HARTFORD — Dixfield native Tom Mawhinney can build most anything once he decides to do it.

All it takes is some free time, Internet research and some books written by experts.

The heavy equipment operator, who flies a seaplane and runs his own business, Mawhinney’s Excavation, built what he calls his “man cave.”

It is a large garage and workshop off Route 219 in Hartford. He said friends helped with the construction project, which took five years because he waited for bargain deals on materials.

He and his woman friend also built a camp on Bear Pond, where they live. And to go with that camp, Mawhinney built a beautiful cedar-strip canoe with help from his late, good friend, Jim Jasud of Peru.

It was just something Mawhinney, 60, thought he’d try. Now, the man who considers himself strictly an amateur and not a canoe builder, is making another canoe — learning from mistakes he made with the first one and planning to make a third canoe by hand.


“It is therapeutic and gratifying,” Mawhinney said Tuesday morning. “I like working with wood, so it seemed to be something I ought to try. It’s a hobby. You could never make a living doing that.”

His first canoe, which was mounted atop his red Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck parked outside his workshop, took two years to make. He said he mostly worked on it in the winter with Jasud.

“He just came in one day, and I was starting to put the wood onto the jigs and he said, ‘Geez, you need help with that, don’t you?'” Mawhinney said.

Jigs are wooden forms that are used to shape the canoe hull.

“And I said, ‘I’ll take help if I need it, Jim,’ and he just started coming up, not every day, but he was infatuated with it,” Mawhinney said. “Jim was a mechanic. He never worked with wood at all. Just infatuated with it. Good guy.

“He showed up here a lot to give me a hand with it, and before we could get it done, Jim passed away. Kind of a bum deal.”


James Jasud Sr., also a heavy equipment operator, passed away in March 2011.

“He had a massive heart attack,” Mawhinney said. “And I always said I was going to try to get his name somehow in that canoe, but I never put it in there. I’m sure he understands.”

He said he learned how to build a cedar-strip canoe by reading “Building a Strip Canoe” by Gil Gilpatrick, and “Building Classic Small Craft” by John Gardner.

“His canoe building is just one of his many talents,” Kelly Mawhinney DeRoche, his daughter, said Tuesday. “He is a very talented man.”

Tom Mawhinney, who worked 28 years for Boise Cascade, said he chose cedar instead of birch “because it bends really easy and it’s light, and it’s what they recommend.”

He said he had to build a set of jigs first, and then start laying cedar strips on the jigs. Using a table saw and special routers, he said he cut grooves and tongues in the strips, then fit them together.


“The strips bend right into shape,” he said. “I mean, you’ve got to have patience with it. Some of them do break. But with a little patience, it will mold right in for you.”

He applies epoxy to the strips using a paint roller or paint brush.

“It’s touchy stuff,” Mawhinney said. “It bubbles up, it will go into a crack and it builds heat. It will kind of bubble up on you and you have to be careful with it, and you’ve got to keep right after it.

“The epoxy keeps it watertight, bonds everything together and makes it very strong,” he said. “And, of course, it makes a beautiful finish.”

The epoxy is sanded, then fiberglass material is placed over it, followed by more epoxy and fiberglass, followed by lots of sanding with a rotary sander. Once the hull is completed, the trim is applied and the seats are added.

Mawhinney said he used oak trim on his first canoe, which is for ponds and lakes. He plans to use basswood trim on the second, which is called a river or guide canoe. Basswood, he said, bends better than oak.


“This one is pretty close to getting done,” he said. “I’m kind of anxious to get this one done. It’s pretty. I think it’s twice the canoe as (the first) one. Not so many boo-boos in it. There are boo-boos in everything you do.”

Mawhinney said he gets his wood from Ceylon Putnam of Peru at his Dimensional Lumber shop on Jug Hill in East Livermore. He buys the epoxy and fiberglass over the Internet.

When he tested the first canoe on Bear Pond, he said it rode “excellent and very stable.”

He keeps it at the cabin on Bear Pond and lets people who rent the cabin take the canoe out on the pond. He also gets many comments when trucking it around and once tried to sell it for $2,500.

“I had a lot of people look, but I think $2,500 for a canoe would be a little tough for people to justify that kind of money,” Mawhinney said.

However, he said he’d sell both canoes just to buy more material to make more of them.

“It’s a nice, enjoyable hobby,” he said.


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