What Skills? You Don’t Need ‘Em
And That’s no Lie
The questions about one’s ability to master the tools and techniques necessary to build a boat gives many first time builders pause for thought. And I get it. I really do.
A canoe is comprised of beautiful flowing lines, none of them square and none of them straight. At first glance it seems almost impossible to think that a novice woodworker could create something so beautiful. Yet they do. All the time. Many many with little or no experience in a wood shop have built canoes. Some brilliantly. And some not so brilliantly.
And this time I’m not lying.
Instead of being glib however, here are a few things for first time builders and wood workers a few things to think about whilst pondering their capacity to build a canoe.
Can you safely use your tools, or take the care and attention necessary to learn how to use them safely?
Everybody knows somebody who is missing a digit due to an accident in the wood shop. Don’t be the schmuck at Easter dinner amusing the youngsters with your missing thumb because you didn’t follow basic safety protocols.
It’s remarkable how quickly an accident can happen. For those new to woodworking a quick perusal of either of these links will set you off on the correct path.
I’ll say it again … take the time to know your tools. Use them safely. Please.
Have you got the patience to practice a new skill on scrap material before committing to the same on your boat?
If this is your first time creating a rolling bevel, have a go or two on something other than that already perfectly fitted piece. If this is your first time with fiberglass cloth and epoxy, lay out a square foot on a piece of scrap plywood and get a feel for the flow of it. If you haven’t cut strips with a circular saw before, make a pass or two on a piece of otherwise discarded stock.
Building a canoe is a pleasant past-time; not a race to the finish. Take your time when learning new skills and they’ll stay with you a lifetime. Rush, and you’ll frustrate yourself with sloppy results and wasted time and material.
Are you able to transfer measurements with a modicum of precision? Can you use a level?
You’ve heard the old joke? “I cut it twice and its still to short!”
That’s not you, right?
Perhaps not, but it’s been me.
One of my first canoes took a weird dip the keel line took in the aft sections. I knew that the stations were the correct size and positioned in the correct places but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out happened. A whole lot of grumbling and stumbling later I realized that two particular stations weren’t on the vertical level which in turn caused the dip. I’d neglected the very basic caution of laying a measure over the forms and that lack of precision lead to a lumpy hull.
Some hulls later, midway through a build I noticed a significant twist in the a hull. It was severe enough that it couldn’t be adjusted for and the hull was discarded. At some point along the way we’d gotten careless and the boat fell out of square. Each subsequent step hardened it to the point we couldn’t fix it. Urghh ….
Can you slow down and examine your work before moving on to the next step …
… and if in finding something wanting, are you able to put the impulse to move rapidly onward aside and fix the error before moving on?
As the examples above prove, even builders with a boat or two under their built will screw up. Catching the screw up early is the key to success. It could well mean the difference between a good boat and no boat at all.
So, I can hear you saying, none of this has anything to do with wood working skills as we understand them. Not really anyway. These are more about approaches to the process than one’s ability to master a rolling bevel or cut complex angles.
If you can use your tools safely, if you’re willing make some practice cuts, have the patience to measure twice and keep things level, and can identify when things don’t look quite right, you’re as highly qualified as the next guy to make a canoe.
Building a Canoe
Everything You Need to Know Before You Start