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Reviews of Boat Building Books

I‘ve built a few boats. I’ve built them without instruction. I’ve mostly learned how to do it from books. Just like short and sentences that are pulled together by a paragraph, books help to pull together all the steps of boat building, so you end up with a boat that will float. I’ve managed to collect just a few boat-building books over the years, and here is a list with a short review of those that I’ve collected.

Schade, Nick, The Strip-Built Sea Kayak, Maine, Ragged Mountain Press, 1998

Out of all the canoe and kayak building books, Schade takes a unique approach to building a strong back. He uses a 2×4 and threads the forms onto it. This alone makes this book worth reading. The rest of the boat is filled with decent how-to writing, and some very helpful tips. The designs in the book have their followers, but his newer designs on his website, interest me more.

Excerpt: page xi: “Strip-building is the art of taking stacks of thin strips of wood and converting them into beautiful and durable watercraft. It has been a popular method of making canoes for year, and now you can use it to create rugged sea kayaks, too.”

Moores, Ted, KayakCraft: Fine Woodstrip Kayak Construction, Maine, WoodenBoat Publications, 1999

In a clear and concise writing style, Moore sets out to describe his method of kayak building. This is a beautifully formatted and well-written book, which includes a chapter on boat design written by Steve Killing. Killing describes the nuances of kayak design in detail, but he leaves out some important information that Schade includes in his book. The design process and building process described by Moores is slightly more detailed and tedious than Schade, but you will end up with a kayak is the style of the great old wood boats vs. a more modern style Schade. Personally, I like the finishing touches in Schade’s book more that Moores, but this is a worthwhile book to own. Still, I’m not a big fan of the kayaks in the book, because I don’t find the shapes of the deck to my liking, but with a change in the deck lines, these should be fine kayaks.

Excerpt: page 167: “There are some parallels between varnishing and human relationships, and these are worth noting. Both begin with you definition of perfection, a definition that is, one would hope, somewhat flexible.”

Gribbins, Joseph, The Wooden Boat, New York, MetroBooks, 1996

I sneak this book in, because it provides inspiration for building wooden boats instead of instructions on how to do such a thing. Many of the pictures are inspired, especially in the sailing section. The only fault with this book is its lack of covering birch bark canoes.

Excerpt: page 87: “Some of the earliest applications of steam power at the end of the eighteenth century and of gasoline power near the end of the nineteenth century were in boats”¦”

Bradshaw, Todd E., Canoe Rig: The Essence and the Art: Sailpower for Antique and Traditional Canoes, Maine, WoodenBoat Books, 2000

Bam, kick it up a notch, as Emril says. This is one big book filled with interesting observations, drawings, solutions, problems, ideas, more ideas, and more ideas, which all come together beautifully. By the end of reading this coffee table book, you’ll want a sail of each type. It’s hard to narrow everything down, because everything in sailing has gives and takes, and Bradshaw tackles it all perfectly.

Excerpt: page 69: “As you no doubt have surmised by now, there are many possible ways to use wind power to move your canoe. It can be as simple as sailing downwind only with a V-sail rig built in a weekend and tied to a thwart or as complex as an outrigger canoe, where you start by designing and building the boat long before starting on the rig.”

Monk, Edwin, How to Build Wooden Boats: With 16 Small-Boat Designs, New York, Dover Publications, 1934

I love the look of the “Hornet” racing hydroplane that can make 40 mph with a 47 H.P. motor. This thing is sleek and looks like a blast, as do all the designs in this old book. The instructions have been mostly supplanted by newer and better (?) ways to build, but this is an interesting book.

Excerpt: page 1: “There is a certain fascination about boatbuilding, in watching a boat gradually take shape, and this particularly so when the results are through your own efforts. I often wonder if the amateur builder does not derive as much pleasure in the construction of his craft as he does in the use of it.”

Moores, Ted, Canoecraft: An illustrated Guide to Fine Woodstrip Construction, New York, Firefly Books, 2000

If you are planning to build a canoe or just want to learn about how to do it, buy this book. I think I need to say that again. Buy this book. This is the ultimate book about building wood strip canoes, plus it has the lines and offsets for the Freedom 17 included in the book. This boat is one of the best for wilderness tripping. The plans are worth more than the book itself.

Excerpt: page 27: “The curves of a well-designed canoe are its calling car – a proclamation of the kind of paddling it does best. At one time, the lines of the slender, double-ended craft were directly traceable to a particular locale or people”¦”

Stelmok, Jerry, The Art of the Canoe with Joe Seliga, Minnesota, MBI Publishing Company, 2002

It may be true that all great canoe books come from Minnesota. First, we had Paddling with the Cree, and now this book, and, of course, this review. I’d say we have it nailed. Joe Seliga is a name many BWCA paddlers will recognize and those who have paddled his canoes, will smile at the mention of his name. A friend of mine, managed to buy a new one built by Seliga in the past 6 years, and he is like a boy scout when talking about it. Stelmok, a legendary canvas and canoe builder himself, follows Seliga while the later builds a canoe, Seliga style. He also covers a bit of history and Seliga’s life. This book, part builders log, part history, part biography, becomes much greater than the sum of its parts. It becomes the meaning of canoeing itself.

Excerpt: page 10: “Walking the streets of Ely, Minnesota, with Joe Seliga in late July 2001 is not unlike accompanying a favorite congressman or senator through a strong district – he thanks supporters and is recharged by continuous smiles and greetings”¦”

Brinck, Wolfgang, The Aleutian Kayak, Maine, Ragged Mountain Press,1995

I’m still not sure how I feel about this book. I want to build a baidarka, but this book seems to be just on the edge of out there, but not quite into the visionary category, like Dyson’s baidarka book. Still, if you want to build a traditional baidarka, this is your book.

Excerpt: page 3: “The only way to know what it feels like to paddle a skin-on-frame kayak is to build one and paddle it. You can’t very well go to a museum and check one out. there are people who will build you a custom skin-on-frame boat, but I think a good part of the appreciation of a skin boat comes from having built one yourself.”

Freeman, Zu, Building a Jawbone Kayak: A wonderfully simple and affordable boatbuilding project, California, Tamal Vista Publications, 1989

What the heck? A super cheap way to build a boat that encourages scrounging wood from constructions sites and the garbage bins. I wouldn’t build one, but it was sort of worth buying this book.

Excerpt: page 5: “The Jawbone system is an entry level approach to boating for the do-it-yourselfer. Here is a boat you can build for the cost of a movie and dinner for two. The simplified design and construction techniques can be mastered by a teenager or enthused adult with no previous experience in either woodworking or boatbuilding.”

Stelmok, Jerry, Building the Maine Guide Canoe, Connecticut, The Lyons Press, 2002

Stelmok is at it again with a second book about wood and canvas canoes. This book isn’t a nicely formatted as the one below, but it is slightly more informative, and would be the book to use for building a wood and canvas canoe.

Excerpt: page 5: “The builders [of wood and canvas canoes] are an unlikely assortment of individuals, but all share a love of wooden canoes and a dedication to their preservation.”

Morris, Robert, Building Skin-On-Frame Boats, Washington, Hartley & Marks Publishers, 2001.

I really like this book. Morris has a good simple writing style that concisely covers all the details of building a SOF kayak or canoe. You can tell that he has a ton of experience in doing so, and his jigs and solutions to problems are creative and easy to build.

Excerpt: page 19: “You can build a boat using nothing more sophisticated than a rock with a sharp edge and a stick for leverage. You can also get your boat on the water with the full resources of a luxury yacht building yard.”

Gilpatrick, Gil, Building a Strip Canoe, Maine, DeLorme, 1999

Gilpatrick approached canoe building with a get it done attitude. Or as Ben Stiller said in a recent movie, “Do it.” This no nonsense guide will get you on the water quickly and elegantly. I still don’t understand why more builders don’t do stems and decks like Gilpatrick does. I have them on my Freedom and they work perfectly and weigh less.

Excerpt: page 4: “I have been in a very fortunate situation for a writer of canoe building lore. I had a supply of students who were anxious to help with the building of them, and who were willing to put up with the endless experiments as I labored to make the better, and to do it easier and simpler. Then, when the summer rolled around I had my canoe guiding business where strippers were subjected to just about every mistreatment imaginable”¦”

Starr, Mark, Building a Greenland Kayak, Connecticut, Mystic Seaport, 2002

Discovering this book after, I had almost completely finished my Greenland style SOF, I instantly switched to Starr’s methods of sew the skin to the frame. Had I purchased this book before I started, I would have followed all his methods, which are simple, and yield more controllable results. If you’re going to build a Greenland style SOF, and only want to buy one book, this is the one.

Excerpt: page 6: “Kayak builders have always been masters of making do with whatever materials were available to them: price and availability are often the reason one type of material is chosen over another. The original builders of Greenlandic kayaks gathered most of their material from the sea.”

Kulczycki, Chris, The New Kayak Shop, Ohio, Ragged Mountain Press, 2001

Building plywood boats is a fast and easy way to go. So, if you’re looking for a kayak quickly and cheaply, then give this method serious consideration. If you do, then this book is for you, because it is the only one that I’ve found other than building manuals for plans. This covers all the topics well and has a couple of kayaks that look interesting.

Excerpt: page 11: “Kayaks are among the simplest of boats, yet thousands of kayak designs have been created, each of them someone’s idea of the perfect boat. The first step in building a kayak is choosing a design or drawing your own. If you’re an experienced kayaker, you probably know exactly what you want. You may even be able to judge how a boat will paddle just from looking at it. But novice paddlers need to do some research.”

Cunningham, Christopher, Building the Greenland Kayak

Another building book for SOF Greenland style kayaks. My kayak uses many of these methods, but I like Starr’s methods slightly better. Still, some of you may like the way Cunningham goes about building a kayak, and it some regards, the way he does it makes for less work.

Excerpt: Coming soon, my book is out on loan.

Putz, George, Wood and Canvas Kayak Building, Ragged Mountain Press, 1990

This boat describes how to build a “Walrus” kayak using plywood-building forms in an interesting method. It’s worth looking at in the library, and if you think you might like to give it a go use the plans in the back of the book to build a skinny “Walrus.”

Excerpt: Coming soon, my book is out on loan.

Stelmok, Jerry and Thurlow, Rollin, The Wood and Canvas Canoe. Maine,

Tilbury House, 1987.
The classic guide to construction and restoration of a wood and canvas canoe is written by these two masterful writers, who by the end of the book will have walked you through the history of the canoe to building your own form. If you’ve ever canoed in one of these boats you will know the attraction of wanting to read more about them, or if you haven’t by the end of this book you will want to.

Excerpt: page 90: “On my walk to the shop today I intercepted a muskrat stealing across the road towards the pond, and was glad not to have the dogs along for company. “Musquash,” Thoreau called them after the Indian fashion, and I like that term better”¦”

Stejskal, Vaclav, Stitch & Glue Sea Kayak, MA, One Ocean Kayaks, 2002

This is the building manual that Stejskal usually sends with his plans, but I bought it separately when I was building a S&G. This is a no nonsense building guide that has some useful information in it. His designs are beautiful and if you are looking for plans you should check them out, because you’d also get this manual for free with the plans.

Excerpt: page 1: “For me kayaking is a liberating and profoundly spiritual endeavor. Since early childhood, I have spent much time on the water in canoes and later in competition rowing shells”¦”

Northwest Canoe Company, Notes on the Art of Building the Cedar Strip Canoe, Minnesota, Northwest Canoe Company, 2001

This is one of those building manuals that come with plans. I purchased some plans from this company – never did build them, but the manual came in handy. Apparently, I felt the fiber glassing section especially good, because of the epoxy stains all over the pages. I describe this method as Gilpatrick with love. If you like his plans, like the Merlin and the Cruiser then buy this book, otherwise, buy one of those mentioned above.

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