3D canoe

Norwich professor Matt Lutz shows off the canoe he made with a 3D printer.

“I am really passionate about canoeing and the concept of additive manufacturing,” says Matt Lutz, of East Calais, an architect and professor of architecture at Norwich University. “I wanted to prepare myself for teaching my architecture students what are emerging technologies and the canoe is a full-scale object.”

To that end Lutz, who is on sabbatical this year, spent five weeks in January and February in Boston at the Autodesk Technology Center, a state-of-the-art digital fabrication center. He constructed a canoe on a 3-D printer — what he believes to be a first in canoe building.

Lutz chose a historical canoe to copy and print. He and colleague Matthew Burnett received permission from the Adirondack Experience Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, New York, to 3-D scan the “Wee Lassie” using a 2-D scanner and an iPad. He then used CAD software to get a 3-D model.

The solo pack canoe he printed is 10.5 feet long and weighs 34.8 pounds.

The original Wee Lassie has been copied before but never in such a high-tech fashion. The original came from the Canton, New York, workshop of Henry J. Rushton. In his day, Rushton was one of the best-known North American pioneers of wooden canoe building.

His claim to canoe-building fame mainly came from one person and two boats: George Washington Sears, the Wee Lassie and the Sairy Gamp.

An outdoor adventure writer who published under the pseudonym “Nessmuk,” Sears was 5-foot-3 and 105 pounds. He was a typical 19th-century hardy soul who tramped and camped all over the Adirondacks and elsewhere. Sears’ 1888 book “Woodcraft” extolled the solo camping trip, and his articles for “Forest and Stream” magazine often mentioned Rushton and his canoes.

The Wee Lassie in its original form (lapstrake white cedar, elm ribs, oak keel, no seats, and one thwart abaft the beam) was 10.5 feet long and weighed 22 pounds.

“A canoe is small enough in scale I thought I could accomplish it in 5 weeks and do a full-sized model,” says Lutz of the project. “I had to build the digital model, learn how to use the software,” he explained.

The canoe was assembled from sections that were produced on the printer and then put together to make the body. He said it took 96 hours — working 7-day weeks — to build the canoe components on the printer and assemble the finished piece.

Lutz is a proponent of additive manufacturing. In this process, which he says is less wasteful and thus better for the environment, one adds material instead of stripping material. It’s the opposite of whittling a piece of wood to carve an object.

Additive manufacturing Lutz explains is: “The process of adding raw material in successive layers to ‘build up’ an object rather than removing excess material from a large block of material. Think of it like this, we generally build things by first removing material from larger pieces of material to get the shape we want, like a stone sculptor removing tiny bits of stone to see the shape of a statue, or milling a log into two by fours — there’s always waste.”

“In additive manufacturing,” he explained, “raw material is successively applied in layers only where it’s required, thus no by product. If there is waste, from prototypes or temporary scaffolding needed during a 3-D print, that material can be melted back down and reprinted.”

The process he used is called “fused filament fabrication.” In building his Wee Lassie, Lutz laid down layers of a biodegradable plastic known as polylactic acid to achieve additive manufacturing.

What drew Lutz to the 3-D printing process was his “interest in emerging technologies’ potential benefits and or consequences.” He is concerned that “as we make things more efficient we potentially end up using more energy and resources.”

Lutz is excited by the potential that 3-D printing offers. “This technology has a lot of potential but it will take a long time before it is commonplace in the construction industry,” he offered.

He sees a time in the near future, when “every household has a 3-D printer capable of printing five different materials. “Instead of ordering products from Amazon, you order the design and you print it,” he predicted.

Right now, Lutz anticipates warmer weather when he can put Wee Lassie into a local pond and paddle. He still has some finishing touches to do such as smoothing out some of the printed parts and painting the canoe red before he launches.

Lutz was honest about the difficulties he faced. “This project was failure after failure; that’s what made it so great. I learned so much. However, the project was in the end a great success. I accomplished what I set out to do, I got to see what it will take to bring this technology into the mainstream.”

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