How to Build a Wood Canoe

Learning how to build a wood canoe can be daunting. Whether you build an authentic native American birchbark canoe, cedar strip, wood canvas or even a dugout canoe, wooden boats can be complex, time-consuming projects requiring great skill to complete. If you have the bug to build a wooden canoe, however, a simple, three-part plywood flat bottom canoe plan features modern construction materials and techniques.

Mark the plywood sheets using the templates provided with the canoe plans. Cut out the number of shapes specified for the boat and lay them in place to match the assembly diagram in the plan. You may use some template pieces more than once or flip them over to make opposite sides pieces.

Push the two bottom panel pieces together end to end and duct tape the outside of the seam. Glue the seam between the panels. Flip the panel over. Cut an 8-inch wide strip (seam butt) from the remaining plywood that is 2 inches shorter than the seam between the bottom panel pieces. Glue it into place over the top of the centre seam between the bottom panels. Leave an inch on either end of the seam uncovered by the centre seam butt. Let the glue cure overnight.

Glue the two left side panels together end to end. Cut the two left side panel halves and duct tape the seam between them on the outside. Glue between the seams and let it set four hours. Cut and glue an 8-inch wide strip on top of the seam on what will be the inside of the boat. Do the same with the two panels on the right side.

Turn the bottom panel bottom-side up and lay it flat on the ground. Turn the left side panel on edge, the bottom edge upward. Drive two wooden stakes into the ground on either side of the panel at one end so the end touches the end of the bottom panel side. Use the edge of the bottom panel as a guide and bend the left panel to follow the curved edge of the bottom panel. Repeat on the opposite side so the curve in the two panels matches the edge of the bottom panel.

Duct tape the seam between bottom and side panels on the outside of the hull. Apply glue to the inside of the ends of the panels where they come together to form the bow and stern. Duct tape over the outside of the seam.

Cut three dowels to the width of the canoe as measured at the centre and just behind where you plan to add the bow and stern seats. Predrill the hull at the points where the ends of the dowels will press against the hull. Glue the ends to the inside of the boat and screw the dowels (thwarts) to the hull with galvanised screws and washers.

Fill the seams between the panels on the inside of the boat with epoxy putty and allow it to cure. Sand the entire boat inside and out. Round the corners of all seam butts. Cut the ends of the boat where the side panels meet into a rounded shape and retape with duct tape.

Cut fibreglass strips 8 inches wide and long enough to cover the inside seams of the boat. Paint over the strips with fibreglass resin as you lay the strips on top of the seams. Use the putty knife to spread the resin and force bubbles out of the cloth till it turns clear. Allow taped seams to cure.

Paint the inside of the boat with fibreglass resin and allow it to set overnight and harden. Remove all duct tape from the outside of the hull, putty the seams, tape the seams with fibreglass strips and apply resin to them. Allow it all to cure. Sand and paint the outside of the hull with fibreglass resin and allow it to cure overnight.

Cut and shape two seat bottoms from the 1-by-10 inch plank and screw them into place from the outside of the hull using galvanised screws and washers. Apply fibreglass strips where the seats and thwarts meet the hull and coat with resin to bond the thwarts and seat to the hull of the boat. Wrap the ends of the boat with fibreglass strips and apply resin for extra strength. Allow everything to dry, then sand the whole boat thoroughly and paint it with epoxy-based paint inside and out.


If you have access to spray paint equipment and some spray painting skill, spraying the paint on in thin coats makes for a smoother finish than brush painting.


Wear rubber gloves and eye protection when applying fibreglass resin and epoxy-based paints. Apply resins and paint in well-ventilated area. Wear mask when sanding or spraying.

Things You'll Need

  • 3-part plywood canoe plans (available online)
  • 2 marine plywood sheets, fine grade, 1/4 inch by 4 feet by 8 feet
  • Sabre saw
  • Putty knife
  • 2 rolls Fiberglass tape, 4 inch wide roll by 50 feet
  • 3 wooden dowels, hardwood, 1-1/4 inch diameter by 3 feet
  • Circular saw
  • Duct Tape
  • 1 box of galvanised 2-inch screws and washers to fit
  • Epoxy fibreglass resin
  • Fibreglass cloth, light
  • Fibreglass gelcoat
  • Epoxy wood putty
  • 3 Paint brushes 1-inch, 2 inch, 4 inches
  • 1 plank, 1 inch by 10 inch by 6 feet
  • Paint thinner
  • Acetone (to clean brushes and spills)
  • Tape measure
  • 1 bundle of wooden stakes
  • Mallet
  • Sander and fine, medium and coarse grades of sandpaper
  • Epoxy-based paint (optional)
  • Gloves and eye protection
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About the Author

Tom King published his first paid story in 1976. His book, "Going for the Green: An Insider's Guide to Raising Money With Charity Golf," was published in 2008. He received gold awards for screenwriting at the 1994 Worldfest Charleston and 1995 Worldfest Houston International Film Festivals. King holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Southwestern Adventist College.