Foraging for Responsibly Sourced Materials: One Man’s Journey to Build an Eco-Friendly Wooden Canoe
I have always loved being out in nature and working with my hands. As an avid hiker and camper, I spend a lot of time appreciating the beauty of unspoiled wilderness areas. Over the years, I became increasingly concerned about humankind’s impact on the environment. I wanted to find a way to pursue my passion for woodworking and building things in a sustainable way.
That’s when I decided I would take on the challenge of constructing an eco-friendly wooden canoe using only responsibly sourced materials. This article chronicles my journey to acquire materials and build a canoe that would have a minimal environmental footprint.
Selecting Sustainable Wood Species
The first step was choosing which wood species to use for the canoe. I researched various types of trees that are abundant and considered sustainable sources of lumber. Based on availability in my region and workability, I settled on eastern white cedar for the planking and stems and white ash for the ribs and hull framework.
Eastern white cedar is a native North American species with natural rot-resistance, making it ideal for boat-building. White ash is also naturally durable and has excellent strength-to-weight ratios. Both of these wood types can be harvested without endangering the species when proper forest management practices are followed.
I consulted the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) website to find certified logging companies near me. The FSC certification verifies that timber is harvested responsibly and sustainably. I compared a few local suppliers before deciding where to source the wood.
Procuring Materials from Responsible Local Businesses
In addition to the FSC certified wood, I needed to find suppliers for the non-wood materials like fiberglass, epoxy, varnish and hardware. I tried to acquire as many materials as possible from local businesses that use environmentally-conscious practices.
For the fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin, I found a company called Green Boat Stuff based in my state that offers eco-friendly composite materials made with recycled content. For low-VOC varnish, I purchased BioBased 415 Spar Varnish through US Composites, a national supplier with a focus on sustainability.
The most challenging piece was tracking down responsibly sourced hardware like screws and fasteners. Through extensive online research, I located a small manufacturer called Tidal Vision that makes hardware from recycled crab shells and other waste materials.
Crafting the Canoe Using Traditional Techniques
With all my materials assembled, I was ready to start building! I’m far from an expert boat builder, so I decided to use traditional woodworking techniques that have been passed down through generations. This involved hand tools like planes, chisels and block sanders as well as my trusty jigsaw, drill and sander.
First, I cut the white ash boards to size and shaped them into the ribs and structural elements that form the canoe’s framework. Next came the tedious process of carefully bending and attaching the eastern white cedar planks to the ribs using copper rivets, creating the smooth hull.
I reinforced the seams between planks with fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin for additional waterproofing and durability. The Tidal Vision hardware allowed me to attach gunwales, seats, and other fittings in a way that will last for many years out on the water.
Finally, I hand-sanded the entire canoe before applying several coats of the low-VOC spar varnish for a smooth, protected finish.
Lessons Learned from Pursuing Sustainable Canoe Building
Completing this project took far longer than simply buying a mass-produced canoe, but the effort was well worth it. I learned so much about sustainable materials and sourcing through the process. A few key lessons:
Finding FSC certified lumber suppliers is easier nowadays, though it takes diligence to verify responsible practices.
Supporting local businesses benefits the community and reduces environmental impact from transportation.
Eco-friendly composite materials have come a long way in performance while reducing plastic waste.
With some searching, hardware and fittings made from recycled and sustainably-sourced materials are available.
Traditional low-tech woodworking skills and tools are very accessible for beginners wanting to build their own watercraft.
Though it required extra time and effort, I’m proud to now own a durable, lightweight canoe made from earth-friendly materials, constructed with my own two hands using classic techniques. I can’t wait to enjoy many relaxing paddles in my hand-crafted vessel and pass my newfound knowledge on to others wanting to build their own sustainable wooden boats and canoes.