"Traditional" kayaks - Gathering the Wood
First weeks of February, 2016

I have a plan - a plan to paddle the length of the Willamette this summer - the navigable bits, anyhow, from Eugene to Point Kelly in Portland. I decided to see how much I can learn about kayaks along the way, and see how much I can learn about the people and resources of Oregon.

The design criteria was both simple: The boat had to be big enough to carry me and about a week's worth of gear, and complex: I wanted to use a design from the Pacific Northwest. A quick Google search for kayak designs from the Pacific Northwest shows . . . nothing. It seems like skin and sticks don't last too long in the archeological record.

The good news is, I am acquitted with Harvey Golden, the man who wrote the BOOK on kayaks from the Pacific Northwest - AND he runs the Lincoln Street Kayak and Canoe museum in Portland. As it is winter time and not a lot is going on, it was time for a road trip.

He emailed me a picture of a kayak and gave me some pointers and I started experimenting.

When I got to the Boathouse, I saw we had a new resident, the tug Thea Knutson. That's a purty boat.

The Teak Ladies were wintered up and sitting pretty.

Inside we had a new set of lockers. I like the colors, but . . . we'll have to see what we need lockers for,

I wanted to get an idea of the shape of the kayak, so I pulled some sticks down from the rafters. There's a lot of sawdust up there.

Layout, from back to front. 150 inches from inside point to inside point, 28" wide to the outside edges at the maximum beam.

View from the side. How would I fit inside? Let's see.

This is the picture you get when you set the timer and the camera falls off the table, so you run over to grab it.

And this is the picture you get when the timer is set properly.

OK, close enough. Time to go a-hunting for wood.

Traditional kayaks use a lot of ribs, and everyone says ribs are best cut from green White Oak. As luck would have it, there is a small, independent, oak mill not too far away: Zena Wood Products.

ZWP is 15 miles outside the capitol of Oregon, and it might as well be in the jungles of the Amazon. Go up 221 to the town of Lincoln (In the 1860s, Lincoln had a dock 1/2 mile long to handle all the wheat being shipped out of the Willamette Valley. Now it has a Quik-E Mart.) and take a left on Zena Road.

Things start getting weird towards the end of Zena Road - that barn represented a major investment at one time, now it is caved in and useless. Maintenance is important, folks.

You can probably get this for a little less than the original price. It needs a little TLC.

Turn on Oak Grove Road from Zena. It is a gravel road. Go on it a ways until you see the mailbox for Zena Wood Products.

This mailbox. By this time, you've surmised Zena Wood Products doesn't need a lot of walk-in business.

A mile and a third down this "road" gets you to . . .

. . . the mill itself. It's a fairly impressive structure, not too old, built from local wood.

The workers had no time to talk, they were milling lumber. They motioned me to go upstairs, where I met Ben, the owner. Ben grew up in the area and when he graduated college, returned to build the mill and work the forest.

Here's the man himself. He loves what he does and he knows his wood. I picked up a few planks - Ben picked 'em out and I paid for 'em. Cash or check only. Like I said, Zena Forest Products isn't set up for the casual walk-in business.

The oak is for ribs. For the big, longitudinal, pieces (gunnels, keel, and stringers) I needed spruce. And there's no better place for spruce than Siletz Lumber Mill, over near the coast.

That's my plank. 16' long and 5/4 thick. A mighty piece of wood.

That's it - enough wood for two, maybe three kayaks. Now it's time for more research.