Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Wee Lassie

In the early 1880s a shoemaker from Wellsboro, Pennsylvania made a series of canoe trips in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Adopting the pen name “Nessmuk” he wrote articles and books about his trips. One of his books, “Camping and Woodcraft”, is still in print. 

Over the years Nessmuk used five canoes built for him by J. Henry Rushton of Canton, New York and used three of them on his extended trips. The canoes were open-topped and paddled with a double-ended paddle similar to the paddles kayakers use today. Each of the Rushton-built canoes was lighter than the last, the most famous being the “Sairy Gamp” which was nine feet long and weighed 10½ pounds (Nessmuk was short, 5’3” tall). Rushton has been described as the finest canoe designer who ever lived and his 10’ 6” long “Wee Lassie” Nessmuk-style canoe, built in 1883, may be the best canoe ever designed.   

From The Adirondack Museum

I have a Wee Lassie-style canoe built of modern materials by Hornbeck Boats – it’s a beautiful boat and a joy to paddle. For decades I’ve wanted to build a cedar-strip canoe and also wanted another Wee Lassie, so several years ago I decided to combine the two desires and build one for myself. The purchase of some 3/4” thick western redcedar boards at a local lumberyard began the process.

The boards were ripped into ¼” wide strips on the table saw, then the edges of the strips were shaped using cove and bead router bits. Plywood forms were cut to shape and mounted on a strongback and then construction began.

Each strip was glued and pulled tight to the one below it with strap clamps and stapled to the plywood forms –

Adding strips is pretty straightforward until they no longer run to the ends of the boat -

At that point the end of each strip had to be tapered along a string line to meet the strip from the other side –

When all the strips were in place, the staples were pulled, the ends shaped and the hull sanded –

After a coat of epoxy was rolled on and allowed to dry it was time for a layer of fiberglass cloth –

Three more coats of epoxy were rolled onto the fiberglass, which became transparent in the process –

The hull was turned over and the process repeated on the inside –

Then it was time for the finishing touches, the gunwales (no woodworker has ever had enough clamps), decks and thwarts, followed by multiple coats of good quality spar varnish –

Done, after about 200 hours of cutting, gluing, sanding and fiberglassing (I’ll never make a living building canoes) and on the water. The canoe weighs about 22 pounds, just a bit more than the original Wee Lassie but more than my 16-pound Hornbeck.

“... I always prefer a very light, open canoe; one that I can carry almost as easily as my hat, and yet that will float me easily.”
                                   G.W. Sears ‘Nessmuk’ in Woodcraft


betty-NZ said...

What an accomplishment. I doff my hat to you, sir! She's a beauty and I hope you have many hours of gliding on the water.

The Furry Gnome said...

Awesome, absolutely awesome!

TheChieftess said...

Wow!!! That's craftsmanship!!! Beautiful results!!!

David said...

That is something to be really proud of. I'd love to see some video of you paddling it. Congratulations!!!