seat plans from Green Valley Boat Works. I built supports for the sliding bow seat using some 3/4"x3/4" oak that I had. This size is a bit small, so we'll see how it works out in practice. I built spacers for both seats from leftover pieces of the gunwale wood.

Building and fitting the seat hardware took about 5 hours from 1 September to 6 September.



I varnished the inside of the hull, the gunwales, and most of the seat hardware together. I put three coats on everything and four coats on the unepoxied hardware. This varnishing took a couple of hours on 3 and 4 September.

I varnished the outside of the hull and the rest of the seat hardware. This last varnishing took about 4 hours, spread out from 6 September to 13 September.

[All Done] [On the Water]


On 23-24 September I took the completed canoe on a trip on the Delaware River.

Updated 26 September 2000 by Peter F. Patel-Schneider