by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

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 decks were originally made of softwood (probably spruce) with a metal strap secured across the underside for extra stability.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
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

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.

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.  As long as the photos are large enough to allow close examination, they will work well.

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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.

mockup 02

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
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

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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.

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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, 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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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 shellac and varnish along with the rest of the new wood in the 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
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

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-bent new inwales and outwales over custom-built forms to make the ash fit without breaking.

It is also worth noting that both the inwales and outwales were very often made by joining two pieces together with a 9″ scarf joint to create the full length Ash required.  Apparently, it was difficult to get full length Ash even in the 1960′s.

Decks – The decks were made of hardwood – usually maple, ash or oak.  By the time you start restoring your canoe, the decks are often rotted along with the stem-tops and inwale-ends.  They are attached to the inwales with six 2” #8 bronze wood screws.  The deck extends about 15” into the canoe from the end.

Stem-Top – You will rarely if ever have to replace the entire stem.  However, I rarely see an original stem-top that is not partially or completely rotted away.  Because the top 6” or so of the stem is straight, you can usually make the repair without having to pre-bend the wood to fit the original stem-profile.

Keel – If you want to keep the shoe keel as part of the canoe, it is a simple piece to make.  Use a piece of hardwood (the original was ash) and taper each end to 3/8” wide.  The overall length is about 14’.  It will accept the brass stem-band which is 3/8” wide.

Ribs – There were typically two styles of ribs used in Chestnut Pleasure Canoes.  Depending on the age and model, the ribs were either “narrow” slats 3/8” thick and 1½” wide or so-called “regular” ribs that were 3/8” thick and 2-3/8” wide.

The edges of the narrow ribs are chamfered 18° on both sides with the top corners rounded off slightly.  The edge of the regular rib closest to the centre of the canoe has tapered ends (11° chamfer) while the edge closest to one end of the canoe is chamfered 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.

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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 handle 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.

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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
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

repairs 06 SG

Without a doubt, the most horrible job in the restoration of a wood-canvas 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Any stripper remaining in the canoe can be cleaned out with TSP mixed in a pail of water.  Use a scrub brush, a scraper and/or steel wool to ensure that remaining stripper is removed from all of the nooks and crannies.  Once the hull interior has dried, I go over the wood again with medium or fine steel wool to remove the last of the TSP and/or chemical stripper residue.  Then, vacuum the interior to remove the dust and steel wool fragments to finish the job.

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
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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Create the matching scarf in the new cedar.

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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.  Lacquer Thinner is used to clean up polyurethane glues.  I use these two glues interchangeably.

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The repaired rib-top is fairly rough at first.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

photo from “Tales from Misery Ridge: One Man’s Adventures in the Great Outdoors” by Paul J. Fournier. (Island Port Press, 2011)

photo from “Tales from Misery Ridge: One Man’s Adventures in the Great Outdoors” by Paul J. Fournier. (Island Port Press, 2011)

About 130 years ago, fishing guides on the east coast of North America (most notably in Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec) started building wood-canvas canoes that they could use in order to take their clients up and down the shallow, rapid salmon rivers in the region. They used the local birch bark canoes as templates.  The guides would be standing up all day in the canoe as they poled it upstream and down or held the canoe in place while the client fished for salmon.  The canoes needed to be stable and rugged with a strong, comfortable bottom.  They designed canoes that had wide, flat bottoms which made them stable with a very shallow draft.  To strengthen the hull against the inevitable encounters with rocks, they did one of two things:

Chestnut Ogilvy close ribbed

a) Build the canoe with lots of ribs spaced very close together (0.5″ to 0.75″ – 13 mm to 19 mm apart).

Canoe with half-ribs

b) Space the ribs normally (1.5″ to 2.0″ – 38 mm to 50 mm apart) and insert extra ribs between them that extended across the bottom of the canoe. These “half-ribs” created a strong, comfortable floor in the canoe.

At my canoe restoration shop, a client sometimes asks me to insert half ribs into their canoe in order to create a stronger bottom. Unfortunately, if you simply pressed shorter ribs into the bottom of the canoe between the regular ribs, the hull would become misshapen – especially if the bottom was not entirely flat.  Therefore, retro-fitting half-ribs into a wood canvas canoe is done in the following way.  Note, that this is done while the old canvas is off – before a new canvas is stretched on.

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1) Cut and shape the new rib material from clear, straight-grained cedar. The half-ribs are about 1″ (25 mm) wide and the same thickness as the original ribs in the canoe.  The sides of the half-ribs are chamfered about 10°.  Sand the top edges lightly to round them off a little.  Soak the new half-ribs for  48 to 72 hours.  Then, steam them for about 50 to 60 minutes and bend them over the outside of the hull between the regular ribs.  Allow the new ribs to dry for at least 48 hours.  Just as when creating an exact replica for a broken rib in the canoe, the half-ribs are bent in a location so that the shape of the rib on the outside of the hull is the same as the dimensions required on the inside.  The taper of the hull is such that the inside dimensions are achieved by bending the rib one station closer to the near-end of the canoe.  Precision is not as critical for half-ribs as would normally be required since the ribs will not be curving around the chine of the canoe.  Use a pencil to mark the centre-line on each new rib.

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2) Remove the new ribs from the outside of the canoe and place them in the required positions between the regular ribs. Make sure the centre-line on each new rib is lined up with the centre-line of the canoe.  Hold the new ribs in place with spring clamps on the inwales.

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3) The length of each half-rib will vary so that they match the taper of the hull dimensions. The actual length of each rib is entirely up to you.  Use a straight-edge to help determine the length of each rib and use a pencil to mark both ends.

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4) One at a time, cut each half-rib to length.

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5) Use a random-orbital sander and 80-grit paper to chamfer the ends of the rib.

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6) Place the half-rib back into the desired location and secure it with one tack about halfway between the centre-line and one end of the rib. Make sure the rib is centered between two original ribs.  Repeat this procedure on the other side of the rib making sure that the half-rib is centered between the original ribs.  This can be done by one person, but is much easier when one person holds the half-rib and clinching iron while a second person drives the tacks with a cobbler’s hammer.

7) Once the half-rib is centered and straight, secure it with a full complement of tacks.

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8) Repeat steps 4 to 7 for each half-rib in turn.

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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.

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
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

About a year ago, when I was in the final stages of writing This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood-Canvas Canoe, I was also developing the marketing plan for the book.  Many self-published authors want to get their book into as many retail outlets as possible.  However, my book is written for a very focused niche audience.  I nurtured my audience over a number of years through this blog.  Consequently, the bulk of my marketing campaign was and is through the use of social media and my book is primarily available through on-line sources.  That said, I also hoped that my book would be available in one national retail chain.

this-old-canoe

I first approached Lee Valley Tools in June 2016.  I delivered a promotional package personally to their head office in Ottawa, Ontario.  I was there as part of my book tour.  WoodenBoat magazine had just published a positive review (written by Jerry Stelmok) which I included as part of the package for Lee Valley Tools.  I was hopeful that they would choose my book as part of their retail offerings.  I heard back from them almost immediately to confirm that they had received my package,  They also had a number of technical questions for me concerning availability, shipping, etc.  I was thrilled with such a quick response.  Then, all communication stopped.

lee-valley-tools-carries-this-old-canoe

By the end of November 2016, I had resigned myself to the idea that Lee Valley Tools was not going to carry This Old Canoe.  Then, I got a phone call.  Apparently, it had taken more than five months for Lee Valley to find someone within their organization who had enough knowledge of wood-canvas canoes to provide them with a credible internal review of my book.  They called me to say that the review was “glowing” and they were looking forward to making This Old Canoe available to their customers. Click here to see This Old Canoe available at the Lee Valley Tools on-line store.

lee-valley-store

I will be helping to promote my book with a number of in-store events as well as original articles in the Lee Valley Tools newsletter.  The schedule for these events and articles has yet to be determined.  A few days after the phone call from Lee Valley, I slipped on a patch of black ice and tore my right quadriceps tendon (just above my knee cap).  The surgery to repair the tendon was on December 7, 2016 and I am now working through several months of healing and physiotherapy to get back to full strength and range of motion.  Once I am mobile again, I’ll let you know when and where I will be appearing in Lee Valley Tools stores.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

The blogs I do on the specifications of canoe components for various types of canvas-covered canoes seem to be quite popular.  Apparently, I am the only one out there taking the time to write about this stuff and share it with others on-line.  This time around, I am presenting a restorer’s guide to the Bobs Special from the Chestnut Canoe Company.

Bobs Special 06

This canoe was one of two lightweight pleasure canoes built by Chestnut (the other was an 11’ solo canoe called the Featherweight that weighed about 38 pounds).  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, Henry and William 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 Second Boer War in South Africa. Over the years, as this wide, light-weight canoe became more difficult to keep under the weight limit of 50 lbs. (the average weight was 58 pounds while the carrying capacity was 700 pounds), they changed the name.  I have seen a variety of Chestnut catalogues call it Bob’s Special, Bob Special and Bobs Special.  So, feel free to take your pick.

Grey Owl standing in a Bobs

If you happen to have a Bobs or have been lucky enough to come across one in need of some TLC, you will notice what a sweet little canoe this is.  It paddles like a dream which is surprising for a canoe that is 37” (94 cm) wide.  Its bottom has a shallow-arch that reduces the waterline width when paddled with a light load.  There is a fair amount of rocker in the ends which adds to its maneuverability.  At the same time, it is not difficult to stand up in a Bobs – making it ideal for fly-fishing or general recreational paddling for a less experienced paddler.

Bobs Special 08

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.

Chestnut Bobs Special Inwale

 

Inwales –The inwale is a length of White Ash or Douglas Fir 15/16” high with the edge grain visible on the top surface.  It is fashioned to fit the tumblehome present on most Chestnut canoes.  Therefore, the top surface is 9/16” wide while the bottom width is 11/16”.  The last 18” or so at each end is tapered down to about ½” wide (top and bottom) along the sides of the decks.  All of the transverse components (centre thwart 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.

prebent outwales

The gunwales (both inwales and outwales) are pre-bent about 18” from the ends.  If you are replacing these components, the wood will have to be soaked for 3 days, heated by pouring boiling water over them and bent onto custom-built forms in order to get a proper fit.

Chestnut Bobs Special Outwale

 

Outwales – The outwales are also made of White Ash or Douglas Fir.  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 of the originals because they assembled the canoe first and then applied paint and varnish.  Consequently, the inside surfaces of the outwales are bare wood.  Therefore, I usually end up replacing this component.  Prior to installation, I seal the wood on all surfaces with a couple of coats of spar varnish.  Unlike the original builders, I do all of the painting and varnishing first and then assemble the canoe.

Chestnut Bobs Special Deck

 

Decks – The decks the Bobs Special were made of hardwood – usually maple, white ash or white oak.  Sometimes, they used mahogany to help reduce the overall weight.  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 1¾” #8 bronze wood screws.  As with the outwales, I help prevent future rot by sealing the decks on all surfaces with a couple of coats of spar varnish.  The deck extends about 18” into the canoe from the end.

Chestnut Stem-Top

 

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.

Chestnut Bobs Special Keel

 

Keel – The Bob Special had a regular (tapered) keel installed.  Use a piece of hardwood (the original was ash) and taper each end to 3/8” wide.  The overall length is about 13’.  It will accept the brass stem-band which is 3/8” wide.

Chestnut Lightweight Rib

 

Ribs – The Bobs Special was constructed with so-called “regular” ribs (2-3/8” wide) that were ¼” thick instead of the normal 3/8”.  They create a light-weight canoe but are not as robust as the regular ribs.  You will probably encounter several broken ribs in your canoe restoration.

The edges of the ribs are chamfered in most Bobs Specials.  Replicate the angles found in your canoe.  Often, the edge 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 25°.

Chestnut Canoe Planking

Planking – The planking in Chestnut Canoes was made of either Eastern White Cedar or Western Red Cedar.   Although the planks started out at 5/32” thick, you will probably be shaving replacement planks down to match the original planks.  Again, this results in a lighter, less robust canoe.  You will probably encounter many broken planks in your canoe.

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Seats – The seat frames are made of ¾” ash, oak or maple that is 1½” wide.  Both seats are suspended under the inwales with 10-24 carriage bolts and held in position with 5/8” hardwood dowel.  The rear stern seat dowels are 1¾” long while the front dowels are ¾” long.  All of the bow seat dowels are ¾” long.  The forward edge of the bow seat is about 51½” from the bow-end of the canoe while the forward edge of the stern seat is about 39½” from the stern-end of the canoe.

Chestnut Canoe Thwart

Centre Thwart – The thwart is made of ¾” ash that is 2½” wide.  It tapers from the centre to create handle grips on either side that are 2” wide.  They were attached directly under the inwales with galvanized steel 10-24 carriage bolts.  As with every component in the canoe, I seal the entire thwart with a couple of coats of spar varnish prior to installation and replace the original galvanized steel bolts with silicon bronze bolts.

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
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

For those of you new to this blog and have not heard me on this topic before, let me be as clear as I can be: To anyone thinking about applying fiberglass to a wood-canvas canoe, I say, “DON’T DO IT!”  To anyone wanting to remove fiberglass from a wood-canvas canoe, the short answer is: HEAT.

Wood-canvas canoes are a product of a by-gone era; a time before planned obsolescence — when things were built with the long term interests of the consumer in mind.  The whole idea of building a canoe with wood and canvas was to have a vessel that lives and breathes.  These canoes work in the natural environment and are part of it.  They are held together with tacks and screws – no glue.  The wood flexes and moves with the water around it.  When part of the canoe breaks or rots, it can be repaired or replaced with comparative ease because it is designed to be taken apart.  As long as there are people who know how to restore canvas-covered canoes, they will live forever.

It has been about forty years since these canoes were the standard in the marketplace.  Not only has the technology of wooden canoe repair faded into obscurity, but the mindset of both manufacturers and consumers has also changed.  Synthetic materials are now generally seen as better – easier, tougher and longer lasting.  The consumer has been convinced that the new materials can improve that which is outdated or at least maintain it quickly and easily.

When it comes right down to it, wooden canoes and fiberglass just don’t mix.  Since the ribs and planking are held together with tacks, they flex and move naturally.  Over the years, the tacks tend to work loose and eventually have to be either re-clinched or replaced. Conversely, fiberglass resin is rigid.  Once applied, it tends to resist any movement.  The combination of a flexible hull and a rigid outside layer results in cracked or delaminated resin.  The tacks can also wear against the resin from the inside to the point where they come right through the resin.  It can take several months or several decades, but at some point the canoe needs to be repaired and the fiberglass has to come off.  It is then that the real problem with fiberglass on a wood canoe comes to light.  All of that synthetic resin has to be removed.  It is a long, painstaking process that usually has you cursing the person that put the stuff on in the first place. The moral of the story is: Avoid applying fiberglass to the hull of a wood-canvas canoe.  Learn how to re-canvas the canoe or find a professional to do it for you.

This leads us into the next question: How do you remove fiberglass from a wood-canvas canoe?  All you require is a professional-grade heat-gun, a 2” putty knife, a pair of pliers, safety equipment (work gloves, safety glasses and a respirator mask) and lots of patience.  The first step is to move the canoe into a well ventilated work space – preferably outdoors.  Then start at an edge of the canoe and apply heat to the resin.

At this point it is important to note that fiberglass resins come in two basic types – polyester and epoxy.  Polyester resins were the first to be developed.  If your canoe had fiberglass applied to it in the 1970’s or earlier, you can bet that polyester resins were used.  They tend to become brittle and deteriorate rapidly, so if the fiberglass on your canoe is delaminating it is most likely that you are dealing with a polyester resin.  Fortunately, this makes the removal of the fiberglass relatively quick and easy.  In many cases, the cloth can be ripped off by hand with very little need for heat.  When I say rip, please be gentle.  If you get carried away and pull at the fiberglass cloth too rapidly, you could end up tearing sizeable chunks of planking off the canoe as well (I speak from first-hand experience).

Epoxy resins hit the market in a big way in the 1980’s and are the standard today.  They are applied by first mixing a hardener with a resin in a two-part formula.  What results is a strong, tough plastic that bonds very well to wood.  Unfortunately, this means that the removal process is arduous and painstaking.

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As mentioned earlier, start at an edge of the canoe and apply heat to the resin.  If you are dealing with epoxy resin, you will probably have to apply the heat for several minutes before the cloth begins to respond to your attempts to lift it with the putty knife.  At some point, it does let go and the fiberglass cloth can be separated from the canoe.  Then move a few centimeters and continue the process.  Again, polyester resins let go fairly quickly.  You will find that large sheets of cloth come off in fairly short order.  I usually grab the cloth with a pair of pliers rather than with my hand.  Even with work gloves on, the pliers prevent nasty encounters with heat and/or sharp edges of fiberglass (again, this is the voice of experience talking).

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Once all of the fiberglass cloth is removed, return to the canoe hull with the heat gun and a putty knife.  Apply heat to any patches of resin still stuck to the wood.  Then, scrape the resin off.  Be prepared to settle into hours of tedious work.  It typically takes 15 to 20 hours to remove the fiberglass cloth and resin from a 16′ canoe.

Once you are back to the bare wood, the restoration is like that of any other wood-canvas canoe.  So, enjoy the pleasures of life in the slow lane, stay away from fiberglass and celebrate the fact that you have a wood-canvas canoe.

Many people complement me on the great fiberglass job on my canoes. They are shocked to learn that the canoes are covered with painted canvas.

Many people complement me on the great fiberglass job on my canoes. They are shocked to learn that the canoes are covered with painted canvas.

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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.

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