by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
In Canada, the canoes from the Chestnut Canoe Company set the standard by which all others are measured. Now, thirty-five years after the company went out of business, they are still held up as classic canoe icons. So, how can you identify a canoe as a Chestnut and what makes a Prospector a Prospector?
The Chestnut Canoe Company – William and Harry Chestnut started building wood-canvas canoes in 1897. They bought a canoe in Maine (probably a Gerrish canoe) and made exact copies of it which they then sold out of their father’s furniture business in Fredericton, New Brunswick. They incorporated the canoe business in 1905 which most historians view the birth date of the company. However, the 1972 Chestnut Canoe Company catalogue proudly celebrated 75 years in business. It seems the company viewed its birth as 1897. Be that as it may, the company grew into the largest canoe manufacturer in Canada and, at their height, were producing in excess of 3,000 canoes/year. In 1923, Chestnut Canoe Companyand Peterborough Canoe Company (and later Canadian Canoe Company) amalgomated under an umbrella group called Canadian Watercraft Limited. As a result, the wood-canvas canoes for all three companies were built in Fredericton by Chestnut. The Peterborough Canoe Company ceased operations in 1961 while the Chestnut Canoe Company continued until it closed in 1978.
Chestnut produced over 50 different canoes in a wide variety of models. In this article, I will focus on the most common Chestnut canoes — Ogilvy, Cruiser, Pleasure and Prospector.
The Chestnut Ogilvy – Although never as popular as the others, fishing guides on the salmon rivers of New Brunswick helped create a working canoe that was unmatched for its purpose. They needed a river canoe they could stand up in all day long. They were often poling the canoe upstream through shallow rapids in order to offer the prime fishing spots to wealthy clients. The canoe had to be stable and tough with a shallow draft so as to avoid many (but not all) of the rocks. They came in six models that ranged in length from 16’ to 26’ – real, honest working canoes.
The 16’ model had a 36” beam and 13½” depth at the centre. The ribs were 3” wide, 3/8” thick and had only ½” space between them. This created what amounted to a double-planked hull. The rugged nature of the Ogilvy comes with a price in terms of weight. The 16’ had an average weight of 84 pounds and a carrying capacity of 850 pounds. It had a flat-bottomed hull, straight sides, full entry lines and modest rocker in the ends. This made for a canoe that was slow and steady – exactly what was needed when working shallow, rapid rivers.
The Chestnut Cruiser – This canoe was one of the first canoes that Chestnut developed. It was influenced very heavily by (if not copied directly from) Gerrish, White and Morris canoes built in Maine in the late 1890’s. The lines are sleek, narrow and graceful – designed to handle rivers with speed and efficiency. This narrow canoe had an arched bottom, fine-entry lines and generous rocker at the ends. Therefore, it was not for the novice paddler. However, in the hands of someone who knew what to do, this canoe was a dream to paddle.
Three models were 16’ 17’ and 18’ long. The ribs were 2-3/8” wide, 3/8” thick with 2” spaces between the ribs. The 16’ model had a 34” beam, was 13” deep and weighed 70 pounds. They were also built with ribs 3” wide, 3/8” thick and ½” spaces between the ribs. These heavy-duty models were called the Guide Special. The 16’ model weighed 75 pounds. Both 16’ models had a carrying capacity of 600 pounds.
The Chestnut Bobs Special – This canoe was one of two lightweight pleasure canoes built by Chestnut. Before I talk about the canoe, I’d like to clarify the name. According to Roger MacGregor in his book “When the Chestnut was in Flower”, Harry and Will Chestnut were real history buffs. The telegraph code for the 15’ 50-Lb. Special was BOBS and made reference to Lord Roberts, a major figure during the Boer War in South Africa. Over the years, as this wide, light-weight canoe became more difficult to keep under the weight limit of 50 lbs (the average weight was 58 pounds while the carrying capacity was 700 pounds), they changed the name. I have seen a variety of Chestnut catalogues call it “Bob’s Special”, “Bob Special” and “Bobs Special”. So, feel free to take your pick.
Many outdoor enthusiasts were looking for a lightweight, stable canoe that would allow them to enjoy fly fishing or just a quiet paddle on the lake. With a 37” beam and 12½” depth at the centre, the Bobs Special was very stable — ideal for those who find a regular canoe too ‘tippy’. At the same time, it was surprisingly quick and maneuverable in the water. This was due to the shallow-arch bottom combined with moderate rocker and fine entry lines in the ends. The ribs were 2-3/8” wide and ¼” thick with 1½” spaces between them.
The Chestnut Pleasure Canoes – It is no accident that Bill Mason used a 16′ Chestnut Pal in most of his films. It was stable, yet quick; steady, yet agile. With a 36” beam, 12¾” depth at the centre, weight of 72 pounds and a carrying capacity of 700 pounds, the Pal was as close to being a perfect recreational canoe as you ever hope to get. It was one of the Chestnut Pleasure Canoes which also came in 14’ and 15’ lengths. Until 1958, the 16’ Pleasure Canoe had a 34” beam. Then, the mould was widened. The economy version of the 16’ pleasure canoe had been called the Pal for several years (from about 1954). The pleasure canoes came in both narrow and wide versions until about 1960 when the wider versions were adopted exclusively. Over the years, the ribs of the Pal (as well as the 15’ Chum and the 14’ Playmate) came in two different sizes – either 1½” wide and 3/8” thick with 1½” spaces between ribs or 2-3/8” wide and 3/8” thick with 2” spaces.
The bottom was a shallow-arch hull with tumblehome extending through the entire length of the canoe. The fine entry lines and moderate rocker make it very easy to paddle. In his film, “Path of the Paddle: Solo Whitewater”, Bill Mason demonstrated very well that the Pal was not designed for Class 3 rapids. But, that didn’t stop him from trying. The Pal was a great general-purpose canoe and was the canoe of choice for many generations of canoeists – even if many of them called it a Chestnut Prospector.
The Chestnut Prospector – This was the real deal – often copied, never matched. A quick search on the internet produces at least ten modern canoe companies with a “Prospector” in its catalogue. However, the Chestnut Canoe Company found the winning combination. With high sides, substantial arch in the bottom and lots of rocker in the full ends, it was designed to transport heavy loads quickly through rapid rivers and large, challenging lakes. It was essentially a deeper, wider Cruiser and is still regarded as the ultimate wilderness tripping canoe.
They were made in five lengths from 14’ to 18’. The 16’ model had a 36” beam and a 14½” depth at the centre. The 16’ model weighed 76 pounds and carried 850 pounds. It was a fun canoe to paddle solo, but it really came into its own when loaded for an extended trip. Although there was good tumblehome at the centre, the hull flared about 4’ from the ends in order to throw water away from the canoe while hitting big waves in rapid rivers. The ribs were 2-3/8” wide, 3/8” thick with 2” spaces between them.
May 5, 2013
by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
Frequently, I get an e-mail from someone who is looking to sell their wood-canvas canoe. Typically, they tell me, “The canoe has been stored under-cover for the last twenty or thirty years and is in excellent shape. What would be a reasonable price to ask for my canoe?” Conversely, a person is considering the purchase of an old canoe and wants my opinion on whether or not the asking price is a reasonable one. In both cases, the best I can do is refer them to what I see on classified ads offering other wood-canvas canoes for sale.
I guess the simplest answer is: “It is worth whatever someone is willing to pay.” I have a hard time seeing these canoes as commodities. That is why I am in the business of repairing and restoring wood-canvas canoes. My clients tend to value their canoe based on a set of criteria far removed from monetary concerns. That said, wood-canvas canoes are bought and sold. Most of them are at least thirty years old and range in condition from pristine to ‘ready for the burn pile’. So, let’s look at the market and what tends to be ‘the going rate’.
Fully restored wood-canvas canoes tend to be listed in classified ads in a range from about $2,500 to $3,500. Bear in mind that a brand-new Old Town 16′ Guide canoe – made by hand on the original mould – currently sells for $7,600 USD. Serviceable canoes that need some work tend to be offered somewhere in the neighbourhood of $500 to $1,500. Canoes requiring a full restoration can be picked up for $50 (or free) to $500.
When people ask for my opinion on a specific canoe, I base my answer on what a professional canoe restoration shop would charge to bring it back to ‘like new’ condition. Any ‘original canoe in mint condition’ will require a new canvas. Unfortunately, the original canvas will only last about forty years (Oh, how I long for a return to the days before planned obsolescence). If the work is done by a professional canoe restorer, you are looking at spending about $1,000 to $2,000 after you have bought the canoe. If the canoe ‘needs a little work’, be prepared to pay $2,000 to $3,000 for a full restoration. And if it is a ‘basket-case’, the bill can often far exceed the cost of a brand-new canoe (not unlike the cost of renovating an old house versus building a new one from the ground up). So, when you see a fully restored canoe listed in a classified ad for $3,500, they are probably just trying to recoup the cost of the restoration.
A number of years ago (around 2004), I bought an original Greenwood Canoe for $900. The bulk of the woodwork was in excellent condition and the interior varnish was still in very good condition. The canvas was original (about forty years old) and although it was not rotting, it needed to be replaced. Greenwood canoes are well-known to wood-canvas canoe enthusiasts in British Columbia. Bill Greenwood built canoes in Richmond, BC from 1934 to 1975. His workmanship was unequalled not to mention all of the Philippine Mahogany used in components such as gunwales, decks, seats and thwarts. Anyone who knows these canoes bows their head in reverence whenever they speak of Bill Greenwood and his canoes.
In my shop, I brought the canoe back to life. The original mahogany outwales were shot, so I replaced them with exact copies. I added a couple of coats of varnish to the woodwork and painted the new canvas the dark green that was typical for Greenwood canoes.
The next spring, I replaced the original slat seats with mahogany-framed hand-woven cane seats in the style of Greenwood canoes. I removed the bow-quarter thwart, installed a mahogany carrying yoke and moved the stern-quarter thwart to a position halfway between the stern seat and the centre yoke. I had no intentions of selling this canoe and, at that time, I had not seen a restored canoe sell for more than $2,500. So, when anyone asked me how much I wanted for it, I told them, “The canoe is all yours for $4,500.” In 2008, someone fell in love with my canoe and handed me a check.
If you are selling, it is possible to get the price you are looking for. Just be prepared to wait a long time for that ‘special someone’ to come along. If you are buying, be prepared to factor in the cost of a full restoration once you have purchased the canoe.
April 30, 2013
by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
Wooden canoes are in a league of their own. They are elegant, beautiful and move more gracefully in the water than any other water craft that dares to call itself a canoe. The trouble is that if you want to own one, you have to find an old classic canoe and then have it restored. At Kettle River Canoes, we make these amazing canoes available to you – just pay for the restoration and it is yours.
Of all the classic canoes ever built, few are more sought after than those built by the Chestnut Canoe Company. They produced more than 150,000 canoes in their eighty years in business. Catering to outdoor enthusiasts of every description, Chestnut built canoes ranging from small, light-weight solo craft to large, rugged working canoes capable of handling anything the Canadian wilderness has to offer.
Right now (April 30, 2013), I have four Chestnut canoes available for sale. However, unlike other canoe restorers who restore a canoe and then offer it for sale, we identify a canoe that is currently in need of a good home. The current owner can no longer use it, so they send me some pictures and I ‘put it up for adoption’. Sometimes, some money changes hands in order to transfer ownership to an ‘adopting parent’. Then, we bring the canoe to our shop for a full restoration. This way, the new ‘parent’ has complete control over what happens to ‘their’ canoe.
Note: Although I have posted pictures of the various canoe models available, they are not the actual canoes up for adoption.
Your canoe can be painted any colour you want. If you want a red canoe, that is what you will get. It is entirely up to you. So please, use these pictures as a guide to help you imagine what your canoe will look like. We do not touch (and often do not even see) the canoe until it arrives in the shop. As a result, the ‘adopting parent’ has complete control over the process – and that includes determining the colour of the finished canoe. If you want an original Chestnut colour, we have matched all of the originals.
11’ Chestnut Featherweight Canoe (circa 1960) – This canoe weighs about 35 pounds. Beam – 34”; Depth – 12”; Carrying Capacity – about 350 pounds. One hand-woven cane seat. This is a beautiful solo canoe that can be handled by anyone. One of the old catalogue photos shows a man holding this canoe over his head with one hand. Fully restored – $3,900
15’ Chestnut Twoser/Peterborough Minetta Canoe (circa 1955) – For many years, the canvas canoes for both Chestnut and Peterborough were built in the same factory on the same moulds. Technically, this particular canoe is a Peterborough Minetta, and is exactly the same as the Chestnut Twoser. Beam – 33”; Depth – 12”; Weight – about 65 pounds; Carrying Capacity – 550 pounds. Two hand-woven cane seats. This is a very fast, responsive canoe suited for the experienced paddler (or two). It can handle lakes and rivers with grace and elegance on overnight trips. Fully restored – $4,200
17’ Chestnut Prospector Canoe (circa 1977) – Often copied, never equaled – this is the real deal. Beam – 37”; Depth – 14½”; Weight – 82 pounds; Carrying Capacity – 950 pounds. Two slat seats. This canoe is perfect for extended wilderness trips. It is a large-capacity canoe that dances through Class 3 rapids and keeps you safe on big, storm-tossed lakes. Fully restored – $4,500
18’ Chestnut Prospector Vee-Stern Canoe (circa 1970) – This Prospector is a vee-stern model designed to take a small outboard motor (up to 6HP) without affecting the design features that make the Chestnut Prospector the ultimate wilderness tripping canoe. Beam – 38”; Depth – 15”; Weight – 110 pounds; Carrying Capacity – 1100 pounds. Two slat seats. Fully restored – $4,200
March 31, 2013
by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
For nine years, Kettle River Canoes was a home-based business. Fortunately for the business, our home just happened to be a century-old heritage house located on the major highway through town. During the summer months, we had between 10,000 and 20,000 cars/day driving by the house. For nine years, my advertising campaign consisted of a fully restored wood-canvas canoe displayed on the front lawn of the house.
Although the public face of the business had a prime location, the actual workshop space was located three blocks away just off the highway. With 900 square feet (84 square meters) of shop space, Kettle River Canoes had enough room to handle the workload.
A house right on a major highway is great for a small business, but the traffic noise is not ideal for a primary residence. We had wanted to move off the highway for a long time, but our personal plans had to wait for the business to grow to a point where it could (and needed to) stand on its own as an independent entity.
One of the first things I did to build the business in 2003 was to establish a web site for Kettle River Canoes. I was hoping that people would look for canoe restoration services on-line and seek me out. However, for the first six years or so, my clients tended to be people who had driven past our house as they drove through town. The web site alone was not generating the kind of on-line presence required to keep a viable workload in the shop. So, in 2009, I started writing this blog. Except for some breaks during vacations, I managed to post an article once a week. “CanoeGuy’s Blog” provides wooden canoe enthusiasts with information that is not available anywhere else on the web. After about three years, this blog was being viewed over 4,000 times a month. It was at about this time that I started to notice that most of my clients had found me on-line. In fact, their first question for me was, “Where is Grand Forks, BC?” With the majority of my business generated from on-line traffic and the workshop full to overflowing, it was time to get a house in a quiet neighbourhood and expand the workshop. Kettle River Canoes was ready to launch.
In May 2012, I started renting the space adjacent to my existing workshop. A little paint and some signage created a store-front, but it would take almost a year to get the interior renovated and fully operational.
The expanded space has two work areas for canoes. The original space is the woodwork shop. Much of the space is devoted to storing the canoes that are waiting to be restored. The original storage racks were made from 2×6 lumber attached to 4×4 posts. The new storage racks are 1”-square steel tubing. I’m now able to store the same number of canoes and have room left over to store hardwood supplies on convenient racks.
The material salvaged from the original canoe racks was converted into a work-bench. The main bench is 16’ (4.9 meters) long. A compound miter saw and another small bench combine to provide a total of about 22’ (6.7 meters) of bench space. A long narrow bench is ideal for sanding and finishing hardwood outwales.
The second work area is a dedicated space for painting and varnishing. Once a canoe is canvassed, it moves into the new shop space for all of the finishing work.
Completed canoes are stored here along one wall set up with steel storage racks. The result is a work shop that can do dusty woodwork and clean finish work at the same time. I am thrilled with this extra room. It will really improve the working capacity of the business and reduce the waiting time for clients. The expansion took almost six months to complete. For much of that time, the actual canoe restoration work came to a screeching halt. Now that I am back to business (with a couple of assistants) my clients are happy to hear that their canoes are finally being completed. I extend a very big thank-you to all of my clients for being so patient.
The final stage in the business expansion is to launch a retail capacity for Kettle River Canoes. A few months from now, once I’m fully recovered from total hip replacement surgery, I’ll be expanding the web site to offer a full range of wood-canvas canoe supplies, materials and accessories. Stay tuned.
September 16, 2012
by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
Surely, with all the technological advances developed in the past hundred years, they must have invented a covering for a wood-canvas canoe that is more durable, easier to apply and simpler to maintain than traditional painted canvas.
Let’s face it; covering a canoe with canvas requires a lot of specialized equipment not to mention specialized skills. The canvas filler is an eclectic mix of ingredients – some of which are hard to obtain. Then there is the drying time, not to mention the time required to apply the paint with all that meticulous sanding between coats.
So, let’s take a look at three of the most common alternatives up for consideration:
Vinyl-Impregnated Canvas – Canoe builders have used vinyl-impregnated canvas (Verolite was one of the original brands) since the 1970’s. In fact, it is still used by some builders today. That said, I do not know any canoe restorers that use it.
Vinyl-impregnated canvas acts as a big plastic bag and holds water against the hull. This warm, damp environment creates ideal conditions for the growth of the fungi that cause wood rot. Therefore, restorers remove the vinyl covering after thirty or forty years to find the hull almost completely rotted. Regular painted canvas breathes and allows water to evaporate quickly – if the canoe is stored correctly.
Another consideration is that the vinyl does not accept paint very well. I’m guessing there is paint out there that will adhere to the vinyl, but I doubt it would work in the context of a wood-canvas canoe.
It appears that vinyl-impregnated canvas is convenient to use because there is no filler to mix, no one-month drying time required and no need to spend two weeks applying paint. However, it creates huge headaches in the long term. Therefore, it seems that vinyl creates more problems than it solves.
Fiberglass – If you haven’t guessed already, let me come out on the record to say that I am dead-set against the idea of fiberglass on a wood-canvas canoe. It is not that I am a purist. Instead, for me, it is a matter of practicality. To anyone considering putting fiberglass on a wood-canvas canoe, my question is, “What are you trying to achieve by doing this?”
Many people have the impression that these canoes are delicate or fragile. They believe that something must be done to make them stronger and more durable. Yes, with fiberglass on your canoe you can run it up on the beach and not worry about getting your feet wet. However, a wood-canvas canoe is anything but fragile and can take a lot of rough treatment over the years. By putting fiberglass on your canoe, you actually decrease its durability.
As soon as you put epoxy resin (the stuff that binds the fiberglass) on the canoe, the ability to repair it is reduced to somewhere between difficult and impossible. When it comes time to fix the canoe (and that time will certainly come), unless the restorer is willing to devote weeks to the removal of the epoxy, it will end up in the landfill. How durable is that?
Another common reason for considering fiberglass cloth instead of canvas is know-how. Many people view fiberglass as easier to apply and I suppose they are right. Again, I come back to my original question, “What are you trying to achieve?” If you want your canoe to last virtually forever, it seems worthwhile to learn how to canvas your canoe. With a “traditional” painted canvas cover, your canoe remains infinitely repairable.
A huge factor for some people choosing to apply fiberglass and resin to the outside of a canoe that would otherwise be covered with canvas is aesthetics. Some people simple want to see the wood on the outside of the canoe. This can be a huge draw and it certainly does look nice. The problem arises when it comes time to repair the canoe. The amount of time, effort and expense involved in removing the fiberglass and resin has most people in that position choosing to dispose of the canoe. To my mind, it seems a waste of a perfectly good (repairable) canoe just for the sake of looking cool for a few years.
While fiberglass can be applied without an elaborate set-up and a huge learning curve, you are sacrificing the long-term life of the canoe for the sake of some convenience in the shop and dry feet on a canoe trip. Personally, I view learning how to canvas a canoe as a step towards helping to make it live forever. When I am paddling, I am prepared to get my feet wet while I carry my canoe from the water to the beach. It seems like a small price to pay.
Dacron – This is DuPont’s trade name for their polyester fabric and tends to be used as a general term for any polyester fabric. It was developed in 1951 and was quickly adopted by aircraft manufacturers as it offered a durable, rot-resistant, light-weight alternative to “aircraft cotton”. It offers a light-weight alternative to canvas on canoes and has been used by a number of builders and restorers since the 1970’s.
The application method for polyester is quite different from canvas since (unlike canvas) it cannot be pulled and stretched over the compound curves of the canoe. Instead, it is heat-shrunk onto the hull. Since U.V. radiation (sunlight) can breakdown polyester very quickly, the fabric must be protected with a “silver coat” before it is filled and painted.
Although polyester has good abrasion resistance, its main drawback is a lack of tear resistance. In a discussion forum on the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association web-site in 2005, Todd Bradshaw (author of “Canoe Rig” – WoodenBoat Books, 2000) explained:
“Especially in light weights like 4-6 oz. or less it’s also important to understand Dacron’s tear strength. The Dacron fibers (or any polyester fiber for that matter) are quite strong and resist stretch better than most other synthetics. [However] they tend to take tearing or ripping force one yarn at a time in woven applications. Where the woven yarns in a hunk of nylon will tend to stretch as a localized group when tearing force is applied, spreading the strain over a lot of yarns, Dacron yarns tend to try to take that force one yarn at a time. This is because they don’t stretch enough to help each other out. The first yarn stresses until it breaks, then the second, the third and so on. It happens so fast that it’s called ‘explosive tearing’.”
From what I can gather, based on the experience of many that have used it, polyester demands a perfectly smooth surface. Otherwise, every little flaw is translated through the fabric. It also offers very little protection to the wood when the canoe encounters a rock in a river. Where canvas cushions the blow, polyester does not. The result is compression marks in the planking.
It seems that polyester is a viable alternative to canvas – with several large caveats: a) Avoid any situation where the fabric could be torn; b) Restore your canoe to “furniture” perfection unless you want very flaw in the hull to show through and; c) Realize that polyester will not cushion any blows to the wooden hull of your canoe.
Kevlar – Just as Dacron® is a type of polyester fabric, Kevlar® is a type of ballistic nylon. Just as with polyester fabric, it is heat shrunk onto Skin-On-Frame kayaks and then varnished. I have not heard of anyone using it as an alternative for canvas on a canoe. I had a client ask me to apply a strip of Kevlar® with epoxy resin to the filled canvas of his two canoe restorations before I painted the canvas. He wanted to experiment with Kevlar® as a way of providing extra protection to the bottom of the canoes. As far as I know, it is working well.
August 20, 2012
by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
Proper storage of your wood-canvas canoe is essential to its long, rot-free life. Finding a suitable place to store it is one question. The other is how to store your canoe. I’m sure there are as many ways to store a canoe as there are canoes. Let’s look at a few.
As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the fungi that cause wood rot can only grow in warm, damp environments. Therefore, it is best to store your canoe:
1) Upside-down; 2) Well off the ground; 3) In a cool, dry space away from rain, snow and ice; 4) With lots of air circulation.
Some examples of suitable spaces include:
1) Carport; 2) Covered Porch; 3) Unheated Garage; 4) Lean-To Shelter (against a building).
It can be a challenge to find a suitable location. However, once you have identified a spot, the next step is to develop a storage method. I will describe three possible systems. From them, you ought to be able to come up with something that works for you.
1. A Basic Rack – Does your space have a solid wall on one side? Is there enough room away from the wall to allow access into the space? If so, simply build and install two large racks about 7’ (2 meters) apart. The example illustrated here is made from spruce 2×4’s. The joints are glued and screwed to ensure a sturdy structure. The top edges of the rack can be rounded and/or padded to protect the gunwales of the canoe. Make sure the racks are secured well to the wall (with lag-bolts or through bolts and washers).
2. A Roller System – Is your space is long and narrow? Is it awkward or impossible to access the space from the side? In this case, it may be possible to feed the canoe into the space from one end. For this situation, install two support racks about 7’ (2 meters) apart. Each support rack is a length of standard 1” (25 mm) steel pipe at least 40” (one meter) long threaded through a length of 1½” (38 mm) ABS pipe at least 36” (90 cm) long. Install each steel pipe securely at the desired height. The ABS pipe acts as a roller and makes it easy to store the canoe in and remove it from a confined space.
3. A Hoist System – Is it possible or desirable to get your canoe up out of the way above everything else? If so, try using a system of ropes and pulleys to hoist your canoe up and away. Support the canoe with a length of rope wrapped around each end. Tie a permanent loop in both ends of the ropes. Use a carabiner to clip the ends of each rope together to create a support loop for each end of the canoe. Then rig a length of ¼” (7 mm) braided rope (I use multi-filament polyethylene – MFP – rope) through a series of pulleys as illustrated above and install a cleat to secure the free-end of the rope.
July 8, 2012
by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
If there is an area of controversy in the world of wood-canvas canoes, the question of the keel would be it.
Historically, canoes (and kayaks for that matter) never had keels. Edwin Tappen Adney documented hundreds of indigenous water craft throughout North America in the early part of the 1900’s. His meticulous notes, drawings and scale models are presented in the book “Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America”. It was compiled and edited by Howard Chappelle after Adney’s death. The canoes and skin boats range from small hunting boats around 11’ (3.35 meters) in length to large cargo vessels over 36’ (11 meters) long. None of these vessels had a keel.
As people of European ancestry came in contact with canoes through the 1800’s and tried to build them, they tended to approach the task of boat building from a European perspective. For them, building a boat begins with a keel. The rest of the vessel is built around it. As canoes became a commodity for the general public, canoe builders also had to appeal to a market that didn’t trust a boat unless it had a keel. Many people unfamiliar with canoes feel unstable in them and have trouble travelling in a straight line. As a result, most canoes sold in the better part of the 20th century were equipped with a keel. However, it is interesting to note that true working canoes built at the same time (such as the Chestnut Prospector, Cruiser and Ogilvy) were usually keel-free.
The Chestnut Ogilvy was designed to be stable. The wide, flat bottom allows a person to stand up in it all day long. A true working river boat, it never had a keel.
To look at it from a design perspective, the stability of a canoe is determined by the hull shape. Wider canoes – 36” (90 cm) or more – with flat bottoms tend to have greater “initial stability” than narrow canoes – 34” (85 cm) or less – with arched bottoms. What is gained in stability with a wide, flat bottom is lost in hull speed and vice versa (what is gained in hull speed with a narrow, arched bottom is lost in stability). Attaching a strip of wood an inch high to the bottom of a canoe does little to affect stability one way or the other.
The Chestnut Prospector was designed to dance around rocks in rapid rivers. Although it has a more rounded bottom than the Ogilvy, the tumblehome and high sides in the centre of the canoe gives it very good “secondary” stability. This means when it is tipped over on one side, it becomes stable in that position. Also, the waterline width increases as more weight is loaded into the canoe. Greater width at the water-line equals more stability.
Tracking – the tendency of a canoe to travel in a straight line – is determined by its length. The longer the waterline length, the better the canoe tracks in the water. Note here that I refer specifically to the waterline length rather than the canoe’s length overall. The hull of a Chestnut Prospector lifts dramatically at the ends. As a result, an unloaded 16’ (4.9 meters) canoe will only be about 14’ (4.2 meters) long at the waterline. What is gained in maneuverability in a shorter waterline length is lost in tracking and vice versa (what is lost in maneuverability in a longer waterline length is gained in tracking). If you are simply looking for a canoe that will travel in a straight line, get a long canoe – 17’ (5.2 meters) or more – with no rocker.
Functionally speaking, most canoes are designed to navigate rivers. The rivers of northern Canada present the traveler with many challenges – chief among them; rapids filled with large rocks. The Chestnut Pal was equipped with a “shoe” keel. At 3/8″ (9 mm) high and 2¼” (57 mm) wide, it provided protection to the bottom without interfering with the canoe’s ability to sideslip past rocks in rapid rivers.
In lakes, many people complain that a canoe without a keel will be blown around by the wind. Again, it comes back to learning how to handle the canoe. When travelling on a large lake with the wind in your face, the canoe must be loaded with a majority of the weight in the forward half of the canoe. It will always tend to “weather-vein” – that is, it will orient itself with the lighter end downwind. As long as the weight of the canoe is upwind, the canoe will track easily into the wind.
Speaking as a canoe restorer, I wince slightly whenever I finish preparing a beautifully watertight canvas cover and then proceed to drill a dozen or more holes straight down the centerline of the canoe. I solve the watertight issue by using a top quality marine bedding compound to set the keel. Eventually, the bedding compound dries out and/or the keel is jarred by one too many encounters with rocks in rivers. When the seal is broken, the canoe begins to leak. It is difficult, if not impossible, to remove the keel without damaging the canvas. Therefore, when the canoe starts to leak, it is usually time to for a new canvas.
If the question of keels in canoes were strictly one of form and function, there would not be a discussion – a canoe is better off without a keel. You only have to look at any modern Royalex or Kevlar canoe on the market. None of the canoes built today have keels – and rightly so. However, in the world of wood-canvas canoes, there is more to consider. Many people have grown up with their canoe. It is part of their life and part of their family. Their canoe has had a keel for fifty years, so it seems only natural that it stays that way. In this context I say, “Fair enough.” It turns out that wood-canvas canoes are more than form and function. They must be seen in the context of family history and tradition. For this reason, I have no problem re-installing a keel in a wood-canvas canoe.
July 2, 2012
by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
People e-mail regularly asking me to identify their canoe and/or give them an estimate on a restoration. When I ask them to send me some pictures, I often see a big difference between what people regard as a helpful image and what I require, so here is a little tutorial on the art of photographing a wood-canvas canoe.
1. A General Picture (3/4 Profile)
The first picture I ask for is a general picture in a three-quarter profile. It is a view taken from an angle to show both the inside and outside of the canoe. You are standing off to one side near one end. The picture shows the decks, seats and thwarts as well as giving a good view of the hull shape. Many people send me a series of pictures of the bottom of the canoe from every conceivable angle. Other than the presence or absence of a keel, these pictures do little to help identify it or determine the condition of the canoe. For identification purposes, along with a picture like the one presented above, it is useful to note the overall length from tip to tip as well as the maximum width and depth in the centre of the canoe. This canoe is 16’ long, 33” wide and 13¼” deep. I can see two caned seats, a centre thwart, a stern-quarter thwart and two hand thwarts (one at each end near the deck). From this single picture and the accompanying dimensions, I can identify this canoe as a Chestnut Cruiser (called the Kruger).
2. Both Decks (Top View)
Take a picture of each deck from directly above. Be sure to show the entire area from the tip of the canoe to the base of the deck. If a hand thwart is present (as illustrated above) include it too. These pictures help me see the condition of the various components at the ends. There is almost always some degree of rot in this area. The decal on this canoe shows it to be a Chestnut Canoe built in Oromocto, NB. The Chestnut Canoe Company was located in Fredericton, NB from 1897 to 1975. They moved to Oromocto in 1976 and stayed there until they went out of business in 1978. Therefore, this canoe was built in the period between 1976 and 1978.
3. Stem-Ends (3/4 Profile)
It helps to have close-ups of the ends taken at an angle off to one side, near the end and slightly above. In some cases, as in the bow deck above, the damage is obvious. However, in most cases, it is helpful to remove a few screws from the outwales (and perhaps the stem-band) to reveal the ends more fully. In this canoe, rot in the stern-end is seen only once the interior surfaces are exposed.
4. Seats (Above 3/4 Profile)
Take a picture of each seat from above at an angle from one side towards the centre of the canoe. This view shows the bolts and spacers as well as the seat. In this canoe, the original 3/16” carriage bolts have been replaced with 1/4″ threaded rod and nuts. The original cane is in good condition. Although it is weathered, it could be revitalized with a mixture of boiled linseed oil and turpentine followed by the usual finish of shellac to seal it followed by a number of coats of spar varnish.
5. Obvious Damage (Above 3/4 Profile)
Any obvious damage should be photographed. As with most photos of the canoe, take these at an angle (to one side and slightly above). Having the canoe well lit also helps. Taking the photos from an angle emphasizes areas of light and shadow. In this canoe, the broken rib and cracked planking are brought into clear view by the angled light.
All of the pictures are best in a fairly large format but it is not necessary to attach 2MB photos in an email. As long as the photos are large enough to examine in detail, they will work well.
June 17, 2012
by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
Kettle River Canoes has operated out of a 900 square foot (100 square meter) shop space in Grand Forks, BC for about eight years. We have now rented the adjacent commercial space to expand our premises to 1800 square feet (200 square meters).
Since we started operations in 2003, the office administration (phone, computer, etc) was located in our house three blocks away on Central Avenue. The beautiful heritage house made a perfect location for the heritage canoe business. With a restored canoe on the front lawn, “The Canoe House” became a landmark in the city.
Now that Christy and I have moved onto a 10-acre property just north of town, Kettle River Canoes needed a new face for the business. Also, with more than a dozen canoes waiting to be restored in the workshop, we need more room. The bottle-neck in the operation was always the finishing stages. Once we started painting and varnishing, all other woodwork had to stop. Now, we are creating a separate “finishing room” away from the dust of the woodwork shop.
Come and visit us in our expanded space at 7480 4th Street, Grand Forks, BC. It is a block from Central Avenue and visible from the highway through town.
by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
As of September 9, 2010 the Government of Canada has prohibited paint manufacturers in the country from producing paints and varnishes with high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). As of September 9, 2012, manufacturers and retailers will be prohibited from selling these products in Canada – at least that’s the story.
Since the Government of Canada first announced their plans to impose strict regulations on the use of VOCs over five years ago, there has been considerable pressure from industries that depend on products containing VOCs. Can you imagine trying to paint a metal bridge with latex-based paint? It just doesn’t work.
In the world of canoe restoration, these restrictions have created a certain level of anxiety and confusion. Antique canoes are dried out and very brittle. In order to revitalize the old cedar, I mix double boiled linseed oil with turpentine and let it soak into the wood. I talked to the people at my local hardware store:
Q: Will I still be able to purchase double boiled linseed oil?
Q: Will I still be able to purchase turpentine (a volatile organic compound)?
A: Yes. (So far, so good)
Q: After I apply the oil/turpentine mixture to old cedar, can I apply the new water-borne varnish?
A: No. (Gulp!)
Q: In order to do my work, I require oil-based alkyd enamel paint and oil-based spar varnish. Will these still be available?
It seems I’m not the only one making a fuss about these regulations. Oil-based alkyd enamel paints are still available. The only difference is that the labels now state: “For Metal Use Only”. I simply ignore the new label and carry on as before.
In the case of oil-based spar varnish, it is still available because it is specifically made for use on wooden boats. I get the impression that it also has something to do with the concentration of VOCs in the varnish. Since paint thinner (a volatile organic compound) is still available (in one quart or one litre cans only), I simply adjust the amount of thinner required to get the varnish flowing and drying properly.
All of this is a big hassle that, to my mind, is totally unnecessary. If the Government of Canada was truly serious about tackling environmental issues, they would not be facilitating the Alberta Tar Sands the way they are. They would also take a leadership role in international talks around fossil fuel combustion and climate change. You can’t take 100-million-years-worth of sequestered carbon deposits, throw them into the atmosphere over a period of 100 years and expect life to go on as usual. However, that is a discussion for another time and place.