How to Make a Canoe: The Easy Guide For A Smooth Canoeing Experience

Water transportation is one of the best and most enjoyable means of movement, whereby people and goods are conveyed from one place to another on the sea using the canoes, boats, and ships. You enjoy the cool scenery and aquatic horizon, feeding your imaginations with the realistic views of the marine habitats and environments.

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There are various means of transportation on the water like using the canoes, speedboats, barges, ships, and other sophisticated marine vessels. The simplest of all is the canoe, and if you want to get your hands a bit dirty and learn how to make a canoe, this is the perfect place for it, as you will learn the basics, the procedure and what to expect.

The canoe

The canoe is made with large stems of wood carved and shaped in a way it could sail easily on the water being paddled by one or two persons.

These sea vehicles have existed for thousands of years an invention by the Indians living in the Caribbean Islands. However, North American Indians developed the latest forms and features we use today.

Canoe inside structure

As a means of transportation

Over the ages, the canoe is one of the simplest and easiest ways of traveling on the water. The natives living in the riverine areas of the American continent constructed canoes regarded as ‘dugout canoes’ from the hollow of large timbers.

These canoes help you to sail and maneuver safely through some rough passageways on the canals and rivers, and connecting with the places where larger barges and ships could not reach. Make sure you know how to paddle one. To find out how to effectively paddle a canoe, check out our earlier piece on this topic.

The types of canoes you can make by yourself

You can find two types that are used to convey people and goods from one place to another. The types of trees found in a place determine the quality of woods that could be used. In addition, the weather conditions of a place determine how it could be made.

For instance, in the North Western regions of the Pacific, you could find larger canoes that could convey up to eighty persons and measuring about ninety feet long and six feet wide.

You will also find very large and open ones on the West coast of America, while in the regions of the North where they are experiencing colder weather, you could see those having closed decks made to protect and prevent the weather elements like rainfall, snow, etc. from disturbing sailors during their journeys.

canoe being made in a workshop

They are made with the renowned birch bark because of their tensile and durable natures. Therefore, you can make very strong canoes that are lightweight. You can also use fire to burn the inward linings making them impermeable and waterproof. Moreover, the materials that are used are biodegradable and useful to the environment.

The two types you could make are the kayak popularly called the K-boat and the Canadian also known as the C-boat. The kayak has a paddle with blades at both ends made for one person. However, it is a sea vessel with a closed deck and you can easily make the kayak for your comfortable sea voyages.

See also: Kayak vs Canoe: Watercraft Tips and How to Choose Between the Two

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Moreover, the Canadian could be made with either Kevlar or wood. It is propelled using a paddle with a single blade and conveys about two persons. The length is measured to be twenty feet.

The tools you need

If you want to make a good canoe, you need some tools like:

  •  Drill
  • Jigsaw
  • Paintbrush
  • Orbital sanders
  • Spreaders

How to make a wooden canoe

You can make different types of canoes depending on your choice and the materials available to you. They are in different shapes and sizes depending on the region you live and the weather conditions prevalent there.

For instance, there are the kayak and Canadian that you can make as do-it-yourself projects. Let us examine the different stages and processes you will follow in order to complete these projects successfully.

  • Getting set to make the project real. If you desire to make a successful do-it-yourself project, you need to follow these stages methodically in order to achieve your target.
  • Order your kit. In the kit, you will find the wood, fiberglass cloth, some hardware, layouts, and instructions that you can use to carry out your project successfully.
  • Study the layout and instructions. If you could study the layout of the structure you want to make and the necessary instructions or procedures to set it up, then, it will be very easy to make.
  • Create a sawback. The sawback is the platform upon which you will build your project. It could simply be a level surface made of blocks or other hard materials.
  • Measure and cut the wood. This should be according to the size, type, and pattern you want to make. You should measure and cut the wood following the patterns, shapes, and outlines in the set you ordered.
  • Let the sawback carry the patterns and forms you are constructing. Put the already cut patterns and forms on the sawback and begin to screw the woods together in order to maintain the alignment.
  • Screw the ends of the woods together. You can use a saw to cut out the wood according to the different sections and outlines you want to construct on the structure by tracing the patterns on the canoe kit. Then, ensure that the edges are well positioned and attached to each other before screwing them together.
  • Use a masking tape to cover and close the edges. Do you like the edges of the wood to stick out? If the edges of the wood stick out, it will make the project rough and untidy. Moreover, it could accidentally cause injuries to you or others; then, close the edges of the wood with a masking tape. This will make your project very attractive and comfortable to use.
  • Gather and glue the pieces of wood together. Your project will have a very good shape if you can use the carpenter’s glue to hold the pieces of wood together. Ensure to use hand gloves whenever you are applying the glue for protection. You can also use staples to hold the strips of wood in place.
  • Measure and cut the wood to build the top. The strips of wood you measured and cut could be used to build and design the top, making it have balance and equilibrium. The spaces between these strips of wood should not be too wide, to ensure they are glued together very well.
  • Build up the sides. You can use clamps to support the strips of wood as you build the sides of the structure. In addition, apply the carpenter’s glue to the strips of wood and carefully place them on one another.
  • Detach the staples. At this point, you can use a pair of pliers to pull out the staples. This should be done after the glued woods are dried and fitted properly into the body of the structure.  You can then detach the staples from the ends. Twist the staples as you pull them out of the wood in order to avoid causing damage to the structure.
  • Trim off the excess wood using a block plane. Check out for excess wood that may be sticking out from the structure. You can use a block plane to smoothen the rough edges and surfaces making it neat and attractive.
  • Use sandpaper to ensure the surface is clean and tidy. You should use sandpaper to rub the surface and ensure it is smooth and nice to look at.
  • The structure should be detached from the sawback. In order to really, present a good do-it-yourself project, you need to detach it from the sawback that gave it support during the construction process. This will also involve carefully pulling the forms and features out to avoid damaging the structure.
  • Reinforce the body by sealing the wooden strips. You should seal the wooden strips in order to reinforce the structure. Most of the times, you could use epoxy, varnish, and fiberglass in the sealing process as this will give it a rigid structure and appearance. Moreover, you need to adhere to the safety precautions and application procedures by following the guidelines and instructions provided. At this stage, you can take it to sail on the water when the sealing process is completely dried.

The dugout canoe

Are you ready to carry out this project? You can make this sea vehicle by carving it out from a log of wood. There are different types of wood that you can use for this project like the redwood, willow, pine, cedar, spruce, and cottonwood.

dugout canoe

Here are some steps you should follow while preparing to carve this structure.

  • Choose the wood from a good tree. You need to visit a forest beside a river to choose a tree with a strong and straight stem that will be easier for you to carve.
  • The tree should be split into logs to make it easier for you. It is better to use an already fallen tree or you can select a strong and straight one; cut it down and split into logs. You can choose to use a log that will be as long as you want the shape to be.
  • Make sure you use a proper workstation. After you have cut your log, you need to choose a good workplace that will give you enough room to construct your canoe easily and move it down to the water. Preferably, you may decide to work in the forest where you cut down the tree.

Building the dugout canoe

At this stage, having chosen the type of tree suitable for your project, cut it down and split into logs. Begin to carve the log according to the shape, size, and pattern you want your structure to have. Remember, the structure you will build depends on your location and the weather conditions prevalent in your region.

Here are some simple steps that you can take:

  • Remove the bark of the tree from the log. Firstly, you should remove the bark of the tree from the log and keep it dry in order to use it to make fire if the need arises. You can use an axe or shovel to remove the bark easily.
  • Outline the log before cutting. This will help you to follow the outline and feature you want your project to have and to avoid wasting the wood. You will make a sketch that is oval in the middle of the log depicting where the center shall be, while both ends will be narrowed and tapered.
  • Make the base to be flat and smooth. After you have carved out the shape from the log according to the pattern, you want to make. Then, you should cut the base, make it flat, and smooth in a way it could float on water and carry people and goods easily.
  • Make the top uniform and leveled. You need to roll the log over if you have finished working on the base. This will help you to use the pieces of wood and build a level top as you carve out the sides very well.
  • Taper the ends by cutting and carving. This could be done using an axe, adz, or a chainsaw to cut off the parts of the wood that are not needed. Due to the tapered nature, it could be able to move in different directions easily.
  • Create some space in the middle. If you follow the outline, you should be able to give some gap and create some space at the center to accommodate more goods and people. You should be careful when cutting and carving the structure in order to avoid creating holes at the base. Furthermore, chopping off some pieces of wood from the structure will make it light, able to float and sail on the water easily.

The final steps in the making of your canoe project

  • Shape the curves. The ends and curves should be shaped very well in order to maintain a regular form.  You can do this by using an elbow adz.
  • Increase the space at the middle. You need to cut out excess wood from the middle and ends of the structure. Use axe, knife, or adz to carve the middle and increase the space in order to increase its capacity to carry goods and people across the water.
  • Use sandpaper to smoothen the surface. In addition, you can apply sandpaper on the body by scrubbing it all over the surface. Afterward, ensure to blow off the dust, this will give it a proper outlook.
  • Use spar varnish to seal the body of the structure. Lastly, seal the body of the structure with spar vanish. You can apply multiple coats to make it stronger. Moreover, in order to make the layers stick very well, you can apply light sandpapers between them. Allow the varnish to dry and the edges seal together. Congratulations! You can now take your canoe to sail on the water.

Sail away

Now that you know how to build your own canoe, it’s time to put it on the water and test it out. If it’s a smooth sail, you know you did a great job.

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Not crafty? No worries, there are many ready-made canoes in the market. To make choosing easier, see our experts review of the best solo canoe to help you.

canoe at sunset

If you encounter any trouble, you can just check the stages you’ve just been through and find the problem. In any case, if you think we missed something, or if you have a better idea of how to simplify or make this project different, please let us know in the comment section.


Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.


  • I wanted to work in these canoe. Can you give me a feasibility study for the cost of how much of the price of this canoe ?
    How many people are on board?

    • Hi John! Sorry for the late response! Were you able to get a costing already for this canoe? Let me know also if you were able to find great materials!