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By Bryan Hansel - Grand Marais, Minnesota - USA


Over the last 9 years, I’ve built, on average, one canoe or kayak per year, but for the last year, because I’ve lived in a house without a workshop, I haven’t built any. In the past, I started building in the fall and finished in the spring and would have a new boat to try out once the water thawed. Another winter in this house means another winter without a building project. Instead of just coveting all the projects shown on Internet building blogs, I decided to do something different. Each week, I’m modeling a canoe or kayak in Delftship Pro, a marine architectural program, then I’m publishing the results on my website Although, this might not satisfy the building need, at least, I feel like I’m doing something useful for the boat building community. I’m calling the project my Free Winter Canoe and Kayak Plan Project.

Shaded model of the Modern Malecite canoe.

The project is an outgrowth of the free plans that I’ve released in the past. I’ve taken historic designs found in books, such as Mark Starr’s Building a Greenland Kayak, and translated them to the computer and later to a pdf that I’ve given away on my website. A couple of the most popular designs, include Ken Taylor’s 1959 Greenland Kayak, the Modern Malecite St. John River Canoe and my own design, the Siskiwit Bay. Several builders have built each of these designs using the free plans from my website.

Stefano Fasi’s wood strip version of the Modern Malecite canoe.

Many of the boats shown in these old drawings seem extreme compared to modern designs. I hope by building and paddling them, we can accomplish two goals: to learn about where our sport came from and to see if our new designs compare favorably to the old. If not, then we can use these older designs to refine our current boats. For example, the Goodnow kayak, built for the 1896 Robert Peary Greenland expedition, is only 17-5/8 inches wide. Modern kayaks of the same length, 16 feet 8 inches, are much wider at 22 or more inches. When I modeled the kayak, I thought it’d be an uncomfortable, tippy nightmare to paddle, but Jean-Luc Bellieud built a wood version, and he loves it.

The process of getting a canoe or kayak design into a computer program is — much like boat building — time consuming. First, I start with a scan of the linesplan from a historic source, such as the Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America. I take the source into Photoshop to clean up the scan and rotate it as needed to prepare it for Delftship. One of the reasons that I love Delftship is that I can import the scanned drawings directly into the background of my computer model.

A scanned drawing used as a background image in Delftship. The dark lines show my modeled version of the kayak.
Perspective view of my wire frame model of the Hudson’s Bay Company North Canoe from the Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America.

The background image allows me to compare my model to the original drawing easily. I add points, lines and intersections and move these around until I have a grid of connected points that resembles the drawing. After that, the hard part starts.

I’ve found in many of these drawings the stations, profile and plan views seldom agree completely. I have to decide which looks best or works best. One way I do this is trying to move the grid points until the boat starts to fair itself while staying true to each view. Using Delftship’s “zebra shading” or “gaussian curvature shading” tools helps me to judge when something looks fair.

Example of Delftship’s “gaussian curvature shading” tool used to aid fairing.

I can also call on Delftship Pro’s ability to automatically fair a surface for me. On some of the designs, like the 1865 St. Francis canoe, the hull shape prevents me from using the automatically fairing, because automatic fairing dramatically changes the original shape. I feel like I’m walking a thin line at this point, because I want to replicate the boat, but I know that someone might put in over 100 plus hours and spend lots of money building a boat from these plans. I want a fair result without straying from the original. For a final judgment, I ask myself, “Would I build from this model?” When I can answer “Yes,” the model is ready for the next step.

The computer model overlaid on my version of the 1959 Ken Taylor kayak.

For the next step, I output the computerized linesplan from Delftship Pro and open it in a basic CAD program. I use QCAD, although almost any CAD program would work. Once in the CAD program, I look over each station to make sure everything looks right. If something looks wrong, then I go back to Delftship and tweak the model. Once I’m happy, I combine the fore and aft stations into a traditional station plan and overlay the stems onto the stations. I add lines that show setbacks for 3/16-inch wood strips, a frame to enclose the drawing and an info box with specifications and historical information. My goal at this point is to reduce the size of paper as much as I can while keeping the scale 1:1. I convert the final plans into a pdf. My hope is that builders will be able to take the pdf I give away for free to a printing store for reproduction.

The entire process takes about five hours, but some of the tougher boats have taken as long as 12 hours. With each new boat, I’m getting faster. I started the project in October, and I expect it to end on April 1st. By the end of the project, I’ll have modeled 26 boats, and I’ll have spent over 130 hours on the project, which is about the same amount of time I would have spent building a boat.

Ultimately, if just a few of these canoes or kayaks get built, I’ll consider the project a success. My reward is seeing a boat that hasn’t been paddled for over 100 years hit the water. You can find the project and all my free plans on my canoe and kayak website.

Rendering of the 1865 St. Francis Canoe. Looks like a nice cabin canoe.


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