by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
Once you’ve got your canoe out of the shed for the season, you’ll need some way of supporting it off the ground when it is not in the water. I can still hear my father saying, in no uncertain terms, “This canoe touches water or air, nothing else”. One of the most convenient systems is a pair of canoe cradles.
They are quick and simple to build and can be stored easily when not in use. They are also essential tools when repairing or refurbishing your canoe.
For the cradles I build, each one consists of two vertical struts, two base struts, two horizontal brace struts, two sling clamps and a cradle sling. All you need to build a pair of cradles are:
- 4 – 8’ 2×4’s (spruce) to make the struts;
- A bunch of 2½” deck screws to hold the whole thing together and;
- 2 strips of material 3½” wide for the slings (I use pieces of carpet or scraps of canvas leftover from a canoe project). I have seen some people use 3/8” rope for the slings.
As far as dimensions are concerned, I find a stable design that still holds the canoe off the ground at a comfortable height have vertical and horizontal struts that are 28” long. The base struts are 24” long and are oriented parallel to the centre-line of the canoe to create stable “feet” for the cradle. The sling material is about 50” long. The clamps are just scrap pieces used to hold the sling material to the vertical struts. These can be about 6” long – whatever you end up with.
To build a cradle, start by creating the two sides. They each consist of a base strut attached to the end of a vertical strut to form a T-shape.
Next, the 28” bottom brace strut is attached between the two sides and the 28” upper brace strut is positioned somewhere in the middle of the vertical strut.
I take a minute to round-off the inside corners of the vertical struts. Otherwise, the sling material wears out quickly and has to be replaced frequently. I use an angle grinder to round the corners, but the same job can be done with a rasp and a little elbow-grease.
Construction of the cradle is completed by attaching the sling by means of the clamps. The whole process takes the better part of an hour for both cradles. If you want to pretty them up a bit, the struts can be rounded off and sanded smooth.
Any cradles that are going to spend a lot of time outside are finished with an opaque oil-based stain to protect the wood.
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
April 21, 2013
by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
A number of canoe builders operated in a small aboriginal community just outside of Quebec City. Names such as Bastien Brothers, Gagnon Brothers, Groslouis, Picard, Faber, Yaho and Big Chief came out of this community now called Wendake (formerly Huron Village or Loretteville). They also produced canoes generically for department stores such as Sears and were referred to as “Huron” canoes. The history of canoe building in the village dates back to the days of the Fur Trade but the more modern wood-canvas canoes were made from the 1920’s until the 1970’s. If you have one of these canoes, it is most likely from the later period – 1960’s or 1970’s.
These canoes were typically of a “rough-and-ready” nature — built quickly with less attention to the fine woodworking “finish” details. As a result they were often referred to ‘in the day’ as “The Poorman’s Chestnut”. This derogitory comment discounted the beautiful lines in these canoes. The hull was flat-bottomed which normally results in a slow-paddling canoe. However, “Huron” canoes also had a ‘soft’ chine. That is to say, the transition from the bottom to the sides of the canoe was very gradual. As a result, when paddling an unloaded ”Huron”, the waterline width was narrow which made for a fast boat. This, combined with substantial rocker in the ends, created a canoe that is quite simply a delight to paddle.
The process of restoring a wood-canvas canoe is very different from that of building one. You use the existing hull to form replacement ribs for any broken ones. As a result, you don’t require the lines for the hull. Most of the dimensions for replacement parts can be taken from existing components. However, depending on the condition of your canoe, you may need the specifications for the odd piece or two. So, here is a restorer’s guide to the “Huron” canoe.
One little note here: I am listing all of the dimensions in inches. I apologize to all of you who are working in metric. The canoes were originally built with imperial measurements, so I find it easier and more accurate to stick with the original measurements.
One more note: The canoes referenced here were built in a period around 1970. Most of them were purchased through the Sears catalogue. They are representative of “Huron” canoes. However, it is not my intention to say that these dimensions will be exactly the same as those in your “Huron”. It will give you a general idea of how these canoes are constructed and how they differ from other major manufacturers. It is my hope that after you read this article, you will be able to differentiate a canoe like this from a Chestnut canoe.
One last note: All of the canoes shown here have been restored for clients. Often they asked me to do things on the canoe that were not in keeping with the original configuration. Therefore, you will see canoes with seats lowered on 6” carriage bolts with hardwood dowel spacers or outfitted with a portage yoke. They are not original, so take note and please excuse the lack of historical accuracy.
Gunwales – “Huron” canoe gunwales consist of three components. The inwale is a rough piece of spruce 7/8” square. For a 15’-6” canoe, the inwales were 14’ long while the 13’-6” canoe had 12’ inwales. The last 6” or so of the inwales at each end are tapered down to ¾” wide to fit into the decks. All of the transverse components (thwarts and seats are attached to the inwales with 10-24 (3/16”) steel machine bolts. All of these attachments are rough looking, so they are covered up with a thin spruce gunwale-cap. The outwales were originally made of spruce as well. I always replace the outwales with hardwood – usually ash or oak. If I am replacing the inwales I use hardwood as well (again ash or oak) and cut them to ¾” wide to reduce the weight of the component while maintaining the overall strength. Consequently, the gunwale cap is also ¾” wide.
Decks – The decks in a “Huron” canoe were built very roughly. They used a slab of birch or maple typically that varied in thickness from ¾” to more than 1”. The stem-top sits flush with the nose of the deck and is held in place with a steel common nail. By the time you start restoring your canoe, the decks are usually rotted along with the stem-top. What is left of the common nail is often sticking out of the rotted nose of the deck. I attach the rebuilt stem-top to the nose of the deck with a 1½” #8 bronze wood screws. The deck extends 18” into the canoe from the end.
Stem-Top – You will rarely if ever have to replace the entire stem. However, I have yet to see an original stem-top that is not partially or completely rotted away. Depending on the amount of wood to be replaced in the stem you may have to pre-bend the wood to fit the original stem-profile.
Keel – If you want to keep the keel as part of the canoe, it is a simple piece to make. Use a piece of hardwood and taper each end roughly to ½” wide. The overall length is about 13’. It will accept the brass stem-band which is ½” wide.
Ribs – The ribs are simple slats 5/16” thick and 1-7/8” wide. The edges are chamfered 10° on both sides with the top cornered rounded off slightly. There are 2” spaces between the ribs.
Planking – Many people worry about the gaps between the planks in a Huron canoe. The original canoe was constructed with ‘green’ wood that subsequently shrunk to create spaces between the planks that can be as much as ¼” wide. This is one of the things that make “Huron” canoes what they are. The spaces do not compromise the overall strength of the canoe, so please maintain the look of the canoe by matching the width of the planking when you replace some of it. Do not try to fill the spaces with anything. It will only result is a mess that some other restorer will have to deal with.
Another aspect of the planking relevant to a restoration is the fact that more than half of the connections between a plank and the ribs were held together with two canoe tacks rather than the three typically used in other canoes such as Peterborough and Chestnut. As a result, the whole canoe tended to flex more. It is common for a restorer to find that most of the tacks in the “Huron” hull have either snapped or worked loose. I routinely take the time to tack every plank to every rib with three canoe tacks and replace all of the loose tacks. It takes a long time to drive 2,500 tacks into the hull with a clobber’s hammer and a clinching iron. However, it creates a very strong hull that is better than the original.
Seats – The seat frames are made of ¾” birch that is 1-3/8” wide. The stern seat is attached directly under the inwales while the bow seat is suspended below the inwale using a spacer on either side. The height of the spacer varies from 1” to 1½”. The forward edge of the bow seat is 49½” from the bow-end of the canoe while the forward edge of the stern seat is 35½” from the stern-end of the canoe. The seat frames are laced with rawhide (also called “babiche”).
Thwarts – The thwarts are made of ¾” birch that is 2¼” wide. They taper from the centre to create handle grips on either side that are 1-3/8” wide. They are attached directly under the inwales with steel 10-24 machine screws. I replace the machine screws in the seats and thwarts with bronze carriage bolts. The stern-quarter thwart is positioned 59” from the stern-end of the canoe while the centre thwart is positioned 93” from both ends.
April 14, 2013
by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
If you are preparing to restore your wood-canvas canoe – especially in Canada – you are often looking at a canoe built by the Chestnut Canoe Company based in New Brunswick from 1897 to 1978. Of the many models produced over the years, the 16′ Pleasure Canoe was one of their best sellers. It had a variety of names and the hull shape changed as well over the course of eighty years. However, this canoe is most commonly referred to as the Chestnut Pal.
The dimensions of the components that make up the Pal are often the same as those found in many other Chestnut (and Peterborough) canoe models – including the famous Chestnut Prospector. As a result, if you have these dimensions, you can use them to restore about thirty different canoe models. So, here is a restorer’s guide to the Chestnut Pal.
This Chestnut pleasure canoe is from around 1952. The telegraph code was Ajax. It was 16′ LOA and had a 34″ beam.
The 16’ Pleasure Canoe from the Chestnut Canoe Company had a number of incarnations over the years. From the early 1900’s until 1953 it had a 34” beam, its ribs were 1.5” wide and was called the Ajax. Then the beam was widened to 36” and it was called either the Pal (1954 – 1978) or the Deer (1965 – 1978). Through the later years, the ribs were either 1.5” wide or 2-3/8” wide.
One little note here: I am listing all of the dimensions in inches. I apologize to all of you who are working in metric. The canoes were built with imperial measurements originally, so I find it easier and more accurate to stick with this measurement scale.
Inwales –The inwale is a length of ash 15/16” high. It is fashioned to fit the tumblehome present on most Chestnut canoes. Therefore, the top surface is ¾” wide while the bottom width is 7/8”. The last 15” or so at each end is tapered down to about 5/8” wide along the sides of the decks. All of the transverse components (thwarts and seats are attached to the inwales with 10-24 (3/16”) galvanized steel carriage bolts. I replace these with 10-24 silicon-bronze carriage bolts.
Outwales – The outwales are also made of ash. Depending on when the canoe was built, the outwales may have a chamfered edge on the bottom of the outside surface. Water often gets trapped under the outwales and results in rot on the inside surface. Therefore, I usually end up replacing this component. The sheer-line of Chestnut and Peterborough Pleasure Canoes turns up sharply about 18” from the end. As a result, it is necessary to soak, heat and pre-bent new inwales and outwales over custom-built forms to make the ash fit without breaking.
It is also worth noting that both the inwales and outwales were very often made by joining two pieces together with a 9″ scarf joint to create the full length Ash required. Apparently, it was difficult to get full length Ash even in the 1960′s.
Decks – The decks were made of hardwood – usually maple, ash or oak. By the time you start restoring your canoe, the decks are often rotted along with the stem-tops and inwale-ends. They are attached to the inwales with six 2” #8 bronze wood screws. The deck extends about 15” into the canoe from the end.
Stem-Top – You will rarely if ever have to replace the entire stem. However, I rarely see an original stem-top that is not partially or completely rotted away. Because the top 6” or so of the stem is straight, you can usually make the repair without having to pre-bend the wood to fit the original stem-profile.
Keel – If you want to keep the shoe keel as part of the canoe, it is a simple piece to make. Use a piece of hardwood (the original was ash) and taper each end to 3/8” wide. The overall length is about 14’. It will accept the brass stem-band which is 3/8” wide.
Ribs – There were typically two styles of ribs used in Chestnut Pleasure Canoes. Depending on the age and model, the ribs were either “narrow” slats 3/8” thick and 1½” wide or so-called “regular” ribs that were 3/8” thick and 2-3/8” wide.
The edges of the narrow ribs are chamfered 18° on both sides with the top corners rounded off slightly. The edge of the regular rib closest to the centre of the canoe has tapered ends (11° chamfer) while the edge closest to one end of the canoe is chamfered 30°. There are 2” spaces between the regular ribs and 1½″ spaces between the narrow ribs.
Planking – The planking in Chestnut Canoes was made of either Eastern White Cedar or Western Red Cedar.
Seats – The seat frames are made of ¾” hardwood (ash, oak or maple) 1½” wide and hand-caned seats. Both seats are suspended under the inwales with 10-24 carriage bolts and held in position with 5/8” hardwood dowel. The rear stern seat dowels are 1¾” long while the front dowels are ¾” long. All of the bow seat dowels are ¾” long. The forward edge of the bow seat is 58” from the bow-end of the canoe while the forward edge of the stern seat is 38½” from the stern-end of the canoe.
Thwarts – The thwarts are made of ¾” hardwood (ash, oak or maple) that is 2½” wide. They taper from the centre to create handle grips on either side that are 2” wide. They were attached directly under the inwales with galvanized steel 10-24 carriage bolts. The stern-quarter thwart is positioned 67” from the stern-end of the canoe while the centre thwart is positioned 96” from both ends.
April 7, 2013
There has been a huge demand for this article. So I am re-posting it.
If the seats in your canoe are laced with rawhide similar to that in old snowshoes, chances are you own a “Huron” Canoe – the generic name for canoes built in Huron Village (renamed Wendake in 1986) by one of several makers including Bastien Brothers (Big Chief Canoes), Groslouis, Picard and Gagnon Brothers. Although the “babiche” is likely to last longer than the canoe, at some point you may need to re-lace the seat frames.
The seat frames were constructed of birch that is 1-3/8” x 7/8”. The mortise and tenon joints are very rough and loose. Sometimes, the joints are pegged together, but most often the rawhide lacing is the only thing holding the frames together. The bow seat dimensions are 9½” x 15” while the stern seat is 9½” x 11½”. The bow seat requires about 65’ of 3/16” rawhide lace while the stern seat requires about 50’. The lacing is usually shipped in a long tube and is as hard as a rock. It has to be soaked for several hours (I use the bath tub and add a little borax to the water) before it can be used to lace the seats.
I will describe the most commonly used lacing pattern. The stern seat has 36 anchor-points – 9 on each of the 4 frame sides. The bow seat has 44 anchor-points – 11 on each side of the frame. The pattern repeats in sets of 8 strands, so the full stern seat has 4 repetitions of the pattern plus the first 3 strands of a fifth set while the bow seat has 5 repetitions plus the first 3 of a sixth.
The only tool I use is a sharp pocket knife. It trims the lacing and cuts small slits in the ends of pieces for joining. The entire pattern is laced using just a few basic knots and joins. The starting anchor join at 1.1 is made by threading the lace through a small slit in the end of the first lace in the pattern. Throughout the lacing pattern, pull the rawhide firmly but not tight. As the rawhide dries, it becomes very tight.
All of the remaining anchor points are tied using a larks-head knot. To perform this knot, you start by passing the lace over the frame. Wrap around to come up on the “outer” side of the lace and pass over the strand that was just made. Bring the lace back under the frame, then around to finally pass back over the frame and under the lace “bridge” to form the knot. In this case, a picture is worth a thousand words, so use the photo as your guide.
The fourth strand in each repetition of the pattern begins by passing over the horizontal strand and under the diagonal “forward slash” (/) strand. All of the weaving required in the fourth strand follows this pattern.
The fifth strand in each repetition of the pattern passes over the forward slash strands and under the “backslash” (\) strands.
The sixth strand weaves over the backslash strands and under the horizontal strands.
The seventh strand passes over the horizontal strands and under the forward slash strands.
The eighth strand does not have any weaving, but it finishes by passing over both the fourth and the fifth strands at the fifth anchor-point in that repetition of the pattern. It wraps under the strands and then up and over itself before forming the first anchor-point in the next repetition of the pattern. In this photo, you’ll notice that I did not perform the twist at anchor-point 1.5. The nice thing about working with rawhide is that it is very forgiving of small mistakes in the pattern. Once completed, you will be the only one to notice these slight weaving faults.
From now on, the first strand in the pattern weaves over the forward slash strands and under the backslash strands. Then, after forming the second anchor-point in the pattern and before weaving the second strand, stabilize it by passing over both the fifth and seventh strands of the previous set, then come up and over itself. Again, you will notice in this photo that I forgot to perform this twist at anchor-point 1.6. I just chalk it up to experience and by the time I’ve completed the seats, I know what I’m doing. The second strand requires no weaving.
The third strand passes over the backslash strands and under the horizontals. The seat is woven with progressively more and more weaving required as each set of the pattern is performed.
At some point, usually two or three times in a given seat, you come to the end of a piece of rawhide lace. To continue weaving, join the next lace to the previous one. The joins are made by cutting a small slit in each end. The end of the old strand is passed through the slit in the new strand. The entire new strand is then fed through the slit in the end of the old strand to create a secure join. I like to locate the joins so they lie on the underside of the frame.
Once you have completed the entire seat, the last larks-head knot is tied at the final anchor-point and the rawhide is knotted with one or two half-hitches.
Allow the rawhide to dry for a couple of days before finishing the seats with double-boiled linseed oil (thinned 100% with turpentine). Let the oil dry for a couple of weeks. Then, I finish the seats with shellac (thinned 100% with lacquer thinner) and varnish (thinned 12% with paint thinner) just as I do with the rest of the canoe interior.
I have seen a second lacing pattern used in Huron canoe seats. This style uses vertical strands instead of horizontals and employs the larks-head knot on only the top and the bottom struts of the frame. The anchor-points on the sides are just single turns around the frame. The lack of larks-head knots on the sides makes this pattern quicker to perform. It also has one less anchor-point and strand in the overall pattern.
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.
March 17, 2013
by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
Without a doubt, the most horrible job in the restoration of a wood-canvas canoe is the process of stripping the old varnish from the interior. It is messy, stinky, agonizing work that takes forever and cannot be rushed. Truly, the only positive thing to be said about stripping varnish is that as long as you keep going, the job will end.
However, it is not always necessary to strip the old varnish. If the interior varnish is in good shape – not peeling, cracked or gone altogether – you can simply clean the interior with TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) and rough up the surface of the varnish with fine steel wool. After vacuuming the interior and removing any residual dust and débris with a tack cloth, you are ready to apply new varnish. In my experience, if the varnish is stripped with chemicals, the canvas has to be replaced as well. As a result, one big job leads to another. That is why many people opt for simply cleaning the interior and applying new varnish to whatever is still there.
If, as is often the case, the interior varnish is peeling away, breaking apart or gone completely, the varnish has to come off in order to rebuild the interior finish from the ground up. Sometimes, the varnish is peeling so much that it comes off with a combination of a paint scraper, coarse steel wool and a lot of elbow grease. I have tried sanders and “sandpaper stripping wheels” powered by a variable-speed drill, but soon gave them up when I saw that I was removing just as much wood as varnish.
When it comes right down to it, the best way to remove all of the old varnish (and still have the original ribs and planking left intact) is to apply chemical strippers. I strip the old varnish before removing the old canvas. This way, the chemicals tend to stay inside the canoe. They soak into the old canvas and lift the filler and paint from the canvas, so unless you are extremely careful with the chemicals, you cannot strip the interior varnish without then putting a new canvas on the canoe.
I have heard of some people using a pressure washer to remove the chemicals from the hull once they have done their job. This would work well as long as the nozzle is wide enough to reduce the pressure to avoid ripping the planking apart. One downside I see to removing the chemicals with a pressure washer is that the work is usually done outside, often in your backyard. Consequently, all those nasty chemicals end up on the ground and (probably) in the water-table. At the very least, you succeed in killing the grass in that corner of the backyard.
When stripping varnish, the first step is to protect yourself from all those nasty chemicals. The commercial products usually contain dichloromethane (commonly used as a propellant in aerosol cans) and methanol (wood alcohol). Sometimes toluene (lacquer thinner) rounds out the mix. Besides long sleeves, long pants and an apron or coveralls, be sure to wear gloves (heavy-duty latex/neoprene), a respirator and eye protection. Have lots of water close at hand to wash off any stripper that contacts your skin.
It is essential to maintain a wetted surface when using varnish strippers. It evaporates quickly, so be sure to use lots of this stuff and do the canoe in small sections. I usually divide the job into four quarters of the canoe. Once the stripper has been poured onto a section of the canoe, use a sturdy scrub-brush (natural bristles) to spread the chemicals around and ensure that they get into every corner and let it work on the old varnish for about 20 minutes. When it turns dark brown and becomes thick, you know it is working.
Use a scrub brush and a scraper to remove the stripper.
Any stripper remaining in the canoe can be cleaned out with TSP mixed in a pail of water. Use a scrub brush, a scraper and/or steel wool to ensure that remaining stripper is removed from all of the nooks and crannies. Once the hull interior has dried, I go over the wood again with medium or fine steel wool to remove the last of the TSP and/or chemical stripper residue. Then, vacuum the interior to remove the dust and steel wool fragments to finish the job.
This takes as long as it takes – no short cuts. As with almost everything in life, if you don’t do a good job on the foundation work, it just creates problems later on. As much as I want this job to be done as quickly as possible, there is no way to speed it up. It takes time to do a thorough job. Sometimes, it even has to be done twice.
March 10, 2013
by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
While repairing your wood-canvas canoe, you may come across some ribs that are perfectly good except for a small portion attached to the inwale. Rather than replacing the ribs, it is possible to repair the rib-tops.
First of all, you need access to a substantial portion of the damaged ribs in order to do the repair. Remove the planking along the sheer line to expose all of the damaged rib tops. Identify each piece of planking as it comes off since you may be able to replace the original pieces once the repairs are completed.
Now, machine new cedar to replace the damaged rib-tops. Sometimes the rib-tops are tapered, so make sure each replacement piece is cut and shaped to match the original wood.
Cut the rotted top off the rib to be repaired. I use a Japanese utility saw with 14 teeth per inch.
Create a scarf angle in the original rib. For a solid scarf joint, the glued surface ought to be at least six times that of the rib thickness. Therefore, ribs 3/8” thick have a scarf angle with a surface area approximately 2¼” long. You can use a rasp to make the scarf. I use a 4” angle grinder that is set up with a 24-grit sandpaper disc. It makes quick work of the job – perhaps too quick, so careful attention and a light touch are needed.
Line up the new wood with the original rib and mark the location of the matching scarf.
Create the matching scarf in the new cedar.
Glue the new wood to the original rib and clamp it in place with spring clamps. I use either a water-proof resorcinol glue (such as Weldwood or Dural) or a polyurethane glue (such as Gorilla Glue). The resorcinol glues are water-based which makes clean-up a breeze. After clamping the new piece in place, wipe away any excess glue with a damp rag. When dry, it sands easily and blends well with the wood. Polyurethane glue sets more quickly, sands easily once cured and creates a very strong bond. I use these two glues interchangeably.
The repaired rib-top is fairly rough at first.
However, a quick sanding evens out the joint and creates a clean repair.
Attach the rib-top to the inwale (I use 7/8” 14-gauge bronze ring nails, copper nails or brass tacks) and trim the rib-top flush with the top edge of the inwale.
When faced with rib-top repairs next to each other, it is easiest to do every second rib-top to avoid clamping difficulties. Therefore, it takes a couple of days to complete all of the repairs.
Reattach the original planking and replace damaged planking with new cedar. Stain the new wood to match wood in the rest of the canoe.
The finished product is strong and solid. Many of the rib-tops repairs extend less than an inch below the inwales, so it was difficult to realize that they had been replaced.