Handbuilding Canoes with Rollin

Handbuilding Canoes in Atkinson, Maine, United States with Rollin

Starting at $4570/person for 80 hours over 10 days

Build yourself the classic watercraft of the American northwoods: the wood-and-canvas canoe. Head to the heart of Maine, where master canoe maker Rollin will guide you through every step of this time-honored artform.

Meet the Artist

Rollin’s love of life on the water runs deep. As a master craftsman, he has poured his energy and passion into restoring and building wooden canoes for almost forty years. After spending much time on his family’s aluminum canoe in the early 1960s and repairing his grandfather’s leaking row boat, he became captivated by the thrills and excitement of Maine’s lakes and rivers. It was then, during his experience guiding Boy Scout trips down the Allagash River and other northwoods waterways, that he discovered the advantages of traveling by wood-and-canvas canoe.

This realization led Rollin down the path to becoming one of the foremost experts in the wooden canoe world. With little recorded wooden canoe history or guidance on building techniques at the time, he researched and co-authored The Wood and Canvas Canoe – the first book to go into painstaking detail on the matter. Incredibly well received, the book included Rollin’s original research and some of his own designs. Since then, he has lovingly restored historic canoes and, through his own original designs, continued Maine’s heritage of boat craft and production with an eye for quality, performance, and detail.

Your VAWAA experience

  • A brief history of canoe-building, with a focus on wood-and-canvas canoes.
  • An overview of the boat-building process and tools to be used.
  • Learning to shape stems and rails and fit them to the canoe mold.
  • Steam-bending the ribs onto the mold.
  • Fitting the thin planking across the ribs to create the hull and removing the hull from the mold.
  • Stretching a single piece of canvas around the hull.
  • Tacking the canvas at the rail and the stems.
  • Treating the canvas with filler to make it waterproof.
  • Shaping and fitting the thwarts to the canoe using hand tools.
  • Using screws, tacks, stembands and other fastenings made of marine grade brass or bronze to avoid corrosion and rust.
  • Treating the hull with linseed oil and covering with #10-weight canvas before filling with the shop’s canvas filler.
  • Applying durable spar varnish to the well-sanded interior.
  • All materials, hardware, and tools, including the highest quality wood: local northern white cedar for ribs and planking, local spruce for rails, and ash for decks, thwarts and seats; mahogany or cherry trim options are available with advance notice.
  • Guidance on applying final coats of paint and varnish once the filler cures (about eight weeks after application); arrangements can be made for the shop to complete the finishing if desired.
  • Instruction on finishing, as well as basic repairs and canoe maintenance.
  • Original Old Town paint schemes for reference.
  • Your own hand built canoe to take home.

What's Included

  • Your VAWAA experience.
  • Materials and tools.
  • Your own handcrafted work to take home.
  • Lunch, Snacks, Coffee, & Tea

Guest Reviews (1)

  • Kristin T., United States

    Building a wooden and canvas canoe with Rollin in the Moosehead Lake region of Maine was a remarkable opportunity. Although I had almost no prior experience with drills, saws and wood working tools, Rollin had me notching and planing spruce, and planking white cedar like an old pro within hours of entering his shop. Not only is he a master craftsman, he is also a skilled and generous teacher with Read more

You'll be in Atkinson, Maine

Atkinson is a small village nestled in Piscataquis County, Maine. Natural beauty abounds, with serene lakes, rivers, and hidden waterfalls to explore nearby. Hike the Appalachian Trail, which makes its way through the county to its majestic end at Mount Katahdin, Maine’s tallest peak. And with Acadia National Park less than a two-hour drive to the southeast, there are plenty of ways to experience the natural beauty of the area.

Dating back to the late 19th century, wood-and-canvas construction is modeled after the birchbark canoe-building perfected by the native tribes of the local Penobscot indigenous people. This was largely due to the incredible quality of the cedar, birch, and ash wood unique to this part of the U.S. The wood-and-canvas canoe was developed from these native crafts.

Additional Details

The shop is on one floor but there are several large steps up to the shop.

This VAWAA is not suitable for young children.

The price reflects building a Cheemaun style boat, but it is possible to make other models for an additional fee: Atkinson Traveler, Medford Explorer, E.M. White or American Beauty.

Things you might be wondering

What is the skill-level required?

Each VAWAA is tailored to your skill level. There is no required experience level, only a willingness to learn. Wonderful for beginners, incredible for experts. You’ll go through the entire process of an art form at your own pace, have exclusive access to the artist and their studio, and connect meaningfully.

Will I be solo or in a group?

Each VAWAA is private and designed for you and your friends. No strangers. Why? Because it allows for a deeper and more meaningful connection with the master artist while maximizing your learning that’s tailored to you. Most VAWAAs allow up to 4 guests for each studio session so as to respect the master’s space and preserve the intimate nature of the learning experience. We do organize intimate group retreats from time to time.

What does the price include?

VAWAAs are priced fairly to support professional artists and makers while providing access to high quality and personalized creative experiences to everyone. Artists decide their own fees for hosting, teaching, materials, tools and studio access. And we support them by managing all their bookings and providing every guest a personal VAWAA experience coordinator to help with planning.

What if I need to cancel?

For a full refund, cancel within 7 days of purchase. To receive a 50% refund or 75% credit towards a future VAWAA, cancel at least 30 days before the start of your VAWAA. You can reschedule at least 30 days before the start of your VAWAA for a $100 rescheduling fee. More on COVID-19 related cancellation policy here.

I'm ready. What should I expect?

Select available dates listed on the artist’s calendar page and start reservation. You won’t be charged yet and have the option to reserve dates with a $300 deposit per guest. If you don’t see the dates you’re looking for, email us or let us know via contact form and we’ll see what’s possible. If you're not ready to book quite yet, you can “save” the VAWAA artist to receive periodic updates. Once you book, you get a direct line to us for everything you need help with. We assist with travel planning, accommodation, possible project ideas, and even local things to do in your off-time.

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Learn from the best, just you and your guests. For other dates, contact us via email or contact form and we’ll see what’s possible.
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