If you have a family of younger kids or you’d like to solo your tandem canoe, you just may need a removable seat for your canoe. I’ve already bought 2 hoping they would work, but none of them worked as I hoped. Thankfully, with a bit of thought and planning, I was able to satisfy my own need for a functional, good-looking, strong, comfortable and inexpensive webbed canoe seat. I’ll show you how to do it!
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How Do You Make a Canoe Seat?
Nearly anyone with a few tools and access to YouTube can make a removable, webbed canoe seat that looks factory-made by simply making a frame using a few pieces of 1″ x 1.5″ hardwood (or softwood if necessary) strips of wood. Other necessary components are 4 wood supports for the seat to attach it to the gunwales and some nylon webbing.
The process is not very complicated and I’ll show you how to do it step by step.
There’s no single right way to build a seat, but I’ve done it successfully and I’ll show you how to make your own if you have 8 hours to spend over several days and with as little cash as it takes to buy a meal for 2 at McDonalds!
8 Steps To Your Own Custom Removable Canoe Seat
- 4 threaded rods about 6 inches long (3/16″)
- 8 – 3/16 nuts, 8 – 3/16 flat washers, 8 – 3/16 lock washers
- About 80 inches of wood (hardwood is best) ripped to 1″ x 1.5″
- 10 yards of 2″ nylon webbing
- 4 washer head screws (2.5″ long)
- 4 – 3″ galvanized steel corner braces
- Wood glue
- Wood finish (Valspar Marine Varnish is perfect)
- 1/2″ staples and staple gun
- Scissors/utility knife
- small torch
1 – Determine where you want the canoe seat, and measure precisely
Before you do anything else, you’ll need to figure out where you’ll put your seat. I needed a solo seat so I wanted it to be place just behind the yoke. While my seat is easily removable, it is not adjustable. However, it will fit in 2 places that have the same distance from the gunwales on either side of the yoke (one on the stern side of the yoke (about 16 inches) and one at the same distance from the yoke on the bow side.
After determining the depth of your seat (usually around 10 inches) and making note of where it will sit in the canoe, measure the exact distance between the gunwales at the two points where the main frame will connect to the gunwales.
The frame won’t connect directly to the gunwales. Instead, the frame will connect to 4 vertical connector spacer blocks. But, the total width of the seat cannot be greater than the distance between the gunwales. Because of the slight taper of a canoe (even near the center point), you should have 2 measurements.
2 – Rip your wood to about 1″x1.5″ and cut to lengths to fit measurements in step 1.
You’ll also to complete the frame to a depth of 10″. For this, you’ll need wood planks or boards. Ideally, a hardwood like Ash, Cherry, Oak or Maple would be best, but I used plain old softwood decking. While not ideal, it was strong enough and with the right wood treatment surface protection and storage, the wood should last a lifetime or longer.
3 – Cut and prepare your canoe seat spacers
The exact height of your spacers is up to you, but 4″ is a good starting point. These are the pieces that will connect the main seat to the steel braces that will rest on the gunwales.
You’ll need to sand the corners for a less “harsh” feel on both the spacers and the main frame. You will then drill a 3/16″ hole from top to bottom through the spacers lengthwise to accommodate the threaded rods.
Once the spacers are cut, drilled and sanded, be ready to glue them into place.
4 – Drill holes in each of the corner brackets to fit the center of the spacers and have them fit over gunwales snugly
You’ll need to take a spacer and a steel corner bracket together and test how they should fit with each other to fit the gunwales snugly. Once that is determined, drill a hole in the bracket to allow the threaded rod to connect the seat frame to the corner brackets.
Then, connect the whole system of spacers, rods, nuts, washers and corner brackets together very tightly (take care not to split the wood if it’s softwood). This process involves glueing the spacers to the seat frame before tightening screws.
5 – Let glue dry overnight, then apply wood finish to the canoe seat frame
Once your seat is glued and screwed tightly, you’ll need to either let is sit overnight to dry, or (like me) use the overnight glue drying time to also be the time to let my wood finish dry (first coat). I used Tung oil (technically should only be used on interior wood, but I’ve used it on my wood canoe gunwales successfully for years). I would suggest a marine varnish/lacquer.
6 – Cut, file and finish the ends of the threaded rod
When your wood treatment of choice is dry, you’ll want to finish the rough ends (typically) of the threaded rod. If you used bolts, it may not be necessary if you’re okay with their length. I used a cut off blade on my grinder to cut the rod and to grind down the rough edges. I finished with a few strokes of sand paper.
7 – Install Webbing on the canoe seat frame
I chose not to cut my webbing into pre-determined strip lengths since I wanted the whole role to be used for leverage as I pulled to make the webbing as tight as possible. I left a bit of a gap between the webbing strips to allow for ease of weaving.
I used 3 staples per attachment point (6 staples per strip) and applied the short ones first, followed by the long ones weaved through the set of short strips.
At this point, you’re nearly done the process. You only have to weave the 3 remaining lengthwise webbing strips using the same process as the first shorter strips, only this time you’re weaving over/under. Be careful to follow your pattern.
8 – Do a final check on, and fitting of the canoe seat before packing away your tools!
A final sit check is necessary to determine if your frame is strong enough and if your staples will hold. Unfortunately if you fail in those categories (especially the frame strength one), you’ll have to start over. Fortunately, I’ve done the work and I know that it will work!
You may want to tweak things a bit like I did. I ended up bending the ends of my corner brackets that fit over the gunwales in order to facilitate a more snug fit and to minimize any outward flexing action.
Can You Add Seats to a Canoe?
It’s not only possible, but very helpful for most canoe owners to add seats to their canoe when necessary. I personally don’t like extra seats when they are NOT needed, and that’s why I’m big on the “removable” part my new seat.
If you’d like to start the process of building your own seat, you may want to check out our video tutorial which makes things a bit clearer since you see every actual step! Have fun and keep paddling!