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

Note: In 2016, I put out a call for someone with a wide-board raised-batten canoe to bring it to my shop in British Columbia, Canada for me to restore and document as part of my second book ̶  “This Fancy Old Canoe”.

(photo by Nick Dennis)

I was contacted immediately by Sam Browning. He was about to start restoring one of these canoes.  He offered to take pictures of the project as he worked.  I offered to come to his shop to see the canoe and meet him in person until he let me know he lived in Ely, Cambridgeshire, England.

A few months later, I received a USB flash drive in the mail from Sam. It contained 300 images and a copy of the posts he presented on the ‘Song of the Paddle’ web forum as he documented the restoration.  For my blog (and eventually my book), I have edited Sam’s posts and added a few notes of my own (presented in italics).  For this article, I am presenting the wide-board repairs.

Many thanks to Sam for his excellent work and generous contribution to my book.

*****************

(photo by Sam Browning)

My plank repairs consist of three boards that need to be replaced. There is a small piece missing from the bilge-plank at the stern.  It starts at the last rib and runs to the internal stem.  The second is a bilge-plank on the port side spanning across six ribs and the third is a long bilge-plank on the starboard side spanning across 17 ribs.  My plan is to do the repairs in order from smallest to largest in order to learn on the small repairs and hone the process for the Big One.

(photo by Mike Elliott)

Copper canoe nails (16-gauge 1″ or 25 mm long) are harder to get out than tacks on a cedar-canvas canoe as they are driven through a basswood (or Spanish cedar) plank as well as rock elm ribs before being bent over (dubbed) and clinched. The nails aren’t tapered either (apart from the point) and they hold well despite their age.

(photo by Mike Elliott)

Getting rid of the heads and punching them through to the inside works best. I use an angle grinder set up with a 24-grit sanding disk to grind off the heads of the copper nails. Care must be taken to ensure that only the board to be removed is touched by the grinder.

(photo by Sam Browning)

For the first repair, I tidy up where the new piece of plank has to start, removing nails and chamfering the edge so that the new nails will go through both the new and existing wood.

(photo by Sam Browning)

The new plank is a piece of basswood cut carefully to its final dimensions and planed to match the thickness of the original boards (¼” or 6 mm). The end of the new plank butts up again the existing board and laps over it with a chamfered edge to match the chamfer on the existing board.

(photo by Mike Elliott)

When I am happy with the fit, I drill pilot holes for the canoe nails at the join and push them through from the outside.

(photo by Mike Elliott)

Next, whilst pushing them firmly from the outside, I bend (dub) the nails over with a clinching iron.

(photo by Sam Browning)

I wet the outside of the new plank with hot water so the nails  sink into the wood without doing any damage.

(photo by Mike Elliott)

Then, while holding a clinching iron on the bent nail inside, I hammer the outside until the nail is flush with the surface.

(photo by Sam Browning)

I repeat this along the top and bottom edge as well as two rows of nails in the stem. The end of the new plank extending past the stem is trimmed to complete the job.

I now turn my attention to the second plank repair. Because of what I’ve done already, I’m confident about the nailing procedure.  For this repair, I have to learn to fit a plank that bends in two directions.  In the factory, the planks would have been cut from patterns which (sadly) are not available to me.  When the flat shape had been cut, the outside of the plank was soaked with boiling water poured over it.  This swells the grain causing it to cup until the correct curve was reached.  Then, it was nailed into place.  My plan for the repair is to cut the plank oversize, hold it in place with a strap at each rib, then pour boiling water over it to cause it to curve.  As it bends, I should be able to tighten the straps and hold it in place until it dries.  I will then mark out the dimensions of the gap and work from there.

(photo by Sam Browning)

The first step is to fit basswood strips onto the outside surface of the exposed ribs. These spacers create a flush surface upon which to bent the oversized plank.  To make spacers, I cut strips and poured boiling water over them.  They bend into a suitable curve with very little pressure.  I then tape the spacers into place.

(photo by Sam Browning)

I chamfer the edges of the old plank so the chamfer on the new plank fits precisely and allows a line of nails to go through both.

(photo by Sam Browning)

To spread the tension from the straps evenly along the new plank, I put battens along the both the top and bottom edges.

(photo by Sam Browning)

I use steam from a wallpaper stripper rather than pouring boiling water to help the plank curve into shape.

(photo by Sam Browning)

Two people would have made things easier, but after holding the steamer in place for a minute or so, then moving it along the plank and holding it with my knee, I am able to pull the straps progressively tighter. I work my way up and down the plank until it is tight against the hull along its full length.  At both ends, I use ratchet straps and a couple of wedges to hold the curve tight to the hull.  I allow the plank to dry for a couple of days.

Before I remove the straps, I clamp some blocks under the plank and at the ends. These act as reference points so I can put the plank back in exactly the same place while I mark, trim and fit the top edge.

(photo by Mike Elliott)

A planking gauge is used to mark the position of the gap’s edge even though the plank covers it and I can’t see.

(photo by Mike Elliott)

The ‘L’ part of the gauge slides behind the plank and is moved along the edge of the gap while a pencil sits in the notch and draws a line.

(photo by Sam Browning)

Once the plank is marked, I use an apron plane to bring the plank dimension down to just outside the line. Then, a series of testing fitting, shaping, fitting, shaping until I have it just right.  Then, the inside edges at the ends were chamfered to match the existing planks.  The whole process takes about two hours before I am happy with it.  I run a line of masking tape above and below the gap.  On the tape, I mark where the ribs are so I can drill from the outside and place straps and blocks just to the sides of the ribs. This way, I can get the nails in, dubbed and clinched without worrying about the straps being in the way.

I nail the ribs, five in each, with a double row on the ends, then along the top and bottom edges into the battens – about 90 nails in all, drilled, pushed through, dubbed and clinched.

(photo by Sam Browning)

With the process honed, I turn to the Big One. I begin by making 16 basswood spacers for the ribs.

(photo by Sam Browning)

I steam and tape the spacers to the ribs.

(photo by Sam Browning)

I make two 12′ (3.7 meter) battens, arrange 16 straps and two ratchet straps. I make an oversized piece of basswood to fit over the gap.  I steam the plank and tighten the straps, then steam and tighten again.

(photo by Sam Browning)

I check to make sure it is all tight with no gaps showing, then leave it for a couple of days.

(photo by Sam Browning)

The marking, cutting, fitting, shaping routine is the same as for the second plank.

(photo by Sam Browning)

The final fitting and nailing proceeds smoothly.

(photo by Sam Browning)

It’s great how once you have done a job, you wonder what all the fuss was about. I suppose, at any time, I could have pulled a strap too tight and split a plank.  I could have planed too much off and left a gap.  A plank could have split while I was nailing.  If you need a plank for your board and batten canoe just let me know, I have a spare plank waiting in reserve.

mockup 02

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

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

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

Note: In 2016, I put out a call for someone with a wide-board raised-batten canoe to bring it to my shop in British Columbia, Canada for me to restore and document as part of my second book  ̶  “This Fancy Old Canoe”.

(photo by Nick Dennis)

I was contacted immediately by Sam Browning. He was about to start restoring one of these canoes.  He offered to take pictures of the project as he worked.  I offered to come to his shop to see the canoe and meet him in person until he let me know he lived in Ely, Cambridgeshire, England.

A few months later, I received a USB flash drive in the mail from Sam. It contained 300 images and a copy of the posts he presented on the ‘Song of the Paddle’ web forum as he documented the restoration.  For my blog (and eventually my book), I have edited Sam’s posts and added a few notes of my own (presented in italics).  For this article, I am presenting the rib repairs as well as some general history and description of the canoe.

Many thanks to Sam for his excellent work and generous contribution to my book.

*****************

(Canadian Canoe Company catalogue, 1929)

My canoe was made by the Canadian Canoe Company in Peterborough, Ontario. The company started in 1892.  The last canoes of this type were built around the mid 1930’s.  From the 1929 catalogue, my canoe is the 15′ 6″ No. 4 all wood canoe F quality (varnished, basswood boards).  It has a 29½” (75 cm) beam and a depth of 11½” (29 cm) amidships.  It is interesting to note that the garboards (the two planks on the bottom of the canoe) in my canoe are Spanish cedar  ̶  a true mahogany.

(photo by Sam Browning)

This particular canoe was imported to England by Salter Bros. Ltd. of Oxford. Looking at the Salter Bros. history, they mention importing 21 canoes from Canada in 1930.  My canoe may be one of those.

(illustration by Sam Browning)

The exact origin of wide-board raised-batten canoe construction on a solid wood form is up for debate, but it was probably developed in a combined effort by Tom Gordon and John Stephenson in 1857. Construction began by laying down a white oak keelson.  Rock elm ribs were then bent over the form and fitted into notches cut into the keelson.  Wide basswood boards (three or four on each side) ran longitudinally and were attached to the ribs with copper canoe nails.  Nail holes were pre-drilled and the nails were driven straight into the solid-wood form.  The hull was then pulled free of the form and turned right-side up. 

(photo by Sam Browning)

The nails were then ‘dubbed’ (bent over) to lie flat along the ribs (with the points towards the keelson) and then clinched tight with a clinching iron and cobblers hammer. The seams between the basswood boards were covered with ironwood battens between the ribs held in place with copper canoe nails.

If this was a cedar-canvas canoe with damaged ribs, I’d just take them out and replace them. With one of these canoes, you can’t do that without taking the whole thing apart.  What I plan to do is bend new rib material which will extend from the keelson to the sheer-line and nail it in place alongside the existing rib (this process is commonly used in wooden boat repair and is known as sistering ribs).

(photo by Sam Browning)

Because the canoe has had broken ribs for many years, it needs a bit of reshaping before I can bend and install the new rib material. Straps around the canoe with a couple of lengths of timber to push in the right places helps to reshape.

(photo by Sam Browning)

I bend the new rib material inside (straight-grained english oak cut to size and shaped to replicate the original before it is soaked overnight and steamed for an hour), on top of the old rib.  Any spring-back should result in the right size and curve.  The end of the new rib at the keelson is held in place by a scrap piece of hardwood wedged between it and a length of timber positioned above the keelson and clamped on top of the thwarts.  The rest of the new rib is held in place with g-clamps (c-clamps) and spring clamps. This process is facilitated by the fact that one of the basswood planks is missing.  The missing plank allows me to use a couple of spring clamps to hold it in the middle.

(photo by Sam Browning)

Once the new rib has dried overnight, I decided to cut the battens first as it has to be easier than removing them and installing new ones. With over ten copper nails dubbed and clinched in each batten, it would be impossible to remove them in one piece, and they do have to fit exactly.  I cut the battens with an inlay saw (3″ or 76 mm blade with 20 teeth per inch and a 0.011″ or 0.3 mm kerf).  Its curved blade allows me to remove a small piece of the batten with less chance of damaging the planks.

(photo by Sam Browning)

The battens are carefully marked and cut. I have to make sure the plank is clean where the new rib will go.  I clamp the rib in position making sure it fits well against the keelson and the original rib.

(photo by Sam Browning)

When the new rib is in place, I drill a pilot hole through the rib and plank at the centre of each rib. Then, I push a 19 mm (¾”) copper canoe nail in from the outside.  The nail is then dubbed towards the keelson and clinched tight.  Then, I pilot, dub and clinch three more nails into each plank as well as one at each batten.  I cut the rib flush with the sheer-line and shape the rib-top to match the existing ribs.

(photo by Sam Browning)

At the gap, where the broken rib is exposed, I cut it off in line with the battens.

(photo by Sam Browning)

In some sections, retention of the original hull shape was facilitated by clamping a hardwood batten on the outside of the exposed original ribs.

(photo by Sam Browning)

The broken sections of original rib were cut away with the inlay saw as well as the sections of batten required to allow for positioning of the new rib which was then soaked, steamed and clamped in place.

(photo by Sam Browning)

A total of twelve broken ribs were sistered in this canoe. The ribs were repaired in stages, doing every second rib along the length of the canoe in order to maintain the shape of the hull as much as possible.

mockup 02

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

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