Long before the era of boats constructed of boards, and following closely after the primitive attempt at navigation astride a log, and the second step in the form of several logs lashed together, came the intermediate step, by which the form and proportion of a boat was obtained out of comparatively raw material, and without tools. The coracle, as this craft was called, was simply an open frame of basket work, woven from branches and saplings gathered by the riverside, over which the hide of a bullock, or some similar covering, was stretched and sewn; the implements required in constructing such a craft being few and of the simplest form, so that it, in all probability, antedates considerably the canoe fashioned from a hollow log.
This style of boat is still in use, though of course in a greatly improved form, and it still possesses three great advantages, it requires less skill, fewer tools, and less expense of labor and material than any boat of similar excellence. The canvas canoe is usually inferior both in weight, strength and appearance to its wooden rival, but is still a very good boat for all the purposes of the canoeist. The canvas skin is quite heavy when so prepared as to be watertight, and adds nothing to the strength of the boat, which requires, consequently, a stronger frame than a cedar canoe, in which decks and planking add greatly to the strength. If the canoe is of the smaller variety, for paddling only, or carrying but a small sail, it may be built as light or even lighter than a cedar boat of equal stiffness, but if of such a size as 14x30, with 50 to 90 ft. of sail, the entire frame must be very strongly braced, and the boat will weigh more than one of cedar.
The first steps of the building are similar to those previously described for a lapstreak canoe. The moulds are cut out in the same manner, the stem and stern are prepared, a rabbet 1/8 in. deep being cut to take the edge of the canvas. The inner keel, j; is 3/8 in. thick, 2-1/2 to 3 in. wide at middle, and tapers to 7/8 at the ends. It is planed up, without a rabbet, and to it the stem a and stern b are screwed. The outer keel is 7/8 in. wide, and as deep as may be desired, not less than 3/4 in. It is planed up, the grain pointing aft, as described for a cedar canoe, and is fitted to the scarf of stem, and screwed temporarily to stern, keel and stern, as it must be removed when the canvas is put on.
The frame is now set up on the stocks, the moulds shored in place and all adjusted, then the gunwales h, of oak or ash, 1/4x3/4, are tacked on and jogs or notches are cut in the stem and stern to receive them, leaving their outer surface flush with the surface of the stem and stern. These notches should not be cut across the rabbets. Strips of oak or ash l l, are now nailed lightly to the moulds, five or six being used on each side, and the jogs d d marked and cut in stem and stern to receive their ends, which, like the gunwales, are secured with screws or rivets to the deadwoods. The ribs k will be of oak or elm, 3/4x1/4 in. They are planed up, steamed or soaked in boiling water until quite pliable, and then are taken one by one, bent over the knee, and while still hot the middle nailed down to the keel, and then each ribband in turn. from keel to gunwale, is nailed temporarily to the rib with one nail only. Care is necessary to keep the ribbands fair, without hollows or lumps. After all the ribs are in they must be looked over and faired up, the nails being drawn out, if necessary, after which a copper nail is driven through each rib and ribband where they cross, and riveted, making a very strong and elastic frame.
An inwale, n, 1x3/4 in., is now put inside of each gunwale, h, being jogged to fit over the heads of the ribs, all three being well riveted together. When this is in, the deck beams o may be fitted. They are cut out of oak or hackmatack, lx5/8 in., and are placed as directed for a wooden canoe, the deck frame and coamings being put in in the same manner. The frame is now taken from the stocks, and all corners that might cut the canvas are smoothed and rounded off, then it is painted all over.
The canvas should be hard and closely woven, wide enough to reach from gunwale to gunwale. The frame is first turned upside down, the outer keel removed, and the middle of the canvas fastened along the keel, with a few tacks, then it is turned over, and the canvas drawn tightly over the gunwales. To do this effectively, the two edges of the canvas are laced together, using a sail needle and strong twine, with stitches about 6 in. apart along each edge. This lacing is now tightened until the canvas lies flat over the entire frame. At the ends it must be cut neatly, the edge turned in, and tacked tightly in the rabbet, which is first well painted with thick paint. When the ends are finished the lacing is again tightened up, and a row of tacks driven along the gunwale, after which the lacing is removed and the canvas trimmed down, leaving enough to turn in and tack to the inside of the inwale.
The moulds are now removed. and a keelson, e, is put in to strengthen the bottom, being of oak, 3/4 in. deep and 1 in. wide. It is slipped in, one or two of the deck beams being removed, if necessary, and the position of each rib marked, then it is removed, and jogs cut to fit down over the ribs, after which it is replaced and screwed down, running far enough forward on the stem to lap well over the scarfs and strengthen it. The deck frame and coaming is next finished, the mast tubes set, and all preparations for decking made as for a wooden canoe. A deck is sometimes laid of 1/8 in. pine or cedar, over which the canvas is stretched, or the canvas may be laid directly on the beams. The canvas for the deck may be about 6oz. weight, and is stretched tightly down and tacked along the gunwales and around the well. After it is on, half round strips m m, are screwed around the edge of the deck, and an outside keel piece of oak 1/2n. thick, is fitted to the bottom, the screws passing through into keelson e, making all very stiff.
The canvas should now be wetted, and painted with two coats of boiled oil, with a little turpentine and japan dryer mixed in, after which a coat or two of paint of any desired color will finish it off. The paint must be renewed on any spots where it may rub off in use, but the canoe should not be painted oftener than necessary, as its weight is much increased thereby.
Another method of building a canvas boat, as described by a writer in Forest and Stream, was to build the boat, of whatever model desired, in the same manner as an ordinary carvel built wooden boat, but using very plain planking, no attempt being made to have the seams in the latter water tight. This frame is then covered with canvas laid in thick paint, causing it to adhere to the wood, and making a smooth, watertight surface. Such a boat can be easily built by those who have not the skill and training necessary to build a wooden boat, and it would be strong and durable; as well as cheap.