How to Build Wooden Canoes

by Tom King
Wooden canoes are prettier than plastic and with today's new materials they're easier to build.

Wooden canoes are prettier than plastic and with today's new materials they're easier to build.

Wooden canoes take a variety of forms from the old-fashioned birchbark canoe to the modern cedar strip/epoxy fiberglass canoe which preserves the beauty of the wooden canoe, but makes construction simpler and less vulnerable to the elements. Building a wooden canoe can be a daunting task. The following is a simple 3-element plywood flat bottom canoe design that takes advantage of modern construction materials.

Cutout and Assembly

  1. Mark the shapes for one half of the boat according to the plans on one sheet of plywood. Cut out the shapes and lay them on the other sheet of plywood. Mark around the shapes and cut out the other half from the second sheet of plywood.

  2. Lay the pieces in position where they will be, before starting to assemble the boat. First fit the ends of the bottom panel pieces together. Lay a piece of duct tape over the seam where the two halves of the bottom panel meet in the center. Flip the bottom panel over. The bottom will look like an elongated football.

  3. Cut an 8-inch wide strip from the quarter inch plywood the length of the center seam between the two bottom panel halves minus 2 inches. Glue the butt block over the seam on the inside (opposite side you duct taped) leaving 1 inch between the end of the butt block and the edge of the bottom panel. Allow to set and cure overnight.

  4. Cut the two left side panel halves and duct tape the seam between them on the outside. Cut another 8-inch wide butt block 2 inches shorter than the length of the seam between the panels. Glue the side panel butt block over the center seam between the side panel halves covering the seam and leaving the ends of the block 1 inch from the sides of the side panels. Allow to set and cure overnight. Repeat with the right side panels.

  5. Fit the left side panel to the bottom by bending the bottom seam along the edge of the bottom panel. Duct tape the pieces together on what will be the outside of the boat as you move along the seam. Repeat with the right side panel till you have the three pieces taped together in the shape of your finished canoe. Duct tape the ends together. Do not tape anything on the inside of the hull.

  6. Cut a dowel to the desired width at the center of the boat and temporarily duct tape the dowel where the center thwart fits across the center of the hull at the top edges. Duct tape two more thwarts in place to act as spreaders during the seaming process and hold the boat's shape.


  1. Paint the entire inside surface of the hull with epoxy-based fiberglass resin and allow to cure.

  2. Apply epoxy-based wood putty filler into all the inside seams and allow to set and cure.

  3. Paint the puttied seams and the butt blocks at the center with epoxy resin. Lay fiberglass tape on top of the resin over the seams and paint with epoxy-based fiberglass resin. Smooth the tape with a putty knife to remove bubbles and lay the fiberglass tape flat against the hull. Allow to cure.

  4. Remove all the duct tape on the outside of the hull. Flip the hull upside down and paint with epoxy-based fiberglass resin and allow to cure.

  5. Apply a putty fillet over all the outside seams. Allow to dry and cure. Paint the puttied seams with resin and then lay the fiberglass tape and resin as before. Allow to cure to create a strong fiberglass "beam" at each seam between the panels. Lay an extra layer of fiberglass tape at the bow and stern to strengthen and round the ends of the boat.


  1. Shape the seams with a grinder or sander to round the seams on the outside of the hull once the fiberglass is hard. Turn the boat upright

  2. Screw 1 inch wide, quarter inch thick hardwood strips inside and outside the hull at the top edges to form gunwales and strengthen the frame.

  3. Remove the tape from the temporary thwarts and screw the hardwood dowels in place through the hull into the ends of the hardwood dowels.

  4. Attach the triangular deck plates called for in the plans to the tips of the bow and stern just below the gunwales. Use screws through the hull. Coat all screw ends with epoxy-based resin.

  5. Paint the hull or apply a layer of lightweight fiberglass cloth to the outside of the hull and coat 3 layers of pigmented epoxy-based fiberglass resin. If you use unpigmented resin, the fiberglass will be transparent. Do the same to the inside to create a smoother surface and to protect the plywood.

Items you will need

  • Canoe cutout plan
  • 2 fine grade or marine plywood sheets (no holes), 6 millimeter (quarter inch)
  • Saber saw
  • 4 inch circular saw
  • Duct Tape
  • Fiberglass tape
  • Epoxy-based fiberglass resin and gelcoat
  • Epoxy-based wood putty
  • Putty knife
  • 4 inch wide fiberglass tape strips
  • 3 hardwood dowels, 1 1/4 inch diameter by 3 feet or so for thwarts.
  • Epoxy-based paint or fiberglass cloth and pigmented epoxy-based fiberglass resin
  • Paint brushes
  • Paint thinner or acetone


  • You can add seats to the canoe if you wish. It will make the boat somewhat heavier.
  • Fiberglass any structure you screw into the hull at the point of attachment to make it part of the hull and prevent its working loose.


  • Work in a well ventilated area when using resins and solvents.
  • Wear eye protection and gloves
  • Clean your tools quickly after using with fiberglass resin

About the Author

Tom King published his first paid story in 1976. His book, "Going for the Green: An Insider's Guide to Raising Money With Charity Golf," was published in 2008. He received gold awards for screenwriting at the 1994 Worldfest Charleston and 1995 Worldfest Houston International Film Festivals. King holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Southwestern Adventist College.

Photo Credits