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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cut the width taper with a saber saw.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 in the joinery, so the rawhide lacing is the only thing holding the frames together. As with all of the other components in a canoe, I prefer to apply finish to the frames before I lace them.  The bow seat requires about 65’ (20 meters) of 3/16” (5 mm) rawhide lace while the stern seat requires about 50’ (15 meters). The lacing is usually shipped in a long tube and is as hard as a rock.  It has to be soaked for several (5 or 6) hours before it can be used to lace the seats.  I use the bath tub at home and add a little borax to the water to help loosen the rawhide and make it easier to manipulate.  It will take a few hours to lace a seat, so keep a large bowl of water nearby in order to re-soak the lacing as you work. Handling rawhide lace for several hours can be hard on the hands and the borax can really dry out your skin. Use a hand lotion both before and after lacing a seat to help avoid damage to your skin.

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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 spar varnish (thinned 12% with painter thinner/mineral spirits).

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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

If you are preparing to restore your wood-canvas canoe – especially in Canada – you are often looking at a canoe built by the Chestnut Canoe Company based in New Brunswick from 1897 to 1978.  Of the many models produced over the years, the 16′ Pleasure Canoe was one of their best sellers.  It had a variety of names and the hull shape changed as well over the course of eighty years.  However, this canoe is most commonly referred to as the Chestnut Pal.

The dimensions of the components that make up the Pal are often the same as those found in many other Chestnut (and Peterborough) canoe models – including the famous Chestnut Prospector.  As a result, if you have these dimensions, you can use them to restore about thirty different canoe models.  So, here is a restorer’s guide to the Chestnut Pal.

Chestnut Ajax circa 1952

This Chestnut pleasure canoe is from around 1952. The telegraph code was Ajax. It was 16′ LOA and had a 34″ beam.

The 16’ Pleasure Canoe from the Chestnut Canoe Company had a number of incarnations over the years.  From the early 1900’s until 1953 it had a 34” beam, its ribs were 1.5” wide and was called the Ajax.  Then the beam was widened to 36” and it was called either the Pal (1954 – 1978) or the Deer (1965 – 1978).  Through the later years, the ribs were either 1.5” wide or 2-3/8” wide.

 One little note here: I am listing all of the dimensions in inches.  I apologize to all of you who are working in metric.  The canoes were built with imperial measurements originally, so I find it easier and more accurate to stick with this measurement scale.

Inwales –The inwale is a length of ash 15/16” high.  It is fashioned to fit the tumblehome present on most Chestnut canoes.  Therefore, the top surface is ¾” wide while the bottom width is 7/8”.  The last 15” or so at each end is tapered down to about 5/8” wide along the sides of the decks.  All of the transverse components (thwarts and seats) are attached to the inwales with 10-24 (3/16”) galvanized steel carriage bolts.  I replace these with 10-24 silicon-bronze carriage bolts.

Outwales – The outwales are also made of Ash.  Depending on when the canoe was built, the outwales may have a chamfered edge on the bottom of the outside surface.  Water often gets trapped under the outwales and results in rot on the inside surface.  Therefore, I usually end up replacing this component and I make sure I seal all of the surfaces with shellac and varnish before installing the outwales.  The sheer-line of Chestnut and Peterborough Pleasure Canoes turns up sharply about 18” from the end.  As a result, it is necessary to soak, heat and pre-bend new inwales and outwales over custom-built forms to make the ash fit the upswept sheer-line.

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

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

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

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

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

The edges of the narrow ribs are chamfered 18° on both sides with the top corners rounded off slightly.  The edge of the regular rib closest to the centre of the canoe has tapered ends (11° chamfer) while the edge closest to one end of the canoe is chamfered about 30°.  The chamfer angles varied over the years, so you will have to use the original ribs in your canoe as templates.  There are 2” spaces between the regular ribs and 1½″ spaces between the narrow ribs.

Planking – The planking in Chestnut Canoes was made of either Eastern White Cedar or Western Red Cedar.  They started out being 5/32″ thick, but were often sanded down from there.  I often have to pass new planking through the thickness planer to match the thickness of the original planks.

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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 hand-grips on either side that are 2” wide.  They were attached directly under the inwales with galvanized steel 10-24 carriage bolts.  Usually, the original carriage bolts are corroded and must be replaced.  I use 2″ 10/24 silicon bronze carriage bolts.  The stern-quarter thwart is positioned 67” from the stern-end of the canoe while the centre thwart is positioned 96” from both ends.

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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 (or an antique all-wood canoe) is stripping the varnish from the interior.  It is messy, stinky, agonizing work that takes forever and cannot be rushed.  Truly, the only positive thing to be said about stripping varnish is that as long as you keep going, the job will end.

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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.

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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 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.

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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

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.  Paint Thinner (mineral spirits) 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.

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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

Unless you live in British Columbia, you have probably never heard of Bill Greenwood or Greenwood canoes.  And if you want to start a fight amongst wood-canvas canoe enthusiasts, just ask them to name the prettiest canoes ever made.  In Maine, you would hear names like Morris, Gerrish and White.  In Ontario, Peterborough canoes are top of the list.  But in British Columbia, people speak about Greenwood canoes in hushed tones and bow down to Bill Greenwood’s exquisite water craft.

There is some information available about Bill or his canoes.  There is a website devoted to Bill, his company and his family.  Checkout greenwoodcanoecompany.com

The information presented here has been collected from people who bought their canoes directly from the builder at his shop as well as some anecdotes from Jim Kinzell, who worked with Bill as an apprentice from 1969 to 1975.  Dave Lanthier from Kamloops gave me a small biography produced in 1972 as an assignment for a physical education course at a college.  My information is incomplete.  That said, Bill Greenwood and Greenwood Canoes deserve recognition in the world of wood-canvas canoes.

 

As I understand it, Bill was born in 1912 and was an active outdoorsman who loved hiking, skiing, canoeing — just about anything that got him outside.  Then, he suffered a stroke while hiking in the mountains.  He was 24 years old.  As part of his rehabilitation, Bill decided to learn how to build canoes. He boarded a train in Vancouver, BC and made his way to Old Town, Maine.  He hung around the Old Town Canoe Company shop and absorbed everything he could about canoe building until they realized what he was doing and kicked “the spy” out.  Bill spent some time at other canoe factories including the Peterborough Canoe Company in Ontario before returning to British Columbia and setting up Greenwood Water Craft Company.  The shop location changed a number of times over the years until he established a large shop complex on Mitchell Island in Richmond, BC in the late 1960′s.

Not surprisingly, the lines and details of Greenwood Canoes borrow heavily from the “Maine Guide” canoes of Old Town and other builders in Maine.  They all sport wide, flat bottoms and have very little rocker.  The stem profile is heavily curved (often forming a complete half-circle) and the hulls all contain a lot of tumblehome.  Bill’s 16’ (4.9 meter) canoes did not have a centre thwart, but instead had both bow- and stern-quarter thwarts as was typical of Maine Guide canoes.  Many of the canoes had bottoms reinforced with half-ribs between the main ribs to create a strong comfortable floor.  And Bill absolutely refused to make a canoe without a keel.  In fact, one of my clients asked Bill to leave the keel off the canoe he was ordering.  Apparently, Bill said something like, “My canoes have keels.”  When my client told Bill that many Chestnut Canoes paddled very well without a keel, Bill said, “If you want a Chestnut canoe, then buy a Chestnut canoe.”  My client told me that story while I was preparing the restoration work order on his 17’ (5.2 meter) Chestnut Cruiser.

The workmanship in Greenwood canoes is outstanding.  He used “aircraft quality” Sitka Spruce for the double-tapered ribs.  The 4″ (10 cm) wide planking was made of air-dried, quarter sawn (edge grain) old-growth Western Red Cedar.  Following the tradition at Old Town canoes, the planking is perfectly tight with absolutely no gaps.  The stems (and slat seats) were White Oak while the rest of the canoe was trimmed in Philippine Mahogany (Luan).  All of the woodwork was flawless – graceful lines and elegant detailing.  The one drawback in many Greenwood canoes built in the early 1970’s is the fact that he used steel screws to attach the mahogany outwales.  Apparently, Bill was feuding with one of his suppliers.  He wanted 1.5” (37 mm) #8 brass wood screws in lots of 1,000 while the supplier insisted on selling lots of 10,000.  Bill ordered steel screws from another supplier in lots of 1,000.  I have had to cut that beautiful mahogany into hundreds of tiny pieces because the steel screws had corroded to the point of being fused into the wood.  I’m sure Bill thought he had won the war with his supplier, but it has made the restorer’s job much more difficult 40 years later.

IMGP0430

The quality of the workmanship is all the more impressive when you consider the fact that Bill worked almost entirely with one hand.  The stroke affected his left side. Consequently, his left hand was crippled to the point that he had limited use of it.  His daughter, Susan, told me that Bill referred to his left hand as “Duddy” – his dub of a left hand.  My understanding is that he used jigs for almost every step of production.  That and a few very good assistants in the shop (including George Fletcher and Jim Kinzell) made it all work beautifully.

Greenwood Canoes came in lengths from 15’ (4.6 meter) to 18’ (5.5 meter).  He had two basic models – the Pleasure Model (12” – 30 cm – deep) and the large volume Prospector Model (14” – 36 cm – deep).  He built a full range of lengths in both models (as well as a 12′ car-top boat) until 1970.  One client of mine has a beautiful home in North Vancouver overlooking the entire Lower Mainland.  He had ordered a canoe from Bill in 1970 and was expecting a call any day to say that the canoe was ready.  Then, he heard a news report of a large fire on Mitchell Island in Richmond.  He looked out over the valley from his home and saw a big cloud of smoke.  The Greenwood Water Craft shop was engulfed in flames.  The next day, my client went to the site and saw Bill kicking through the ashes that used to be his shop.  He said, “I only had time to grab two canoes.  The yellow one over there — that’s yours.”

Bill rebuilt the business with a limited number of moulds and continued building canoes until he sold the business in 1975.  According to Doug Ingram of Red River Canoe and Paddle, the moulds ended up in Cranberry Portage (a small community in Northern Manitoba east of Flin Flon).  Apparently, they were never used again and are now in very poor condition.  Bill died in 1979.  His contribution to the world of wood-canvas canoes is significant here in British Columbia.  People bow their heads in reverence to these stunning works of art.

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

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 floor.  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.

IMG_0515_sm

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.

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.

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

Note: If you happen to be a master cabinet-maker who repairs Chippendale furniture for fun, this project will be pretty straightforward. For the rest of us, it is a supreme challenge.  Many of my adventures in repairing fancy canoes employ a trial-and error methodology.  In this project, I used the error-and-error method.  As I take you through the process, I describe some of the pitfalls I encountered.  I hope this helps you avoid some of them.

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

Long decks are found in both wood-canvas canoes and all-wood canoes. They are comprised of a number of components.  Most often, the deck itself is two pieces butted together down the centre-line.  The king plank covers this joint while the coaming covers the end grain of the deck and king plank.

These decks were made in one of two ways. The first method, already described in a previous blog article, is to pre-bend solid wood for the deck to fit the graceful curves in the ends of the canoe.

The second method is to build a frame at each end and cover it with thin veneers (usually two pieces of mahogany). The king plank covers the joint between the deck veneers while the coaming covers the frame as well as the end-grain of the deck veneers and king plank.

Some companies built the frame directly into the structure of the canoe and installed the veneers afterwards.

I repaired the stern deck in a 1948 Willits Brothers canoe. In their shop, they installed the framed deck after it was fully assembled.

 

The first step is to remove the deck from the canoe.  Start by removing the coaming.  It is held in place with six #8 brass flat-head wood screws.  Set it aside to be re-installed near the end of the repair process.

The king plank is attached with ¾” (19 mm) 18-gauge brass escutcheon pins. They are dubbed (bent over) at the back of the deck.  Ease them out by working a putty knife between the king plank and the deck.  Then, wedge a small pry bar between the putty knife and the deck.

Working gently along the length of the king plank, gradually work it free from the deck as the brass pins straighten.

The deck veneers are attached with ¾” (19 mm) #6 brass flat-head wood screws (under the king plank) and ¾” (19 mm) 18-gauge brass escutcheon pins driven into the white oak deck frame along the outer edge. Use the same method to lift the veneers off the frame.  Some of the brass pins will probably pull through the veneer and remain in the oak frame.  Remove them with a pair of bonsai concave cutters.

With the frame exposed, it is clear that the white oak side rails in this frame are rotted at the ends.

The outwales are attached to the deck by means of several #8 brass flat-head wood screws. Remove them to expose the hull.  The main body of the outwales are attached to the hull from the inside with ¾” (19 mm) 16-gauge copper canoe nails.  Remove a few of these with a pair of bonsai concave cutters to provide full access to the canoe hull in the region where the frame is attached to the hull.

Clamp a pair of vice grips to a hack saw blade to create a strong handle. Work the blade between the deck frame and the hull of the canoe to cut through a number of ¾” (19 mm) 16-gauge copper canoe nails used to attach the frame to the canoe.

Remove the frame from the canoe.

The side rails of the frame are white oak while the cross members are spruce. This particular frame requires new side rails.

New white oak stock is cut wide enough to create both rails from a single piece once it is bent to the correct shape. A bending form is created that is 3″ (76 mm) wide.

The oak stock is soaked for three days, steamed for 60 minutes and bent onto the form without a backing strip. Let the wood dry for a week.

Once removed from the bending form, saw the new stock into two pieces on the table saw and cut to rough dimensions. The left and right frame rails are mirror images of each other.  Be sure to label them to avoid errors further on in the process.  Line up the new pieces with the original rails and mark them out for later fitting.

Remove the original rail on one side and install the new piece.

Align a straight edge down the centre-line of the frame and mark the end of the new piece.

Use a dovetail saw or Japanese crosscut saw to cut just outside the line.

Remove the original rail on the other side. Dry-fit the new piece and mark the angle for the end of the frame.  Cut on the outside of the line, dry-fit the new piece and make adjustments until the rails fit together properly at the end.  Install the second rail and secure them together at the end with a ¾” 16-gauge bronze ring nail.

Dry-fit the deck frame in the canoe and hold it in place with several spring clamps. Trim the end to fit and carve the final shape of the side rails until they are flush with the sheer-line of the canoe.  This step is critical to the final fit of the deck.  In a solid-wood deck, the shape can be fine-tuned after it is installed.  In a veneer deck, the frame must be shaped precisely before anything else is done.

I found this out the hard way. The first time I dry-fit the frame, I shaped the end to be flush with the stem-top.  This was about 3/16″ (5 mm) higher than the sheer-line of the hull.

When I went to install the finished deck, the assembled end rose above the stem-top and did not fit properly. I had no choice but to take the entire thing apart and carve the frame to be flush with the sheer-line.

The Willits brothers book-matched their veneers for the decks. They re-sawed a 4/4 (1″ or 25 mm thick) board on a band saw and opened the pieces like a book.  The veneers were planed to 3/16″ (5 mm) thick.

Use a mahogany board 7″ (18 cm) wide and 36″ (91 cm) long. Once the boards are re-sawn and planed, use the original veneers as templates.  Mark out oversized pieces and cut them to rough shape.  Be sure to cut well outside the lines.  You want to have lots of room for fitting and trimming to final size.

Make a veneer press jig with 4/4 hardwood.

Soak the veneers for at least four hours. Take one of them and pour boiling water over it.  Press the veneer into place and use the veneer jig (locked in place with a couple of C-clamps) to act as another pair of hands while you secure the veneer with fasteners. Be sure the veneer extends at least 1″ (25 mm) past the outside edge of the frame.

Drill pilot holes in the spruce cross members #2 and #3.

Attach the veneer with ¾” (19 mm) #6 bronze flat-head wood screws close to the edge nearest the centre-line.

Reposition the veneer jig to allow full access to the outer edge of the deck. Drill pilot holes through the veneer and into the frame rail at 1½” (38 mm) intervals.

Use a small, flat-head tack hammer to drive ¾” (19 mm) 18-gauge brass escutcheon pins into the veneer. I started with my regular canoe tack hammer which has a large, domed face.  I switched over to the small, flat-faced hammer after mis-hitting several pins and bending them.  The Willits brothers countersunk these pins and filled the holes with wood putty.  I opted to skip this step after my counter-sink slipped and split the veneer (not once, not twice, but three times before I tore off the veneer and started again).  This process offers no end of challenges, the least of which being the fact that the drill bit is 3/64″ (1.2 mm) diameter and the holes are drilled free-hand.  If you are anything like me, you will need at least one more drill bit than you have on-hand (I used six drill bits to attach six veneers and two king planks).

If your fingers are as big and clumsy as mine, use a pair of forceps to hold the pin while you hammer.

Once the veneers are attached, dry-fit the deck.  Mark the end of the veneer so the deck fits back into its original position.  Trim the ends of the veneer and dry-fit the deck again.  If you have done everything right so far, the top of the veneer will be flush with the stem-top.

Mark the outside edge of the canoe hull on the underside of the veneer. Remove the deck and carefully shape the veneer to just outside the line.  Repeat the process of dry-fitting, marking and shaping until the veneer fits precisely.

Use a random-orbital sander to shape the end-grain veneer until the coaming fits precisely. This too, is a slow process of shaping and dry-fitting the coaming in small, careful steps.  The veneer is extremely delicate and prone to breaking (especially at the corners).  I switched to a fine rasp as I got closer to the final fit.

Sand the veneer by hand from 120-grit to 220-grit. Wet the veneer surface and let it dry.  This will raise the grain.  Sand by hand from 320-grit to 600-grit.  Use a tack cloth to remove lingering dust once the sanding is complete.

Stain the veneer to match the original wood in the canoe.

Prepare a piece of white oak for the king plank. Sand it to 600-grit and stain the wood to match the original.  Seal all of the frame components with shellac (2-pound cut using lacquer thinner instead of methyl hydrate). Then apply a coat of spar varnish (thinned 12% with paint thinner).  Allow the varnish to dry for a couple of days before proceeding to the next step.  Press the king plank into place and use the veneer jig to hold it in place while you secure it with escutcheon pins.

Drill pilot holes and hammer escutcheon pins at 2″ (50 mm) intervals.

Use a clinching iron to dub the pins at the back of the deck.

Dry-fit the deck in the canoe.  If you have done everything right so far, the king plank sits snugly on top of the stem-end.

Attach the coaming to the deck with ¾” (19 mm) #6 bronze flat-head wood screws.

Install the completed deck and secure it with ¾” (19 mm) 16-gauge copper canoe nails.

Re-attach the outwales with #8 bronze flat-head wood screws. Spray the screws with a little WD-40 to reduce heat build-up as they are driven in.  Hot screws are more likely to break off as they are driven tight.

Use a Japanese cross-cut saw to trim the king plank flush with the outer edge of the stem.

Smooth the corners of the king plank at the end with a rasp.

All’s well that ends well.

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.

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.
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