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DIY Canoeing: How to Build Your Own Boat Out of Paper

Build your own paper boat and take to the free sees.

This past summer, Mare Liberum, a collective of artist-boatbuilders from Brooklyn, was invited to the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, New York to construct a new craft inspired by the museum’s collection. Reconnecting with the 2,500-mile voyage that Nathaniel Bishop and an assistant made in 1878, from Quebec to the Gulf of Mexico in a paper canoe (passing through Troy, New York, where Elisha Waters & Sons paper canoes were being constructed around the turn of the last century), and inspired by the spirit of adventurer Homer Dodge, the collective decided to build a paper boat and to take that boat on a voyage.

They selected a Lake Ontario Skiff that was being deaccessioned from the museum’s collection to use as a mold for the paper shell, and set to work. Through a combination of historic research, consultation with ABM master boatbuilders, volunteers and staff, and testing of various materials, equipment and techniques, the collective managed to build—in just two weeks—a seaworthy paper skiff. Launched as “Le Massicot” (French for paper cutter) the paper skiff was rowed from Clayton, New York to Montreal—about 160 miles down the St. Lawrence River. The voyage took just over a week.

The paper skiff was followed by a comprehensive but easy-to-use set set of plans for the laymen boatbuilder. The instructions contained on their latest broadsheet publication (the seventh in Mare Liberum’s five-year-long boatbuilding how-to series) will guide the willing builder, artist, fiddler, or adventurer through an experimental process of constructing a seaworthy craft out of little more than kraft paper, wood glue, a little bit of hardwood, and a sealer.

Building on their work while in residence at the Antique Boat Museum, the process was further refined during a two-day-long workshop featured as part of the World Maker Faire in New York in September at the New York Hall of Science. Last weekend, the Mare Liberum distributed these plans in printed form at the Conflux Festival, held at New York University's Barney Building in the East Village.

Mare Liberum / The Free Seas is a free-form publishing, boatbuilding, and waterborne art collective, based in Brooklyn's Gowanus neighborhood. Tracing its roots to centuries-old stories of urban water squatters and haphazard watercraft builders, Mare Liberum is a collaborative exploration of what it takes to make viable aquatic craft as an alternative to life on land, and as a technique of resistance aiding and abetting the right to the waterfront city. The collective aims to make it possible for everyone to build a boat out of a simple list of materials even with minimal building experience. For more information, visit the collective on the Gowanus or online.

To get started on the paper skiff, you will need the following:
  • A boat to copy
  • Packing tape—one roll
  • PAM cooking spray
  • Titebond III wood glue—two gallons
  • Kraft paper—two 500 sq. ft. rolls
  • Wood shims—one pack
  • Marine epoxy—one gallon resin, 1/5-gallon hardener, optional waterproofing additive
  • Dimensional lumber—four 16 ft. 2x4's (or equivalent)
  • Wood Screws—one box of #6 2-1/2", one box of #8 3/4" (brass or stainless steel)
  • Thin scrap wood or masonite for making the jig
  • Cedar or oak lumber—approx. thirty 1/4" x 1/2" strips, between 4' and 6' long for ribs and bang strips
  • An assortment of other scraps of wood for thwarts, breast hooks, rub rails, and floorboards
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And then follow the easy steps on this PDF to your own paper boat!

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