Peace Canoe PEACE OF THE PUZZLE (2007)

Completed Peace Canoe PEACE OF THE PUZZLE
This was my first fully independent boat building project. The Peace Canoe design appeared in one of the first of WoodenBoat’s Getting Started in Boats supplements and is a good first project (by design). Why this name? It is obviously a play on the name of the design, but the entendre is more doubled than that. My daughter has autism, the cause for which, at least in the U.S., is a puzzle piece. Since I saw the boat as something she would enjoy… Actually, though, I can’t take credit. My wife thought it up.

Browse the entire set of posts about PEACE OF THE PUZZLE

  • End of [short] era: PEACE OF THE PUZZLE moves on July 24, 2011


    Semi-momentus occasion here at Chine bLog HQ this AM as our Peace Canoe PEACE OF THE PUZZLE shipped out for good. She will be headed for safekeeping with our friends at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum awaiting their fundraising auction in the fall. She will then be sold to raise funds for the Museum. A good cause, and they are probably better at selling her than I have proven myself to be. My private sale efforts proved futile, I imagine due to the ole’ economy

    Its always sad to move on a boat you built, but I confess I never fell in love with this one, mostly due to its impracticality. She wil be a wonderful boat for someone, and I wish her well. May she have a long and happy life.

  • Quick update from the wooden boats of Chine bLog April 26, 2011

    Spring is springing here in metro-Washington, DC and the waters will soon be calling the fleet to them. I have been focused on the sailing rig for AL DEMANY CHIMAN, the skin-on-frame outrigger canoe. I gave a hint of this in a prior post. Since then, the sail arrived (yeah!) and it looks great. Its arrival forced me to get going on the spars, which I have done. I have ensured my mast is nice and straight and rounded it off [editor’s note: is there a better entry in the “boatbuilding phrases that sound dirty but aren’t?” category? Didn’t think so. Moving on…] and the boom is glued up and ready for similar treatment. I have built a chock for the steer-oar as well, which I will be fitting soon, I hope. Good progress, all told. Pictures soon.

    I spent some of Easter afternoon painting the Peace Canoe, PEACE OF THE PUZZLE. I’ll be putting her on the market in short order. If anyone wants a hand-built, 18′ canoe, please let me know.

  • We weathered the storm – the Del Ray microburst of 2010 August 6, 2010

    We got a good scare yesterday here in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, VA. A front was coming through and we were expecting our usual summer thunderstorms. Instead, we now have firsthand knowledge of what a microburst is (sudden series of very strong gusts downward from a storm and then, at ground level, outward). The local high school clocked a 70+ MPH gust. Trees and limbs are down everywhere and there is a great deal of damage. Here are some photos from immediately around our house.

    Thankfully our family and house are fine.

    The scare extended to the skin-on-frame outrigger canoe project, which readers will know to be going on outside, on the west side of the house. Of course the burst came from… the west. My wife called me at the office and said “I have to break it to you – your boat is all over the yard.” Ooooppphhhh. I walked home, imagining what I would find and ponder strategies to salvage various cases. What I found was this:

    Our boatyard, post storm

    Skin-on-frame outrigger canoe, after the storm“Oh,” I thought, “that doesn’t look too bad.” And it wasn’t. In fact, I have yet to see ANY signs of damage to the skin-on-frame boat (I have found an inconsequential nick on the ama). That this is so is truly amazing. The big, heavy Peace Canoe, PEACE OF THE PUZZLE, was right up against the fence on saw horses, upside down, bow to the back of the yard. I found it upright, 10 feet further into the yard, bow to the front. As best I can figure, I went end-over-end through the air (it only has minor damage). Patting myself on the back for its construction! In doing so, it missed the skin-on-frame boat, which was right next to it, and which somehow ended up farther towards the fence. They somehow crossed paths and didn’t hit, nor did the light skin-on-frame frame go flying into the house and shatter, as my wife led me to think (the tarp on it may have secured it just enough). Bullet = dodged.

    Thank goodness I have made as much progress as I have on the boat. I fear of the ribs had still been clamped to the outwales or if the stems weren’t fully attached to the longitudinals I might have had a mess. Instead, my boat has weathered her first storm and done so proudly. I think this success comes down to the skin-on-frame medium itself. Heck, I am a novice with it, and I have constructed a partial frame that has the flexibility to withstand being tossed around who knows how much. That “give” in the structure is an amazing innovation from centuries ago. I am excited to be carrying it on in this age where we try to build things rigid enough to beat down the sea as opposed flexing with it. Now I am REALLY eager to get this boat out in a swell and see how it works in its true element.

  • Successful christening and launch of the Peace Canoe! October 14, 2007

    Gorgeous October day here outside DC, a perfect day to be on the water. Gulls and an osprey wheeling about, gusty nor’wester keeping things clear and cool, the pleasant surroundings of Mason Neck State Park (map) – just the environment to christen and launch the Peace Canoe. So christen it we did (the kids helped), using the very nastiest champaign I could inadvertently pick up. She is now PEACE OF THE PUZZLE. Enjoy some pictures of her first outing (we were lucky enough to come upon some friendly kayakers, one of whom took our picture and was kind enough to send it).

    Thank you to all who have read about PEACE OF THE PUZZLE’s birth and provided encouragement along the way. It was a blast and I look forward to some great family adventures ahead!

  • Initial performance thoughts on the Peace Canoe October 14, 2007

    So we have a short paddle in PEACE OF THE PUZZLE under our belts now. I spent a couple months building it (a few have asked me for hours – I have no idea, but it was a good many) – aftre all that work, what is this boat like? Obviously I’ll need much more time to assess, but some initial thoughts:


    • Appearance – The Peace Canoe is a pretty boat, no question about it, particularly in the water. We got compliments on and off the water, including things like “unusual,” in a very complimentary sense. I expect we’ll get noticed in this boat for the right reasons.
    • Stability – This boat will be a good family boat. I am fairly confident that one could have half the Rockettes do a kick-line on the starboard rail and she wouldn’t go over. In more practical terms, this means a good boat for a family with young children (check) and a good boat for fishing (seems like a good idea).
    • Tracking – Of course being long and not very rockered, the boat seems to track pretty well.


    • Weight – The boat is a lot heavier than I expected it would be. It is basically unmanageable alone, and even my wife and I, two reasonably strong adults, had to work a bit to put it on the car.
    • Beam – The stability is a plus, but it comes from being quite beamy. With the sides flared as they are, the boat actually does not fit upside down on our standard car roof-rack. It rode OK right-side up, but I wasn’t wildly comfortable with it like that. I will need to get some additional attachments, and it will be fine, but it isn’t as car-topable as it might seem.
    • Freeboard – Maybe it is a function of the weight, but with four of us in the boat – and two of us are small children – the boat sat deeper in the water than I expected, leaving less freeboard than I might like for more open water. I had been planning on trips in the Bay and such, but I will be a bit more cautious for those ventures. This may be more of a true flatwater boat.

    More as I learn more… In particular, I haven’t gotten much of a feel for core paddling ability. The weight seems like a slowing factor, but we’ll see.

  • And that’s a wrap! The Peace Canoe is complete! October 13, 2007

    I have spent much of my free daylight hours over the last couple weeks putting paint on the Peace Canoe. Today, at about 10:30 AM local, I made some final touch-ups and called her done.

    Peace Canoe end-on

    Obviously there are little things that make me cringe (that only I will likely notice, for the most part), but on the whole, I am pleased with the boat. If I do say so, the colors work well. I agonized a bit on this point, so it is good that the results are so positive.

    Peace Canoe looking down

    Peace Canoe end-on

    Part of the reason the results are so good is that the design is a good one. I had moved the boat into the front yard to paint (we have an oak the rains acorns), and as I began to see the boat from a shallow angle on the port side, I began to fall in love with the sheer.

    Peace Canoe side view

    Well done, John Harris.

    Peace Canoe side view

    By the way, I wish I had moved to the front yard months ago. I have gotten tons of complements from folks walking by (we live on a main path to the local coffee shop), as well as several drive-bys (including a “Damn! Good job, sir!” from a dude in a utility van). It has been a thrill. Of course, if I had been working there earlier, there may have been more commentary on the work in progress (“yes, I DO know that that piece is cracked!!!”)…

  • Getting closer – ready to paint the Peace Canoe October 1, 2007

    And after a couple weeks of planing and sanding and one final clean-up, she is ready to paint. Voila!

    Peace Canoe, ready to paint

    I have also chosen the colors, not an easy task for me. She will look something like this:

    Peace Canoe colored in

  • Structurally complete! The Peace Canoe gets a bottom September 8, 2007

    And then, after a final push, in the gathering twilight, the Peace Canoe had a bottom. And that, gentle readers, means she is structurally complete. Houston, we have a boat!

    Peace Canoe with bottom panel on

    Just a whole lotta planning and sanding, plus a mother lode of plastic wood, and we will be cracking open a paint can or four!

    Peace Canoe structurally complete side-view

  • Back in business – the Peace Canoe August 31, 2007

    At long last, I believe I have the sheer clamps replaced in a working manner. Man, oh man, was that an mistake that added time to the project! Just getting the broken ones off took several nights of careful digging for the nails with a tack-puller and cutting the goop with a utility knife. Exhausting and frustrating. But, I persevered. And now, I am ready to move forward!

    Peace Canoe side-view, with no bottom

    So it looks pretty good. That there is a boat. So let’s see… what next…

    Oh the bottom!

    Peace Canoe looking up through the bottom

    Actually, I think this is kind of a neat picture.

    Testing the Peace Canoe bottom panels

    I was finally able to test-fit the bottom panels. Getting close…

  • Building the Peace Canoe – time on the Moaning Chair August 5, 2007

    At the beginning of Howard Chapelle’s seminal tome Boatbuilding, there is a 4-page introduction in which Chapelle goes through the entire building process at a 10,000′ level. After talking through getting out molds, cutting the rabbet, and installing deck beams, Chapelle devotes the final paragraph to a subject that one must assume is of equal importance to the others: the “moaning chair.” He writes:

    In every amateur boatbuilder’s shop there should be a “moaning chair”; this should be a comfortable seat from which the boat can be easily seen and in which the builder can sit, smoke, chew, drink, or swear as the moment demands.

    I raise this, obviously, because I have had to spend some time in my own “moaning chair” of late, and since I don’t smoke or chew and had already had my nightly beer, it was swearing that was the business of the day.

    You will notice two things in this recent picture. On the good news front, I finally have attached the seats to one side panel unit and then attached the other side panel unit to the opposite sides of the seats and brought both sides together at the stem and stern post. In doing that, I should have been working with completed side panel units, chine log and sheer clamp attached. So what are those clamps doing along the sheer, you may ask? Therein lies a tale…

    Things were going fairly well. I got the seats and one side attached fine and the middle seat went onto the second side without a fuss. I then was able to get the forward seat attached to the second side. The bow was coming together. I then moved to the stern to pull the aft end together. I was feeling great – the boat was taking shape before me. As I began to pull the sides in to test, I was suddenly greeted by a sickening crack. I looked up to see the scarf joint in the starboard sheer clamp parted. Major buzz kill.

    It seemed initially like the error was placing the joint right at the middle seat, where the sides are forced outward to the maximum beam. I dejectedly put the project to bed for the night, and, after mulling options for a couple days, decided to take out a roughly 6′ section of the sheer clamp and scarf in a new piece which straddled the middle seat. Getting the old piece off was a bear with all the 3M 5200 in there, but I did it without messing up the side panel very badly. I then got the new piece to fit nicely and added some additional screws to keep it all together. After that multi-day set-back, I was able to turn to bringing the ends together once again.

    And therein lay another issue. I had misgivings on earlier attempts to test this, but when I was back on track and able to seriously try this task I discovered that the stem bevels I had faithfully taken from the Getting Started in Boats write-up were not even close. I had another couple days of sitting in meetings at work and trying to concentrate while ruminating on whether I should work the current stem and stern post or replace them. In the end, I decided the stern post was not far off, and I took a plane to the side that wasn’t fitting and got it right. Thank goodness the angle was too wide. The bow was really far off, but I decided to do the same. You can see in the picture how much I had to shave; the two laminated planks started the same width. Anyone who closely inspects the inside edge of the stem will find it isn’t perpendicular to the center-line, but I think I can get a pass on it.

    I am not sure where I got so off with the bevels, because I am pretty sure my measurements were in lines with the plans. I think the issue does speak to a significant risk with building this boat, or any boat, in the manner the designer, John Harris, specifies. In most modern boatbuilding, one begins with a known set of truths: some combination of a level strongback, specified frames, a fixed centerline, and, probably, fixed ends. These elements for reference points the builder can rely on to check him/herself as s/he moves through the process. With the Peace Canoe, there are no frames or other fixed elements. You take measurements off the plywood sheets and, once you have made those cuts, you reference points are gone. You have no easy way to check something like your seat placements, which, in this case, are critical in forming the shape of the boat. This is because the location is set vs. the edge of the plywood, not anything you can look at on the boat itself. It is, as I have become fond of saying, boatbuilding without a net. I would strongly encourage Mr. Harris to continue to pursue ways to make boatbuilding easier for novices to access, but I worry he lost something important along the path to simplicity.

    So now I was ready to finally bring the ends together, which I did. And as I looked up from the finished bow and sighted down the length of the boat… two more sheer clamp scarfs had parted. One was one of the joints from the first repair and the other was the port side one (originally there was one joint per side). Now it was clear there was a bigger issue. I did a little research, and I believe I have discovered the roots of my problem. The Getting Started in Boats write-up does not specify exactly how to do the scarfs, particularly how they ought to be oriented. It does say something to the effect that they should be 8:1, which for 3/4″ stock, means 6″. Against some doubt in the back of my mind I took that mean the scarf should be along the 3/4″ side of the sheer clamps, which are 3/4″ x 1″. Bad idea. What this does is put the scarf horizontal, and I believe that is not a good thing – there isn’t enough holding power in such a case once there is a bending force applied. The scarfs should have been vertical, and I have now cut out new sheet clamps with vertical scarfs. Next up: the fun of removing the existing ones in toto. Joy.

    So for those settling down with the write-up, beware this point. Maybe I should have known this, but many using this won’t yet have the knowledge to realize the error. The write-up needs more clarification on this point.

    Anyway, the bottom is ready to install now, as soon as I can get the sheer clamps fixed. Ugh. Where did I leave that “moaning chair?”

  • The Peace Canoe gets seats and gets closer to full sides July 12, 2007

    Middle seat of Peace Canoe

    Voila, the seats are ready. I have been working on them at night or during glue cures, and they have come along well. Here is the middle one. The plans specify cut-outs on the ends of the seats; I added my own flavor of these cut-outs.

    I have also installed both chine logs, and last night the bow and stern stems on one side. Here is my handiwork on the bevel for the chine logs meeting the stems, since I moved them inboard. It wasn’t too bad to cut and my joints are close enough. I am ready to begin the process of attaching the seats to one side panel and then the other. Stay tuned…

    Chine log bevel

  • The Peace Canoe progresses – have plywood, will start cuttin’ June 28, 2007

    So I got the plywood, some good quality, from what I can tell, marine fir. That in hand, it was time to start getting big pieces together, starting with the sides.

    Laying out the sides of the Peace Canoe
    The plans call for five 4×8 sheets of 1/4″ plywood, 2 1/3 of which go into the sides. The Getting Started in Boats write-up assumes one has a nice, big, level area on which to do the layout. I was using our lawn, that leaves a bit to be desired in the “level” dept. To keep things in line, I used clamps to keep the sheets aligned while I plotted the side panels. I was blessed with a) having spline weights from my design dabbling and b) having a nice off-cut of 12′ 1x that was a perfect batten. I had to pend a bunch of time and hands-and-knees with a straightedge and pencil, but I was able to get the sides out fairly easily.

    The design is tailored to creating full sub-assemblies like this and fitting them together into the whole. Thus one builds the sides out, with sheer clamps and chine logs attached, the full seats, and the bottom panel, with keel attached, and then brings the sides together around the seats. There are no forms; the seats provide the athwartships dimension when they are installed “in real time.” I decided to get the sides done first and just rough-cut the bottom panels because, since I am moving the chine log in-board, these panels will have different dimensions than the plans. I’ll allow myself enough and then fit them to the actual bottom area when the sides come together.

    Pieces of the side panel come together via butt blocksThe pieces of the side panels are to be joined via butt blocks. These butt blocks are defined nowhere in the write-up, except that they are 6″ wide. I took their length from the relevant station on the plans (they all overlap a station perfectly), leaving some wiggle room. I used some pieces of spruce 1x I had around, planning them down to 1/2″ (the plans call for 3/4″ bronze ring nails, so 1/2″ blocks plus 1/4″ plywood would fit perfectly). The write-up call for gluing the block to each piece of the panel and then nailing the block to the sides. The clear assumption is that the block is less than 1/2″ because it talks about hammering the ends back over. That just seems so sloppy to me.

    Peace Canoe, starboard side panelI glued up the block and one of the pieces and then used spring clamps to hold the block in place. I then carefully flipped the work and nailed through the side piece into the block, using a metal file to take down the slightly protruding nails. I then flipped the work back, added glue to the adjacent side piece, clamped it, flipped it, and nailed that. This worked well. I just bought the spring clamps, and I have no idea how I have survived without them. They have been invaluable on this project and I suspect I will put many miles on them. I got 6 fairly basic ones and that is perfect in number and quality.

    One problem I did have with my method is that the butt blocks proved fairly fragile. You need to be very careful moving the panel around, once brought together as the weight of the pieces creates significant pressure at the joints. I learned that the hard way, and had to add an extra block when one of mine split. I attribute this not only to the stresses of the large panel, but also to my choice of lumber. I think in the future I would glue spare pieces of the 1/4″ plywood together into a 1/2″ laminate and use them. The grain of the 1x was running exactly where it was most likely to fail under bending stress and I missed that. I also put the nails too close together, helping open up the splits. There is no specific guidance on this, but I moved to 4″ centers, staggered a bit, with better results.

    What I would most strongly recommend regarding this last point, however, is to not move the panel much until you get the sheer clamp and chine log on as these stiffen the panel up much better. I would prepare both in advance and add at least the sheer clamp immediately after completing the butt block step. There is no reason you can’t and it will make things much safer.

  • More on the Peace Canoe – scarfing sheer clamps and chine logs June 23, 2007

    Cutting the scarf for the sheer clampWhile I wait on the plywood I have been preparing the sheer clamps and chine logs, which I took out of 10′ and 12′ 1x. I thus have had to – and the write-up in Getting Started in Boats assumes this – scarf pieces together for these fore-and-aft members. I am not a very steady had with a hand-saw – though I finally bought a Japanese saw and am in heaven with it – so I developed this system where I find the angle, clamp a guide to the main piece, and cut along the guide. That has worked well.

    I was worried about keeping the pieces of the joint from slipping around in the process. I decided I would reinforce the joint with nails anyway, so nails in the scarf jointI decided to drive them just enough to provide a little bite to help hold the pieces. Bingo – pretty good joints, all.

  • Beginning work on the Peace Canoe June 17, 2007

    I have begun gathering the lumber and hardware for the Peace Canoe project. It is, by the way, AMAZINGLY difficult to find appropriate plywood. Even specialty places around here – and while we are not a maritime center here in DC, we aren’t land-locked, either – seemed to have a hard time once “marine grade” entered the equation. Then the quotes that came back suggested that multiple people didn’t know what they were talking about. The designer, Chesapeake Light Craft, actually sells Okoume for a pretty reasonable price (though I just can’t bring myself to go there for this boat). I hope I don’t regret the decision…

    I did have pretty good luck with the other material. I managed to find – in Home Depot, no less – some straight, pretty clear pine that I am some way through turning into sheer clamps and chine logs. I also have turned out the seat supports.

    Seat supports

    It is always interesting to see, even in detailed guides such as the one I have (courtesy of WoodenBoat), what missing pieces there are (it may be that what one would buy from CLC is different). The seat supports were one. The plans indicate they have a curved bottom, but there aren’t specifications for the nature of this curve. As best I can figure – and this seemed as good an approach as any – the curve is an arc of a circle and it is constant across all six seat-support pieces. My approach was as follows: I laid out one of the mid-ship supports, which are the widest. I then grabbed a string and pencil. A made a loop in the string at one end for the pencil and then extended the string back along the center-line of the support until the arc the string / pencil described touched the two lower corners of the support and a point about 3 inches up from the bottom of the support along the center-line. It would have been helpful if I had recorded the measurement; I believe it was about 42″ – 44″. Whatever it was, I matched the center lines and lower corners for the other, narrower supports and simply used the same arc (the result being that there is, on a relative basis, much less cut away on the shorter supports).

    I am also making a change. The plans call for chine logs to be outside the planking, in deference to the novice builder. Fair enough, but I am not able to warm to this idea, so I am going to put them inside, even though – in fact, somewhat because – this introduces a complex bevel job as they meet the stems. My thinking about this provides another reminder of the benefits of lofting, even for narrow views. For the exterior application, the chine logs should be half-a-trapezoid in section. In drawing the section view at the chine, however, I realized that when brought inboard, that would leave a channel to catch water and whatever residual by-products. For the interior, I had to go back and shave off the other side to make the chine logs parallelograms in section. Obvious, now that I say it, but it didn’t jump out until I put it down on paper.

    Drawing of chine log

  • Walking the walk – a wooden boat (Peace Canoe) for Chine bLog! June 9, 2007

    So here is the situation: as I have mentioned I have a family with small children. I get to go out in my kayak sometimes, but if we had our own boat, I would get out much more because it can be a family activity. Rentals are possible, but leave things to chance (availability) and limit expeditions to a few places. There wasn’t much interesting on Craig’s List, and I was having a hard time thinking about adding ANOTHER non-wooden boat to the family fleet. Buying a wooden one was too expensive and I don’t have the room to build one I’d really want. T’was a conundrum.

    Cover of Getting Started in Boats

    What I needed was to find a easily built boat – meaning I could pull it off over short period of time in my back yard – that didn’t seem bland or non-functional. I admit this was a tall order – I am a bit snobby on this front. Well, fate began to intervene recently in the form of the recent two issues of Getting Started in Boats, WoodenBoat’s companion publication. Volume 3 of this new publication came a couple months ago showing the Peace Canoe, a design by John Harris of Chesapeake Light Craft. I admit – again – I dismissed it as another boat that was great for getting people started building, but wasn’t, ahem, a “real” boat (yes, I will get over myself at some point). Volume 4 the arrived recently, just as I was chewing on the dilemma above. I looked again. I studied it a bit more. I started to like its lines. Lo and behold, it fit the bill.

    So I am going forward – we at Chine bLog will finally be able to pontificate without ambiguous credentials. Lumber is accumulating and we are rolling!

    Here is the design:

    Peace Canoe design

    I think the story of the boat is also amusing:

    Designer John C. Harris created the Peace Canoe specifically for family boatbuilding events and corporate team-building exercises. “On the drawing board we called it the War Canoe,” says Harris recalling the big canoes that he remembered from summer camp. “I definitely wanted to conjure up the whimsy and versatility of those old camp canoes…” WoodenBoat Magazine selected the design for its Family Boatbuilding event at the WoodenBoat Show in Newport, Rhode Island. “It’s the perfect design,” they said, “but could we call it “Peace Canoe” instead of “War Canoe”? And that’s how the name came about.

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