The Seats

Fitting the seats to a canoe shouldn't really be a terribly difficult job, and of course it's not.

I made it a bit harder for myself by doing it twice, but had a bit of fun in the meantime too. The seats are another area where it's nice to stamp a bit of your own personality on the boat.

I like Michael's sense of proportion and the simplicity of his seats, but I thought I could make them appear much lighter by routing some slots in them, perhaps giving them a more "boaty" feel. He approves, so I guess that's two of us who like them!

A note on seat height though. Initially I set the seats up at the lowest end of the range, as I was concerned that as a novice paddler, my wife in particular would appreciate the additional stability. This was unnecessary as it turns out, as the boat is quite stable particularly for a craft of it's light weight, but I did receive some advice from a very experienced touring paddler who warned that fitting the seats so low in the boat would cause considerable fatigue.

That may explain the rebuild you will see below!

Set up the stringline

You really don't have to do this again, because you'll be doing this stuff while the stringline from two pages ago is still in place, but if you have taken it down:

Set it up again, nice and tight, from bow to stern.

Seat height template

Build a cardboard form, just a box without a top or bottom, and sides at maximum the height you want the seat to be.

Position it in the location of the seat (fore and aft), one for each seat

Measure down perpendicular and cut the box parallel to the stringline and at finished seat height. You now have a box which is parallel with the water and will serve as a prop or support to hold the seat in while setting it up.

Measuring the width

With the box in the seat location, you can measure the width at the fore and aft edges by overlapping two sticks, sliding them across each other until they hit the sides of the boat, then measuring.

It's altogetherly too unreliable to try to get this measurement with a tape!

Mocking up the seat

I made a simple mock up of the seat with a bit of cardboard. This serves as a great check of the dimensions, but in this case I was just as concerned with getting the spacing of my slots right

Fits first time

After taking so much care, it's not surprising that no custom fitting is needed.

Here the first seat is sitting loosely in position. These were never permanently fitted though, and we eventually set about raising them.

Better higher

Here the new position compared to original, it looks better in every respect.

Being the classic tightwad, I didn't want to buy a whole new sheet of ply for two seats, so I cut out the inserts from the originals and set about making new frames.

New seat frame

I seriously considered making some strung seats at this stage, as the framing looks deliciously light, but despite trying my hardest, I couldn't get my head around the detail where the seat meets the hull side. I felt it just needed the visual strength of the solid top.

Mocking up the new seat

The cross members aren't for decoration, they are there to support the join in the ply seat! I did have enough scrap to find infil pieces though.

Final fitting

Here it all pretty much fits, I'm going to inlay a bit of fir between the ply pieces to make it look less like an accident.

Ready to assemble

Finally I decided on a small trim along the edge as well, to make the joint a little stronger looking. I could have used an epoxy fillet, but each of these beads is a few minutes work, and I like them!

Now they just need some glue, some coating and some varnish!

The Seat Jig

The routered seats have attracted quite a lot of attention, and it is clear that many people are as afraid of their router as I am.

I use a simple jig made of scrap MDF to idiot proof the whole process, here's how:

Typically I build router templates out of MDF that I scrounge from packing cases.

I make them by cutting them into pieces on the table saw and gluing them back together, rather than routing to guides, as I can get a lot of control over the actual slot size and so on, and can actually make them surprisingly accurately .

Don't forget you can click on all pics for a larger view.

Top view

First, cut a piece of MDF wider than the seat is going to be, and make the slot in it exactly the width of your router guide.

Just the standard tin guide that came with the router is ok.

You will have to work out how long you want the cuts to be, so you can make the slot the right length.

Bottom view (of the top piece)

Next, glue two parallel pieces across the top and bottom of the guide exactly the width of the seat apart.

Now work out how far apart you want your slots, and screw a batten the width of the router bit at exactly that spacing from the slot in the template.

This batten needs to be no thicker than the ply,(I use a bit of ply!) and screwed in, because it can't be there when you route the first slot, as you've nothing to register over it.

How the seat fits in the jig

Unfortunately, I've recut the seat so it doesn't quite fit in the slot any more, but you should be able to understand from the picture how it all works.

To route the slots, the ply has to be on the underside, so proceed to the next step before you start!

Bottom piece in place

Finally, cut a piece of MDF the same width as the seat, to act as a backing board. When it's in place it will hold everything together. Ignore the screw holes in the pic, they are left over from a previous life, it's all just loose fitted and held together by clamps. Because of the registration batten nothing can move.

Remember the backing board faces down, the slot is in the top. If you don't do that, you'll have difficulty getting the router to work!

To make it all happen, the seat fits in the template, backing board on, clamped to the bench. Each time you route a slot, unclamp, and move the seat one slot to the left!

More Ways to Build A Seat

Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, there is more than one way to build a canoe seat. Here are a few variants to think about during your build journey!

All are simple to achieve and all have some attraction.

It's decision time!

From the plans

Here Phil's boat is built in accordance with the plans. Michael has mastered the art of making a very simple structure look just right, and they really don't weigh too much either.

Two piece with webbing

Koala's boat has a beautifully woven seat which sits above the frame. Note the framing for these seats is set lower, but the seat insert brings them up to a higher level.

Frame with webbing

EmeraldPete has used a really simple webbing here. I was tempted to do exactly this as it's a very simple effective seat, but I didn't like any solution I could find for fixing the ends to the hull.

Here the cleats look the part, but I prefer not to have them exposed.


This is a very lightweight seat, strung with nylon clothes line. I like this seat but again for me the exposed cleats are not the appearance I'm looking for.

This boat is a real ultralight, built from 3mm ply, note the larger spacing of inwhale spacers to save weight!


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building - decks and whales
building - the seats
building - finishing
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