Canoe Building Workshop

As you know from the day by day account of our Lake District holiday, we’ve recently spent a few days on a canoe building workshop. I managed to capture some timelapse photos of the canoe building workshop while we were there so though I’d share it here, along with some info about the workshop as we all had a really good time.

Canoe Building Workshop Timelapse

Canoe Building Workshop

The canoe building workshop was run by Orca Adventures from just outside Penrith in Cumbria. The business is run by Steve and Dan who both seemed really laid back and seem to have the same outlook on life as us – that of a “Simple Life of Luxury“. At the time of writing, they run two different courses at various dates over the Spring, Summer and Autumn from a large barn / workshop on a farm. The workshop we went on was the Lakelander where you get to build a two seater canoe. It is 14’6″ long by 33″ wide and weighs in at round 24kgs. Although designed for two people, it can accommodate three which is why we chose this one. The Lakelander workshop is run over the course of 3 and a half days.

They also run ‘Mayfly’ workshops to build a solo canoe that is 12’6″ long by 33” wide and weighs in at a superlight 14kgs. Again, although designed as a solo canoe it can accommodate two people if you wish. The Mayfly course is run over the course of two days as Dan and Steve have all of the component parts pre-cut for you which saves some time and with fewer components the build is quite quick.

Orca Adventures provide all of the materials, all of the tools and of course the templates and the instruction.

The Workshop

I won’t got through the step by step process as I’ve already covered much of that elsewhere, but essentially you start off with 4 sheets of plywood and 4 lengths of wood for the gunwales. You then start by cutting out the panels from the plywood. Then, after lots of stringing together, fibreglassing, planing, sanding, filling, drilling, sawing, sealing and plenty of resin, screws, nuts and bolts you get yourself a canoe. The whole process was fun and enjoyable. It was a lot easier than we were expecting and the result is a million times better than we could have imagined. We have to confess to usually being rubbish at such things. We don’t possess any craftsmanship between us and I can’t usually cut two pieces of wood straight and join them together properly if my life depended on it. Luckily the sweeping curves of the canoe meant that there were very few if any straight lines needed!

It is possible to do the workshop on your own, but doing it with two of you seems to be the best option as there are a number of jobs where an extra pair of hands come in handy. We were fine with the three of us doing it and Morgan got stuck in and helped out throughout. Dan and Steve were good, finding him jobs to do all the time and teaching him to drill. Dan and Steve were attentive throughout the build. They would give some simple instructions for the next stage and show everyone a quick demo and then we’d all get to continue with our canoe building. They would check up on progress from time to time, but we must have been doing OK as they always just looked at our canoe and said ‘yep, that looks good’. I did notice that they were helping out where needed quite a bit on other canoes though as their main aim is that everyone leaves the canoe building workshop with a fully functional canoe.

There were 4 other canoes being built while we were there and everyone did indeed leave with a proper ‘seaworthy’ vessel. The canoe actually takes shape really quickly on the first day so it feels as though you are getting somewhere quite soon. All of the steps in the process were fairly simple and could easily be achieved by anyone – If we can do it then so can anybody. The tasks are also varied enough that it never gets boring and with two or three people working on the canoe progress is quick and no jobs become tedious. The time actually flew by each day, but we didn’t feel at all rushed either. Again, having three of us working on it did meant that things got done quite a bit quicker as more often than not I would be doing one side of the canoe while Anna and Morgan did the same job on the other side of the canoe.

The whole experience was really good and it made for a perfect family holiday. We don’t do ‘sitting by the pool somewhere hot’ holidays. We prefer to be doing something. This canoe building workshop was a little out of the ordinary even for us, but we loved it. Not only did it keep us occupied for a few days, but we got a real sense of achievement from it and now have a canoe to be proud of.

Canoe Design

Canoe Design

As I said earlier, we really aren’t very good at carpentry or woodworking, so before we got there our agenda was to have a good time and enjoy the workshop. If we managed to come home with a canoe that floats then that would be a bonus. I think our highest expectations were to return with a canoe that worked but probably looked a little shoddy. The fact that we ended up not only with a fully functional canoe, but one that looks gorgeous too is a testament to the designs and techniques of Orca Adventures – the whole thing comes together in a very satisfying manner with plenty of room for error and no real craftsmanship needed. Our canoe may not be up to the standards of some of the hand-crafted masterpieces out there (take a look on Google images for some real beauties!), but we made it with our own fair hands and we actually think it looks pretty good.

Canoe Building Kits

As well as running canoe building workshops, Orca Adventures also sell the plans, templates and full kits for their two canoe designs as well. Now that I’ve built one in their workshop, I’m quite tempted to try the smaller ‘Mayfly’ at home here on my own. Having seen the beginning of a Mayfly take shape it does indeed look like a lovely canoe and the fact that it weighs in at 14kgs would be good for solo adventures. It would also be nice to take a little more time over certain aspects of it and add some custom features to it given the luxury of being able to work on it over the course of several weeks – I’m not sure that I have a space large enough to do it in though (although with the doors open between the dining room and living room it should be OK!). I’m also not sure if the extra time would make it any better – more often than not with me if I try fiddling with some woodwork to get it perfect it only ends up getting worse. There are plenty of times where I’ve tried to build a beehive stand only for it to keep getting shorter and shorter as I try to get it level.

Overall all, we all had a brilliant time. The workshop was just the right length and not only did it lead to an unforgettable holiday, but we now have a lovely canoe that will hopefully take us on many more canoeing, camping and fishing adventures. I can almost picture us under the stars on a little island in a lake with a campfire burning, our tents behind us and our canoe beached next to us having spent the day paddling to get there…

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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