Sassafras Lapstrake Canoe

The Sassafras Lapstrake Canoe

Building The Sassafras Canoe at Woodenboat School
Class End
Other Classes
Out in a Rowboat On The Bay in Brooklin, Maine
Woodenboat School Lobster Dinner At Class End
Catching a Sailboat Ride
Leaving Wooden Boat School

Ken Wallo Finishing Epoxy and Woodwork at Home in NJ
First Coat of Varnish
Sanded After Second Coat
Third Coat of Varnish
Bottom Primer First Coat
Seats & Bulkhead Finished
Finished Sassafras Lapstrake Canoe
Sassafras Canoe on the Water

Canoeing Main Page

The planks of the Sassafrass canoe laid out Beginning to sew the planks together Clamping the bow and stern with bulkheads in place Clamping up the rails Ken Wallo Fitting the cane seats

Sassafras Canoe Building Class

I started building the Sassafras Canoe at the WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, Maine under the tutelage of CLC boat building instructor Bill Thomas. The Sassafras is a sewn plank kit canoe sold by Chesapeake Light Craft. They have a variety of canoe, kayak, and other boat kits. They also run classes at various locations in the US. WoodenBoat School is an awesome place, with an ideal location, great staff, very good food (and lots of it), and simple clean accommodations for those boarding on site (which I'd thoroughly recommend). We sewed up the planks, clamped them at each end, then flipped them over and glued the seams. We got the rails on and the bulkheads in too. The rest has to be done at home.

Sassafras Canoe Specifications:

Length: 13 feet 9 inches (Chesapeake Light Craft no longer makes this size Sassafras)
Beam: 33 inches
Height: 14 inches
Weight: 65 lbs
Maximum Load: 400lbs

Unfortunately I had a very severe reaction to the epoxy and have not been able to finish the Sassafras Canoe for a few years. If you do build your own boat - my advice - ALWAYS wear a respirator when working with epoxy, and never do it inside your house. It takes YEARS for the gasses to vent (Amines linger on surfaces and in wood and paper and furniture), and if you're sensitive it can make life very unpleasant.

Once my boat building friend Ken Wallo retired, he found himself needing something to do and I was kind enough to offer (OK, maybe BEG) him to finish up the epoxy work so I could start on the paint and varnish to get the canoe finished. Ken WAY exceeded my expectations. The way he filled the seams between the lapstrake planks was smoother than I was expecting and took very little sanding and filling afterwards. But the real surprise was that he made the decks on the bulkheads flush with the rails. The finished decks look awesome! The rails were just high enough off the sides of the hull that he was able to fit and recess the decks, and plane the rails to finely blend with the deck surfaces. Although the CLC recommends all of the outer planks be painted, I opted to keep the top plank bright. There are some areas at the bow and stern where I sanded that the darker parts of the plywood show through but it still looks great. Here are some shots of Ken canoeing in some of his own wooden boats.

Once the epoxy work was done and the Sassafras canoe had some time to dry outside in the warm weather I got to work on the varnish to seal up the epoxy as quick as possible. I used Interlux Schooner Varnish on the bright work, wet sanding between every coat and rinsing and drying the woodwork by hand. Before each coat I would wipe it down with paper towels dampened with mineral spirits. I think I applied 6 coats of varnish before I was happy with the finish. It really DOES add to the weight of the hull. I applied 3 or 4 coats of primer before it stopped bleeding through. I used a fine auto body scratch filler to fill in the light scratch marks as I sanded between each coat. Again I wet sanded between coats and wiped the surface down with paper towels dampened with mineral spirits before painting. After every coat I pulled all the masking tape so that the wet edges would dry to a smooth rather than sharp jagged edge. I re masked before every coat of varnish and paint. Three coats of Interlux Yacht White finished the bottom.

While doing the varnish work I kept the Sassafras Canoe upright. In order to prevent the wet edge of the varnish to meet varnish that had partially dried and make that gummy coarse surface that results, I first worked the outer top plank, decks and rails. I worked front to back, about 6" at a time, the switching to the opposite side trying to keep working with a wet surface, brushing towards the wet edge as I went. Once that was done I started on the inside of the hull. Working from the bulkhead, then on to the planks moving about 6" at a time and using a hand drop light to make sure I wasn't missing any areas. It's hard not to miss spots if you don't have a good light source to reveal reflections from wet varnish or the lack of it.

I gave the varnish work a few days to dry before flipping it and starting the painting of the bottom. I used foam swimming/floatation noodles with a slit cut in them over the tops of the saw horses, then waxed paper on top of that to prevent them from sticking to the somewhat still soft varnish. As I sanded between coats of white primer the scratches became apparent. I used 3M scratch filler to fill them in. It dries very quickly, but it is blue and it does seem to bleed through till you get a second coat of primer over it. With both primer and gloss I worked from front to back keeping the edge of the paint wet as best I could using a good quality 2" brush. Keep in mind the more coats of paint and varnish you apply, the heavier the boat will be. I was surprised how much heavier the Sassafras felt after painting it.

The finished Sassafras Lapstrake Canoe turned out better than I could have hoped for. It looks great, is not overly heavy, and paddles like a dream. It's fast, paddles straight, and keeps gliding straight along with almost no wake once you get it going. It rides wind driven chop very well and the watertight bulkheads give you plenty of confidence that no matter what happens you won't sink. I love paddling it and get compliments on the canoe every time I take it out.


Sassafrass Canoe Side View