by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes


Speaking strictly in terms of form and function, canoes and keels don’t belong together.  However, wood-canvas canoes that have been in the family for decades must also be seen in the context of family history and tradition.  Many were built with a keel installed and that is the way the owner wants it to remain.  For this reason, I have no problem re-installing a keel in a wood-canvas canoe.


Most keels were removed at the beginning of the restoration project and are being re-installed.  Therefore, the first step is to clean it and remove old paint and bedding compound.  This is usually a two-step process.  I start with an angle grinder set up with a 24-grit sanding disk.  This cuts through the worst of the old material and gets down to the original wood.  Care must be taken in order to remove only the old paint and bedding compound.  Finish the job with a random-orbital sander set up with 80-grit sandpaper.  This removes any marks made by the grinder and creates a smooth surface for new bedding compound and paint.

Having just spent a lot of time and effort creating a waterproof canvas cover, it seems a little strange to then poke a dozen or more holes through the bottom of the canoe.  It is essential, therefore, to use a bedding compound that seals the keel to the canoe, creates a waterproof barrier and stays flexible for decades.

keel 03 DT

Having tried a variety of products, I have returned to the old school.  Dolphinite 2005N Natural Bedding Compound is a linseed oil-based compound with the consistency of peanut butter.  It is the same as the bedding compounds used a century ago.  Unlike more modern compounds (such as 3M 5200 or Interlux 214) it stays flexible for the life of the canvas (several decades), seals well, accepts paint well and yet allows the keel to be removed from the canvas if necessary some years down the line.

keel 04 DT

Most canoes use 1” (25 mm) #6 flat head silicon bronze screws combined with brass finish washers.  Begin by driving one screw into each end of the canoe.  Turn the canoe on its edge to allow access to the bottom of the canoe inside and out at the same time.  This is where it is useful to have the canoe set up on two canoe cradles.

keel 06 DT

With one screw at each end, move to the outside of the canoe and line up each screw with the original holes in the keel.  Use a permanent-ink marker to show the position of the keel on the canvas.  Then mark the location of the screw where it comes through the canvas and mark the location of the screw hole on the side of the keel to facilitate attachment later.

keel 07 DT

Apply bedding compound generously to the keel with a putty knife.  Any excess will be cleaned up later. For now, it is more important to ensure a good seal along the entire length of the keel.  Then, open the original screw-holes at each end to make it easier to find them.

keel 12a DT

Not everyone has my “wingspan” – 79” (200 cm) from finger-tip to finger-tip – so not everyone can hold the keel in place with one hand and drive the screw with the other at the same time.  Installing a keel is normally a two-person job.  Get someone to line up the original holes in the keel with the screws coming through on the outside of the canoe while you drive the screws from the inside.  Sometimes, the original holes in the keel have been stripped.  In this case, use larger diameter 1” (25 mm) #8 screws to secure the keel.  If the keel has warped a little, you may need 1¼” (32 mm) screws to draw it tight to the canoe.  In this situation, especially with Chestnut and Peterborough shoe keels (3/8” thick), the screws may go right through the keel and poke out on the outer surface.  That will be dealt with later.

keel 14 DT

Once both ends are attached, check to make sure that the keel is properly lined up with the centre of the canoe.  Once aligned, drive the rest of the screws along its full length.  Usually, it is necessary to apply some pressure on the keel in order for the screws to catch properly.  Sometimes, I need to get under seats to drive the screws.  This is where a flexible drill extension comes in very handy. Most of the time however, I have removed the seats to refinish or re-cane them, so access to all of the screw-holes along the canoe’s centre-line is not a problem.

keel 15a DT

Remove excess bedding compound from the edges of the keel and apply more to areas that are not completely sealed.  Remove any bedding compound stuck to the canvas using medium steel wool soaked in lacquer thinner.

Use a file to take care of any screw-tips poking through the keel.  Finally, let the bedding compound cure for a few days before applying paint.

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.

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

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 on the water.  I can still hear my father saying, in no uncertain terms, “The bottom of this canoe touches two things: air and water”.  One of the most convenient support 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.

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.

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

By Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes


Many fancy canoes have “pretty” end profiles. Canoes such as the Old Town HW, Yankee, Charles River and OTCA models are familiar examples along with those made by Kennebec, B.N. Morris and J.R. Robertson (to name a few) all sport distinctive characteristics. The stems curve back in a semi-circle or extend forward to produce a long “torpedo” shape.  The sheer-line curves to produce high ends in the canoe.  This high sheer-line means that the solid wood in the decks must be bent to follow the curve.  Also, the ends of the inwales and outwales must also be bent to match the sheer-line curve.


Restoring canoes with high sheer-lines can be very challenging. I replaced the outwales in a Chestnut Indian Maiden.  The extreme bend required to follow the sheer-line necessitated building a custom bending mold for the outwales.


When forcing such a large bend in outwales, they have a tendency to twist or collapse. To avoid this, prepare a support batten that fits in the outwale rabbet.  Make the bending form wide enough to accommodate both outwale-ends at the same time.  You have an “outwale sandwich” with the support battens in the middle.  The bending form must allow have enough “over-bend” to allow for some “spring-back” when the wood is released from the form.


Follow the instructions for making and bending outwales that are presented in my book. Soak the wood (usually ash, white oak or mahogany) for three days — this includes the support battens as well as the outwales.  Clamp the outwale sandwich into the curved end of the form.  Then, pour boiling water over the soaked wood and bend the outwale sandwich onto the form.  Firm, steady pressure brings the wood into place on the form.  Allow the wood to dry for about a week before releasing it from the form.


Attaching new planks to the ends of the canoe requires two people. I had an assistant hold a small axe-head against the ribs on the inside of the canoe at the ends while I hammered the tacks.  The axe-head is an improvised clinching iron that can fit into the narrow ends of the canoe.


Fit the newly bent outwales onto the canoe and sand them smooth. This makes sure the edges of the outwales fit exactly with the curve of the inwales and decks.  Remove the outwales and apply stain, shellac and varnish as per the instructions in my book.  Once completed, your fancy wood-canvas canoe is a delight to behold.

mockup 02

Be sure to get your copy of 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 and/or Goodreads and/or any other review site.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

Fancy canoe decks 01sm

Many “fancy” antique wooden canoes have beautiful up-swept sheer-lines at the ends. The curved end profile in many canoes built by canoe companies such as Old Town, Kennebec, Robertson, Monohon, Canadian, Lakefield and Peterborough elicit gasps of admiration from passersby and groans of despair from would-be canoe restorers.  Let’s look at the Model 44 all-wood cedar-strip canoe built by the Peterborough Canoe Company (1879-1961).

Fancy canoe decks 02aasm

When I started restoring this canoe, it looked fairly good considering that it was 87 years old. However, I had my doubts about the integrity of the decks and suspected to discover some issues there.

Fancy canoe decks 02bsm

Sure enough, the decks were full of rot and had to be replaced. Each deck was comprised of two pieces of butternut (white walnut).  They were braced together from below by two pieces of hardwood.  The joint between the deck pieces was covered by a cap of white oak and the end grain was covered by a white oak coaming.  When disassembling the deck system, make notes and diagrams of every component and screw.  Make sure you know exactly what every part is and where it fits in the system.  Many of the original screws are impossible to source now, so keep them, clean them and reuse them.

Fancy canoe decks 03sm

The original butternut sections were bent to fit the up-turned profile of each end. Sourcing four-quarters (4/4) butternut in boards 8″ (20 cm) wide is a challenge. I was able to locate a supplier in Pennsylvania.  The inside edge of each half of the deck had an 8° angle to create a gentle arch to the entire deck.  The first step in the construction was to cut that angle into the new butternut planks.  It is absolutely essential that the camber be cut before anything else is done.

Fancy canoe decks 04sm

Now, build solid wood forms for steam-bending the butternut. Each half of the deck requires both a top and a bottom form of solid wood.  The new wood is soaked and steamed before it is placed between the two halves of the bending form.  The forms are them pressed together and held there until the newly bent wood dries.  To build the forms, transfer the curve of the deck directly from each half of the deck onto ¾” plywood.  Add a bit more curve to the forms (about 1/2″ or 13 mm) to compensate for spring-back in the wood when it is released from the bending press.  Cut the shape of the bending forms from pieces of plywood.  Laminate a number of identical pieces together until you create a solid form that is wide enough to accommodate the new wood.  In this case, I created top and bottom forms for each side of the deck — four components all together — each 7½“ wide.

Fancy canoe decks 05sm

Construct a press to hold the bending forms. In this case, I made the press out of 2×6 lumber and used a scissor jack from my car to generate the pressure required in the press.  The top and bottom beams were comprised of three 2×6’s and a piece of ¾” plywood.  The entire press was glued and screwed together for maximum strength.  This system only allowed one half of one deck to be done at a time.  Each piece of new butternut was soaked for two days, steamed for an hour and then placed in the press for two days.  It took almost two weeks to bend all four deck pieces.

Fancy canoe decks 03sm

Once you have the new wood bent and the curve matches the curve in the original deck pieces. Matching the curve in the new deck pieces to the curve in the original decks may take a number of attempts (with adjustments to the curve in the bending forms).  Don’t expect the curves to match the originals after the first attempt.  Once the new wood matches the original curved pieces, draw reference grid lines at 2” (5 cm) intervals onto each piece of the original decks.  Measure the distance from the centre line of the deck piece along each reference line to the outer edge of the deck.  Transfer these measurements onto the new  deck pieces.  Next, cut the outside edge of each piece on a band saw.  In this case, the outside edge was also angled.  It is important to copy that angle from the original deck pieces onto the new wood.  Cut just outside the line to allow for final fitting in the canoe.

Fancy canoe decks 06sm

Assemble the two halves of each deck with the original brace pieces on the underside of each deck.  If the brace pieces are weak, make exact replicas with the originals as templates.  Jointing the two halves of each deck takes a great deal of careful shaping and fitting to create a surface on the underside which is an exact copy of the original. In this case, I ended up making both decks twice.  During my first attempt, I rushed into shaping the top surface of the decks without checking the underside surface against the original deck pieces.  I discovered – too late – that both the top and bottom surfaces of the decks are shaped in very precise and complex ways.

Fancy canoe decks 07sm

With the underside shaped and braced, dry fit the decks into the canoe. In the Model 44 Peterborough, the end of each deck fits into a notch in the inner stem.  Make that notch as the first step in fitting the deck.  In the Model 44 Peterborough, three ribs fit into notches in the underside of each deck on each side.  Line up these notches and cut notches in the new decks using a dovetail saw, a chisel and a mallet.  The final assembly of each deck includes a coaming that covers the end-grain of deck at a precise location in the canoe.  Mark this position and draw the curve of the deck onto the new wood using the original coaming as a template.

Fancy canoe decks 08sm

Cut the curve of the deck on the band saw. In the Model 44 Peterborough, there is an angle to the curved face of the deck which must be copied from the original.

Fancy canoe decks 14sm

While the decks, prepare the deck coaming pieces as well as the deck-caps.  Cut new wood for these pieces and plane them to the thickness of the originals.  Then, build steam-bending forms for the coaming pieces. Next, soak and steam-bend the new wood.  In this case, the original coaming pieces were white oak.  In early (circa 1900) canoes, the coamings and deck-caps were mahogany.  Make sure there is extra height and length in the coaming pieces to ensure that a perfect fit can be achieved in the final assembly.

Fancy canoe decks 09sm

Fit the deck components through a long and painstaking process of shaping and dry-fitting until everything comes together with precision.

Fancy canoe decks 11sm

Now, clamp the deck in place and secure it with the original fasteners.

Fancy canoe decks 12sm

Begin shaping and sanding the top surface of the deck by making a flat surface for the deck-cap that will cover the centre-line joint.

Fancy canoe decks 13sm

Shape and sand the deck into the graceful curves of the canoe. Use a random-orbital sander in progressions from 60-grit sandpaper to 120-grit and then 220-grit.  Wet the top surface of the deck with water to raise the grain of the new wood.  Once dry, use hand-sanding in progressions from 320-grit to 400-grit and finally 600-gir to polish the wood satin smooth.  I complete the sanding by using a piece of paper from a brown-paper bag to get a delicious, glossy finish.  The craft paper in a brown-paper bag is the equivalent of 1200-grit sandpaper.  Next, stain the new wood to match the colour of the original wood in the rest of the canoe.

Fancy canoe decks 16sm

Attach the coaming pieces with 1.25″ (32 mm) #8 silicon-bronze round-head slot wood screws. Attach the deck-cap with ¾” 14-gauge silicon-bronze ring nails or copper canoe nails.

Fancy canoe decks 19sm

The final finishing is the usual process I have described in previous blog articles as well as my book.

mockup 02

Be sure to get your copy of 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 and/or Goodreads and/or any other review site.

18' Chestnut Prospector Vee-Stern

As I was completing the restoration of an 18′ Chestnut Prospector Vee-Stern canoe for a client, he asked me to create a wood-canvas canoe field repair kit. He lives in Whitehorse and plans to use the canoe on hunting trips in the Yukon. A few basic supplies along with a hammer, a screwdriver and the ubiquitous roll of duct tape are all you need to hold your canoe together until you get out of the bush and back to civilization.

The kit fits into a small food container (900 ml or 30.4 fluid ounces) and consists of the following items:

  • a piece of #10 (14.5 ounce) canvas 12″x12″ (30 cm x 30 cm)
  • 10′ (3 meters) of 3/16″ rawhide lacing (babiche)
  • a tube of waterproof glue
  • 30 – 3/4″ (19 mm) brass canoe tacks
  • 20 – 3/4″ (19 mm) silicon bronze 14-gauge ring nails
  • 12 – 1″ #8 silicon bronze flat-head square-drive wood screws
  • a small container of alkyd enamel paint

Canvas Canoe Field Repair Kit

You also need to pack a clinching iron (auto-body dolly) in order to clinch the tacks when the time comes to use them.  Most of the supplies are self-explanatory except for the babiche. It is very useful for lashing a broken thwart back together or holding a make-shift thwart (tree branch) in place. Soak the babiche for a few hours, do your lashing and wait a few hours for it to dry. The babiche will tighten and hold anything without fail.

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.

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

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

Proper storage of your wood-canvas canoe is essential to its long, rot-free life.  The basic principles of proper storage revolve around creating an environment that is hostile to the growth of the fungi that cause wood to rot.  This means keeping the canoe:

a) well off the ground
b) upside-down
c) protected from rain, snow, etc.
d) in an area with lots of air circulation

Finding a suitable place is one challenge.  The other is how to store your canoe.  I’m sure there are as many ways to store a canoe as there are canoes.  Let’s look at a few.
Some examples of suitable storage spaces include:

1)  Carport
2) Covered Porch
3) Unheated Garage
4) Lean-To Shelter (against a building).

Once you have identified a spot, the next step is to develop a storage method.  I will describe three possible systems.  From them, you ought to be able to come up with something that works for you.

Canoe Storage Rack_sm

1. A Basic Rack – Does your space have a solid wall on one side?  Is there enough room away from the wall to allow access into the space?  If so, build and install two large racks about 7’ (2 meters) apart.  The example illustrated here is made from spruce 2×4’s.  The joints are glued and screwed to ensure a sturdy structure.  The top edges of the rack can be rounded and/or padded to protect the gunwales of the canoe.  Make sure the racks are secured well to the wall (with lag-bolts or through bolts and washers).

Canoe Rack Rollers 01_sm

If you are able to use the services of a steel fabricator, a canoe rack can be constructed from 1″ (25 mm) square tubing.  A single weld to create a right angle is more than strong enough to support a canoe, so there is no need for extra bracing if the rack is made of steel.  Protect the gunwales of your canoe by threading a length of 1½” (38 mm) ABS pipe over the steel struts.

Canoe Rack Multiple 01_sm

Canoe Rack Multiple 02_sm


2. A Roller System – Is your space long and narrow?  Is it awkward or impossible to access the space from the side?  In this case, it may be possible to feed the canoe into the space from one end.  For this situation, install two support racks about 7’ (2 meters) apart.  Each support rack is a  length of standard 1” (25 mm) steel pipe at least 40” (one meter) long threaded through a  length of 1½” (38 mm) ABS pipe at least 38” (96 cm) long.  Install each steel pipe securely at the desired height.  The ABS pipe acts as a roller and makes it easy to store the canoe in and remove it from a confined space.

Canoe Storage Hardware_sm

3. A Hoist System – Is it possible or desirable to get your canoe up out of the way above everything else?  If so, try using a system of ropes and pulleys to hoist your canoe up and away.  Support the canoe with a length of rope wrapped around each end.  Tie a permanent loop in both ends of the ropes.  Use a carabiner to clip the ends of each rope together to create a support loop for each end of the canoe.  Then rig a length of ¼” (7 mm) braided rope (I use multi-filament polypropylene – MFP – rope) through a series of pulleys as illustrated above and install a cleat to secure the free-end of the rope.

Warning:  When storing your canoe (either inside or outside), resist the temptation to wrap it up in a tarp.  Any moisture trapped inside the tarp or developed over extended wet periods will remain there.  As mentioned earlier, this sets up perfect growing conditions for the fungi that cause wood-rot.  If you want your canoe to compost, then wrap it up in a tarp.  Otherwise, make sure there is plenty of air circulation around your canoe.

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.

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

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

If there is an area of controversy in the world of wood-canvas canoes, the question of the keel would be it.

Historically, canoes (and kayaks for that matter) never had keels.  Edwin Tappen Adney documented hundreds of indigenous water craft throughout North America in the early part of the 1900’s.  His meticulous notes, drawings and scale models are presented in the book “Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America”.  It was compiled and edited by Howard Chappelle after Adney’s death.  The canoes and skin boats range from small hunting boats around 11’ (3.35 meters) in length to large cargo vessels over 36’ (11 meters) long.  None of these vessels had a keel.

As people of European ancestry came in contact with canoes through the 1800’s and tried to build them, they tended to approach the task of boat building from a European perspective.  For them, building a boat begins with a keel.  The rest of the vessel is built around it.  As canoes became a commodity for the general public, canoe builders also had to appeal to a market that didn’t trust a boat unless it had a keel.  Many people unfamiliar with canoes feel unstable in them and have trouble travelling in a straight line.  As a result, most canoes sold in the better part of the 20th century were equipped with a keel.  However, it is interesting to note that true working canoes built at the same time (such as the Chestnut Prospector, Cruiser and Ogilvy) were usually keel-free.

The Chestnut Ogilvy was designed to be stable. The wide, flat bottom allows a person to stand up in it all day long. A true working river boat, it never had a keel.

To look at it from a design perspective, the stability of a canoe is determined by the hull shape.  Wider canoes – 36” (90 cm) or more – with flat bottoms tend to have greater “initial stability”(feel more stable when you first get in them) than narrow canoes – 34” (85 cm) or less – with arched bottoms.  What is gained in stability with a wide, flat bottom is lost in hull speed and vice versa (what is gained in hull speed with a narrow, arched bottom is lost in stability).  Attaching a strip of wood an inch (2.5 cm) high to the bottom of a canoe does little to affect stability one way or the other.

The Chestnut Prospector was designed to dance around rocks in rapid rivers.  Although it has a more rounded bottom than the Ogilvy, the tumblehome and high sides in the centre of the canoe gives it very good “secondary stability” (gets more stable as you add weight to the canoe).  When the Chestnut Prospector it is tipped over on one side, it becomes stable in that position.  Also, the waterline width increases as more weight is loaded into the canoe.  Greater width at the water-line equals more stability.

Tracking – the tendency of a canoe to travel in a straight line – is determined by its length.  The longer the waterline length, the better the canoe tracks in the water.  Note here that I refer specifically to the waterline length rather than the canoe’s length overall.  The hull of a Chestnut Prospector lifts dramatically at the ends.  As a result, an unloaded 16’ (4.9 meters) canoe will only be about 14’ (4.2 meters) long at the waterline.  What is gained in maneuverability in a shorter waterline length is lost in tracking and vice versa (what is lost in maneuverability in a longer waterline length is gained in tracking).    If you are simply looking for a canoe that will travel in a straight line, get a long canoe – 17’ (5.2 meters) or more – with no rocker.  If you want your canoe to be able to dodge rocks in a rapid river, choose a canoe with lots of rocker at the ends.

Functionally speaking, most canoes are designed to navigate rivers.  The rivers of northern Canada present the traveler with many challenges – chief among them; rapids filled with large rocks.  The Chestnut Pal was equipped with a “shoe” keel. At 3/8″ (9 mm) high and 2¼” (57 mm) wide, it provided protection to the bottom without interfering with the canoe’s ability to sideslip past rocks in rapid rivers.

In lakes, many people complain that a canoe without a keel will be blown around by the wind.  Again, it comes back to learning how to handle the canoe.  When travelling on a large lake with the wind in your face, the canoe must be loaded with a majority of the weight in the forward half of the canoe.  It will always tend to “weathervane” – that is, it will orient itself with the lighter end downwind.  As long as the weight of the canoe is slightly upwind, the canoe will track easily into the wind.

Speaking as a canoe restorer, I wince slightly whenever I finish preparing a beautifully watertight canvas cover and then proceed to drill a dozen or more holes straight down the centerline of the canoe.  I solve the watertight issue by using a top quality marine bedding compound to set the keel.  Eventually, the bedding compound dries out and/or the keel is jarred by one too many encounters with rocks in rivers.  When the seal is broken, the canoe begins to leak.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to remove the keel without damaging the canvas.  Therefore, when the canoe starts to leak, it is usually time to for a new canvas.

If the question of keels in canoes were strictly one of form and function, there would not be a discussion – a canoe is better off without a keel.  You only have to look at any modern Royalex or Kevlar canoe on the market.  None of the canoes built today have keels – and rightly so (canoes often live on rivers and therefore must be able to move sideways to avoid obstacles).  However, in the world of wood-canvas canoes, there is more to consider.  Many people have grown up with their canoe.  It is part of their life and part of their family.  Their canoe has had a keel for fifty years, so it seems only natural that it stays that way.  In this context I say, “Fair enough.”  It turns out that wood-canvas canoes are more than form and function.  They must be seen in the context of family history and tradition.  For this reason, I have no problem re-installing a keel in a wood-canvas canoe.

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

In Canada, the canoes from the Chestnut Canoe Company set the standard by which all others are measured.  Now, thirty-six 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?

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The Chestnut Canoe Company – William and Henry 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, Bobs Special, Pal 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 is 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 come in six models that range in length from 16’ to 26’ – real, honest working canoes.

The 16’ model has a 36” beam and 13½” depth at the centre.  The ribs are 3” wide, 3/8” thick and have only ½” space between them.  This creates what amounts to a double-planked hull.  The rugged nature of the Ogilvy comes with a price in terms of weight.  The 16’ has an average weight of 84 pounds and a carrying capacity of 850 pounds.  It has a flat-bottomed hull, straight sides, full entry lines and modest rocker in the ends.  This makes for a canoe that is slow and steady – exactly what is needed when moving through 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 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 has 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 knows what to do, this canoe is a dream to paddle.

Three models are 16’ 17’ and 18’ long.  The ribs are 2-3/8” wide, 3/8” thick with 2” spaces between the ribs.  The 16’ model has a 34” beam, is 13” deep and weighs 70 pounds.  They are also built with ribs 3” wide, 3/8” thick and ½” spaces between the ribs.  These heavy-duty models are called the Guide Special.  The 16’ model weighs 75 pounds.  Both 16’ models have a carrying capacity of 600 pounds.

The Chestnut Bobs Special – This 15′ canoe is 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 is 58 pounds while the carrying capacity is 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 is very stable — ideal for those who find a regular canoe too ‘tippy’.  At the same time, it is surprisingly quick and maneuverable in the water.  This is due to the shallow-arch bottom combined with moderate rocker and fine entry lines in the ends.  The ribs are 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 pleasure canoe in most of his films.  It is stable, yet quick; steady, yet agile.  It has a 36” beam, 12¾” depth at the centre, weight of 72 pounds and a carrying capacity of 700 pounds.  It is as close to being a perfect recreational canoe as you ever hope to get.  It had a variety of names over the years and was one of the Chestnut pleasure canoes which also came in 14’ and 15’ lengths.  Until 1958, the 16’ pleasure canoe (called the Ajax or Moonlight) 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 pleasure canoes 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 16′ was called the Pal or the Deer, the 15′ was called the Chum or the Doe and the 14′ was called the Playmate or the Fox.

The bottom has 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 (or Deer) was not designed for Class 3 rapids.  But, that didn’t stop him from trying.  The Pal (or Deer) is 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 is 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 invented this winning combination.  With high sides, substantial arch in the bottom and lots of rocker in the full ends, it is designed to transport heavy loads quickly through rapid rivers and large, challenging lakes.  It is essentially a deeper, wider Cruiser and is still regarded as the ultimate wilderness tripping canoe.  Like the Cruiser, many people unfamiliar with these canoes find it a little “tippy”.  The round bottom of the Prospector makes for a “shaky” feel when you first get in.  However, it becomes much more stable as weigh is loaded into the canoe — making it perfect for extended trips.  It also settles into a stable position when heeled over to one side.  As a result, many people love it as a solo canoe.

They were made in five lengths from 14’ to 18’.  The 16’ model has a 36” beam and a 14½” depth at the centre.  The 16’ model weighs 76 pounds and carries 850 pounds.  Although there is good tumblehome at the centre, the hull flares about 4’ from the ends in order to throw water away from the canoe while hitting big waves in rapid rivers.  The ribs are 2-3/8” wide, 3/8” thick with 2” spaces between them.

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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

later catalogue front cover

Of the lesser known canoe manufacturers in Canada, Tremblay Canoes Limited (Les Canots Tremblay Limitée) from St. Félicien, Québec stood out from the crowd.  They were well constructed with Mahogany trim and their sweet lines made for a lovely paddling canoe.

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The specifications I present here are for the standard line of canoes produced by Tremblay known collectively as the Chibougamau canoes.  There were six canoes in the Chibougamau line ranging in length from 14’ to 20’.  As in all of my blog articles presenting specifications for canoes, I do not present the lines for the hull.  I am presenting specifications for anyone faced with the restoration of a Tremblay canoe.  As such, it is not a builder’s guide but rather a restorer’s guide.  Most of the dimensions can be taken from existing components in the canoe.

This is the 14' Chibougamau canoe made by Tremblay Canoes and is called the Sioux.

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.

Tremblay Stern

One more note: In the later years of production, Tremblay canoes were known for their use of vinyl impregnated canvas (Verolite).  Although a couple of canoe builders still use this material, I have yet to find a single canoe restorer who will touch the stuff.  The vinyl coating acted as a plastic bag wrapped around the canoe and effectively held water against the hull for extended periods of time.  This lack of ‘breathing’ in the canvas cover resulted in extensive rot through many (if not most) Tremblay canoes that were paddled on a regular basis.

Tremblay Canoe Inwale

Inwales – Tremblay inwales are made of Mahogany with nicely rounded edges.  The ends curve sharply necessitating soaking the wood and heating the wood with hot water.  This facilitates the bend through that section.  I have repaired inwales that were cracked through the bend originally.  Mahogany is temperamental at the best of times.

Tremblay Canoe Outwale

Outwales – The outwales are also Mahogany, but being only 7/16” wide, they do not require heat-bending.  For such a thin outwale, they are surprisingly robust.  The 3/8” rabbet helps keep the piece stable.

Tremblay Canoe Deck

Decks – Tremblay usually made their decks from Birch, but I have seen Mahogany used as well.  They are simple in design but nicely finished.

Tremblay Canoe Stem-Top

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.

Tremblay Canoe Keel

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 gradually to ½” wide.  It will accept the brass (or copper) stem-band which is ½” wide.

Tremblay Canoe Ribs

Ribs – The ribs are simple slats 3/8” thick and 2-1/8” wide.  The edges are chamfered 10° on both sides with the top cornered rounded off slightly.  There are 1¾” spaces between the ribs.

Tremblay Canoe Planking

Planking – Tremblay did a nice job on the planking.  The boards are usually 2¾” wide and 5/32” thick.

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Seats – The seat frames are made of ¾” birch or maple that is 1-1/8” wide.  Both seats are attached to Mahogany braces on either side of the canoe with 1½” #8 bronze wood screws.  The seats are approximately 2” below the inwale.  The body of the seat is laced rawhide done the same way snowshoes were laced.

Tremblay Canoe Thwart

Thwarts – The thwarts are made of 5/8” birch or maple that is 2” wide.  They are simple pieces with no taper.  They are attached directly under the inwales with steel 10-24 bronze carriage bolts.

Tremblay Portage Yoke

Portage Yoke – If present in your canoe, you will appreciate the lovely shape of this yoke.  It is made of Ash 5¾” wide tapering to 2¼” at the ends.  Like most designs that are pleasing to the eye, it is also very comfortable to use.

Tremblay Canoe Hand Thwart

Hand Thwarts – These are used as carrying handles on both ends of the canoe.  They are positioned about 7” back from each deck.  They are made from birch or maple 3/8” thick, 1½” wide and about 13” long with nicely rounded edges.

Specification Page - Tremblay

Here is a specification sheet with most of the components on one page.

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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

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.  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 (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 $2,000 to $2,500 after you have bought the canoe.  If the canoe ‘needs a little work’, be prepared to pay $3,000 to $5,000 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 $4,000, they are probably just trying to recoup the cost of the restoration.

About twelve 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 1934 to 1975.  His workmanship was unequalled not to mention all of the Philippine Mahogany 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

This spring (2016), 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.  If anyone asks me how much I want for it, I will say, “This Chestnut Prospector would be all yours for $10,000 — 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.