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Jimmy's Crafty Corugated Cardboard Creation!
Short photo essay of my 1999 entry into the Merrimack Library Cardboard boat Race..

I have had (and still have) many ideas for designs of cardboard boats for this event.  I may even get around to building them someday.  This year I was most interested in speed and appearance, as well as something of manageable size. (some of these cardboard boats are huge!)  I selected a canoe, the one water vessel with which I am most familiar.

For those of you familiar with canoes, this design is patterned after the long out of production Peterboro canoe.  I recently received a wooden scale model kit of that canoe and it provided ready made form patterns that I simply had to scale up.

I selected a scale that is about 3/4 of the original, resulting in a 12 foot canoe.  I selected this because the cardboard I was working with was 12 feet in length, and I didn't want to use multiple sections of cardboard along it's length. 

Below, is a rather lengthy photo essay of my construction.  I've included thumbnails, so you can skip the pictures you're not interested in.  At the end of this page you'll find a link to a photo album of the race event at Wasserman Park.


Thumbnail Description
tmarking.jpg (3389 bytes) To begin this project, I had to first lay out my 12 foot sheet of double thick cardboard and mark off 1.5" strips.  A total of 76 of them!  My intent with this design is to construct it in very much the same way you would a real canoe.  To do this I need long strips of wood (cardboard), hence this first step.
tstrips.jpg (4289 bytes) This is hard work!  I can not wait until I've finished this unpleasant part of this project.  The construction will be much more enjoyable.
tstyro.jpg (4056 bytes) After cutting out all of the strips of cardboard I am going to need, I have to trace out the patterns for the Styrofoam forms that will allow me to properly shape this canoe.  These forms were taken from the Peterboro canoe model and enlarged with the help of my PC.
tforms.jpg (3883 bytes) All of the Styrofoam forms shapes have been cutout.  The board has been marked with their location and I am preparing to attach them to the board with a hot glue gun.
tstartfm.jpg (3721 bytes) One by one, I officially begin construction with the attachment of the Styrofoam forms to the 2X8 length of wood.
tgluefrm.jpg (3551 bytes) And, there she is!  kinda looks like a canoe, doesn't it?  just a little maybe??
tkeel1.jpg (3376 bytes) The front/rear curve of the keel is made by cutting the shape from cardboard.  I cut two sections for both ends and glued them together, making them 4 thick (using double thick cardboard).  To this I also attached a narrow strip of cardboard to act as a shoulder for gluing the hull strips too.)
tkeelhlf.jpg (2910 bytes) The straight portion of the keel (bottom) is created the same way.
tkeel.jpg (3807 bytes) The keel has been attached to the forms, providing the first real hint of its shape.
tbegin.jpg (4137 bytes) Jennifer helps me apply the first 2 runs of cardboard strips, securing them to the cardboard ribs I have attached to the Styrofoam forms.
tshape.jpg (3729 bytes) With 4 strips of cardboard attached, the canoe begins to take shape.
t1sthalf.jpg (4228 bytes) This image shows the first half of the canoe with it's first layer of cardboard.  Unlike a real canoe, I can complete one half before moving onto the other.  Using wood, in the making of a real canoe, I would have to alternate from one side to the other, with each strip, to prevent warping of the canoe.
tfirstl.jpg (3841 bytes) Another view of this first half.  Note the extension of the keel, at the top of the canoe (bottom of picture).  This will become the curved or upswept point of the canoe later in the construction.
tendview.jpg (4004 bytes) Here is an end view of the canoe after the first layer of cardboard is complete.  Notice how true the keel remained throughout this process.
tgluing.jpg (4605 bytes) Applying mastic to the first layer of cardboard as I apply the second layer.  The first layer is double thick cardboard, the second layer is single thickness.
touter.jpg (3934 bytes) Now with both layers of cardboard on the hull, I let the glue dry before filling voids and preparing the surface for paint.


Thumbnail Description
tsealed.jpg (3632 bytes) The voids and large wrinkles have been filled with wood putty.  The hull appears to be completely covered in putty, but this isn't so.   To help provide a smooth finish, I would gather water in my hand and use that to smooth out the putty in the cracks and voids.  This had the effect of spreading a thin film of putty along the surface of the hull.
tprimer.jpg (3475 bytes) The beginning of the first coat of primer...  The long task of assembly is near complete.
tprimed.jpg (2664 bytes) All primed and ready for some interior work.  This represents 4 coats of primer applied over 4 days.  The next step will be to detach the Styrofoam forms from the 2X8 that has held this all together during construction
tfliped.jpg (3988 bytes) After detaching the Styrofoam forms from the 2X8, I am able to flip the canoe and view the interior for the first time during this construction.
tpoint.jpg (3362 bytes) Close up of the point area after removing the assembly from the 2X8.  Note that the only ribs in place, at this time, are those attached to the Styrofoam forms.
ttrim1.jpg (4009 bytes) Overall view of the canoe with the forms still in place and the beginnings of the point details in place.  We have also installed the remainder of the ribs at about 8 inch spacing.  Those are the ribs poking out above the edge of the canoe.  After drying, these will be trimmed.
ttip1.jpg (2616 bytes) Here I've built up the points to prepare for a smooth curve characteristic of the Peterboro canoe (and, most canoe's in general).  This is done with two short strips of the original hull material.
tcurve.jpg (2930 bytes) You can see the addition of a section of thin cardboard, pre-cut into the shape of the point curve or sweep.  Once dry, I can then cut the remaining cardboard to its shape.
tfrmsout.jpg (4141 bytes) Jennifer has been a great help throughout the assembly of this project! She has just helped me remove all of the forms so we can begin the task of working on the interior.  THANKS!  (Note all the ribs in placed, trimmed to the edge of the canoe.
tbrace.jpg (3699 bytes) Here, I've assembled and attached the braces that will keep the canoe from spreading apart.  The brace is made from two lengths of double thick cardboard, glued together (same stock used on the hull) and glued to the inside and the outside of the canoe hull for strength. (you can see the duct tape holding the edging in place as the glue dries.)
tcappnt.jpg (2874 bytes) Here, I've constructed a point section that fits inside the point of the canoe, matching the curve of the point.  This is taped in place till the glue sets.  Note the wood putty helps to form the cardboard into a smooth point.
tcappnt2.jpg (3044 bytes) Construction of the point is complete with the addition of a second section of cardboard that wraps over the outer hull of the canoe, forming a strong joint in a high stress area
tintpnt.jpg (3001 bytes) The interior has received it's second and last coat of primer paint.  I am still working on the points, so this area has not received paint yet.
ttanpnt.jpg (2977 bytes) Here, the interior has received it's 1st and only coat of tan paint.
tribpnt.jpg (3385 bytes) Ribs painted as is the edge and braces.  The first coat of paint has also been applied to the points in preparation for some additional details.   Note the splotch of red paint on the right side of the hull near the center of the canoe.  I was testing the spray paint against the primer in case there was a reaction.
tpntdet.jpg (3243 bytes) The points have received their details, trim paint is complete and minor touch up will prepare the canoe to be flipped so that I can apply the first coat of bright red to the hull.


Thumbnail Description
t1coat.jpg (3203 bytes) First coat of Wagon Red is near complete.  For good weather proofing, I will apply 2 coats
tred.jpg (3976 bytes) Completed the hull.  Two coats applied, minor touch up or the brown trim.   Note the walnut brown edge to the keel.
tdone.jpg (3876 bytes) Finally, the canoe is complete.  You can see the markings that I've applied to the points.  These markings are shown in detail in the next 3 images.
tfront.jpg (2655 bytes) Front detail.  I found a nice collection of clipart and put it together in a very attractive marking for a canoe.  I really fell in love with the dragonfly, as you will see...
trear.jpg (3182 bytes) Rear detail.  The only thing missing from this marking is a small dragonfly that I will be putting on later this weekend.
tdrgon2.jpg (2577 bytes) I decided to make a large dragonfly to dress up the top of the points as well.   I may decide to only decorate one point this way. I haven't decided.

My canoe is now ready for a float test.   The canoe is far heavier than I expected it to be so, as a precaution, I am going to float her in a local lake and board her to see where the waterline is.  I will capture pictures of this and post them when I get them.

I was going to float her this weekend, but it turned out to be a rainy wet weekend and I don't want to stress the weather proofing quite that much... *S*

Stay tuned for more info and photos!

Float Test

tfloat1.jpg (3020 bytes) Hey!  She floats! She floats pretty too!   Empty, she has a nice high waterline. Now to see how she looks loaded...
tfloat2.jpg (3819 bytes) She looks a lot smaller in this picture with Jennifer standing next to her.  Well, it is a small canoe.  a 3/4 scaled down version of the Peterboro canoe.
tfloat5.jpg (3347 bytes) Two problems, both minor.  She has a very high waterline with the two of us in there.  Not as high as I expected, but high enough to know we would have to take care not to take in water as we rowed.  Second problem was that, with so small a keel and so narrow a canoe, she was very tippy.  It will take time to get used to rowing this canoe without flipping it.  Jen is helping me with the float test, but it will be Joey in the canoe with me on race day.  So I need to plan a few outings in this canoe with Joey so that we can practice.

We have a problem

The best laid plans, eh?   Ever have one of those days where you do something very stupid, like that time you tried to start your car only to discover that it is already running?  As comedian Bill Engval would say, "Here's your sign"...

Well, I messed up. Royally too.  After the fantastic float test, I went home and jumped to the computer to download the photos for this journal.  After that I checked my mail, worked some on my Alaska journal (coming soon to the Alaska section of this site), practiced my guitar, etc... all of the busy things that I need to do day to day.  Then I went to sleep.

6 a.m. I woke to the alarm, and sat bolt upright in my bed...  I never took the canoe off of my truck last night!  How could I be so careless???  I quickly got dressed and darted out to my truck to the softly falling rain.  It had been sprinkling all night long and there was about 4 inches of water inside the canoe.

Keeping my composure (no easy task), I quickly emptied the canoe of the water and brought her inside.  Taking as many towels as I could find, I began to dry her off.  Already, I could see swelling cardboard and colors beginning to run on my homemade decals.

I was frantic, heartbroken and very angry with myself.  I cried.  I could not believe that I allowed this to happen.

Added to that, I had to get to work as well.   I did the best I could, without causing more damage than the rain has already done.   I decided that the best course of action would be to let it be until I could review better what my choices were.  Needless to say, it was a very troublesome day at work.

Below are some of the photo's of the decal markings and some other damage easily seen in photos.

tdamdrg.jpg (2297 bytes) Here, you can see the color fading in the dragonfly on the point
tdamrel.jpg (2351 bytes) Note the color run and wrinkling of the decal.   It has also begun to peel from the canoe
tdampnt.jpg (2010 bytes) Here you can see where the swelling of the cardboard has caused cracks in the paint.  This will have to be taken care of promptly.

Long road to recovery

It has been a week now since the damage to the canoe.  Inspection, after work on the day I left it out in the rain, showed a great deal of water absorption in the bottom panel (inner *and* outer) as well as the center area of the ribs and the keel.  The canoe was much heavier as well.  Based on weight alone, I estimate that the canoe was retaining about 2 gallons of water.

As near as I could see, the only options were to rebuild the bottom of the canoe or, possibly, rebuild the whole thing.  I could not afford the time necessary to rebuild the whole canoe and was too emotionally distraught to consider cutting out the entire base of it tonight, so I slept on it.

The next morning, the decals were more faded, but the canoe seemed to be releasing it's store of water.  I did notice though, that the entire base of the canoe was very soft, like a rotted pumpkin, as was most of the keel and the entire top edge of the canoe.  It does not look good.

I made a point of moving the canoe outside whenever the sun was shining.  I also fired up my space heater and worked to drive as much moisture as I could from the cardboard.  Two things became apparent.  IF this canoe was to show her stuff at the boat race, she was going to be much slower than originally planned as a result of being so much heavier, and it was my opinion that she could no longer hold a two man crew.  I felt that there was too great a chance of two men sinking it (with the added water weight) plus the bottom could not withstand the load of two pairs of knees.  The lose of one oarsman also meant a reduction in rowing power and a corresponding loss of speed.  It also means that Joe and I will not be able to practice our oaring technique nor balancing within the canoe as she is not touching water again until race day.

I also noticed that the cardboard has begun to firm up.   The water was evaporating and seems to have stopped propagating through the canoe.   As of this writing, the decals have faded to trash, but there are no more cracks in the hull, the base is firmer and I am more confident that she will do me proud on race day, even if I don't win as a result of my carelessness.


Lets go to the Races!
(Return to my Canoeing page)

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Copyright, 1998, James M. Flis