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The scenery designer also produces unique wooden canoes. They say they are only for connoisseurs

Jan Bašta’s profession is the production of theater backdrops. However, in his free time, he likes to pursue an unconventional hobby. He loves water and boats, and unique wooden canoes are created in his workshop. Their production is enormously labor intensive. It requires a lot of material and time.

Riding in a wooden canoe from Jan Bašta’s workshop is a great experience.

| Photo: Courtesy of Jan Bašta

“Originally, I rode regular laminate canoes. Then when we went down more interesting waters – be it the wilder ones or streams that can only be ridden after the rains – I started making custom-made canoes,” recalls Jan Bašta, who lives not far from Dobříš.

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Jan Bašta studied scenography at the Secondary School of Applied Arts in Žižkov, Prague. “Today, I make a living by making things that someone else can’t or doesn’t want to make. I have the hobbyist carpentry equipment for it. I like to say that I am involved in the production of bird accessories,” laughs the likeable handyman.

With a book on the ponka

One day he came across the technology of making wooden canoes. “I was very interested in that. I thought I might try making my own canoe. I was certainly not the first to do this in the Czech Republic. But there was very little information on the Internet at that time, so I had to buy a book from Canada. And I built my first boat with her on board,” says Jan Bašta with a smile.

“I only had a very cheap circular saw and a few basic tools. If you want, you don’t need much. This is also why the construction of wooden canoes is magical,” thinks Jan Bašta.

Canoe detail.Jan Bašta elaborates his canoes down to the smallest detail.Source: Courtesy of Jan Bašta

It was this boat that led him to a different kind of water skiing. “Up until that point I had been paddling streams and whitewater, but wooden canoes are great for calm water and going faster,” adds the enthusiastic paddler.

When his workshop burned down seven years ago, he lost all his ships. However, he did not hang up his hobby and teamed up with a renowned boat designer in Canada.

“I called him saying that I would need a new boat for races and rowing marathons. At the same time, it had to be such that I could pack my things for the week and go out on the water. After about a week he sent me the drawings. These are usually bought for around $100 as typical projects,” explains Jan Bašta.

Building a ship is time- and material-intensive

“The ship is built on plywood templates cut according to the drawing, the so-called rib pattern. These are the elements that are spaced one foot apart in the ship. It is in imperial measures. All shipbuilders all over the world – including in the Czech Republic – simply measure in inches. So you make the ribs according to the drawing and mount them on a five-meter-long bench. It has to be tweaked to make everything work. Then slats made of special wood are glued to it,” Jan Bašta outlines the complex production process.

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According to him, a boat can be built from any wood, but cedar is clearly the best. “It has several great properties that combine. In the United States and Canada, cedar wood is commonly available, botanically known as giant cypress. This wood is light, rot-resistant and can be purchased in huge sizes without knots. But even there, the trees are running out a bit, which is why it has become very expensive,” describes the handyman.

From expensive cedar back to domestic wood

It is said that Jan Bašta also began to feel somewhat out of place when he imagined that he was “dragging” the defeated giants across the sea. And so he started making ships from domestic raw materials.

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“In principle, a boat can be made from any lighter wood. I have seen canoes made of spruce strips or linden. Today, I mainly produce from the tree, which is known in our country as thuja. When it grows to the required height, it can be made into such a beautiful ship. It is paradoxical; in America, thuja is a valuable joinery wood, here everyone thinks it’s wood that’s only good for boilers,” the handy handyman shakes his head.

Jan Bašta glues the slats with higher quality dispersion glue. “But the main forum is the relamination that holds everything together. This requires a quality epoxy resin. After that, the boat is painted and sanded, which is quite laborious and lengthy,” he adds.

Grinding the ship.Sanding the ship is very labor intensive.Source: Courtesy of Jan Bašta

“One boat takes about 200 hours of work. The price then depends on the wood used. If it was made of cedar, the wood alone would cost 10 to 15,000 crowns. In addition, you have to add resin and other material,” calculates Jan Bašta.

Canoe for experienced paddlers

Gradually, Jan Bašta started building canoes for other paddlers as well. The ship’s production is first consulted with the customer. “It is important that he is already calm and an experienced paddler. My canoes are not as good as the first boat,” explains the handyman.

A typical customer is said to be a senior paddler who buys a canoe to enjoy his old age.

“Boats are not cheap. They range in price from 70 to 100,000 crowns. I make one to five canoes per season. Today, when someone calls me and asks when the boat will be ready, I tell them for the summer season, but not for this one. When I have a lot of work behind the scenes, I make fewer canoes. I’m not in a hurry, the ship has to find its fanmaker,” smiles Jan Bašta.

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