Youth build one-of-a-kind canoe

Woodworking teacher Jim Cox leads about two dozen Tillamook youth over several years in a unique building project.

(Above) Teacher Jim Cox (center) supervised students who spent several years building the 18-foot cedar canoe. Some of them include (from left) Taylor, Abraham, Eric, Jaime.


After several years of dedication and hard work, youth at the Oregon Youth Authority’s two Tillamook facilities have completed an 18-foot-long replica of an 1880s-era cedar canoe.

The water craft, designed after a Native American two-person canoe, was put together by Trask River Productions, a program of upper-level woodworking youth at Camp Tillamook and Tillamook Youth Correctional Facility who have created hundreds of items for the community.

Youth in the program have already built picnic benches, a chicken coop, a tiny house, and a handicap ramp, but this is the first time the students have tackled a boat of any kind.

It started more than two years ago, when Trask River High School Principal Jerry Dorland was trying to get a group of special education students involved in a projectInstructor Jim Cox taught from a canoe-building book — “We call it our canoe bible,” he joked — and, using locally-sourced cedar, the students set to work.

But the revolving door of youth entering and exiting the facility meant a slowdown in production.

“I’d say that 24 to 26 youth have worked on it overall,” Cox said.

The work itself had to be done slowly and deliberately. The youth could only glue on one thin cedar strip at a time to allow each one to adhere to the frame.

“It was about teaching kids, not to get production out,” Dorland said.


One reason it took youth several years to make the canoe is because they could only fasten one slat of siding at a time, to ensure it would adhere to the frame.

The end product was satisfying for the youth involved, even if they hadn’t been the ones who initially started the project.

“It was me and another youth who finished the slats,” said Taylor R., 19. “It was really fun. I want to build another one.”

Apart from the cedar strips, the canoe also has oak trim as well as black walnut and maple wood on the stern to make it stronger. Youth added six layers of caning for the two seats by hand. Finally, and perhaps the most difficult part, students covered the canoe in four layers of fiberglass epoxy seal.


Youth learned caning to create this six layers of caning for the canoe’s two seats.

“We have that on the inside, too, so we call it a cedar sandwich,” Cox joked. “The bottom has two layers of fiberglass to reinforce it so you can hit rocks and not hurt it — not that I recommend it.”

Youth also made the paddles from cedar and covered them with the fiberglass seal, and they outlined the edges outlined with a nylon rope for added protection. A student used a woodburning kit to etch the designs on both paddles.


A youth used a woodburning kit to draw this design on the cedar paddles.

Cox estimates that youth spent a total of 400 hours working on the canoe.

“It’s been a learning curve — for us and the kids,” Cox said. “It’s amazing to see the guys in here. They were all anxious about making a mistake, but our motto is if you learn something, then it’s not a mistake.”

The fate of the canoe, which is affectionately named the Wilson, after the river that flows into Tillamook Bay, is still uncertain. But Dorland said they will work with the local education foundation to determine its future, which could mean auctioning it off.

“No matter how much (we’d sell it for), it’s not enough,” Dorland said. “The value is in the skill development and teamwork.”

The project has inspired some of the youth involved to possibly pursue woodworking as a future career.

“At the very least, I definitely want my own shop in my home,” said Abraham M., 18.

As for Trask River Productions, they teachers and students are looking to take the skills learned from this project and apply them to future endeavors — perhaps building another boat or making chairs where they can use the caning techniques they just learned.

“I’m excited to get the opportunity to get out and make something,” said Jaime T., 17. “And I’m excited for whatever is next.”

Canoe Specs:

  • 18-foot cedar strip two-person canoe
  • Total weight: 70 pounds
  • Cargo capacity: 1,300 pounds
  • Can handle class 5 rapids
  • Trim is oak, with a black walnut and maple stern
  • Body made of cedar strips glued together one at a time
  • Body covered with four layers of clear epoxy resin for strength (inside and outside)
  • Two paddles made from cedar, covered in resin and outlined by nylon rope
  • Design on paddles done by youth using a woodburning kit
  • Seats caned by hand — six layers’ worth
  • Design based on Native American canoe from the 1880s
  • These canoes are very rare and are not commercially available except by special order.


    Taylor (right) and Abraham carry the 70-pound cedar canoe back into the wood shop on the Camp Tillamook campus after taking photos.

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