I’m a rower

I finally finished my version two kabes and took them out for  a spin this weekend.  They worked great!  Not perfect yet, but I got the canoe moving as fast as I did when sailing, minus the really scaring tipping to the side.

There will be a version 3 eventually, as these aren’t quite there yet.  The main problem is that they aren’t tall enough and unless I’m being pretty gentle they tend to roll over the top.  I’m not excited about the way they are tied on, but after fiddling around for a while I was able to figure out the setup you see above.  It does a fairly good job of holding it down and against the kabe but is also easy to unhook without untying.

I put  a board behind me that overhangs the sides of the canoe so that when I’m down rowing and want to paddle I can rotate the oars forward and set them on the board.  Then I spin around, climb into my canoe seat and start padding.  Its the best of both worlds.

I’m playing with the idea of a sliding seat, but unless I add some sort of outrigger to spread the oarlocks apart I’m not sure its necessary.  Currently they are 3′ apart and with my long arms I can handle the full movement of the oars without hardly leaning at all.  Of bigger concern is the toll that rowing has on my back, so that’s probably where I should focus my attention.  Maybe I need to spend some time at the gym this winter!

Here’s the whole thing in action:

Row, row, row your…canoe!

The lakes around my house have been low this summer, so sailing has been a bit of a no-go.  The weeds are so close to the surface that my lee boards get caught up and stop me dead in the water.  So I haven’t gone out very often, since solo paddling my canoe is something one should only do when there’s no wind.  An 18′ touring canoe is nearly a sailboat even without the sail.

Which made me think, what about rowing?  The boat is plenty big enough to  sit in rowing position and at 3′ wide in the center there’s just enough room for a small set of oars without using some sort of extension bracket.

Test Kabe
The test kabe. Those bolts are way too long, but that’s all I had on hand.

I googled rowing setups for a few hours and finally settled upon using a “kabe”, which is basically a wooden block against which the oar is pulled.  The oar is usually loosely looped to the kabe to keep it in place while you pull the paddle out of the water and forward again.  I went this route for two reasons.  First, nearly everything on my boat that can be made out of wood (and by me) has been.  Second, I didn’t really want to spend over a hundred dollars on oars and some sort of oar lock setup.  So far I’ve made everything out of scrap/free wood and leftover supplies.  As a bonus, I get to make it!

Oar Handle
The oar handle. The square shape adds a little weight to the inboard end and keeps the paddle oriented properly in the water. The screw keeps the oar from sliding out of the rope that loops around the kabe to hold it in place. I plan on upgrading it to a small block of wood so it’s a little less tacky looking.

The oars I made out of 2×2 stock I had gotten from a friend who’d moved and didn’t have a place to store it.  I used my table saw to cut the corners off, making most of it octagonal, then an orbital sander to take most of the edges off.  It’s not perfectly round, but that’s OK for my purposes.  The only reason I shaped it at all was to take some of the weight off the out-board end of the oar.  The in-board end I left square except for the handle.  That helps balance it a bit more since it doesn’t pivot in the center, but more towards the in-board side.  In actuality I probably only transferred a few ounces inboard, but every little bit helps.

Oar Paddle
Oar paddle end. 1x pine shaped and fitted into a slot in the end of the 2x handle.

Using a scroll saw (another gift from the moving friend), I cut a notch out of the end of the pole and slid in a paddle I’d shaped from a piece of 1×6.  A little wood glue, some filler and a few coats of varnish on the wet end and I had an oar that should work well enough.


The kabe I shaped out of 1x pine and bolted to the side of the canoe.  The square part of the oar is the part that sits against the kabe and this means that the paddle is always sitting at the correct angle.  For this test piece I used a 90° just because I needed to get going, but the vertical face should probably be angled 6° degrees towards the back of the boat.  I think.  I probably need to research that more before I make my final version.

Broken Kabe
Oops! I got a little carried away rowing and snapped the kabe right off! Guess a little more engineering is in order.

On my first test row, the kabes and oars worked perfectly!  I got my canoe moving at a pretty quick clip, at least as fast as I usually get sailing.  It felt good.  But it only lasted about 6 minutes before one of the soft pine kabes shear clean off.  I figured that might happen, but I got what I needed from the test versions and will be making something stronger for my next round.

Kabe v2 will be birch, a much stronger hardwood (and something I’ve got sitting around the shed).  I’ll probably make it a little wider too.  I’m tempted to put some fiberglass on the side to reinforce it a bit more, but I’ll probably just see how the birch does first.  I’ve got enough extra to make a version three if need be.


 I’d been dreaming about building a canoe for years when we finally moved into a house with a long outdoor covered shed area.  My wife bought me the wood for my birthday and told me to stop staring at picture of boats and go make one.  I’m glad she did, it was a big project and it would have taken a few more years before I started it on my own.

The boat itself is designed  from a set of free plans you can get from Jem Watercraft.  Its a touring canoe, which means its BIG.  At the time, I thought I’d love to get out on the lake with my then budding family and so I’d need a bigger boat.  What I didn’t realize at the time is that there’s a lot of time between babies are born and they are any fun to have in a boat with you.  Also, its not really that fun having 6 people in a canoe.  Its very stressful, actually.

So, since it was much bigger than I wanted to handle as a solo paddler (mom was stuck on shore with the babies), I turned it into a sailboat.  I haven’t decided yet if I’m not a good sailor or if its not a good sailboat (its probably mainly me), but it does go with the wind and gets pretty fast.  Its going upwind where I can’t seem to figure it out.

The boat is made from birch plywood off the shelf at Home Depot.  I used the stitch-and-glue method to piece it all together and wrapped it inside and out with fiberglass and epoxy.  The trim along the sides and across the thwarts are oak.  Its a heavy boat.  But its solid.

The sailing rig is made from pine and whatever other scraps I could find around the shop. The sail is a tarp, trimmed to the proper shape and edged with p-cord and duck tape.  Since I was making it up as I went I didn’t really want to spend money on it if it wasn’t going to work.  It ended up sailing though, so maybe someday I’ll upgrade to nicer materials.  Probably not though, I’m more interested in the practical side of things when it comes to my boat.

Lately the weather here has been so dry that the lakes have been low and my keel boards get caught up in the weeds.  So sailing doesn’t really work.  So I’ve been looking into setting up some rowing attachments so I can still use it this summer.  I’ll blog more about that later.

To me the boat is definitely amateur work and while very functional, there’s a lot of improvements to be made in the eye-candy category.  But one of my favorite tag-lines I’ve seen in the boat-making forums is “Its really hard to make an ugly boat”.  Its true.