Canoes Construction

What makes a Stewart River Canoe Special?

Stewart River canoe designs are all firmly connected with the long traditions of canoe design, though some are completely our own. One look at a Stewart River canoe will tell you it was built with great care. Not only are the designs graceful and well-proportioned, but the woodworking is first-rate and gleams under many coats of spar varnish. The canvas-covered hull is smooth and durable under a high-gloss paint. Stewart River Boatworks offers many innovations in building the wood and canvas canoe.

You may notice the weights of our boats are often considerably less than some other builders’. We have rethought the traditional wood and canvas canoe and found several places where materials could be pared down without sacrificing strength. For instance, 5/16″ thick ribs, necessary in the middle of a tandem canoe to keep it from “oil canning,” are planned thinner near the ends, thus maintaining the proper stiffness in all areas of the hull. The outwales are shaped to a half-round, eliminating the corner wood and the decks, crowned on top are hollowed out underneath. These touches not only lessen the weight but give the canoe a “soft feel” when you pick it up.

We normally use #10 Midwest Duck, the standard in the industry, and fill the weave with a special oil-based filler that is lighter in

Dacron Covering

Dacron Covering

weight than the traditional filler used over the years. The finish coat of paint is normally Epifanes Yacht Enamel, which, in my opinion, is unequaled in a single part oil-based paint. We also offer our canoes covered with aircraft Dacron. This is filled with a flexible primer/filler and then painted with same oil-based yacht enamel.


Not only are our boats lighter to begin with, but they also stay lighter. The old timer who tells you a wood and canvas canoe could gain 20 pounds in a week is not exaggerating. Both the wood and the canvas can absorb plenty of water, and water weighs nearly 9 pounds per gallon! At Stewart River, we pre-seal every piece of wood that goes into the canoe with a coat of linseed oil topped with a coat of varnish before it becomes part of your boat, so this will not happen. We also treat the canvas to prevent rot. Your Stewart River canoe should not gain more than three pounds when in use!

Pre Sealing Planking

Pre Sealing Planking

In our designs and their execution, we keep flexibility in mind. As materials, wood and canvas are not stronger than fiberglass or Kevlar, but they are more flexible. When built right, in most cases a wood and canvas canoe will “give” rather than break when it strikes a rock. Though not indestructible, our canoes are built to be used and are not just for looks.

How to read our measurements

The measurements found on each canoe page are all made to the outside of the hull. The depth is from the top of the gunwale to the bottom of the boat and the widths are to the outside of the hull. The gunwale width is actually to the outside of the hull rather than the outside of the gunwale itself. The rocker is generally measured at 12″ from the end of the canoe or approximately where the stem curve meets the curve of the rocker.

Deciding on a Design

In order to decide which canoe is best for you, it helps to understand the basics of canoe design. The shape of the bottom or the part that is normally in the water, at the midships will define how the canoe feels when at rest. A flat-bottomed canoe will feel very steady and a rounded-bottomed canoe will feel very tippy. Under paddle, in rough water, the feeling may be the opposite. The rounded-bottomed hull will allow the waves to flow around the sides of the canoe with little force applied to the hull, whereas a flat-bottomed hull will be rocked around considerably.

Between these extremes is the “shallow-arched” hull, a category which describes most of our models. The Chestnut-inspired designs, the Prospector and Saganaga, in particular, have fairly slack bilges, with the Pal bilge being slightly stiffer. This allows a greater amount of final stability and making them feel more stable at a higher water line, while loaded with gear. The Ami and Mon Amie have shallow-arched hulls complimented with hardened bilges. The hardness of the bilge will depict how the canoe feels when it is rocked, either by leaning or when rocked by waves. A so-called “hard” bilge, with a small radius to the bilge curve, will stiffen up quickly, add to the feeling of initial stability.

The shallow arch to this hull allows some movement when at rest though the hard bilges quickly limit the amount it will move. Even empty they end up with both a feeling of stability and good final stability. The attributes that make a canoe move through the water faster include a longer length and a finer entry. Conversely, the boat with a flattened bottom will have a greater wetted surface than a round-bottom boat and the greater resistance will make the boat move slower through the water. Another point to keep in mind is a boat with a fine entry will cut through waves rather than rising up with them like a canoe with full ends. This will make the boat faster, though reduce seaworthiness. Generally, a flatwater canoe will have fine entry lines and a white water canoe will have buoyant ends. Many of our models have a fairly fine entry at the water line and then broaden at the sheer. This will make them a bit faster in quiet water and still seaworthy in a chop. The amount of rocker can also affect hull speed. Generally the greater the rocker, the slower the boat. A downriver canoe needs rocker so that it can be easily turned. A little less efficiency is traded for maneuverability. In lake travel a minimum of rocker is usually prized because it not only makes the boat faster, it also helps keep the boat on track.

Understanding these principles should help you decide what is best for you. I should warn you, however, that design can actually be a bit more mysterious than this. Mixing different design attributes can yield surprising outcomes. On the Stillwater page, I mention it is faster than expected. A flattened bottom does pose a greater wetted surface than a shallow arch. The fine entry of this boat, gradually opening to a flattened bottom allow this hull to efficiently start to plane without a great effort, and a planing hull is very different from a displacement hull. While we generally think of a canoe as a displacement hull, canoe racers will regularly get the hull to plane. The Stillwater will start to semi-plane with surprisingly little effort when empty. The greater the load, though, the greater the force needed. The Mon Amie is an attempt to put various different design attributes together to get the best of all worlds.

If you are looking for high initial stability the  Mon Amie and Ami are clear choices of our models. If you are looking for initial stability that is well suited for rivers, I feel the Pal is unparalleled, though the Ami and the Mon amie both have an amount of rocker that makes them well suited to moving water (up to class 1 or 2 rapids). The Prospector would be a good choice if you want a canoe that can handle something beyond class 2 rapids.  The Saganaga is unequaled as a cruising canoe in lake or river – it is fast, seaworthy and a very pleasant canoe to paddle, especially when carrying a load. Mon Amie offers a great compromise in initial stability/final stability, turning and tracking with a good amount of speed. The Pal and the Ami are the best of our canoes to be paddled either tandem or solo, though the Mon amie works well for a longer canoe and the Prospector is perfect for those who know how to handle her.

The solos, of course, are in a category of their own. Both the Unity and the Traveler are indebted to the Emily design and have that same “feel”, though they do feel surprisingly different from each other. The Unity is the epitome of a personal canoe, totally in the paddler’s control. The Traveler is a bit more its own, able to carry more gear with greater tracking ability which makes it less responsive to the whims of the paddler. The Solitude is a mixture of things: a small boat with an ample volume; a short boat with good tracking ability; a boat that tracks, though easily turns when leaned.

The Damselfly and Solitude owe a great deal to David Yost and his Wildfire design, though each is a different take on that design. The Solitude is a bit fuller throughout, with greater capacity and has an easy shallow arch that feels quite fluid when under paddle. The Damselfly has a bit more defined bottom, making her want to sit flat, yet is easily leaned when you initiate it. While less volume, the Damselfly has a greater feel of stability making her feel bigger perhaps than she is.

Please feel free to call and talk with me to help you decide which canoe will best fit your needs.

Native Beauty


A Pal in Scotland

Suzanne Gent guiding her Pal upstream in Scotland.

If you have not yet paddled a wood and canvas canoe, you cannot know the true value of one. I don’t think it is possible to really appreciate these craft without taking one out for a paddle. Of course, you can ooh and ahh at one you see in a store and even a photo of particularly beautiful wood and canvas canoe can describe some of the physical beauty of the boat.

The real pleasure is gained from how they paddle on some nice wooded stream, or how they sound when you set your paddle down and retrieve the camera. The boat is of wood and therefore a kindred spirit to the woodlands you want to visit. A wood and canvas canoe feels like it belongs. It’s native. And paddling one helps you feel like you belong, with no other barrier between you and your surroundings.

For places and times to paddle our canoes contact me.