Betz, 'Ladybug' at home on the water

Leon Betz is no stranger to working with wood. As owner of Lee's Frame Shoppe in Worthington, Betz uses wood to construct a wide variety of frames and ornamental objects for homes and offices.

Leon Betz is no stranger to working with wood. As owner of Lee's Frame Shoppe in Worthington, Betz uses wood to construct a wide variety of frames and ornamental objects for homes and offices.

A few weeks ago, Betz took his latest product out on the water for a test run. Product might be the wrong word. After all, Betz doesn't sell strip canoes -- he builds them. Well, just one to start with.

"My wife and I used to canoe with our kids quite a bit and we owned one for 20 years," Betz explained. "But as the kids left, we didn't use it much and ended up donating it to the Boy Scouts.

"We looked into renewing our interest in the sport, and I was looking at carrying racks online when I came across a site for a book on building strip canoes."

That book, "Building a Strip Canoe" by Gil Gilpatrick, caught Betz's attention. He -- along with brother-in-law Bill Lange -- spent the next 12 weeks building a strip canoe by hand.


"The book was fantastic," Betz said. "It had all the plans for eight different canoes, paddles and seats. All we needed were the materials, which we purchased locally -- except for the western red cedar."

After selecting the plan for the canoe, Betz gathered the materials and began cutting his way through the process -- literally.

"By the time we finished cutting the 1/4 inch western red cedar strips for the canoe, we had cut about 2,000 feet of wood," Betz said. "We found that we didn't need to buy any tools, we just used the equipment we had -- nothing out of the ordinary."

But before Betz began cutting the strips for the bulk of the project, he had to construct a framework and forms to guide the shape of the would-be canoe. Betz had to make a strongback and the stations.

The strongback, a long straight beam to which you attach building forms, is a fairly rudimentary piece of woodwork. Resembling a narrow ladder, the strongback held the stations (plywood building forms), which were placed in descending size from the middle outward -- getting smaller as they neared the ends of the canoe.

Sound difficult? Not for Betz.

"That was pretty easy, but very important," Betz said of the strongback and stations. "The strongback and stations are what you use to develop the shape. After you get the strips bent, glued and finished, you take the canoe off the stations."

With the strongback, stations and all the strips cut and ready to go, the strips are then stapled to and bent over the stations to foirm the canoe -- basically coming to life upside down. Each strip is glued to each other using, of all things, Elmer's glue.


"It's a fantastic adhesive," Betz said. "We were amazed how well it held. I was difficult to get some of the strips bent to the form -- so the last thing you want is for one of them to come undone"

Of course Elmer's wasn't the only thing holding the canoe together. Epoxy, fiberglass and varnish also were part of the process.

After the strips are bent and glued, a series of coats of epoxy and fiberglass was applied to the outside of the canoe (remember the canoe is still on the stations and strongback). Areas that carry most of the stress -- the ends and the bottom -- get more coats than the rest of the canoe. Betz put three coats on the ends and two coats on the bottom, while the sides only received one coat.

"The epoxy and the fiberglass provide durability," Betz said. "Once you have the outside done, you pull it off the stations and do the same thing on the inside of the canoe."

The inside is done just like the outside, epoxy, fiberglass and sanding -- a lot of sanding. Once smooth enough for the builder, the next step is the woodwork (gunwales, yokes and seats). For these pieces, Betz used oak and clear white pine.

"The book even showed you how to cane the seats just like you would cane a chair," Betz said. "My sister Judy (Lange) did the caning of the seats on the canoe."

After the woodwork is complete, the final step is to give the canoe a good varnishing -- an ultra good varnishing.

"We used a special UV varnish which protects against ultraviolet rays," Betz said. "Without the UV protection, the adhesives would eventually break down and the canoe wouldn't be very seaworthy."


After the varnish is dried the canoe is ready for the water. But Betz's canoe was missing one thing -- a name. Betz came by the name for his canoe in a rather unusual way.

"I wasn't going to name it at all," Betz said. "But I had put some ladybug decals on it where I was going to put some holes in it for transporting and storing it. I drilled the holes through some of the ladybug spots -- kind of hiding the holes. With lady bugs on it, it seemed like an appropriate name."

With that settled, Betz and Bill Lange christened the Ladybug July 24 on Lake Okabena. The craft performed beautifully and has made several trips since.

The voyage within the voyage is something Betz thoroughly enjoyed and says he'd like to do again. In fact, he said he wouldn't change much if he were to do it again.

"It's hard to think of anything I would do different," he said. "The only thing I think we could improve on is the time."

Betz and his friends will undoubtedly have plenty of time to ponder improvements as they calmly glide through the water on the "Ladybug."

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