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

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In my last blog article, I put out a request for “fancy” old canoes to restore and document as part of my second book  ̶  This Fancy Old Canoe.  That was three weeks ago.  Since then, I have been contacted by a number of people.  Now, several “fancy” canoes are about to come into the shop.  They are:

1) A 16′ Model B, Type 2 B.N. Morris Canoe circa 1913

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This canoe is fitted with 24″ framed decks. It will be restored to its original condition.

2) A 17′ Willits Canoe circa 1939

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Willits canoes were built in Tacoma, Washington from 1906 to 1963. Only one model of Willits canoe was ever produced  ̶  a 17′ canoe with a double-planked hull.  Transverse planks were fitted in the interior while longitudinal planks were attached to the exterior with 7,000 copper tacks.  A thin layer of cotton muslin soaked in pine tar was stretched over the hull and sandwiched between the two layers of planking in order to create a waterproof vessel.  The result was a truly gorgeous canoe that is very similar to those built by Rice Lake Canoe Company near Cobourg, Ontario (circa 1862 to 1920).

3) A 16′ Longitudinal Strip Canoe circa 1930

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This canoe has yet to arrive in the shop, so I do not know which company built it. Several companies (Peterborough, Lakefield, Strickland, English, Canadian and others) in and around Peterborough, Ontario built these all-wood cedar-strip canoes from the late 1800’s until about 1960.

4) An 18′ Old Town Sponson Canoe circa 1965

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This canoe belongs to a summer camp and was fitted with sponsons  ̶  floatation chambers attached just below the outwales on both sides of the canoe.  It may also have a sailing rig.

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These canoes, along with a 16′ J.R. Rushton Indian Girl Canoe circa 1905 with closed gunwales, comprise most of the “fancy” features that I plan to document in my second book. The one canoe I would like to restore and do not have lined up yet is a Raised-Batten Wide-Board Canoe.

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This is one of the first types of ‘carpentered’ canoe ever designed. They were one of the all-wood canoes constructed in the Peterborough region of Ontario starting in the 1860’s.  The hull was constructed by first steam-bending ribs onto a solid wood mould and then attaching four wide basswood planks on each side of the canoe.  Most of these canoes were painted although some were varnished.

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If you happen to have one of these canoes and you are able to get it to my shop in Grand Forks, BC, I will restore it for the cost of materials. My main focus is on the opportunity to restore one of these canoes, so the cost to you is entirely negotiable.

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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
Email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

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My first book  ̶  This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood-Canvas Canoe   ̶  has been very well received since its release in April 2016.  Sales have been brisk and all the feedback indicates that it fills a void in the canoe library and provides the information required to bring family heirloom canoes back to life and back to their rightful place as part of the family again.

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Most of the print reviews for This Old Canoe have been very positive.  The only comments pointing to weaknesses in the book came from professional canoe restorers in the USA.  They noted that This Old Canoe focused on the restoration of “utilitarian” canoes from Canada and failed to address the challenges found in “fancy” canoes from the USA.

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In my own defense, since This Old Canoe is the first book to ever focus entirely on the restoration of wood-canvas canoes, I decided to discuss the process in great detail and give enough specific examples so that people could work on their canoes even if they were not the exact canoes I mentioned.  It also seems a bit premature to put forward “post-graduate” information in a book that is geared towards first-time canoe restorers.

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That said, everyone I have met over the years who has an old wooden canoe views their canoe as the best and most authentic wooden canoe ever built.  Therefore, it only stands to reason that people may feel a little left out if they own an old canoe with details not covered in This Old Canoe  ̶  such as:

1) long-framed decks
2) solid, pre-bent decks
3) extreme curves in the sheer-line at the ends
4) closed gunwales and ribs set into pockets in the inwales
5) sponsons
6) a sailing rig
7) floor boards
8) a fancy paint design on the canvas
9) all-wood construction with no canvas cover
10) seats with hand-woven cane in a pattern not discussed in the book

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Now that I have laid out the fundamentals of canoe restoration in This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood-Canvas Canoe, it only stands to reason that I now begin work on my second book  ̶  This Fancy Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Fancy Antique Canoe.

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This is where I need your help. Since I live and work in British Columbia, Canada, I have limited exposure to canoes with these “fancy” features.  Most of these canoes were built by companies based in the eastern United States (companies such as Old Town, Carleton, Morris, Gerrish, Ruston, Kennebec, Robertson, White and many others).  Other fancy canoes were produced in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s by companies in Ontario such as Peterborough, Canadian, Strickland, Lakefield, Herald and others.  If you have an old canoe with long-framed decks, sponsons, all-wood construction with no canvas cover or any of the other features mentioned above, please contact me (email: artisan@canoeshop.ca).  I would like to be able to restore the canoe and document the process  ̶  just as I did in my first book.  You will have to bring your canoe to my shop in Grand Forks, BC and I will only charge for the cost of materials plus a token amount for my services (far less than the full cost of a regular restoration).  The cost of the restoration will be negotiated between you and me.  I am willing to do the work simply for the opportunity to document the process, so please contact me (phone toll free: 1-855-572-2663).

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A recent example of this assistance came when I presented my request to the Northwest Chapter of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association in September 2016.  I was approached by someone who lived near Seattle, Washington.  He had acquired a 1905 J.H. Ruston Indian Girl canoe with closed gunwales in 2010.

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He was well prepared to bring the canoe back to its original condition but was finding it difficult to get the time required to complete the project. He had acquired plans for all of the missing components and had begun the restoration by removing fiberglass applied in the 1960’s as well as removing all of the old varnish from the interior.

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I will be building custom bending forms for various components.  Also, I am documenting the dimensions of the components in enough detail to allow others to restore a similar canoe.

I look forward to talking to you about your fancy antique canoe.

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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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.