Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wanigan Build

For quite a while now, I've wanted to build a wanigan box to add to my homemade collection traditional canoe gear. The intention was not to build a heavy duty wanigan for rough use, but instead make something functional for light duty tripping and some of my upriver poling trips. Plus, there was a a growing pile of wood scraps and leather components accumulating in the house so thought this would be great winter project to use up some stuff.

Wanigan construction is pretty straight forward and there are some online tutorials on various construction methods on the web.

Wanigan article from (Boys Life, 1953) posted on this site

this online tutorial by the Northwest Woodsman

• Connor Mihell's Canoe & Kayak magazine article, "Winter project: the DIY wannigan"

• Mike McIntosh's wanigan build on this myccr thread

• Art Mulder's greatly illustrated tutorial on

Years ago, I had cut a sheet of 4'x4' - 1/4" birch plywood into panels to do some pyrography artwork. Some of the left-over pieces included 12" x 20" boards that seemed perfect to use in this wanigan project. So ultimately, these pieces determined the overall dimensions of the build. Overall this means it is smaller than the typical tripping size wanigans out there, but I'll be using it solo anyway so it won't be too overloaded with stuff.

The bottom piece and two short sides are from 1 x 12 pine left over from building some crude shelves for a storage room.

Basic pieces - birch plywood and pine

With some waterproof glue and brass screws, the basic box was pretty straight forward to put together.


The lid was cut from scrap piece of 1/2" poplar plywood with the handles and wanigan feet made from 1x2x6 pine. Before attaching the handles with glue and wood screws, I used a spokeshave to angle the bottom edge. This small modification makes the wanigan easier to pick up with pudgy fingers like mine.

Angling bottom edge of handles before mounting to sides

The basic box with lid

The tumpline headstrap was made using a 3" wide by 15" long piece of veg tan leather. After roughly measuring the wanigan box, it was determined that roughly 9 feet tails were needed to tie up the rig. My local leather shop had a great sale on and I was able to pick up three, 3/4" by 6' straps at a great price (basically like a 3 for 1 deal) since they had some minor surface damage. One of these straps was cut in half and the resulting 3 foot pieces were stitched and riveted onto the end of the other 6' straps to complete the required length. The whole thing took a while to oil but it was a pretty relaxing process while the weather outside was so crappy.

Putting together a tumpline

Many wanigans also have an inner rail to support a tray for loose kitchen items. Wasn't sure I was going to do this until I remember an unused 11"x14" birch gallery art panel. Once inverted this art panel (built with a 2" frame) could be a light duty tray. Turns out it fit nicely. The rails were made from 3/4" square poplar dowels

The Keewaydin method of constructing a wanigan has notched handles to prevent the lid from sliding forward and back, but I ended up using brass box latches that were originally intended for a humidor project that never materialized.

In addition I wanted to emulate Rob's beautifully decorated camping boxes (see post here) with some tripping appropriate pyrography art. Pine doesn't shade well with pyrography equipment given the grain and resin content, so ended up using a single burn temperature for a basic scroll pattern for the sides. The poplar plywood lid is a bit of a better medium for burning and ended up decorating with a monochromatic camp scene. Wanted to emulate the style of wonderful illustrator Les Kouba and the image is a modified scence from Rutstrum's North American Canoe Country

Here is the final result...

A shot of the lid artwork and inner tray

In the end, I decided against adding more artwork on the birch side panels and just varnished the exterior of the whole thing for some basic weather protection. Almost all of my gear is up north with the canoe at the moment, so the wanigan is empty for now. But it is strapped up and ready to go...

Hoping to get some fun usage out of this wanigan along with the homemade camp stool made the previous winter.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great post. Love hearing about people making wanigans. Yours is a beaut - especially with the tumpline. The burn art is coo.
Here is mine:

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