Green Valley Boat Works - Builder's Notes:

Cutting Bead and Cove Strips

Although the strips for woodstrip canoe construction can take many different forms, the overwhelming favourite by far are Bead & Cove strips. Bead and cove machining makes the strips fit edge to edge through some tricky bends, where they will not easily follow the identical curves without some means of 'locking' them together, edge to edge. It's not just the fit of the strips, its also that the cove side of the strip acts as a trough for the bead of glue as you apply it, and things can get pretty messy without it. The finished boat won't look as nice either. In general, I do not recommend cutting your own strips. It is a very dusty, tedious job which requires lots of room (over double the length of the strips) and decent equipment and careful set up to do well. Precut strips are readily available from a number of sources. However, IF you have access to suitable equipment AND you can get good wood at a good price, then it would make sense. So, if that's you, then here's what to do...

For a Kipawa or Winisk, you need about 72 wide strips, 3/4" wide. If all the strips are usable and you make no mistakes, you could get away with 68, but I don't recommend trying to cut it so close. I usually prefer to have at least 1/2 dozen extra, just in case. If your strips are narrower than 3/4 inch, you'll need more in any case.

As for the choice of wood, Western Red Cedar is about the best, but many other species are also quite usable. Basically, you could use any softwood that has long, straight grain, including most other Cedars, Redwood, Basswood (Linden), and others. Cedar is prized because of it's excellent strength, workability, grain, colour, weight, and rot resistance. I've even built a couple of canoes from Eastern White Cedar, which is generally not available in long lengths due to knots. In my case, I made up a few simple gluing jigs with two small boards and clothes pins, and set up a belt sander to make scarf joints at a 30 degree angle. I glued the joints with 5 minute epoxy, and by the time the fifth joint was done, the first jig could be reused. I had 2 or 3 joints in each strip. To improve the appearance, I 'bookmatched' the grain at the joints by taking two adjacent strips as they came off the board, and joined them end to end to get fairly consistent grain and colour. Also, I made sure that all the joints pointed the same direction, toward the point of the bow of the canoe.

To cut and machine the strips, you'll need a good bandsaw, a thickness planer, a router table or shaper, and a jointer. With one good board, 2 1/2 x 10, or 2 x 12, about 1 foot longer than the canoe, you can get all the strips you need, IF you work carefully, AND have a good bandsaw and thickness planer. With the very high cost of good cedar today, the last thing you want to do is waste a lot of it by ripping it with a table saw with it's wide kerf. With a bandsaw, and a suitable blade, you will have a very thin kerf, and a much higher yield. The blade must be capable of leaving a smooth enough surface that you can use the strips as is, without thickness planing. Keep in mind that the hull will be sanded inside and out, so the sawn finish does not have to be 'perfect'.

With a 10 or 12 inch wide board, 2 or 2 1/2 inches thick, it must be resawn to produce two 'layers' of strips out of the thickness. To get the board to a manageable size for resawing, first rip it in half on the bandsaw. You now have two boards about 2" x 5 1/2". For each of these, plane one side flat and joint one edge, removing a minimum of material. Resaw each of these as close to center as you can. Now, you should have four pieces about 7/8" x 5 1/2" each.

Next, thickness plane each of these pieces to 3/4" thick, or thicker if you can. The key here is that the final thickness of all the pieces you make must be the same, because this dimension will become the width of your strips. If your strips vary in width, it will be harder to plank the hull, and it won't look as nice.

Then, set up your bandsaw to rip the strips themselves. They should be 1/4" thick, but if it is critical to get the greatest yield possible (to get your total requirement out of just one board, for example) you could go a little thinner. Just remember, you'll have less to work with later, so be prepared to fair the mould and work carefully.

Lastly, machine first the bead, and then the cove, using a router table or shaper. Set up guides carefully, because you don't want to waste all the hard work and money you've already put into the strips so far. Use bead and cove bits, the usual size being 1/4". However, the 1/4" bits leave very fine edges on the cove which are easily damaged. 3/8" dia. bits (we're talking about the diameter of the bead and cove, not the shank diameter of the bit) with 1/4" thick strips avoids that problem, and works just about as well. Bead and Cove router bits, also known as canoe bits for obvious reasons, are readily available from a number of sources - for example, they are about $55.00 CAN plus s&h from Lee Valley Tools.

And now, for a few 'no-cost' tricks and tips to improve your strips. First, start with flat sawn boards, so that the strips will wind up quarter sawn, that is, with the edge grain showing. It tends to be easier to sand and plane, and looks more uniform on the finished hull. Second, keep the pieces and strips in order as you work, and machine each the same way. This makes it easier to colour match strips as you plank the hull. Any lighter or darker strips should be evenly matched from one side of the boat to the other, as well as grouped or distributed in some aesthetically satisfactory way from keel to gunwales.

From a personal point of view, I would recommend against the oft-seen practise of alternating light and dark strips, or other amateurish-looking schemes. I would suggest instead, gaining some idea of what looks good by looking at fine wooden hulls in magazines such as wooden boat, or at your nearest marina.

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Author: Martin P. Step

Copyright 1999

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