-- Last Updated: Oct-31-06 3:54 PM EST --

I have gotten the bug to build a wanigan this winter for my kitchen gear, both for hauling in my car and to fit in an open canoe. Did some googling, found a nice one at Pole & Paddle Canoe (great site!) but what really surprised me is that there are actually numerous patents issued for wanigans or similar containers. The one from 1984 (#4,488,623 "Canoe Travel Box") looks like a good starting point for a design. I was hoping to round the bottom corners, to better nestle into the bilge, but that would complicate the woodworking.

Anyone here build their own? I'm leaning toward birch plywood, possibly epoxied & varnished for strength. Any thoughts?


Yeah, I know: That GP ain't done yet, why talk of a wanigan?

I’d though of doing something similar. I was thinking of using 3mm or 4mm Okoume bent to fit the inside of the boat (with a little slop so that I could get it in and out). I’d probably glass it on at least the outside, but I don’t know if that is just force of habit after building several boats, or if it the thin plywood could use a little bit of extra strength and protection. I’d definitely do a coat or two of epoxy to seal the wood, then a few coats of varnish would probably be a good idea.

Unfortunately my ideas tend to sound good until I start building, at which point I find out why no one else has done it that way before - or at least tried it and admitted it publicly :slight_smile:

Jim. NT made a nice on a few years …
ago. He’s since gone on to soft-sided stuff.

I gave that one to Topher
at Raystown but I do have photos of how it was made. Pretty easy and fun project’






Loving It!!!
It actually sits in my living room and holds my “special supplies”…and ooh man are they special!

I made one
I used strip canoe buiding techniques. I made a short strongback; made a couple of stations based on my canoe; cut cedar strips; stripped it up; made a top out of strips; fiberglassed; piano hinge to hold the top on; a latch to hold it closed; rope handles; done.

Came out great. Worked great.

Since I made it to match the cedar strip canoe I built, it was include with the canoe when I sold it.

Ideas, ideas, ideas…
Hmmm…Okume plywood: how tight a radius can 3 or 4 mm be bent into?

Strip construction: Elegant way to deal with the bilge curves. I don’t have a router, but for a small project I could hand-bead the wood, possibly with a home-made plane.

Hard box vs soft-sided luggage: I was thinking about hard boxes, for protection and to use as a seat, but the concept of soft-sides has it’s plusses. I could actually sew one up out of materials from OWF and some foam padding.

At this time though I am leaning toward a hard box. My current idea is to start with a single board (I have access to fir) and accomplish the bending of the corners via parallel saw kerfs 75-80% through the board. Bend and form with boiling water into a wide “U” shape. Order some fiberglass sheets from McMaster-Carr Supply, and attach them to the “U” via SS panhead screws & marine caulk. After that, the lid ass’y should be a piece of cake.


Bending - kerf relief method
I used to teach woodshop and sculpture and made my living for many years as a Windsor chairmaker. I mention that just as background information on myself - which is to say I like to think I know a bit about woodworking and I really enjoy wood.

Kerf relief bending as you described has been used historically to make things like bend wood boxes. Google this looking for kerf bend boxes of Pacific Northwest tribes and you will probably get some hits. Typically this type of construction is done with solid wood rather than plywood. Also typically this method employs steam, though I’ve made some “cold bend” kerf relief boxes. Bending wood using the kerf relief method would work, but is inherently very weak. It’s important that the kerfs close (and are glued) at the inside of the radius when you make the bend. That requires quite a bit of preplanning and experimentation. You’ll need to predetermine how wide the saw kerfs are with the blade you’re using, how many kerfs you’ll need to bend to the radius you’re trying to make, how far into the stock you need to make the kerfs, etc, etc.

Making a retangular box would of course be easier – and stronger. If you’re determined to make a curved bottomed box going the route Ken took with strip construction and fiberglass would yield a much strong wanigan than the kerf bent method would.

Wanigans can be very attractive and useful, and made well they can be really attractive (look at NT’s – pretty nice). It’s my humble opinion though that they’re archaic compared to portage packs and/or plastic food barrels with a quality harness (like Headstrong’s for instance). Both of those approaches are much lighter, carry much more comfortably and in the case of a food barrel is absolutely waterproof in case of an upset or heavy rain. Still… a wanigan could make a nice addition to your canoe… …just some thoughts… - Randall

Thanks for the input. My brain-CAD drawing had the kerfs filled with either glue/wood dust or epoxy/wood dust for strength. Both methods seem like PITAs. And I am sure that the bend would need lots of experimentation to come out well. You are right about the need for strength: I believe that dropping a wanigan on it’s bottom corner after a tiring portage could be the recipe for breakage. And I agree that wanigans are somewhat archaic. I am currently using a DeWalt semi-softside tool box for my kitchen. But you cannot sit on it, and a well-sized box would fit in my Suby’s cargo area much better.

As with so many of my tangents, this one is not entirely scientific or rational in it’s nature!


OK my turn
First kerf bending. Really cool process and satisfying to see it completed. Keep in mind though that you have a complex curve on a boat bottom (it curves port to starboard, bow to stern, and also changes width). That will be a pain to mess with, and a poor fit curve will wobble all around the bilge, unlike a square that will at a minimum touch the boat at the four corners.

Second I think NTs example is a great tool for having a ready packed kitchen box that goes from house, to Subie, to boat, and is maybe carried 10 yards to camp. I’d rather not lug the extra weight of wood (and frankly all the other extra goodies filling the air space) further than that.

And you did mention portage. Believe me the first time you carry that thing across a 100 rod portage, you’ll quickly be reviewing what you should have left at home, and probably be using the box for tinder. My entire cook kit for 3 in the Boundary Waters consists of a nesting pot kit with 2 pots, one medium teflon pan, and a spice/utensil kit that is the size of a womans large wallet (I almost typed “large womans wallet” then realized that had no bearing on the conversation).

Good winter project though.



– Last Updated: Nov-01-06 2:31 PM EST –

wouldn't a "large woman's wallet" be roomier and easier to pack?

Randy, I agree with your packing philosophy for BWCA type trips. I wouldn't plan on taking a wanigan on such a venture. My thinking was for a trip such as the West Branch Susky, or the Greenbrier.

But as I said, I am on one of my tangents. Not particularly rational, but a tangent nonetheless.


PS: When all is said and done, I will probably end up with a Rubbermaid structural foam toolbox. not very romantic, but highly serviceable.

If you really want to build one…
And I will say this. A winagan or cook box is better suited for someone who is going to cook for more than one or two people or as a designated group cook. That way all the tools, coffee pot, stoves, spices, plates, flatware, cooking utensils, napkins and all that kind of stuff are in one place and under one persons control so the rest of the people on the trip don’t need to worry about carrying their own cook gear. That said they are also great for car camping with a family or group or canoe camping where you don’t need to carry it far.

I’ve built and used several camp boxes and as gear changes over the years the boxes needed to be revamped.

But before building it’s important to gather all of the things that need to end up in the box and lay them out and get some measurments not only of the boat but the gear too, pots, pans, plates, stoves, fuel containers,and coffee cups and such. Only then can you get it right the first time.

It’s a fun project and people always take notice of a system that really works day after day on a trip.

For me things have changed over the past few years and so have my cooking and eating habits. I don’t need much to keep me going so I pack much like Randy. I have converted a small tool bag into a gear bag with everything I need not only for cooking but also general use items. It’s smaller lighter and even carries more useful all around stuff because it’s better organized. And I have to say that on a Boundary waters type trip I wouldn’t even take it because it’s too much stuff to carry. Go light. Photos…





Camp Table

Your idea for using the soft-side tool box to carry kitchen gear is intriguing, but I was really struck by that cool looking table in your last slide. Several of us have designed little portable tables to take along on canoe trips, including some fairly elaborate ones that fold down pretty compactly. Does yours have hinged legs that fold up into the top? What are the overall dimensions?


Nice gun too…
I don’t think I’ve ever seen an over/under handgun. Am I seeing things?

No you are not

– Last Updated: Nov-01-06 10:10 PM EST –

American Derringer 410/45Colt http://www.amderringer.com/m1.html I use 410 loaded with triple aught-buck = to 3 38 special or rifled deer slugs or 45 Colt hollow points.

You know I made that table

– Last Updated: Nov-01-06 9:55 PM EST –

out of some aluminum crutches (legs) and two fiberglass rods. top measures 16x30 and the under shelf (which I made as an after thought)is just a little narrower to fit between the legs and rest on the glass rods. It is notched to rest on the rods so it can't move. It's simply made from cedar slats on a small frame. I made 4 hardwood blocks and drilled holes in them for the legs. The legs just insert and the glass rods push out and lock them in place. Legs and rods store in a simple stuff sack. The two tops rest in the bottom of the canoe and serve as lattis to keep gear out of the bilge water when it transit.

Oh and my friend Rick suggests I add one more rod as a paper towel holder.....I think I will. Photos....





Beautiful Table!

Thanks for the photos of the table. Looks like you have a great design. I like the undershelf!


For portaging a wanigan, I am a tumpline man. I agree that wanigans are antiquated, but so are tumplines so they seem a natural fit!

But I agree, the only good reasons to build a wanigan are tradition, aesthetics, and it’s a fun project to do. For practicality barrels and buckets are much better, cheaper, lighter and easier to carry.

The first wanigan I built was Gil Gilpatrick’s design found in his book, “The Canoe Guide’s Handbook”. It is a box constructed of quarter inch plywood that has been covered with fiberglass cloth and resin. The inside measurements are 15" X 12" X 22 1/2". One of the reasons I built it was to learn about fiberglassing. This was before I built my first canoe and I wanted to make my first mistakes on something a little smaller and less expensive than a canoe.

Lest you all think
that I am a nimrod when it comes to canoe trips, be advised that my last one was on the Dumoine in Quebec. Some of the portages there were akin to rock climbing in a spruce forest.

Being lazy at heart, I do not care to haul any more weight than needed. On a trip requiring portages (I am really thinking about next season!) a wanigan would not be on my gear list. In fact, I would probably go the ultra-lite route with my JetBoil and appropriate foodstuffs.

But on a trip like NT suggested for the West branch Susky, with two nights of camping, a wanigan would be kinda neat. Tangentally neat. ANd mine would have a padded cushion fitted to the lid for campfire use.

Please, I do not want this thread to become another “Coffee Grounds” marathon.


Yeah I knew your BG
I was just thinking on my feet. And I do agree that the wanigan/kitchen box is way more aesthetic than darn near anything I carry my stuff in! Though I will disagree on the seat cushion. If you are gonna carry the wanigan, then you’re on the type of trip you can bring a really comfy folding chair.