TECH TIPS PAGE EIGHTEEN
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Making the Gunwale Frame
The previous two articles outlined the process for selecting a canoe, reducing its dimensions to one-quarter scale, making a "blueprint" of the canoe, and constructing a reusable building platform. To review those articles, go to "Tips" and sort through past issues of "The Bark Canoe Aficianado."
This article and others to follow will focus on making the component parts of the canoe; gunwales, gunwale frame, thwarts, ribs, sheathing, etc. Preparing these skeletal elements make up at least 50 percent of the work of building any canoe. Each can be done separately, at any time and in any sequence, then stored until you are ready for assembly. It should also be noted that all of these procedures are identical to those for making full size canoes.
Most tribal styles use a double-gunwale structure composed of an inwale frame and outwales, which are lashed together with the bark sandwiched between them to form the gunwales. Micmac, Ojibwe and a few other tribal styles use a single, continuously lashed gunwale frame, which requires an entirely different discussion. For the double-gunwale structure, the goal is to create a canoe-shaped frame, with thwarts mortised into the wood, to hold the canoe shape along the top edge of the canoe. Tools required: razor utility knife, crooked knife and small, low-angle block plane.
Making an inwale frame is a tricky and crucial step in building a canoe. Many things can go wrong. Start by determining the dimensions of the inwales from your ¼-scale "blueprint." Orient the wood so the grain lines run lengthwise on the top and bottom edges and not on the sides. Ideally the two inwale blanks should be split from the same larger blank to ensure identical strength and bending properties and thus a symmetrical inwale frame. Note on the blueprint that the inwales are thickest at the center thwart and gently tapered toward each end. In cutting the tapers at the ends of each inwale, be sure to remove wood only on the inboard edges. This will prevent the inwales from splitting when they are bent into canoe shape. Mark each inwale for thwart placements, using the "blueprint" for guidance.
To make the inwales more flexible and less likely to break when bent, soak them overnight in water. Using the "blueprint" as a template, make temporary thwarts from cedar that span only the inboard edges of each inwale. Drill a small hole into the ends of each temporary thwart and pass a string through each hole to tie the thwarts to each inwale. The temporary thwarts will be used as holders while the inwales are being bent to shape. Tie the center temporary thwart in place, then the quarter thwarts and finally the end thwarts. Cut a miter joint in the ends of each inwale to form an arrow point. Slightly notch the outside edge of each inwale to form a stop for an end wrapping. Jam a triangular shaped bit of wood into the gap behind the arrow point to ensure that the tie doesn't distort the shape of the ends. Before tying the ends permanently, stretch a line from tip to tip to verify that the stretched line precisely covers the center mark of each thwart. If not, adjust the tips from side to side until the centers line up and the frame is perfectly symmetrical.
Allow the inwale frame to dry for at least two days. While waiting for the inwale frame to dry, turn your attention to making the permanent thwarts. That process, and how to install them into the inwale frame, will be described in next month's newsletter.
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