Archive for the 'Ulua' Category

Michael Litter’s Ulua

I was fortunate this week to have a chance to visit Mike Litter in San Francisco to talk story and see his magnificent, 24′ stretch Ulua outrigger canoe.   His craftsmanship is outstanding as you can see from the photos (the first two from Gary Dierkings blog).  He claims that like me, this was his first major woodworking project, but it is hard to credit that!

So beautiful!

Sea trials, Santa Cruz, earlier this year.

Mike and Manu.

Beveled splashguard, I can’t remember the type of wood.  Mike said this part took many, many hours.

Seats are fir.  ‘wales and much of the interior wood is Honduran mahogany, much more expensive than African, but probably works better.  Ring frames and bulkheads are built up from 3x marine ply, much beefier than in builder’s plans.  Iakos and other spars are also fir.

Bulkhead.  Wood cover conceals large plastic deck plate.  Note lack of fillets throughout.  There is no trim strip on the back edge of the cedar strip deck.

Weapons of choice.  Cool Lie-Nielson jointing plane.

Sweet little mouse plane with convex cutting/shaping blade, similar to those used by violin makers.

zeitgeistsurfer’s Ulua

A fellow called zeitgeistsurfer in the Seattle area (?) has put some of his Ulua-related videos up on YouTube.


I’m trying to get some more info and pics of this canoe, more anon.

Amas in the snow


A picture from last October, from Anchorage-based Chandler Boats Ulua project page.



Here is a fun fact for those out there who need to shape an object so as to have a smooth elliptical cross section throughout, and lack detailed plans or templates.  To make the Ulus’s ama, the shape of the elevation view  is given by a table of offsets that one  uses to create the plywood sheerweb, and the planview shape is laid out by hand using mainly one’s eye aided by some long battens.   I did some rough scaling from a rendering in the plans, but no dimensions were available.    At each station along the length of the ama there is thus defined a rectangular cross section into which fits the the curved cross section of the final shape.

But how to actually form the shape so that it will not be un-fair?  I decided that an elliptical cross-section throughout would be simplest.   The best approach is to first shape the rectangular lofted solid into a octagonal lofted solid, and then take it from there.  This is how round spars and oar looms are made.   With a little geometry I figured out that for an ellipse incribed in a rectange, the sides of the enclosing octagon lying on the original rectangle sides are 1/(1 + √2) ≈ 0.414 times the length of the corresponding rectangle side.  So for many stations along the length of the ama we measured these distances and then used battens and string lines to mark the foam ama core preparatory for final shaping with handsaws and sanding boards.  It’s turning out pretty well, as you will seen in the next update.



Solid timber manu concept


Maybe execute from laminated WRC, redwood, or build up with a basswood core?

Some scattershot Ulua progress

Progress on the Ulua has been pretty slow of late, with our attention given over to Temerity and lots of other family activities.  I’ve also been procrastinating badly with regard to fitting out the interior.    There has been some work done though on some of the auxilliary parts.


I covered starting the inwales in my last real post.  They are now glued in.  The outwales are also fabricated and waiting.

Scarfing ‘wale planks together.

Crude but effective scarfing jig.

Detail showing scarf joint of inwale, dry fit to interior prior to gluing.

Dry fit of inwales in interior.

Detail showing notches cut in bow area to accomodate bending of inwale.


I had a lumber mill cut the planks for the ‘iakos from very thick African mahogonay and ash stock.  They really grumbled about doing the hardwood work, they seemed to think it was bad for their saw.  The results were very good, though, and I don’t think I could have done it myself on my cheap table saw.

Fitting up the sanded planks.

Setting up the ‘iako laminating jig.  The 2×2 and 2×4 blocks will be screwed to the strongback table with machine screws along a faired curve.

Laminating an ‘iako.  I had thought to do more of traditioinal Hawai’ian double-bend, but wasn’t sure how much it would spring back after gluing, so I went with the simple bend called for in the plans.


While I was in laminating mode, I decided to do the main section of the boom as well.  I had a lovely 18′ length of 3/4″ fir, and I ripped two planks out of it and laminated on a jig (again built on the strongback).  The boom-jaws still need to be made up and fitted.

Dry fitting the planks in the jig.

Lots and lots of clamps are needed to get a nice uniform joint.


I had purchased two blocks (4′ x 8′ x 4″) of yellow (probably the ‘bad’ kind) of urethane foam, and these had been taking up a lot of space for over a year.  I was also worried that they would be damaged by light.  As it turned out, they were already warped somewhat from just sitting on their edges.  So I decided to make up the ama as a little side project.

Above:  lofting the profile shape of the ama on a scarfed-up piece of 3/16″ ply.  I scarfed two 2′ x 8′ sections with fiberglass reinforcing of the joint, which may have been overkill.  The bow profile is left square as it will be hand shaped in the end.

Char holds the ama sheerweb.  This floppy piece of ply is then glued between the  blocks of foam, and then the shape is cut out with a handsaw.

Ama shaping in progress.  I am using only a handsaw, my Japanese pull saw and straight and flexible long sanding boards to do the shaping.

1 year 11 months 11 days

That’s how long I have officially working (and not working) on the Ulua, dated from when the plans arrived in the mail.   I have been on haitus the last couple of months, with my little free time going to Temerity and all the usual other stuff.

No pics, but I have put in the inwhales, laminated the boom, and laminated the iakos.  And made up the ply bulkheads and have all the lumber (I hope) for the seats, hiking seat, and some other fit-out bits.  So it’s not dead.

 The new goal is to be ready by June 22, Summer Solstice.  We’ll see.

Local outriggers


Orchid Outriggers is a tour operator on Morro Bay on California’s central coast.  They also build the outriggers they use for the tours.

The Hawaiian term for a 2-seat canoe is koholu’a. The Orchid Outrigger is a modern fiberglass composite translation of a design developed and perfected perhaps a thousand years ago. It was not our intent to improve or modernize this classic design. Hawaiian canoe builders developed and refined the small outrigger canoe to a state of functional perfection long before Cook would “discover” their islands. It is hoped the Orchid Outriggers’ Koholu’a will be seen as a humble evolution of a small Pre-contact Hawaiian outrigger canoe with all the utility, seaworthiness, and graceful harmony of the original.

If I’d known about these, who knows, I might never started on the Ulua.  I’m not sure what they weigh, or cost, and they can’t be sailed.  I had considered a Huki OC-1, but they only carry one person and are quite expensive.   These look like a better choice for most tourers, and a very attractive alternative to the ubiquitous roof-top kayak.

Outrigger sailing canoe pic of the day

Traditionnal Polynesian sailing outrigger canoe regatta at Venus Point, Tahiti.

Beautiful shot of Tahitian va’a taken using kite areal photography (KAP).   More great stuff here.

Outrigger pic of the day


Awesome album cover from The Surfers.  Buy your copy here.  I was turned on to this album by the special Xmas edition of the most excellent Quiet Villiage Podcast.   Is that ama supposed to be completely under water?

Scarfing gunwhales

Making up the gunwhales has been a lot harder than it had any right to be.  The spec is for 3/8″ by 1 1/2″ by ~ 20 feet, in hardwood, four pieces for inner/outer/port/starboard.  Of course, you can’t get this length anywhere in wood like mahogany or sapele.  So, one must scarf smaller pieces together.  In this case, the starting material is planks 1  3/4″  x 10″ x 10 feet of African mahogany.  These weigh about 50 lbs.  I made many trips to lumber yards looking for smaller stock, belive me!  The first step was ripping 3/8″ planks from the boards.  I was going to use my imaginary bandsaw,  or take them to be milled at a lumber yard, but in the end I used the POS $99 table saw, which I think weighs less than the boards I was cutting.  The bandsaw would have been better, since the kerf is smaller (less wasted wood), and my imaginary thickness planer would have done a great job making the long planks uniform and pleasing to the eye.  The big boards had warped a bit in the few months since I had bought them (even though they were stored flat on the concrete floor), and when the planks were cut, they sprung more, which is a pretty common thing as the internal stress in the wood is relieved.

To cut scarfs, one needs to taper with an 8:1 ratio, and there are a bunch of ways to do it.  Over the last couple of months, I was screwing around with using the table saw or a hand plane.  A lot of people use routers or hand-held belt sanders, but all methods require a jig of sorts.  I settled eventually on using the circular sander and the worlds cheesiest  jig, pictured below.  It worked as well as the handplane method, which had a problem with tearouts in the mahogany.  All you do is jam ’em in and play it until the cut face is about 3″ long (i.e. 8 x 3/8″).  I then clean up the face and angle with the beautiful block plane.


Below, the old strongback is used as a table and clamping surface to hold the two pieces as they are glued up with fast curing expoxy mixed with sanding dust. 



Above and below, the final product.  Not too bad, except the boards still aren’t straight — they will need to be forced to conform to the shear line anyway.


Next, setting up the $98 POS to reduce the width to the final 1 1/2″, and then round over two of the edges with the router.  The board faces also need a lot of sanding to remove sawmarks and burns from when  the were ripped.  Why did I spend more than twice as much on a circular saw than a table saw?  I should have listened to Chief!  But now I know how to get out those planks, I’m looking forward to building up the i’akos and especially the ama, which will be fun.


Meanwhile, while I was working in the boatshed, our own Christmas wahine decorated the tree all by herself! Hi Joe!


Model and ultralight Uluas

An Ulua built to 1/8 scale

Reader Gord Caruk responded to the Uluas of the World post with a tale of his own unique progress


I figured that after seeing your page I would send along evidence of another Ulua. Earlier this year, I had bought a model kit of a traditional canoe. I was going to put this together over the summer while on vacation at a couple of cottages. However, I wasn’t happy with the scale, and figured I’d scale the model up a bit to be about 30″ long. The idea was to have a wooden model to ‘display’ in my office. I had bought Gary Direking’s book, so I figured if I’m going to scale the kit up and basically do a scratch built model, why not just build a model of Ulua. So that’s what I did. It is a 1/8 scale model of a 20′ Ulua. I’ve attached a couple pics. It is done in a wood called ‘makore’, with a few bits of fir, sapela, and bloodwood for accents.

I do intent to build a full size Ulua over the winter and have been agonizing over whether to use the cedar strip construction that most Ulua’s (including yours) have been built with, or to use the fabric covering over a stick from that I’ve built a couple of canoes with. The canoe in the 3rd attached photo is 13 lb. Building Ulua this way would be about 27 lb. for the hull, ama, and iakos. I’m not sure whether I’d be able to use a sailing rig on it though, because I wonder about the strength of the lightweight hull, and it being so light, maybe it would just be blown over. Regardless I intend to rig a trolling motor, but I do like the idea a sail. Assuming I do the lightweight version, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

So there you have it. One (little) Ulua now, and another full sized one in by the spring.


Fabric-on-stick canoe (not an Ulua) illustrating ultralightweight building.

Nice work!  We’re eagerly awaiting further reports.

Outrigger pic of the day


Bing Crosby’s 1956 release Blue Hawaii, in a limited-edition Japanese reissue.

Glassing the Ulua interior

I got some time to work on the Ulua on Sunday (after struggling with Temerity’s  water heater Saturday), and managed to glass the inside with the first coat of epoxy.  I’m realizing that I have spent way too much time on fussy finish details like filling and sanding tiny cracks that no one else can see.  And that I should have gotten a cabinet scraper to deal with epoxy drips rather than sanding between coats, which cost me days and days and days.  Still, it’s nice to be done with this step.  And I am going to try to see if I can get the gunnel and ama planks (both 5/16″ by 1 3/4″ or so) milled by the lumber yard, as that will save a lot of time and possible money if I mess up my nice mahogany planks.

Below:  rocking the cradle.  I tilted the cradle this way and that and glassed one side at a time to minimize dripping, which was such a big problem on the outer hull sides which were nearly vertical.  Also, I was much more stingy with the first coat, and even went over with the spreader after I was done and scraped and discarded excess.  The inside only gets two coats, as opposed to three on the outside, and I think that with a cabinet scraper and a single treatement with 120 grit in the RO sander I will declare victory.


First side (port) done.  The outside hull is taped up with plastic dropcloth for protection.first-side.jpg

Almost done with starboard side.  It is very dramatic when the glass goes transparent, exposing the wood.


Still sanding


Wet-down of interior after all patching, filling, and sanding to 120 grit.  This raises the grain, and final sanding at 120 will happen tomorrow.  The red material in the ends is fairing compound used to form big fillets around the internal stems, and will not be visible when complete, as the ends are enclosed by the decks and bulkheads.