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Freedom 17 Build

Sep 20, 2019
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Godmanchester, Quebec
It wasn't long after completing my Bob Special build that I got the hankering to build something else. Perhaps a bit bigger this time, maybe we'll give traditional stem construction a try...

The Freedom 17' plans arrived sometime in December 2020.

I had left over cedar from the last build. I am amazed at how little wood it takes to build one of these. For those interested, I bought 21 pieces of 4/4 x 4" with average lengths of about 10'. This was enough for both boats with a little left over. The Bob's strips were cut to 0.210", I cut the Freedom's to 0.250".

I traced and cut the forms, cut my strips (table saw, thin-kerf Freud); and set up the strong-back. Particle-board this time around, and better tape! I used green masking tape on the Bob's forms and ended up breaking the boat in half when I released it.


No bead and cove. This technique eliminates a good bit of mill work up front and uses fewer strips. However, it also means glue getting everywhere until you become a maestro with the squeeze bottle. There is also the chance for strips to become misaligned. Some of my pictures make it look like I had this problem, but this is merely the lighting making it seem worse than it is. Squeeze bottle of choice is the ketchup/mustard bottles from the dollar store - the cheaper ones are easier to squeeze. I made the stems by laminating cedar strips together. I bent them using a heat gun (before laminating them, which is probably obvious to most of you).






Additionally, where the curves get more severe, one must bevel the strips to ensure a tight fit to one another. On my last build I used Guillemot's Robo-Bevel (hanging by the speaker) with Lee Valley's Miniature Shoulder Plane. On this build I used the shoulder plane by itself.


Place the plane on the previously installed strip and then lean it over onto the exposed form. Run it until the gap between its base and the previously installed strip disappears. Do the same on the next form and then blend the transitions between the forms. It is not as tedious as it sounds, maybe 3 - 5 minutes per strip.


I got the hull closed up, put my head down and got to fairing. 60 grit on an RO is my weapon of choice, taking care to make long strokes to avoid creating waves. I wet the hull to raise the staple dents and wiped them away with a sanding block.




Ready for glass.


Apologies for not having pictures of the glassing - taking pictures is the last thing on my mind while flailing around the shop during this step. Here's a shot of a final "touch-up" coat.


Ah - the conflict between the joy of finally removing the hull from the forms and the anguish upon the realization of the forthcoming task of sanding the interior. If anyone has any tricks on how to not make this the worst part of building a canoe, I'm all ears.


Sometime around late March, one of my dogs started to exhibit health issues - swollen lymph nodes. We thought cancer but that was not the case and in fact we never did get a straight diagnosis other than there was something going on with her immune system. She passed at the end of May and while losing a dog/loyal hunting partner sucks like nothing else I know, I was glad to finally put her to rest after 2 months of constant prodding and worry. Piper was 12.

So the boat sat for a bit.

Before I knew it, BAM! July. Temperatures were a bit high for resin but who doesn't enjoy a good bit of self-inflicted panic? I got some bubbles in this one - bad enough that they pushed the fabric off of the hull. Biggest bubble was maybe 5/8 in diameter. I dremelled away those bits and now have some craters that need to be patched/filled. Again - no pics of the main event, but here we are marking and cutting the shearline on the right side.


Then this happened:



Agnes is a field-bred black lab. I always thought that the names they give registered dogs were a bit goofy, but decided to try to find something interesting to put on her papers: AJTop's Defender of Dunbar. Neat story - check it out.

So it sat for a bit. Again.

With renewed hope for a season that might actually see me in a boat, I got back to it. I finished (rough) cutting the shearline and called my wood guy.



I picked up some nice, clear, 8/4 cherry for the gunnels, but without a way to re-saw material that wide, I asked if he had anything "interesting" in 4/4 for the decks. He guided me over to his pile of birds eye maple. Yes please.


And so that's where we are. Next tasks are:
  • mill and scarf my gunnel material - doing scuppers this time.
  • make the decks
  • order seats so that scupper spacing can be finalized
  • fill in resin voids / final coat of interior resin
  • install trim
  • varnish
  • install brass stem guards
More to come...
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Simple prose for this non-builder, especially the canine tangents and short paragraphs. Oh, and a great looking work-in-progress canoe. Also, special kudos for the first known use of the little known inline spoiler feature of Xenforo.
With your skills

I almost spit my coffee out, Jim - you set the bar pretty high. Thank you for the kind words.

I had thought about building the seats, but I wanted cane and I get sore fingers just thinking about it. The contoured seats do look comfy but I'd be fairly picky about grain "flow" and would either have to shop them in person or build them myself. For this build I bought the kit from Bear Mountain, which - based on the shipping label - turns out is made up of stock items from Noah's Marine. The seats are flat and are "machine caned" - i.e., a mat of caned material is pressed into a groove in the seat frame. Maybe I'll upgrade them at some point, liberating these ones for yet another build (should that ever occur).

These past couple of weekends I made some progress on milling up the inwhale material.

Scupper spacers:

Sandwiched between to inwhales, just for effect:

A closer look:

Getting ready to plane the scarf joints:

Glued and clamped:

And what the heck - I already have the epoxy out and the garage is warm, let's roll on the last coat on the interior:

I like your method of scupper construction. Rounding them makes it easier on the hands, as well as any lashings !

One of my thoughts on Factory seats, is they are not deep enough. The bolt hole spacings, usually around 8" make them less than comfortable to a fuller torso like mine.
A Deeper seat also allows the paddler to shift their weight to obtain optimal hull trim, without the need for a sliding mechanism.

Years ago, I made a replacement seat for a Bell Magic.
Here is a pic of the comparison, to the ones I make for my canoes.

You're saying running a round-over bit around the 3 top edges? I'm not sure how I would do that without tear-out or shooting a scupper-spacer projectile across the shop. Hand-filing/sanding does not sound more appealing, but I get the practicality. If I end up using them as lash-points I'll probably larks-head a short loop through them rather than running my lashing rope through the actual scupper.

"Fuller torso" - I like it. Yeah - these seem a bit piddly in the butt-print department. Like I said, they may be candidates for an upgrade at some point. Is that real rawhide?
I tried a router to make one piece inwhales once. I tore the inwhale up, and never tried it again.

I glue blocks as you do, but use a Rat tail file and a few hours to clean up the sharp edge, after they are glued and screwed in place. I haven't wrecked an inwhale so far.

Will try your method of rounding the scuppers.

I use the 1/2" Nylon Snow shoe cord, for the lacing. https://snowshoe.com/collections/repair-relace/products/snowshoe-lacing-by-the-yard Varnishing them, gives the appearance of raw hide. I believe they will outlast the canoe.
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Got clamps?


One done. No scuppers from the stern to the front of the stern seat. It looks a deceivingly longer stretch than it is - only 36" or so until the scupper start. The other followed soon after.


On to the decks...




Coating them with resin at this stage was a bit silly - I only really needed to do the bottom. The decks have a 4 degree bevel on the edges and center joint, giving them a bit of a pitch to shed water. The center joint is splined with a 1/2" strip of aluminum the same thickness as my saw blade.

Outwale time. A little sandpaper taped to a wedge keeps it from slipping under clamping pressure.


I located and installed the seats and thwart and put it on the floor. I used a 1.5" diameter steel pipe under the hull to locate the center of balance. I marked it, then put it back in the slings. I drilled and installed the yoke. Then, I took everything apart so I could get resin in the holes/cut ends.

A couple of shots after a coat of resin.


Thwart and yoke from the plans included in Gil Gilpatrick's book. I'll flip them over later today and coat their other side.

Perhaps a tad presumptuous, this is the penultimate update.

Here she is sanded down and ready for coat numero uno.


That Pettit Flagship stuff smells like no other coating product I've used - delicious. Perhaps even a hint of blueberry? Of course I've probably just shaved a few years off my life, so, don't do what I do, kids.

I found that I had to thin the varnish ever so slightly to get it to spread at all - out of the can it was the consistency of warm honey. I put 3 coats on the inside, with a green Scotchbrite scrub between each. It was at this point that she gave me an indication of her desired name: "Hair of the Dog" as while sanding I noticed one of Agnes' hairs a couple of layers of varnish deep. Fitting I thought, as what is the best way to get over the aches of a previous day's travel?


And one with the bits attached:


As is seemingly my m.o., I go several work sessions without a thought toward documentation. I tend to put my head down and forget about everything else - probably what I enjoy most about a project like this. It shows in what I'm sure you have all noticed is my less than clutter-free work environment. The shop will get a complete strip and clean once the boat is out.

I masked the gunwales, flipped her over and varnished the exterior. With that done, I moved on to shaping the stem bands (a first for me). I got rid of any tool marks with a fine-toothed file, then hit them with 220, 320, 400, and some Autosol.

Marked and drilled - some holes admittedly and annoyingly off-center. Don't believe the hype - the concave shape of the band will only help so much in centering your bit. I dry-installed them, drilling corresponding holes into the boat as I went. Not the best feeling in the world, I must say - drilling into that nice, water-tight skin.

I took them back off and squeezed a bead of black, polyurethane roof sealant (DAP 74814) onto the back of the bands and set them in place. Word to the wise - wear gloves. That is all.

I know some folks don't like the captive painter ring as it will not stand the test of the ham-fisted. However, I am mitigating this by using machine screws ahead and behind the loop. I have yet to source/install a couple of 2", 6-32 screws but they will eventually replace the incumbent #4 wood screws on the vertical stem.

And here we are - installed.





Since these photos, I removed the deck screws and further countersunk the corresponding band holes. Last things to do - fair in the screw heads and then send it out the birthing window.
This looks great!!!

I might have missed it but I am curious on how you did your outer stems. Are they heat bent cedar like the inner ones, protected by the brass stem band? Thanks
This looks great!!!

I might have missed it but I am curious on how you did your outer stems. Are they heat bent cedar like the inner ones, protected by the brass stem band? Thanks
Hi Traveler - thanks for the compliment.

The stems are 3/16" strips of SPF construction lumber. I clamp my heat gun to the side of my workbench so that it is pointing up at a comfortable angle. Each strip is bent individually. I hold them about 12-20" away from the gun, constantly moving back and forth but focusing on the part of the stem that has the most bend. My hands are about 3' apart and I'm applying constant pressure - as if I was trying to bend the stem shape. When the wood is heated enough, you can feel it - it just gives way. Check it with the form but close enough is fine.

That said, if (when) I build another, it will probably be stemless. I don't think "easier" is the right word, but less to worry about.
Thanks for this scratchypants. I have always built stemless and like it, but am thinking about trying stems for my next build so I can use a pair of those cool brass bands that I have had stashed away for a couple of years now. This technique seems a lot less intimidating than steam bending.
Thanks for this scratchypants. I have always built stemless and like it, but am thinking about trying stems for my next build so I can use a pair of those cool brass bands that I have had stashed away for a couple of years now. This technique seems a lot less intimidating than steam bending.
I should have mentioned - grain direction is important. You want vertical, not flat - i.e., grain should be parallel with the 3/16" dimension.
My 2", 6-32 machine screws came in. I now have a lifetime supply. A bit tricky to get the washer and nut on - no way to fit your hands in there. A dab of Vaseline in a nut driver got it done. And with that, out the window it goes...




I had quite a hard time weighing it. The 2nd floor of the shop is wood and kind of bouncy, so I tried on the patio stones but even the slightest gust of wind would play havoc with the scale. For now, we're calling it 59 lbs. Those hammock-style portage pads are delicious.

Weight factors (both positive and negative):
  • 1/4" thick strips
  • SPF inner and outer stems
  • Brass stem guards
  • Single layer 6oz glass inside and out, no epoxy sealer coat
  • Scuppered gunwales, attached with epoxy - no screws
  • Outwales 1/2 x 3/4"
...compared to my 15', 55lb, Bob Special:
  • ~7/32" (.210") thick strips
  • Stemless
  • No brass stem guards
  • Single layer + football, inside and out, of 4oz glass with a sealer coat
  • Solid gunwales, attached with screws every 6"
  • Outwales 3/4 x 3/4"
For future builds, I will probably adjust as follows:
  • ~7/32" strips
  • Stemless
  • Single layer + football, inside and out, of 4oz glass with a sealer coat
  • Scuppered gunwales, attached with epoxy - no screws
  • Outwales 1/2 x 3/4"
  • Freedom 17 - West Systems 105/207
  • Bob - East Systems/834
Perhaps temperature was a factor, but I recall having a much easier time with East Systems. I had a lot of bubbles with West and ended up having to dremel out some dime-sized areas. I also did a sealer coat with East which may have helped. Either way, I'm probably going to stick with it. Bonus - it is cheaper, too.

So - what's next?