by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

Fundamental to any canoe restoration is understanding what you are dealing with. This blog examines a number of ways to answer some basic questions:

1) Who built my canoe?;
2) When was it built?;
3) How was it built?;
4) What supplies and materials were used? and;
5) What did it look like originally?

Mike Wootton asked the WCHA about his Old Town canoe.  It was built in 1937 and was shipped to Portland, Maine. The decks, thwarts and seats are oak, the gunwales are spruce and the canvas was painted dark green. He added the Old Town design number 1 as a finishing touch.  He then showed it off at the 2016 spring meet of the Northwest Chapter of the WCHA.

WCHA – The first place I go for information about a new restoration project is the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association (  They are an amazing resource.  One of the things they do is to host an on-line forum.  When you ask a question, there are often several people quick to respond with help, advise, guidance and historical information.

Mike Wootton asked the WCHA about his Old Town canoe (serial number 120233). They sent him a scan of the original build record. He used the information to complete the restoration.

Part of the forum is a build record search.  They have archived a complete collection of Old Town, Carleton and Kennebec canoe company build records.  If you have the serial number from your canoe, they will send you a scan documenting when it was build, the model, colour and style as well as to whom it was shipped.

(photo by the Canadian Canoe Museum)

Canoe Museums – The Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario houses a collection over 600 vintage canoes and kayaks from around the world.

(photo by the Canadian Canoe Museum)

In addition, they house a large archive of canoe-related documents.  It is worth becoming a member and spending the time to dig through their collections for the information you are looking for.

(photo by Jamie Dunn)

Another source of information is the Wisconsin Canoe Heritage Museum in Spooner. It has a small, yet comprehensive collection of primarily American-built antique canoes.

(photo by the Canadian Canoe Museum)

Both of these museums include workshop facilities and run regular classes teaching canoe restoration techniques. They can also connect you with canoe restorers who have experience dealing with specific types of antique canoe.

It is also worthwhile to venture into every small museum and gallery you come across in your travels. Old canoes often create a focal point in community collections.  When you find a canoe you are looking for, ask the curator for permission to measure the canoe and take notes on its construction.

Old canoe company catalogues are sold regularly on ebay and other on-line sites.

On-Line Searches – Once you know the make and model of your canoe, it is often helpful to enter those words into on-line search engines. You never know what may happen to be available for a week or two.  Written articles, blog posts and images from boat shows (to name a few) will be available on-line for a limited time.  Check on a regular basis to see what is newly posted.  Also, see what is being sold on ebay.  There may be a listing for exactly the same canoe you are working on.  Canoe catalogues are also sold regularly on ebay.  If your canoe is an Old Town, and you known the year it was built, it is possible that the catalogue for that year is being sold on-line.

Catalogues – As you begin to plan your restoration, the canoe catalogue for your make, model and year can often provide a wealth of specific information about how your canoe was constructed, the woods used for the various components and perhaps examples of decorative designs painted on the canvas.

The WCHA has developed an impressive collection of historic canoe company catalogues for sale. From their on-line store, you can buy reprints of a wide variety of vintage canoe company catalogues (both Canadian and American).  Large collections are also available on USB memory drives.  These include: 1) a collection of 73 catalogues from 12 Canadian companies; 2) a collection of 50 Canadian and American companies; 3) a collection of every page of every Old Town Canoe Company catalogue from 1901 to 1993 and; 4) a collection of Thompson Brothers catalogues from 1907 to 1970.

The front cover of the 1978 catalogue for the Chestnut Canoe Company. My client designed the catalogue which turned out to be the last one ever produced.

The Last Chestnut (How research helped bring a canoe back to life) – In 2006, a client came to me with his Chestnut canoe which was in desperate need of restoration.  He designed the 1978 catalogue for the company.  When asked what he wanted in terms of payment, he requested they build an Indian Maiden canoe for him.


It had been almost 20 years since they last built that model.  They found the building form buried in mud behind the factory.  They rebuild it and decided to build a special edition series of 300 canoes.  They worked out the process by building a prototype and then built the canoe for my client (a special plaque on the bow identifies it as 001 of 300).  He took possession of the canoe directly from the factory in December 1978 and they closed the doors behind him. They were out of business.

When the canoe arrived in my shop, many components were missing and I had never seen another like it. In an on-line search, I found an article from the University of New Brunswick talking about a canoe that had been hidden away in the basement of a building on campus.  The article identified it as a Chestnut Indian Maiden built in 1978.  The university had just donated the canoe to the Wild Salmon Nature Centre in St. Andrews by-the-sea, NB.

My sister and her husband live in Maine about two hours drive from St. Andrews. I told them about my project and asked them to collect dimensions for a number of components on the canoe.  They readily agreed and took on the research project as only two wildlife management PhD’s can.  A couple of weeks later, I received a package full of photos, measurements, drawings and notes.

My restoration concluded successfully thanks to lots of research.

After publishing the story, I received an email from someone in Toronto. His brother had seen the Indian Maiden on display at the Canadian National Exhibition in the fall of 1978. Apparently, he was the only person to order one. The plaque on the bow identifies it as 002 of 300. To my knowledge, it is the last canoe ever built at the factory.

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The entire canoe restoration process is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.


by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

(photo by Nick Dennis)

Fundamental to any canoe restoration is understanding what you are dealing with. The scope of this blog is limited to factory-built wooden canoes held together with metal fasteners.  More recent types of wooden canoe construction employing materials such as glue, fiberglass, resin, etc. will not be included.  This blog presents a rough guide to the form and structure of factory-built wooden canoes and the ways in which they developed and diversified over time.

Since this blog concerns itself with the repair and restoration of antique canoes, I will not enter into an academic examination of canoe history. For that, I refer you to such books as: Canoecraft by Ted Moores and Merilyn Mohr (1983); The Wood & Canvas Canoe by Jerry Stelmok and Rolin Thurlow (1987); The Canoe: A Living Tradition by John Jennings (2002) and; Canoes: A Natural History in North America by Mark Neuzil and Norman Sims (2016).  Instead, I will present the evolution of factory-built canoes with an emphasis on the variety of construction methods employed.

Dubbed Copper Nail Construction

In Ontario, Canada in the mid-1800’s, a number of boat builders in the region in and around Peterborough were experimenting with canoe construction methods. Their ideas were influenced by the dugout canoes in the region.  They built their canoes over a solid wood form (perhaps using a dugout canoe as the basic shape).  They employed many building techniques borrowed from European boatbuilding traditions to create all-wood canoes with no exterior waterproof cover.

Rib-and-Batten – By 1859, John Stephenson and Tom Gordon were producing canoes using a ‘rib-and-batten’ method.  A keelson (usually made of white oak) is set into the form.  Notches are cut along the length of the keelson (at 4½” or 11.4 cm centres) into which half-round rock elm ribs (about 5/8″ or 16mm wide) are set and steam-bent over the form.  Wide-board planks (made of basswood or Spanish cedar) are bent over the form on top of the ribs and are held in place with 16-gauge copper nails.  Pilot holes are drilled through the planks and ribs.  Then, the nails are driven straight into the solid wood form.  Once this is done for the entire canoe, it is pulled off the form and turned right-side up.  A chunk of iron shaped specifically for the purpose (called a dubbing iron) is used to bend the nails along each rib with the points oriented toward the keelson in a process called ‘dubbing over’.  The dubbing iron is then used as backing against each rib while each nail is hammered flat into the wood with a cobblers hammer.  The wide-board planks run longitudinally the length of the canoe and are placed against each other with butt joints.  These joints are covered with battens on the interior which are also attached with dubbed copper nails.  ‘Labour-intensive’ is a mild way of describing this process.  A 16′ (4.9 meter) canoe is held together with approximately 4,000 nails.

Cedar Rib – In 1879, John Stephenson patented the ‘cedar-rib’ canoe construction method.  White cedar ribs are steam-bent over a solid wood form and are fitted tightly together with tongue-and-groove joints.  Once completed, the canoe is disassembled in order to remove it from the form.  It is then reassembled and held together with a number of stringers running longitudinally.  The stringers are attached to the ribs with copper nails which are dubbed over and flattened in the usual fashion.  As we looked at one of these canoes at the Canadian Canoe Museum, Jeremy Ward, the museum curator, said, “I want to build one of these just to prove it can’t be done.”

Longitudinal Strip – John Stephenson continued his design efforts with a third construction method patented in 1883.  This method starts by bending the half-round rock elm ribs over the solid wood form at 3″ (76 mm) centres (notched into the keelson).  Then, longitudinal strips of edge-grain white cedar are placed on top of the ribs and are fitted together with shiplap joints.  These strips are 2″ (51 mm) wide in the centre of the canoe and are tapered by hand to about 1¼” (32 mm) at the ends.  Again, dubbed copper nails are used to hold the entire canoe together.  Over time, this method emerged as the standard for what became known as the “Peterborough” canoe.

Flush Batten – The rib-and-batten method was refined by William English with the introduction of his patented ‘flush batten’ construction method in 1888.  His method begins in the usual way with half-round rock elm ribs steam-bent over a solid wood form (notched into the keelson at 4½” or 11.4 cm centres).  Wide, white cedar planks with rabbeted (rebated) edges run longitudinally on top of the ribs.  Thin rock elm battens are set into the channels formed by the rabbeted edges.  These battens sit flush with the interior edges of the planks.  As usual, the entire canoe is held together with dubbed copper nails.  This construction method was widely used in racing canoes.


(photo by Nick Dennis)

All of these construction methods rely on expert craftsmanship and tight joints to produce watertight canoes. Once it has been sitting in water for a day or two, the wood in the canoe swells and the joints become very tight indeed.  That said, a large sponge is a standard piece of equipment in these canoes.

Clinched Tack Construction

Double-Plank – Dan Herald was another of the inventive canoe builders in the Peterborough region of Ontario.  He patented his ‘double-plank’ construction method in 1871.  This method employs a solid wood form sheathed with metal.  White cedar planks are steam-bent transversely (from one side of the canoe to the other) and are fitted together with butt joints.  Next, cotton muslin or canvas soaked in pine tar is laid on top of the first layer of planks.  The treated cloth helps waterproof the canoe.  The next step in this method is to place a second layer of thin, white cedar planks onto the form.  These planks run longitudinally and are attached to the first layer of planks with small, thin copper tacks (later simply referred to as ‘canoe tacks’).  The tacks are driven into the wood with a cobblers hammer.  They hit the metal sheathing on the form and curl back on themselves to clinch the wood together.

Capped Gunwale – A number of salmon fishing guides and canoe builders lived and worked along the Penobscot River in Maine in the late 1800’s.  They worked with and often built birch bark canoes.  They had become used to using canvas (waterproofed and painted) to cover their canoes and keep them watertight.  It appears they heard about Dan Herald’s double-plank construction method in the mid- to late 1870’s and started adapting his ideas to create canoes emulating the birch bark canoes in their region.  They began building their canoes over solid wood forms sheathed with strips of metal.  White cedar ribs (about 2″ or 51 mm wide and 5/16″ or 8 mm thick) are steam-bent over the metal strips on the form.  No keelson is used since birch bark canoes do not employ this feature.  White cedar planks run longitudinally on top of the ribs and are fitted together with butt joints.  The planks and ribs are held together with copper canoe tacks that clinch when they hit the metal strips upon which each rib is bent.  The ends of the ribs are attached to hardwood (usually ash) inwales – another feature of birch bark canoes.  To emulate the look of bark canoes, the ends of the ribs are either tapered and attached against a chamfered edge of the inwale or they are set into pockets carved into the inwale (usually with a forstner bit).  Once most of the canoe is completed, it is removed from the form and turned right-side up.  Then, the stems and decks are installed and the hull construction is completed.  Canvas is then stretched over the hull and held in place with canoe tacks.  Next, the canvas is waterproofed with a canvas filler and trimmed along the sheer-line.  The look of a bark canoe is completed with the attachment of thin hardwood caps on top of the inwales and thin hardwood outwales used to cover the top edge of the canvas.  Evan H. Gerrish has been acknowledged as the first canoe builder in Maine to use this method.  Others quickly followed.  Among them were Edward M. White, Bert N. Morris and Guy Carleton.

Double Gunwale – By the 1890’s, the look of the gunwales was refined with the development of the ‘double gunwale’ system.  The tops of the ribs are still set into pockets in the inwales but the gunwale-cap is no longer used.  Instead, the outwales are widened to look very much like those found on canoes built in Ontario.  This results in a very elegant look to the gunwales.

Open Gunwale – Bark canoes are held together with tension as the ribs are hammered into place thus wedging the rib-tops between the inwales and outwales.  Each fall, the ribs are hammered out of position and the canoe is stored away for the winter.  In factory-built canvas-covered canoes, the rib-tops are held permanently inside pockets cut in the inwales.  Over time, water is held in the pockets and the moist environment is perfect for the growth of the fungi that cause wood rot.  Around 1905, builders developed the ‘open gunwale’ system.  This allows water to drain quickly from the canoe and keep the rib-tops rot-free for a longer time.  By the mid-19-teens, the entire canvas-covered canoe industry had adopted this system.

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The entire canoe restoration process is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

Frequently, I get an email 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 $3,500 to $7,000.  Bear in mind that a brand-new Old Town 16′ Guide canoe – made by hand on the original mould – currently sells for $9,000 USD (about $12,000 CAD).  Serviceable canoes that need some work tend to be offered somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1,500 to $2,500.  Canoes requiring a full restoration can be picked up for $50 to $500 (and sometimes you can get the canoe because you are willing to cart it away).

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.  Almost 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 $2,000 to $3,000 after you have bought the canoe (all of these prices are in Canadian dollars).  If the canoe ‘needs a little work’, be prepared to pay for a full restoration which could cost in the range of $3,500 to $5,500.  And if it is a ‘basket-case’, the bill could far exceed what you would get for it if you ever decided to sell it (not unlike the cost of renovating an old house).  So, when you see a fully restored canoe listed in a classified ad for $4,500, they are probably just trying to recoup the cost of the restoration.

About fourteen years ago, 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 the mid 1930’s to 1975.  His workmanship was unequalled not to mention all of the Philippine mahogany (luan) used in components such as gunwales, decks 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.

Chestnut Prospector fully restored

Two years ago, I finished restoring a 16′ Chestnut Prospector for myself.  I replaced the original solid-wood slat seats with hand-woven cane seats replicating the Chestnut style of cane seats.  I then painted the canvas the original light green colour and installed copies of the original Chestnut deck and hull decals.  These days, I rarely see a fully restored canoe selling for more than $4,000.  If anyone asks me what I want for it, I will say, “$8,000 — but it’s not for sale.”

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.

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The entire canoe restoration process is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

Peter and Christ Thompson built wood-canvas canoes in Peshtigo, Wisconsin (about 50 miles north of Green Bay) as the Thompson Brothers Boat Manufacturing Company. The company built canoes from 1904 until 1962.

The specifications I present here are for the Ranger model ̶  a 16′ canoe designed for general recreational use.  As in all of my blog articles presenting specifications for canoes, I do not present the lines for the hull.

That said, the hull has a shallow-arch bottom with lots of tumblehome through the full length of the canoe.  The ends have very little rocker and are quite full.  I am presenting specifications of component parts for anyone faced with the restoration of a Thompson Bros. canoe.  As such, it is not a builder’s guide but rather a restorer’s guide.  The specifications for various components changed over the years, so if possible, base your dimensions on those of the original piece from your 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: You may notice that the two canoes featured in this article do not have external stems.  Although they came into the shop with external stems, the clients did not want the keel re-installed.  Without a keel, the external stem is out-of-place.

Inwales – Thompson Ranger inwales are made of mahogany with chamfered edges.  The ends are tapered to ½”.  The sheer-line of the Ranger is flat with no rise at the ends.  Therefore, the gunwales do not require any pre-bending.

Outwales – The outwales are also mahogany and are well rounded making for a comfortable and good-looking rail on the canoe.

Decks – Thompson Bros. decks were originally made of softwood (probably spruce) with a metal strap secured across the underside for extra stability.  When faced with the task of replacing the decks, I chose to use maple which foregoes the need for a metal strap.

Stem-Top – It is unlikely you will ever have to replace the entire stem.  However, I rarely see an original stem-top that is not partially or completely rotted away.  The top of the stem-profile is straight thereby making the repair fairly straight-forward.  The end assembly is held together with a 1½” #8 bronze wood screw.  The external stem is attached with the same 1½” #8 bronze wood screws.

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 (originally white oak) and taper each end gradually to join smoothly with the external stem.  Since the external stem protects the canvas seam at the ends, there is no need for brass stem-bands.

Ribs – The ribs are 5/16” thick and 2¼” wide.  The edges are chamfered 15° on both sides with the top corners rounded off slightly.  The ribs are tapered to 1¼” wide at the tops.  One distinctive feature of Thompson Bros. canoes is clipped corners on the rib-tops.

Planking – The planking is another distinctive feature of Thompson Bros. canoes.  The boards are usually 3¾” wide, 3/16” thick and beveled to make for a very tight fit.

The planking pattern also identifies Thompson Bros. canoes.  The sheer planks run straight from end-to-end.  The bottom planks run up to the sheer planks and are cut to form a sharp point near the ends of the canoe.

Seats – The Ranger was built either with hand-woven cane in white oak frames or with extra thwarts placed where the front edge of the seats would normally be located.  If present, the seats are woven with standard warp and weft weaving in the six-stage pattern.   The bow seat is hung from the inwales with 10-24 carriage bolts and solid blocks of mahogany as spacers.  The front edge of the stern seat is attached directly under the inwales while the back edge has ¾” hardwood dowels as spacers.

Thwarts – The thwarts are made of 7/8” white oak that is 2-1/8” wide.  They are shaped with tapers for hand-grips and are nicely rounded but not elegant.  Canoes built for use at summer camps were set up with four thwarts and no seats.  Presumably, this avoided the need to repair or replace seats two or three times a season due to the inevitably heavy wear-and-tear from hundreds of kids at the camps.

Here are specification sheets with most of the components presented together for easy reference.

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The entire canoe restoration process is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

People email 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.

Before taking any pictures, pull your canoe out of storage and get it into the light.  Pictures of your canoe hanging up in the garage are not helpful.  Pictures of your canoe in the basement are equally useless.

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 let me know the overall length from tip to tip as well as the maximum width and depth in the centre of the canoe.  If the canoe has a serial number (often stamped into the stern stem), that information is also useful.  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 1974.  They moved to Oromocto in the mid-1970′s and stayed there until they went out of business in 1978.  Therefore, this canoe was built in the period between about 1974 and 1978.

3.       Both 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.       Both Seats (Above 3/4 Profile)

Take a picture of each seat from above at an angle.  Stand to one side near 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.  However, in most cases, it is best to re-cane the seats (hand-woven with natural cane — rattan).

08 gunwales

5.        Gunwales and Thwarts (Above 3/4 Profile)

The rails along each side of the canoe are called gunwales.  They consist of an inside rail called the inwale and an outside rail called the outwale.  Stand near the bow seat off to one side and take a picture (or two) from above to show the inwale and outwale as well as the centre thwart.  In most cases, it was difficult for the builders to find full-length wood for the gunwale components.  They spliced pieces together by gluing a scarf joint.  Often the glue lets go and needs to be re-glued.  In the final years of the Chestnut Canoe Company, they attached the ribs to the inwale with steel tacks.  Over the years, they corrode causing the entire canoe to come apart.  Most companies assembled their canoes completely before applying paint and varnish.  As a result, the inside surface of the outwale is bare wood and the top-edge of the canvas is raw as well.  If the canoe has been used at all over the years, water collects under the outwales creating a moist environment for the fungi that cause rot.  Often, the canvas rots and begins to fall away from the canoe.  The outwales may look fine on the outside but are often rotting from the inside out.  Most canoe builders used steel carriage bolts to attach the thwarts and seats to the inwales.  Again, the original carriage bolts often look fine until you try to remove them. I replace these with silicon bronze bolts as a matter of course in most restorations.

6.       Obvious Damage (Above 3/4 Profile)

Please photograph any areas with obvious damage.  As with most photos of the canoe, take these at an angle (to one side and slightly above).  Sometimes the canoe is stored away in the back of a shed.  It may be a real hassle to haul the canoe out into the daylight, but please make the effort.  Good lighting is essential for these photos and taking the shots 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 (between 500 KB and 1 MB). It is not necessary to overload an email with huge picture files.  That said, tiny images are pretty much useless to me.  As long as the photos are large enough to allow close examination, they will work well.  Also, be sure to attach the actual files to the email rather than embedding them in the email.  I need to be able to put the images in a file for my records.

09 restored

In all of this, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  All of the damage can be repaired and all of the rotted components can be replaced.  The restored canoe will be part of the family for many decades to come.

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The entire canoe restoration process is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

The outwales found in early versions of production canoes (both all-wood and canvas-covered canoes) built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s have a number of distinguishing characteristics:

Wide Profile – They are approximately 50% wider than they are deep. In the cross-section diagram, W ≈ 1.5 x H.

Cross-section diagram of the gunwale system in a 1905 J.H. Rushton Indian Girl canoe.

No Rabbet– The inside surface is flat without a rabbet (called a rebate everywhere except North America, it is a recess cut into the inside-edge). That is, they do not cover the top-edge of the planks at the sheer-line.

Matches Tumblehome – The inside surface is angled to conform with the tumblehome angle in the hull. In the cross-section diagram, TH° = Tumblehome angle of the hull at the sheer-line which is generally about 8°.

Shaped Top – The top surface is gracefully rounded to taper the top-edge from a thick inside-edge to a narrow outside-edge. In the cross-section diagram, TE° ≈ 15°.

Pre-Bent Ends – The sheer-line of the canoe often has graceful up-swept ends. The outwales must be pre-bent to follow this curve (refer to the side-view diagram).

Tapered Ends – They are tapered gradually at the ends both in width and height (over a distance of at least 24″ or 60cm). While the width is tapered approximately 50% (We ≈ 0.5 x W in the top-view diagram), the height is normally tapered about 25% (He ≈ 0.75 x H in the side-view diagram).

Attached from the Inside – The main body of the outwale is attached (either with brass screws or copper nails) from the inside. At the ends, the last five fasteners (brass screws) are driven in from the outside (pre-drilled and counter-sunk).

For this blog, I describe the steps involved in making new outwales for a 1905 J.H. Rushton Indian Girl canoe (wood-canvas).

Cut the new cherry stock to rough dimensions on the table saw and cut the tumblehome angle (TH°). Each of the four pieces is at least 9′ (275cm) long.  Decide which pieces will be joined together to make full-length outwales for each side of the canoe.  Mark them with a permanent ink marker to identify each outwale and mark which end will be soaked and pre-bent.  Soak the new cherry for three days.  Then, pour boiling water over the pieces and bend them onto the gunwale bending form (no backing strip is necessary).  Allow them to dry for a week before removing them from the form.

Once bent, cut a scarf joint angle into the non-bent end of one of the two pieces for each outwale. Attach the new cherry pieces to the canoe.  Position the pieces so the bend in each matches the curve in the sheer-line of the canoe.  Mark the position of the matching scarf joint angle.

Cut the second scarf joint angle and use polyurethane glue to splice the pieces together into full length outwales. Allow the glue to dry overnight.

Sand the joints smooth. Then, use a spring clamp at every second rib to hold one of the new outwales in place on the canoe.  In this particular canoe, new cherry thwarts have yet to be installed.  I used ratchet straps to draw the hull into its correct shape.

Sometimes the wood bends too much at the ends. If so, wrap rags around the ends of the outwales and keep them soaked for about three days.  The wood will relax and come into its correct position.

Mark the width taper into each end of the new outwale.

Cut the width taper with a saber saw.

Use a random-orbital sander and 60-grit sandpaper to smooth the cut and even out the width taper at each end.

Start attaching the outwale to the canoe at the centre and work to each end. Make sure the top-edge of the outwale is flush to the top edge of the inwale.  Pre-drill and counter-sink holes for 1½” #8 bronze flat-head wood screws which are driven from the inside through the inwale into the outwale.  Originally, they placed a screw between each rib in the canoe.  I replicated their process, but I see no reason why you couldn’t use a screw between every second rib.

The last five screws at each end are driven from the outside through the outwale into the inwale. Position the outwale a little high at each end.  As the final sanding is done, each end will be tapered (He ≈ 0.75 x H).

Each end of the outwale is trimmed flush to the stem-end.

Install the second outwale in the same manner. Be sure the height taper and final height of both outwales are the same at each end and on both sides of the canoe.  Then, use an angle grinder set up with a 24-grit sanding disk to carve the top-edge angle into the outwales all around the canoe (TE° ≈ 15°).  Be sure to leave enough material in the top-edge to allow for final shaping and sanding.

Sand and shape the outwales with a random-orbital sander. Start with 60-grit sandpaper and work progressively down to 220-grit.  The final shaping is done more-or-less by eye until a pleasing shape is achieved.  Wet down the outwales and decks with water and allow them to dry.  This will raise the grain of the new wood.

Use dry sandpaper for hand-sanding in progressions from 320-grit to 600-grit until the wood is polished.

Stain all of the new wood to match the original. Remove the new outwales and apply final finishing with shellac and varnish on all of the surfaces.  In this canoe, the outwales will be re-installed after the canoe is canvassed, filled and painted.

mockup 02

The entire restoration process (including gunwale repairs and replacement) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

If you have read the book, please post a review on Amazon, Goodreads and/or any other review site.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes


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). The “babiche” is likely to last longer than the canoe, but at some point you may need to re-lace the seat frames.


Seat frames for “Huron” canoes are constructed of birch or maple and assembled with mortise and tenon joints that are very rough and loose.  No glue is used in the joinery, so the rawhide lacing is the only thing holding the frames together. As with all of the other components in a canoe, I prefer to apply finish to the frames before I lace them.  The bow seat requires about 65’ (20 meters) of 3/16” (5 mm) rawhide lace while the stern seat requires about 50’ (15 meters). The lacing is usually shipped in a long tube and is as hard as a rock.  It has to be soaked for several (5 or 6) hours before it can be used to lace the seats.  I use the bath tub at home and add a little borax to the water to help loosen the rawhide and make it easier to manipulate.  It will take a few hours to lace a seat, so keep a large bowl of water nearby in order to re-soak the lacing as you work. Handling rawhide lace for several hours can be hard on the hands and the borax can really dry out your skin. Use a hand lotion both before and after lacing a seat to help avoid damage to your skin.

rawhide pattern 01

The lacing pattern I describe is the most common one found in canoe seats. It is by no means the only one.  The process can be applied to all the other patterns.  However, some are more complicated than others.  The stern seat has 36 anchor-points – 9 on each of the 4 frame rails. The bow seat is wider than the stern seat.  Therefore, it usually has 11 anchor-points on each of the frame rails.  In order to make this fit, the anchor-points on the side rails are placed very close together.  This will provide enough room for one more complete repetition of the pattern.


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.


Anchor-points 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 form a triangle pattern on the frame. As you go from 1.3 to create the anchor-point at 1.4, pass the strand under the horizontal. The strand then passes over the horizontal and under the diagonal “forward slash” ( / ) strand before tying off at anchor point 1.5.  All subsequent weaving in the fourth strand follows this pattern.


The fifth strand of the pattern passes over the forward slash strand and under the “backslash” (\ ) strand before tying off at anchor point 1.6. All of the subsequent weaving in the fifth strand follows this pattern.


The sixth strand weaves over the “backslash” strand and under the horizontal strand before tying off at anchor point 1.7. All of the subsequent weaving in the sixth strand follows this pattern.


The seventh strand passes over the horizontal strands and under the “forward slash” strand before tying off at anchor point 1.8. All subsequent weaving in the seventh strand follows this pattern.


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.


From now on the pattern is repeated with one addition. 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.  The second strand requires no weaving.


The seat is woven with progressively more and more weaving required as each set of the pattern is performed.

rawhide 45

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 lacing pattern, 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. Then apply a mixture of two parts boiled linseed oil and one part turpentine.  Let the oil mixture dry for at least a week. The seat will be finished with spar varnish (thinned 12% with painter thinner/mineral spirits).

mockup 02

All of this (and much more) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

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.

Chestnut Ajax circa 1952

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 and I make sure I seal all of the surfaces with shellac and varnish before installing the outwales.  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-bend new inwales and outwales over custom-built forms to make the ash fit the upswept sheer-line.

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 – The Chestnut Pleasure Canoes were constructed with either the regular 2-3/8″ wide ribs or the narrow 1½” wide ribs.  Both of these rib types are 3/8″ thick.

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 about 30°.  The chamfer angles varied over the years, so you will have to use the original ribs in your canoe as templates.  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.  They started out being 5/32″ thick, but were often sanded down from there.  I often have to pass new planking through the thickness planer to match the thickness of the original planks.

Geary 11

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.  Again, this varied over the years.  When re-installing seats, I tend to use 1¾” spacers for the bow seat.  The stern spacers are then 1¾” and 2¾”.  This adds a noticeable degree of stability to the canoe.  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 hand-grips on either side that are 2” wide.  They were attached directly under the inwales with galvanized steel 10-24 carriage bolts.  Usually, the original carriage bolts are corroded and must be replaced.  I use 2″ 10/24 silicon bronze 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.

mockup 02

All of this (and much more) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

repairs 06 SG

Without a doubt, the most horrible job in the restoration of a wood-canvas canoe (or an antique all-wood canoe) is stripping the 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.

clean 03 CM

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.

before 12 LCCa

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.

strip 02 CL

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.

repairs 03 JK

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.

repairs 03 SG

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.

strip 02 EL

Use a scrub brush and a scraper to remove the stripper.

repairs 10 SG

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 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.

students restoring canoes in penticton

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.  In 2014, I coordinated the restoration of two 30′ C-15 Racing War Canoes (circa 1949) for the museum in Penticton, BC.  A crew of six people took five weeks and four times through the canoes with those nasty chemicals to remove all of the old varnish.  They were happy to see the end of that job.

mockup 02

All of this (and much more) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

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.

rib top 02 CL

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.

rib top 04 CL

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.

rib top 05 CL

Cut the rotted top off the rib to be repaired.  I use a Japanese utility saw with 14 teeth per inch.

rib top 06 CL

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.

rib top 07 CL

Line up the new wood with the original rib and mark the location of the matching scarf.

rib top 08 CL

Create the matching scarf in the new cedar.

rib top 09 CL

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.  Paint Thinner (mineral spirits) is used to clean up polyurethane glues.  I use these two glues interchangeably.

rib top 11 CL

The repaired rib-top is fairly rough at first.

rib top 12 CL

However, a quick sanding evens out the joint and creates a clean repair.

rib top 13 CL

Attach the rib-top to the inwale (I use 7/8” 14-gauge bronze ring nails, copper canoe nails or brass canoe tacks) and trim the rib-top flush with the top edge of the inwale.

rib top 14 CL

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.

sheerline reference 03

If most of the rib-tops in your canoe are rotted, it is still possible to repair the ribs rather than replace every rib in the canoe.  Since every rib will be cut, the original sheer-line will be lost.  Therefore, the first step is to establish a reference line for the sheer-line.  Go around the canoe with a carpenter’s pencil and mark a position 5” below the top of each rib.  Where the entire top of the rib has rotted away, skip to the next rib and mark the reference point there.  This will give you enough reference points to create a fair line the full length of the canoe.  Now, tack a spruce batten (approximately ¼” x ¾” x 16’) at the reference points to create a fair reference line.

rib top repair 05

As mentioned before, every second rib will be repaired.  Unless you have hundreds of 3” spring clamps, it will take a week or two to splice new wood into every rib.  Once done, mark each new rib-top 5” above the reference line and cut every rib to re-create the original sheer-line of the canoe.

rib top 17 CL

Reattach the original planking and replace damaged planking with new cedar.  Stain the new wood to match wood in the rest of the canoe.

Luke 01

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.

mockup 02

All of this (and much more) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.