Building Tip - More on Miniatures by Ted Behne, Making Stems

This article continues the assembly process with the making of stems at each end of the canoe. Previous articles outlined other basic steps. To review previous articles, go to Then select “Tips,” then “Building Miniature Canoes.” Required tools for making stems: tape measure, razor knife, small piece of 1/4” plywood, box of 1 1/4” finishing nails, small hammer, small piece of sandpaper.

Begin by making a xerox copy of the stem portion of the measured drawing. Prepare a piece of 1/4” plywood slightly larger than the xerox copy. Overlay the drawing onto the plywood and hammer nails into the outer edges of the stem drawing, at 1/2” intervals, to create a form to hold the hot-water-bent stems in place until they dry.

Measure the length of the stem on the drawing using a flexible tape measure. Prepare two stem blanks the required length (with an inch or so extra for final trimming,) the required width and approx. 3/16” thick. Bind one end of each blank, beginning at a point behind the headboard position, with sewing thread wound tightly and tied off to prevent the stem laminations from splitting to the end. Shape the inboard tip as indicated on the drawing, taking care to make the notch to hold the base of the headboard in place.

Lay the stem blanks flat. Measure and draw the centerlines with a straight edge and a sharp pencil. Then mark the center of the areas on each side of the centerline. Carefully cut through the stems on each of the lines you've made. Take your time. Be patient. You will find that the sharp pencil point has made a groove in the soft cedar that can be used as a guide for the first pass with the razor knife. Repeated shallow strokes along the same line are better than one deep cut. The result will be clean, straight edges with minimum risk of wandering or slippage that can ruin the stem blanks. The four new laminations will allow the stems to easily bend into the required shape, something solid stem blanks could never do without breaking.

One final step before bending. Hold the stem vertically so you can look at it from the top. Shape the top profile of the stem with sandpaper to look like the profile of a bullet, with a rounded edge at the front of the canoe and a flat edge facing inboard. Do this for the entire length of the stem, from the open tip to the thread-wound base, but not past the thread. Soak the stems in cold water for several hours.

Boil some water in a large pot. Dip the wet stems into the boiling water for 20-30 seconds. While still hot, quickly fit one stem into the nail form. Repeat for the second stem. The stems should exactly match the shape on the drawing except for an inch or so extra at the top, which will be trimmed off later. Let dry overnight, leaving space between the stems for air to circulate. Remove the stems from the form. They should hold the rough shape of the drawing. Wind thread in spiral loops around each stem to firmly hold the required shape. Make adjustments of thread tension or stem bend to achieve the right shape, then tie off the thread. Both stems should be exactly the same shape as the drawing. Double check and make adjustments if necessary.

In the next article, the stem pieces will be lashed in place. If you have questions about any of the above, just send an email to

You can view Ted's work here.

Next Page

509-327-7902 voice and fax e-mail

Home    Canoes    Classes    Materials    Accessories    News and Stuff   Links   Consignment Canoes