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Morris rib pocket question

Discussion in 'Wood and Canvas' started by Benson Gray, Aug 30, 2019.

  1. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    I recently wound up with most of what I believe is the inside rail from a Morris canoe with pocketed ribs as shown in the pictures below. The pockets appear to have been made with a small hole saw but it surprised me to see that most of the pockets has been made by drilling horizontally but four together near the bow seat bolt had been drilled vertically. Has anyone else ever noticed variations like this in other Morris canoes? Is there an obvious pattern or explanation? Thanks,



  2. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    I presume that your pictures show the face of the inwale that would be against the inside face of the hull planking, with the flat top of the 4 pockets against the square top of the ribs and the rounded sides of the pocket against the rounded upper sides of the rib, like so:

    ssm 100_3317.JPG

    P1090335 inwale rib sheer planks cr.JPG

    I think that the "L" shaped seat hanger bolt shown supports my presumption. And this means that the four vertically cut pockets are oriented the way that most pockets on most Morris are oriented, and that the majority of the pockets were cut wrong (or at least ideosyncratically).

    I believe that the rib pockets on Morris inwales were made by drilling blind holes in a single full-length strip of wood that was then cut in half to produce two inwales. I also have always assumed that the pockets were drilled with a Forstner drill bit, or one like it -- a Forstner bit produces a clean flat-bottomed hole with a small center pit or depression, as you can see in two similar pockets. A hole saw cut would leave a plug in the hole that would have to be broken out -- extra work -- and the bottom of the hole would often not be clean and neat. The pocket holes are usually slightly less than perfect half circles – the kerf of the saw splitting the wale would reduce the pockets just a bit from being full half circles. (However, a Forstner bit can drill a partial circle at the edge of a board, so it is possible that half-circle pockets (or pockets greater than, or less than, half circles) were each drilled along the edge of a finished-width inwale -- possible, but again, more work, fussier work.)
    sm 100_3320.JPG
    This picture shows the bottom face of the inwale; a the kerf of a saw splitting a drilled board would have run along the face of the inwale at the top of the picture.

    If I am wrong in my presumption about the face shown in your pics, and if the face shown is actually the face that would be oriented towards the bottom of the canoe , there is still the problem of why there are four odd pockets out, where the rib ends would not fit as shown in the two preceding pics, and the additional problem of why the hanger bolt, when in use, would then be sticking through the side of the hull.

    I would note that on a long decked Morris, the end of the deck and its coaming usually meet the inwale above the bow seat.

    IMG_0022 cr ed.JPG

    But in this picture, and in some others, I see no change in the rib pockets, and I can't think of any reason why there would be.

    Indeed, I can't see any reason for cutting some of the pockets differently than the others.

    Perhaps I'm issing something, but I think your inwale was made by the same guy who built this canoe:

    canoe s IMG_4837.jpg
  3. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    My guess is that they needed to be made deeper. Possible that they were off center when originally drilled, prior to sawing them in half....assuming they were made in one piece then cut to make a pair.
  4. Michael Grace

    Michael Grace Lifetime Member

    I'm also a little confused about the terms "horizontal" and "vertical" - which is which with respect to the pockets on this rail? But...

    The holes appear to have been drilled with a forstner bit, and it seems that many if not most Morris canoes have the pockets drilled so that the flat bottom of the drilled hole is horizontal in the final rail (i.e., the drilling was done in the vertical plane). However, early Morris canoes have the pockets drilled in the opposite direction - drilled in from the side of the rail. In this configuration, the pockets have a circular profile when viewed from the side, like the left-most pocket in your (Benson's) first photo and the right-most pocket in your second photo. We have an early Morris like this, as does Kathy. Interestingly, this early pocket hole orientation corresponds with drawings of some northeastern birch bark canoes (I think Howard Herman-Haase included such a drawing in one of his recent articles in Wooden Canoe).

    So it appears that Morris began with the pockets drilled in the horizontal direction, and later switched to drilling them in the vertical direction with respect to the final gunwale. Why one canoe would have both styles is a mystery to me. In mine, and I believe in Kathy's, all pockets have the same orientation. What you've found seems very odd, but your gunwale section sure looks like Morris to me. The depth and positions of each hole type look just like Morris pockets, and the hanger bolt looks like Morris too. Very interesting find!

    Last edited: Sep 1, 2019
  5. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    "I also have always assumed that the pockets were drilled with a Forstner drill bit, or one like it --" Hmm, I wonder when Forstner bits came into common use. And drill presses.
    I think most canoe builders would have used a hand-held brace and standard auger bit, which would produce a hole that appears pretty much the same as a Forstner bit, though with rougher sides.
  6. Dan Miller

    Dan Miller cranky canoeist Staff Member

    Forstner bits were patented in 1886 ( I have a set of them with the tang to fit a brace. Drill presses were readily available in hand-cranked versions (and probably belt driven), in the form of post drills and bench drills, at least in the mid 1860s.
  7. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    Benjamin Forstner patented his drill bit on September 22, 1874. He became wealthy, both from manufacturing the bit, and from licensing its manufacture to other companies such as Colt Firearms, after receiving recognition in the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876 and the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

    The traditional auger drill bit used in a hand brace usually has a good-sized leader screw, which leaves a center hole at the bottom of a blind hole that is much larger and deeper than the small pit left by the center point of a Forstner bit. Spade bits and hole saws might also have been used. But to me the central pit or hole in the right-most hole in Benson’s first photo looks more like one left by a Forstner bit than by other hole making tools.

    A small, one-man shop may not have had a drill press, but I would be very surprised if the Morris factory, a substantial operation with nine buildings, did not have some powered tools including one or more drill presses. Drill presses were very common in the 19th Century, and in use even as early as the 17th Century -- human, wind, steam, and water power, and then, of course, electric power. Electric power was certainly available when the Eddington dam and hydroelectric station at Veazie opened in 1912, and probably more than a decade earlier from the Great Works dam on the Penobscot River just a short distance above Veazie, Maine. But I don’t know what sources of power Morris actually used.

    So I would be amazed if his factory did not have a powered drill press (or two or three) when it burned down in 1919, and I would not be at all surprised if one was in use for most of the time Morris canoes were being built.

    As to the Forstner bit -- I don’t actually know, but the bits certainly were available, and were certainly well known before the turn of the 20th Century in industries that manufactured things made of wood.
  8. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

  9. Dan Miller

    Dan Miller cranky canoeist Staff Member

    Actually, a little less hasty digging reveals that both patents are US patents - 1874 is no. 155148 ( and 1886 is no, 336709 (

    It is the 1886 patent that is for the Forstner bit as we know it today. I checked mine while out in the shop earlier today and they have both patent dates stamped on them.
  10. JClearwater

    JClearwater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I agree with Dave on this one. I think all the holes in Benson's first picture were drilled with a Forstner bit but the four center ones were make wider and deeper with a chisel to accommodate the rib top. At the risk of over thinking this problem you will notice that all of the pockets in Benson's picture have three holes in them - two nail holes with the center hole being the point of the Forstner bit. Then the pockets were widened or deepened by hand. Just my two cents worth.
  11. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    Here is how I make the pockets.....

    Attached Files:

  12. Michael Grace

    Michael Grace Lifetime Member

    Jim, might be onto something here, but...

    Benson's rail section could be from an early Morris that later had a factory canoe repair, or a repair by someone who understood the later Morris building technique. The holes on the left and right ends look exactly like those from early Morris canoes. The ones in the center look very much like the pockets from later Morris canoes. Maybe the canoe was built early, then had to have some ribs replaced. But it seems odd that anyone would go to the trouble to re-shape the pockets rather than fit the rib ends to existing pockets. In addition, how would you get a chisel in there to re-shape the holes so precisely with the rail still on the canoe?

    The photos show something else interesting about the way Morris methods evolved. Later Morris rails were likely made by drilling wide stock and then splitting it into two rails - this would be an efficient means of making gunwales with pockets whose positions match on the two sides of the canoe. Early Morris rails appear to have been made one at a time, though. As Greg points out, the vertically-drilled holes on later Morris canoes are half cylinders. But as shown in Benson's photos, the holes in early Morris canoes are more than half cylinders (the drill bit was more than half way onto the stock being drilled). On our early Morris, all of the pockets are like this; all are more than half a cylinder so they must have been drilled independently on each rail. At some point, someone at the Morris factory probably said "Wait a minute... we can do this twice as fact if we just drill first and then split the stock into two rails!"

    ... Dave posted while I was writing - this is exactly how Morris did his early rails (I believe) except that he didn't chisel out the "ears" of the holes along the bottom edge of the rail. On the early Morris I restored, the rib tops were just jammed into the holes with the soft cedar conforming to the hole space.
  13. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    Dan's informtion about the US patents is, of course, correct. But a Canadian patent was issued in 1886, shortly after the 1886 US patent for "an improvcment on an auger for which Letters Patent of the United States No. 155,148, were granted to me [Benjamin Forstnr] September 22, 1874." The Canadian patent is essentially the same as the 1886 US patent. The Widipedia entry on Benjamin Forstner reproduces part of the Canadian 1886 patent.

    It is pretty clear that a hole drilled with an 1884 patent bit would look very much like one drilled with an 1886 patent -- but if Morris was using Forstner bits, he almost certainly would have been using bits based on the 1886 patent.

    Does anyone have photos of the pockets and ribs in earlier canoes, where the top of the pocket is round, rather than square? I have no photos of them in my rather random collection of pictures of Morris canoes, and would like to get one or two.
  14. During my research I noticed the different pocket designs and asked Ed Moses about it, an he confirmed the method pictured by Dave for the earlier (drilling the side of the inwale) and the later technique of drilling from the bottom and then splitting creating matching inwales the half cylinders described by Michael. The most surprising discovery was that Morris built some canoes without pockets. I have identified two SN 2204 and SN 2235 which dates them in the 1904 range (interestingly the two cant ribs had shallower pockets similar to the early method). So Morris was desperate to abandon the original method, which suggest to me he was drilling them one at a time as Dave illustrated. When he came up with the new method is not clear, but the earliest canoe I have identified with the later method of drilling pockets is SN2766. Ed also thought Morris used a Forstner bit. This will be covered with pictures the next issue of Wooden Canoe in Part 6 my series on the Indian Model canoes.
  15. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    Here is the only photo of an original rib pocket on Kathryn’s 1893 Morris. As I recall all of the rib tips were rounded and kinda stuffed into the pockets. Some tips had like 5 tacks in them..

    Attached Files:

  16. 21 inwales old morris2.jpg pockets_1900.jpg Here is another shot of Kathy's very early canoe (1893 or earlier) and shot of a Al Sienkiewicz's 1900 Morris showing just the tops of the pockets.
  17. Michael Grace

    Michael Grace Lifetime Member

    Exactly like our early one. I'll have to see if I can find some photos from when it was opened up during restoration. They would be prints though because this was a long time ago (about 25 years). Still have the canoe but now you can't see the pockets.
  18. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    I was going to say that Kathy probably had more photos. I didn’t keep them all.
    I was truly amazed at the amount of tacks in each rib tip. That along with being 125 years old caused Ferdy and I to need to scarf in ALL but one new rib tip.

    Attached Files:

    Dave Wermuth likes this.
  19. OP
    Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    I appreciate the comments and agree that the four unusual ones were simply enlarged by hand. The bottom view below shows that they are all different shapes and depths. The other image shows a close up of a single standard hole. Most of these are more than a half circle so they were probably made one at a time. Thanks,


    IMG_4050.jpg IMG_4051.jpg
  20. CPC

    CPC Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Not a great shot but here is a picture of early 8400 canoe if it helps.

    Attached Files:

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