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Archived Story

Dave Fisher has a passion for building wooden canoes

Published 7:34pm Friday, April 11, 2014

“I’ve been a carpenter for 43 years,” said Dave Fisher of Columbus. “It’s always been pretty much in the family.” In fact, Fisher’s father built the home in which Dave resides.

Fisher’s real passion, though, is building wooden canoes. His carpentry skills not only help him craft canoes; they were especially handy when, two years ago, he built the shop in which he makes them.

Back in the 1960s, his father and grandfather built a kayak from three-quarter-inch strips of yellow pine. The young Fisher loved the boat so much that “I kept that thing for a long time, until it fell apart. “He even took the craft down the lower Green River, near Lake Adger, where he was impressed with how high the kayak floated in the water.

_DSC4874BW2“Ever since then, I’ve had a passion to build canoes,” said Fisher. And, when he’s not on  a carpentry job, that’s what he does. So far, he’s built a pirogue (a traditional bayou craft for shallow water), and two canoes. He built his first boat in 2011, as a Christmas gift for a friend. “It was a surprise,” said Fisher. “They had no idea. (But) it didn’t take them long (to put the pirogue in the water).”

Fisher’s latest canoe, a full-size model constructed of plywood, with gunwales of cedar and white pine, and cross-pieces of walnut, with redwood on the bow and stern, is an object of pride. “Everything is marine paint. Everything is glued and screwed in. I really enjoyed building this one,” he noted. Loving labor on this canoe, done mostly at night, after his regular work, involved the equivalent of some four full weeks. Fisher noted that this canoe rides especially high in the water, thanks to a layer of foam he sandwiched between layers of plywood. And, having a flat bottom, the craft is very stable in the water.

As a longtime carpenter, Fisher already has a reverence for wood. Canoe building takes that to a newer, higher level. “It’s really nice (to begin work on a canoe),” Fisher remarked. “You’ve got flat wood. It’s exciting by the end of the day, to have a little curve. It’s even more exciting by the end of the week to see it come alive.”

As yet, Fisher has not made his own paddles. “I was so excited to get this (canoe) in the water,” he explained. And, as of yet, Fisher has no canoes to sell. “I’ve tried not to sell them yet,” he said. “That was the idea– to build them and sell them.

Not long ago, Fisher visited Old Town Maine, home of the canoe company of that name, and “was impressed by some of the designs there.” Fisher would like to incorporate ribs in subsequent canoes. He can build them flat or round, but would prefer to make them round. He’ll also learn to steam and bend some of the components, and has purchased books on building functional and beautiful canoes. His background is a great benefit, Fisher said. “That has helped me, being a carpenter for so many years. Building a jig, that’s a have-to.”

Fisher has discovered the joy that comes from finding one’s passion. “Once I get started (on a canoe),” he noted, “it’s hard for me to stop and go in the house. You’re at ‘A.’ you want to get to ‘B’ before you quit. I guess it’s more of a passion than it is anything. Fisher said his wife Christy is sometimes annoyed when he stays late in the shop, but she knows where his is. And, she also enjoys accompanying him in the canoe on local lakes.

Fisher feels that more than simply building canoes, he’s building memories. Many of those memories are yet unborn. “I’ve got a lot of ideas I’d like to do,” he noted. He even envisions building and manning a scaled down version of a Viking craft, and imagines the sensation that would cause when other boaters see it on a nearby lake.

Fisher’s second boat, an eight-foot, four-inch long canoe, built for his children is surprisingly stable, and can float high in the water with an adult aboard. In fact, Fisher built it for his adult sons. One of those young men, Ethan, a Green Beret, serving in Afghanistan, can hardly wait to take the canoe out when he returns. “That’s probably the first thing he’ll do (when he returns home),” Fisher predicted.

“I’m hooked now,” said Fisher of his passion. In addition to his ideas of what to build next, possibly for sale, “I’d like to leave something for my kids too.”

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