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Convert canvas covered canoe to clear glass?

Discussion in 'Traditional All-Wood Construction' started by Larry canoe, Nov 7, 2012.

  1. Larry canoe

    Larry canoe Curious about Wooden Canoes

    I have a 1957 Old Town canoe in pristine condition without its canvas. Can I finish the boat with clear glass instead of canvas. I love the look of all wood.
  2. Mark Adams

    Mark Adams all wood nut

    Hi Larry,

    This is a topic that has been much discussed here on the boards. The general census is "DON'T DO IT!!!" It kills any value the canoe has, makes repairs next to impossible, promotes potential rot problems, causes the hull to not flex as designed, so on and so on.

    In the end, it comes down to what YOU want to do, it is your canoe. Were it I, I would not ever, ever glass a canoe.

    If you search for "fiberglass", you'll come up with a lot of the previous threads.

  3. Kathryn Klos

    Kathryn Klos squirrel whisperer

    There are all-wood canoes that were built that way in the first place, and you may want to take a look at them. Some are the strip-built ("stripper") canoes, and others are old, antique or vintage canoes built in such a way that no canvas was ever needed on the outside. There are also cold-molded wooden canoes. Several options, in any case. But as Mark said, the choice to glass your present canoe is yours. If you search Todd Bradshaw's posts, I believe he gives some advice on how best to accomplish this.

  4. Todd Bradshaw

    Todd Bradshaw Sailmaker

    Or not, as would be my advice in this case. I'm not aware of any problems with hull flex or lack of flex from fiberglass coverings, but the job you are thinking about, covering an old hull with a respectable looking clear fiberglass layer, is a very tricky proposition and not one for anyone without a lot of previous epoxy/fiberglass experience. A beginner who can follow directions carefully and pay attention to detail can do a good job glassing a stripper canoe, but the same job on a rib and plank hull is drastcally more difficult. If you can't honestly say that you are very experienced with epoxy/fiberglass layup and very good at it, it's a formula for disaster and the results are not reversible.

    Without going into great detail of the potential pit-falls (again) The nutshell version is that fiberglass is very thin and old planked canoes are seldom perfectly fair shapes. The glass won't solve this problem. In addition, you can't fiberglass over gaps between planks or dents from tack heads. The resin drains out of these areas, leaving what looks like screen wire and these spots are very difficult to get filled. A clear finish eliminates most of the stuff that would normally be used to fill these spots before glassing, because the fills would show. It's a process that is tricky enough if the boat would be painted, but even tougher if you want a clear finish.

    If it matters, there is also an aesthetic question here. We all like the look of lots of wood, but wood/canvas canoes were never really planked in patterns that were intended to show on the outside of the hull. They're planked with equal-width strips of cedar, applied in the easiest and fastest pattern that will cover the hull. To anybody who is familiar with traditional wooden boat building, it looks very wrong. Visible boat planking is generally done with planks which flare and taper as needed to follow and accentuate the shape of the hull, and a lot of time and effort is spent getting the plank lines to do so. This was never a concern on wood/canvas canoes the way it would be on a lapstrake, carvel, strip-planked or smooth-skinned constructions because the planking pattern wasn't originally visible under the canvas. When somebody finally decided that a clear fiberglass skin could replace the canvas and maximize the wood look, there were a lot of people who liked it, but also a lot of us who find it pretty unattractive and inappropriate for a boat with visible planking. You can decide for yourself where you stand on that issue, but I don't think that there is any question that if planking patterns are going to show, they look much better if they actually contribute visually to the lines of the hull, even when painted.

    Attached Files:

  5. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    I agree with the many other comments here suggesting that a clear fiberglass covering may not be the best plan for your canoe. If you like the way it looks without canvas then you may want to just keep it as it is for the aesthetic value and use another canoe to go paddling. There are many technical challenges as Todd has pointed out. Old Town found that canoes that were to be covered with clear fiberglass required several different construction techniques from the others that were not visable from the outside. Square headed tacks were used instead of the usual round ones to reduce unsightly bubbles in the fiberglass, the planking needed to be fit much more closely and better matched in grain, color, etc. The color differences in the cedar planking are much less noticable when it is dry so you may want to wet yours down and see how it will look with clear fiberglass. Another problem is that fiberglass turns white when scratched so it will quickly start looking considerably less interesting if you plan to use it frequently. Good luck with your decision,

  6. KAT

    KAT LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Get a stripper instead

    I can understand why you would want to glass instead of canvas, but I wouldn't do it. I like canvas myself and I did build a stripper a couple winters ago with the crystal clear finish as you want. The stripper is used as a tripping boat and in this area there is alot of granite hiding just under the water.

    What Benson mentions about scratching is true. It can be sanded and revarnished again and again and hopefully you never scratch into the glass 'cause those don't come out easily when refinishing.

    This is what the one I built looks like after one season of tripping...

    Attached Files:

  7. Lazy Jack

    Lazy Jack LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Not that I have an opinion on this or anything -

    I always feel a bit sad when I see a fiber-glassed WC canoe. History, form function and longevity all trumped by a sophomoric sense of aesthetic - which to those with a broader sense of wooden boat construction, simply looks silly (no wooden boat builder would plank a boat to look like that) and portends a very difficult return to rights - which often eventually dooms the canoe.

    If you succumb, I'd suggest you use polyester as it doesn't stick as voraciously as epoxy, which would allow a subsequent owner a prayer of shelling away what adherent glass remains without shredding up too much of the cedar planking.

    These are difficult decisions, but remember, you can always glass it later if you can't stand seeing all that beautiful wood covered up by canvas - but the reverse is less likely and may be the last thing that happens to the canoe.

    Probably good to run a list of advantages to each method
    1) Traditional
    2) looks right
    3) repairable
    4) easy to keep looking fresh
    5) tough
    6) flexible
    7) inexpensive
    8) easily replaced

    1) you can see all that wood
    2) um...
    3) Well, ok, so...
    4) wait...don't rush me, I'm thinking...
    5) Ok, enough
    6) hey, can we stop?

    See? so, 8 vs 6. I'd suggest canvas

    Just my gentle opinion
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2012
  8. OP
    Larry canoe

    Larry canoe Curious about Wooden Canoes

    I have heard the masses and will do the wise thing and put canvas! As the crowd Cheers!
    Another question, has anybody experimented with two part epoxy paint for the final coat over the canvas?
    Thanks, Larry
  9. ppine

    ppine Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Old Town started building wood boats with clear fiberglass as an option in the last part of their run. They cost the same as canvas covered boats.
    I think the arguments about weight and value are now moot. There is no doubt that canvas is traditional. It is not that easy to find good fillers for canvas.
    My canoe is 70 years old, and I think the epoxy treatment will keep it going for a long time.

    I really like the pattern of the cedar planks on the hull and want to be able to see it. I have worked with fiberglass and epoxy a lot, but have never tried to canvas a boat.
    I will be using 6 ounce cloth with West System epoxy. The first coat will saturate the cloth, then 2 additional coats to saturate the weave. I will finish the outside of the hull with varnish that has lot of UV protection built into it. All of the epoxy coats will applied the same day, about 3 hours apart so they bond together without requiring any sanding between coats. The boat will sit for many days to allow the epoxy to cure before varnishing.

    This is a very traditional group. and I understand the popularity of canvas.
  10. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Several people regularly use epoxy (mixed with fairing compound or microballoons to reduce the weight) to fill the canvas. It costs about the same as traditional filler, but dries paint-ready much quicker. Some say the result is more durable to scuffs and scrapes.
    ppine likes this.
  11. Dan Lindberg

    Dan Lindberg Ex Wood Hoarder

    This is an 8 year old string.
    MGC likes this.
  12. Todd Bradshaw

    Todd Bradshaw Sailmaker

    Ppine, If you're going to do it, then you might as well do it once and do it right. The first "coat" will need to be some sort of filler, used only where needed to fill any tack dents or cracks between planks. Without doing that and sanding the fills flush, your next steps will just make a big mess. With six ounce cloth, it would be a very good idea to use two layers over the bottom for durability - applied and saturated together in one step with the partial layer under the main layer. The stems then get wrapped with a couple graduated bias-cut strips of glass cloth.

    Two resin filler coats is usually not nearly enough. Add enough coats for the cloth texture to totally disappear, then add one final coat as a cushion for sanding. A good epoxy foam roller and thin even coats will yield the best, most even and drip-free results, and depending on the resin used, the temperature and the person applying it, it can sometimes take five or six thin, even coats to do the job well. About a week later it will be cured enough to sand it smooth (it has to be sanded smooth or it looks like crap) and varnished or painted.

    1972 Old Town keelless 16' Guide. West Epoxy and 6 oz. fiberglass, doubled over the bottom.

  13. ppine

    ppine Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Thanks Todd. I can tell you know what you are talking about. I am not looking for that level of finish. I am working on steaming the hammer blossoms. A few are deep and are getting filled.
    I am not planning to fill the cracks between the planks. and using clear fiberglass cloth. I want to see the wood, imperfections and all.

    My canoe has copper stems bands. I like to use fiberglass tape on the keel line, first a 3 inch roll, and then a 2 inch on top of that. It practically disappears. Much better than clunky kevlar felt.
    I had not considered another layer of cloth on the bottom but that is a great idea for a using canoe.
  14. Todd Bradshaw

    Todd Bradshaw Sailmaker

    The only thing you are "planning to do" at this point is to fail. Some of the stuff you are planning simply will not work. If you do not fill the cracks between planks and any depressions around the tack heads the fiberglass cloth will bridge these gaps in the wood, followed by the resin draining through before it hardens. This then leaves something looking like screen wire over the spots, which the filler coats won't fix and even with filler and a putty knife these spots are nearly impossible to fix and get smooth later. Add a little flexing once the boat is done, placed in the water and you are moving around in it and pretty soon you will have a boat that leaks water big time between the planks. Not filling the cracks and dents simply is not an option, no matter how much you want to do it.

    Fiberglass tape is the wrong material for covering the keel line or the stems. if you have extensive fiberglass/epoxy experience, then you are probably aware that in order to cover an irregular surface you should be using fiberglass cloth, hand-cut on a bias from the roll (45 degrees to the weave) not warp and weft woven (zero degree and ninety degree) fiberglass tape. The tape will resist taking the shape and be pulling up and forming bubbles faster than you can walk along and squash them back down- until it hardens, and then you have a lot to try to fix.

    If using 2" and 3" wide strips, the narrower one should be applied first. That way, most of the step-down between the two layers will be automatically hidden and a couple of filler coats and final light sanding will take care of any remaining level changes. I don't know whether you are planning to glass over the keel, or remove it for glassing and then reinstall it, but glassing over one is nearly always a huge mistake.

    The "level of finish" comes with the level of workmanship, knowledge, and attention to detail. If nothing else, it is something to shoot for, as there are already way too many wooden canoes out there suffering from bad fiberglassing jobs.
  15. ppine

    ppine Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    I have been thinking about your post and the image above. Very impressive. I could never take a boat like that on a week long river trip. We are hard on boats. They carry a lot, rough water, they get dragged around sometimes. Sand in the boat, dog feet, etc. I paid $500 for my Guide 18 over 25 years ago. The center thwart was split out of it and the inner gunwales were compromised. I fixed it with epoxy and have enjoyed it ever since. I am emotionally tied to the boat, after paddling her thousands of miles. But I am not looking for finish anything like your boat.

    The canvas finally started to fall off. So after staring at the skinned hull for a few months, I am repairing a few broken planks and 8 ribs. I could replace some more. I want to get the boat back on the water. At some future date I will replace the gunwales. If the glass job does not turn out so good, she will get painted. The gaps between the planks are small, 1/16 for the most part. I have filled a couple that are larger on the stem.

    It is very interesting to talk with people on this site. They are elite perfectionists compared to what I am used to. I live in Coleman canoe country. I have some good Royalex boats for low water and rocks rivers. For lake trips and big open rivers there is nothing like the feel and creaking and groaning of the OT. Part of the beauty is in the using and the toughness of these boats. I love em because I can use em.
  16. ppine

    ppine Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    I appreciate your directness, but do not plan to fail. I will think about everything you have laid out. Thanks for the advice. I would not exactly call it encouragement, but very useful information.
  17. Gil Cramer

    Gil Cramer The wooden canoe Shop, Inc.

    Listen to Todd about fiberglassing with epoxy. Canvassing a canoe is much, much, much easier than doing a comparable job with epoxy and fiberglass. A poor canvassing job doesn't last forever, but a poor fiberglassing job might be close.
  18. Norm Hein

    Norm Hein Canoe Codger

    I second both of their concerns. Resin will flow through staple holes on a stripper so it will surely pore through a planking gap. I am working on a WC canoe right now that was glassed. The only thing done right on this one was that they did fill all of the gaps with some type of filler other wise this canoe would be trash. My 2 cents.
  19. MGC

    MGC Scrapmaker

    Boy does that ring home...long ago and far away I serviced a fleet of OT glass canoes. This was one of my first lessons learned. Just reading your note brings vivid memories of chasing, popping, pressing and playing whack a mole trying to get rid of those D***ed bubbles.
    I'm with you about that. I've been in every kind of water with my canoes. We've surfed in the ocean, run rivers, sat on the top of monster haystacks hoping to pop out on the other side clean, hung on for dear life on big lakes, dragged over beaver dams in little creeks, you name it. I can't being to count how many trips my Morris has been on...loaded with gear. One of my proudest moments was watching my son pick it up and carry it. Instead of doubling the carry I only had to haul one canoe. One of worst moments (other than watching it float away towards a dam once) was slipping on a carry and dropping it...boy are they tough. It absorbed the fall and was none the worse for wear. The one I'm working on now (and the one before) were cased in glass. When they got dropped the impact popped the tacks through the ribs and planks..the wood couldn't flex. I've got them sorted out now and ready for fresh canvas as soon as this weather settles. That's all anecdotal. The thing I really reacted to when I read your post is how you describe the feel of a wood and canvas boat in the water. There's nothing else quite like it. They are quiet, solid yet supple..they have a feel and life to them. They don't flex and wobble like Royalex and they aren't ice cold and noisy like aluminum. They aren't stiff and brittle feeling like those old cedar strips.
    In queue is a very old Veazie canoe that was given to me a few years ago. It had been owned the same family since the early 1900's. The man who gave it to me got it from is mother. She had paddled it her whole life. In the 1950's it got glassed..that was what folks were doing back then. The thing that stuck in my mind is what she had to say about it when she paddled it for the first time after the glass was on it. She said "it doesn't feel the same, it lost it's soul". She hated how it felt under the paddle after it got glassed. I plan to put another canvas on it someday.
    Then there's how fussy you chose to be, or not.
  20. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    You have a 70 year old canvas-covered canoe that you got "over 25 years ago." And now, "The canvas finally started to fall off," canvas that has probably served well for considerably more than 25 years. So why are you thinking of a fiberglass job which is difficult to do well instead of a much easier canvasing job. Your statement "It is not that easy to find good fillers for canvas" is nonsense. Good traditional fillers are readily avalable -- see the Builders and Suppliers Directory on this website -- Rollin Thurlow, among others, would be happy to sell you a good canvas filler.

    You aren't choosing glass for durability -- your old canvas has withstood 25 years or more of the way you use your canoe.

    So it seems that appearance is what is motivating you, although you are at some pains to say that you really don't care enough to do a glass job that will look good. Go figure. And as pointed out above,even if it looks ok at first, if you use it as you describe ("hard on boats . . . dragged around sometimes. Sand in the boat, dog feet, etc.") it will need to be painted in a few years anyway -- banged up and scratched clear glass ain't so pretty.

    A good canvas job will keep your canoe "going for a long time." I have two older than yours -- built in 1922 and 1931. And while not abused, they get used and are not babied:
    ssm canoe and beaver dam.JPG
    I expect that both will be going for a good long time to come and that I will be out of service before either of them.

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