ELY – An avid canoeing enthusiast in Ely has taken his passion to a much smaller scale. Ben Weller made use of his spare time this past winter to create his own canoe livery - in miniature – complete with a variety of canoes, paddles, packs, personal flotation devices, and other canoe trip gear.
Weller calls the endeavor his new art project. “I would like to make my dreams come true and be 100-percent self employed,” he said. “I started building these canoes last November. I stumbled across the idea accidently while working on another project. It started out as just a simple carved canoe, then I made gear, and then well, Ben’s big brain exploded and Ben’s Baby Canoe Works was born.”
His canoes are about one-thirtieth scale of life size, so a 16-foot craft would be about 6.5 inches long. Originally, he started with a block of balsa wood and carved out a simple canoe hull and painted it orange to mimic his own canoe.
In past summers, Weller has guided trips into the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness and worked for Kawishiwi Outfitters. He took that knowledge and experience of canoe tripping and applied it to his project.
“I moved on to making fully operational baby canoes with working foot braces, a variety of sliding seats, and added thwarts and portage yokes,” he said. “I also added a variety of paddles, bent-shaft, otter tail, and other varieties in several lengths, and then added the life jackets.”
A friend challenged him to make a cedar strip canoe. “He said that would probably be too difficult for me,” Weller said. “That was considered a dare in my mind and within a couple days I had myself my first strip canoe.” A “stripper” canoe is formed from 1/16-inch basswood and balsawood. Each piece is stained individually and comes in a wide variety of colors.
Both carved and strip models have seats and foot-braces. Thwarts and gunnels are made of individual pieces of wood.
He said each canoe, stripper and carver, generally takes two or three days to fully complete. “A lot of drying time is needed for both adhesives and paint and sealer,” he said.
“They are very strong and durable,” he added. “These canoes are beautiful enough to have as a showpiece on a shelf, and can also be used to race. Weller has plans of organizing “Baby Canoe Derby” events in the future. “Look for a Canoe Festival near you. I would like to showcase my work and those types of venues.”
Weller sells his canoe and is marketing his art on Facebook (bensbabycanoeworks).
“Each canoe comes with a paddle of your choice and a life jacket in the color of your choice,” he said. “The canoes come with many options, either solo or tandem. The solo models have sliding seats and foot braces, or can be fixed. Foot braces also are adjustable.”
Weller continues to work on new models and is trying to streamline his production process. He created a “baby canoe river” in his Ely home that is currently 12 feet long. “I have plans to expand the track to over twenty feet long,” he said. The currents and rock placement really teach me about how water affects a canoe in its simplest form.” He said he plans to build an obstacle course that children and adults alike can race in different classes of canoes.
He does not want to make aluminum canoes. “I like working with wood, and that’s what I’m comfortable with,” he said. He will unlikely make kayaks. “Canoes are the traditional and most trusted form of transportation in the BWCA,” he said.
He continues to work on building the canoe trip gear one would find on a trip into the Boundary Waters. “There is an almost unlimited amount of gear I could make, including frying pans, plates, water jugs, saws, axes, tents, sleeping bags.”
He is looking into using a 3D printer to make more affordable canoes for the novice who just wants something to play with without risking damage to more expensive models.
“Maybe I can make model kits for purchase so someone can build their own baby canoe,” he said. “So many things can be done here, and I’m always open to suggestions.” He said he is investigating using other materials, such as Kevlar and birch bark.
“I am excited to have stumbled across such an amazing idea, and want to share it with the world,” Weller said. “I love trying new things and I may one day make a living at this.”
Contact Weller at 952-451-0217, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.