Bending Ribs by John Lindman

The way you bend the ribs will determine the shape of the hull. Since this is done free-hand here are a couple of tips that might help you arrive at the shape you desire.

After you have laid your ribs across the gunwales where they will eventually go make a mark on the ribs the distance of 4 fingers laid next to and parallel to the gunwale. When you bend your ribs that is where the bend will start.

Do you want a flat bottomed hull? If so, and you use hot water to heat the ribs rather than a steam box, then insert the rib into your kettle and only apply hot water from about 4 inches before the line, through the line, and to the end of the rib leaving the mid-section of the rib without hot water. This will allow you to bend the rib without the mid-section wanting to bend once placed in the canoe for drying.

I recommend soaking your ribs until thoroughly saturated before applying the hot water. I have one of those "turkey cookers" you can buy at the hardware store. Filled to the brim you can get your ribs submerged just past the mark if you trim them leaving about 5 inches extra at each end. If the ribs were soaked all the way through, and if you bring your pot to a boil and keep it close to that, and your ribs are just a hair thinner than 3/8th your bending should go without a hitch. Soaked all the way through and water close to boiling is key to success.

Bend two ribs at a time starting on the mark. Go slow. You can always put them back in the hot water. Bend around the knee just a bit, then move the ribs just a hair and bend just a little more, etc. Do this for several inches depending on the hull shape you are going for. If by doing that you didn't bend it past 90 degrees then stick them back into the hot water and do it again. Once just past 90 degrees do the other side the same way. Then stick the first one in the hot water (since it has most likely relaxed) then the second one and bend them both to just past 90 degrees on each side. March over to the canoe and place them in. Step into the canoe (you might want to slip off your shoes so as to minimize dirt) and stand near the bends - about where the lines were. Work the ribs into the corners by either pulling up on the gunwales or pushing down on the heads of the ribs. For ideal fit you want no slack in the bark at the bend of the ribs (the chine).

You can tack them into place with a nail or use a spring-loaded clamp (better have a lot of clamps if you are going that route).

One last thing. I was taught to put the binder on after the ribs were bent. These are the cross pieces that keep the gunwales from blowing apart from all the pressure of the newly bent ribs until they dry. I don't do that any more. I do it as I insert the ribs. Much safer and works great. I do a couple of pairs and then place a binder piece, etc. I even put the binder in before inserting the ribs.

If you go slowly and follow these tips you should only break those ribs that were of inferior wood to start with.

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