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Fuselage Frame or Greenland Style


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Hello All,

I am new here and really need input from those who are experienced in building skin on frame kayaks.  It has been a lifelong dream to build a kayak for myself, wife and children.  However, the further I get into exploring building techniques the more questions I have.  I have purchased Christopher Cunningham's book and have read it.  I also got a copy of Jeff Horton's book and read it.  The boats look the same on the outside, but the construction techniques are very different.  

For those that have built skin on frame boats, which method do you prefer.  I am sure I am opening a can of worms here but would love your feedback.  I am not afraid of either technique and have the skills to do both.  While poking around on the internet, it seems that Greenland style boats (as described in Mr. Cunninghams book) fit the body much differently than the more modern design.  However it appears that there are those out there that are building in the Greenland construction style, but are building more modern looking boats.  I would like a boat that will fit the body comfortably, perform well and that I could do a little camping in.  Additionally I would like a boat that I will have the 5 points of contact. I don't know this, but it appears that most of the boats which are constructed don't really make contact in all 5 areas (hips, back, butt, knees and feet).  Am I wrong?  

Which construction technique should I use, which plans would you recommend and are there any good sites out there relating to all of this. Thank you in advance for any information you could give me.


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  • 7 months later...

Hi Morris,


I've built a couple of SOF canoes, one with bent ribs and two with plywood bulkheads. I can't say how Greenland vs fuselage frames kayaks fit, but I can comment on ease of building and appearance. If you are comfortable steaming ribs that goes a long way towards building a Greenland style boat. If not, plywood bulkheads will save you a lot of time and headache. The trade-off is saltiness. If you want to impress not only friends and neighbors, but also experienced boat builders, go Greenland. If you want to get out on the water quickly I'd recommend fuselage frame.


As for links, there are lots of sites but here are some of the best:










I've got one too, but I'm not sure about the policy on self promotion here so I won't post a link. You can find it in my profile if you're interested.



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There are more divisions in skin boat land than Greenland (many types of boat there) and fuselage style. Lots of people built skin on frame boats, even kayaks, and they didn't all live in Greenland. Also, Greenlanders have many types of boats, depending on where they live(d).

A fuselage frame boat will give you (generally) a known quantity. You cut the frames, put them on a strongback, lash in the stringers, and skin it.

A traditionally built kayak can be built to a plan, but will generally be built to fit the individual. Typically, they are built around the gunwale/deck beam unit, and the ribs are mortised into the gunwales. The Greenland style boats I have built have had about 70 mortises each to cut, including blind for the ribs, and through for the deck beams. The ribs are bent in, stringers lashed on, skin sewn on, and go.

A built "by eye" boat will generally give you an unknown quality.

As far as fitting a boat, any boat can be made to fit well, within reason. A built for you boat can fit more snugly, but seats and padding and pedals and all sorts of what-nots can be added to help you fit better in a boat.

I guess I would say a fuselage style boat probably requires fewer on the fly adjustments and judgements during the build, and will probably give the most consistent product.

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  • 2 weeks later...

All good points, but to clarify I generally think that "Greenland style" and "fuselage frame" refer to the gross differences of each type of SOF boat. Greenland having steamed ribs and being more likely built "to eye". Fuselage frame, on the other hand are built on a strongback around plywood bulkheads that become part of the boat. I'd consider my Dreamcatcher canoe "Greenland style" even though it was built on a strongback (but with station frames) and is nothing like a Greenland kayak. A third type might be woven willow?

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Not really. Or, sort of. There are more categories than Greenland and fuselage frame. The buffalo boat, for example, or umiak...

All the old boats we are replicating, or boat styles, were originally built with bent ribs, and probably more chewing than steaming to bend the ribs (yes,Virginia). Also, I would argue the steaming of ribs is much easier of an operation than the cutting of the blind mortises for them, or the mortise and tenons for the deck beams (compound angles, there).

Now, you can build a Greenland "style" boat from any materials and using any method, because you are replicating shapes, building boats shaped and styled like those of Greenland. Then you pick a part of Greenland, and either replicate a recorded historical boat, or build one stylistically similar. I have always wanted a boat with a big tall Cadillac tail fin stern board, one of my favorite Greenland styles.

You can build one fuselage frame style. That is purely a method. A neat, quick, simple, strong, cool method.

By eye is kind of wrong, too, because a lot of boats were, and are, built to anthropometric measurements taken from the user. Certain rules of thumb are used (no pun intended), and a bit of judgement, but replicating boats is fairly easy, because it's not really so fast and loose as all that.

You can build many styles of boats with either the fuselage frame method or bent rib method (or, sometimes, made or sawn frames).

Not really many canoes in Greenland I'm aware of (geez, I have been wrong once before, though ;) ), so call your Dreamcatcher a bent rib boat, or traditionally built boat. If that's it in your avatar pic, it's lovely...

Woven willow was used often, still is I think, to make coracles, the neat little round SOF boats from Ireland.

I am no expert, by the by, but I have been studying and building these types of boats (SOF kayaks) for 20 years, or so, and have built some dozen plus SOF boats, including Alaskan and Greenland styles, and a few canoes.

I have built only one fuselage frame boat, but am slowly working on another. It's a neat method.

I also build regular old hard boats from wood or ply, but I have a soft spot for these cloth boats. Yes, that was a desperate attempt at a pun. :)

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