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What are Cedar Strip Canoes?

By S. Mithra
Updated May 23, 2024
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European colonists in America borrowed the basic design of birch bark canoes from Native Americans and developed cedar strip canoes. These canoes are long, sleek boats made of thin planks of cedar over a skeleton of cedar ribs designed to traverse lakes, rivers, or any freshwater tributary. You can buy cedar strip canoes from handmade manufacturers, or build your own with a kit and cedar lumber.

Speed, elegance, and environmental compatibility characterize the versatile cedar strip canoe. Western Red Cedar is usually the tree of choice because it grows fast enough to be considered a renewable resource. The canoes are also completely unique, as each will exhibit the natural variations in color and grain found in the cedar wood. Popular in both America and Canada, cedar strip canoes usually extend from 12-18 feet (3.7-5.5 m), with one or two seats, and one or two paddles. Unlike hollowed-log canoes, these so-called "strippers" are lightweight and easy to maneuver.

For construction, a temporary skeleton of metal or wood is laid upside-down to act as the form. Ribs, or stations, of cedar are soaked in warm water until they are malleable enough to wrap around the skeleton, from one lip to the other, creating the basic canoe shape. Then the long strips of cedar are tacked, stapled, or glued lengthwise to these ribs. When everything is dry and sanded smooth, the form can be removed and the canoe prepared for contact with water. Fiberglass cloth, sealed with an epoxy resin, protects the hull. Many layers of marine varnish are applied to the exterior to make the cedar strip canoe waterproof. Finally, the finishing touches, such as seats and gunwales, are added.

With a supply of cedar and a few other tools, you can make your own cedar strip canoe. There are classes, workshops, kits, and online instructions or plans to help you form and finish a unique boat. This way, you can customize the pattern and color of the cedar, specify the canoe's size, and add fancy accessories such as sliding seats. For cedar strip canoe enthusiasts, it might be worth spending 150-200 hours in order to paddle a hand-built cedar strip canoe down river.

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