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Peterborough and Lakefield canoe restoration projects

Discussion in 'Traditional All-Wood Construction' started by John K, Jan 16, 2021.

  1. John K

    John K Curious about Wooden Canoes

    We have two 16’ cedar strip canoes. I’m planning to restore both.

    One, a Peterborough Canadien, I believe, (originally cane seats, a walnut accent strip below the gunwales and butternut(?) decks with wide, contrasting centre strips), has been in the family for over 60 years (I think it is probably about 75 years old). It is in what I would describe as poor condition. The ‘go-to’ boat when the weekly ration of mixed gas for the runabout ran out, the first boat in the water after Spring breakup, and the last one put away in the Fall, this canoe saw lots of use, and we didn’t realize back then what a prize it was. Ideally, it would have been stored in a boathouse, or at least upside down each night, but we just dragged it up the beach, ready for use the next day.

    As I recall, the seat caning lasted about a year or two, later to be replaced with vinyl material laced on through the original cane holes. I recall the ‘Peterborough’ decal on the king plank but that’s long gone. With the canoe, we received the sail setup, but lacking the requisite lee boards, or the skill to use paddles for directional control, we soon gave up on that. Unfortunately, the sailing equipment is also gone. (Until just recently, I had always thought that the sail and the deck and step fittings were homemade add-ons, not optional factory parts.)

    For most of its life, the canoe was stored in the cottage for the winter, but when it was no longer being used, Dad moved it under the cottage. Out of sight, out of mind. Sadly, about two or three inches of the forward and aft decks and king planks were damaged, along with about six inches of at the forward and aft ends of both gunwales, the supports it rested on having sunken into damp earth while in storage there.

    A sibling had started the restoration many years ago, but stopped because of lack of a place to do the work - most of the finish had been removed in and out, luckily by stripping, rather than by sanding. Unprotected, the exposed outer surfaces had a gray, well-weathered look. It has since sat in dry storage in my care for about 15 years.

    The second canoe, which we purchased about 30 years ago and still use, is, I think, a Lakefield – it has never had seats, so it would have been paddled in the traditional manner. It doesn’t have the walnut accent strip, and has narrower deck centre trim strips, perhaps because it also lacks the sailing provisions. It has three beefy thwarts and two, one-piece floorboards in lieu of the four-strip rack-type boards of the other canoe. It was restored by a previous owner – commercial aluminum strips were used for the stem bands instead of the original brass, (perhaps that was all that was available at the time), with a fairly large-area planking patch incorporated very well but without staggering the joints. But the hard work of cleaning it up and refinishing it has been done quite well. Overall, I would grade it as being in fair to good condition. For that canoe, I plan on temporarily removing two of the three existing thwarts and installing cane seats per the other boat. I’ll plug the mortises in the redundant thwart supports with removable blocks so the canoe can be returned to its original configuration if desired at some point in the future.

    Initially, I removed the Peterborough’s seats, after installing temporary bracing to maintain the hull shape, to use as patterns for seats for the Lakefield. The seat frames basically fell apart – most of the 3/8 x 2” maple or birch dowels had rotted over the years, and were never glued in the first place.

    That was the first time I really had a good look at that old boat, and apart from the stem and stern damage, it really is in pretty solid condition.

    To assess the restorability from a cosmetic standpoint, I gave the exterior of the hull an initial cleaning, brushing on a ‘Wood Cleaner and Brightener’ (a.k.a. deck cleaner, containing oxalic and phosphoric acids) full strength and scrubbing with maroon 3M scotchbrite. Flushed with water, the results were amazing.

    I also cleaned up the seat frame parts. After several applications of the deck cleaner and much scrubbing, most of the black staining was gone. I decided to restore the seats, rather than replace them, mainly for the sake of originality. I re-caned them after varnishing.

    I initially thought that the floor racks would have to be replaced, but after several applications of the wood cleaner, it’s apparent that only one strip is damaged, but can be glued.

    So, I’ve gone down the rabbit hole, eyes wide open, and started the restoration work on the Peterborough canoe.

    To do a proper job, the Peterborough ideally needs new gunwales (outwales) to replace both that are damaged at both ends and have cracked at the scarf joint amidships, and new decks, plus much TLC inside and out before refinishing. A small section (about 9” including the portion over the deck) of the aft stem band and the painter ring are missing, the unsupported band having broken away from the disintegrated deck, as well as a 9 ½” section near the stem-keel end. As I mentioned the king planks will need replacement as well.

    The seat modifications of the second boat excepted, I’d like to restore both canoes to as close to new condition as is reasonably possible.
     
  2. OP
    OP
    John K

    John K Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Peterborough 'Canadien' Bow Details:

    Note the damage at the extreme forward and aft stems, from resting in the damp earth under the cottage. I understand that this type of damage is not uncommon for canoes, even if stored off the ground.

    I've included photos of the bow and stern (next post) decks to show the construction details.

    PETERBOROUGH - BOW (1).JPG PETERBOROUGH - BOW (2).JPG PETERBOROUGH - BOW (3).jpg PETERBOROUGH BOW DECK (1).jpg PETERBOROUGH BOW DECK (2).jpg
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2021
  3. OP
    OP
    John K

    John K Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Peterborough 'Canadien' Stern Details

    PETERBOROUGH STERN (1).jpg PETERBOROUGH  STERN DECK  (1).jpg PETERBOROUGH  STERN DECK  (2).jpg
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2021
  4. OP
    OP
    John K

    John K Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Seats, before and after:

    The bow seat was in considerably worse condition than the stern, likely because it was most used, for solo paddling. None of the joints were glued originally, the frames held together by the caning. Dampness over the years had rotted most of the birch or maple dowels to stubs, and the front seat components were rotted away where the cane, and later the string, held moisture against the wood. I inletted ash strips in those areas.

    Unlike the manufacturer, I glued the frames together, (using Titebond lll), and I applied several coats of spar varnish before caning. The resulting colour is from the spar varnish alone.

    As for the caning, I should have studied basket weaving at U of T back in the day, LOL.

    PETERBOROUGH BOW SEAT  (1).jpg PETERBOROUGH STERN SEAT  (1).jpg PETERBOROUGH SEAT FRAME COMPONENTS AFTER CLEANING.jpg PETERBOROUGH BOW SEAT  (2).jpg PETERBOROUGH STERN SEAT  (2).jpg
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2021
  5. OP
    OP
    John K

    John K Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Some additional photos and details of the clean-up:

    Note the separated scarf joint in the gunwale in the first photo, and also considerable dock rash in that area.

    PETERBOROUGH  - VIEW AMIDSHIPS AFTER WOOD CLEANER  APPLICATION  (2).jpg PETERBOROUGH - VIEW FWD AFTER APPLICATION OF WOOD CLEANER (1).jpg
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jan 17, 2021
  6. OP
    OP
    John K

    John K Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Floor Racks:

    I originally thought I would have to replace the floor racks. They were pretty grubby, and really flimsy. Photos below show the clean-up in progress, and the results after several applications of stripper and deck cleaner, I don't have the brass clips or screws that retain the racks, also long gone.

    The 1 x 2 bracing in the photos maintain the hull shape where the seats and thwart were removed - handy for resting the delicate racks while in process!

    PETERBOROUGH FLOOR RACKS  (1).jpg PETERBOROUGH FLOOR RACKS  (2).jpg
     
  7. samb

    samb LOVES Wooden Canoes

    That's looking great.
    This one had new keel, outer stems, gunnels, re-cane seats, strip and varnish, new decks and stem bands.
    The 'original' replacement deck can be seen in the photo. Unfortunately the outside had been sanded on the outside in a previous time.


    IMG_20201107_105442.jpg IMG_20201006_091142.jpg

    Sam
     
  8. OP
    OP
    John K

    John K Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Hi Sam,

    Beautiful job! What model is it?

    I love the high sheer line of the older cedar strip canoes - ours both have the lowered stems of the later models.

    Luckily, the boat I'm restoring was stripped, rather than sanded, in the previous restoration work. Still, every additional coat of stripper lifts some more varnish. I understand the varnish can soak in up to an eighth of an inch in northern white cedar, so I've got a lot more to do. The deck cleaner does a good job of removing the blackened stains, without significantly damaging the surrounding areas. Lakes in our area have a high iron content, which reacts with oak and ash to make those stains an issue.

    John
     
  9. samb

    samb LOVES Wooden Canoes

    It's a Model 1427 Canadien from after 1940.
    It has had quite a few previous repairs with a number of sistered up ribs supporting some cracked ones where it had been dropped at sometime. I left them as part of the history as they were doing such a splendid job! 7 coats of varnish outside and 5 inside. This one had a mast step but had lost the brass ferrule from the deck. It's a shame I didn't get to paddle this one before sending it back to it's owner.
    Sam
     
  10. OP
    OP
    John K

    John K Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Hi Sam,

    From the angle photo was taken, I thought your canoe might have been a Model 44, with the really high stems - thanks for the info. Our Peterborough is also a Model 1427.

    I've attached a photo of the bow, showing the lower stem of the post 1939 models. At the time the photo was taken, the forward-most section still had some stripper residue on it, and the portion further aft hadn't been cleaned. The wet spot (top right) is deck cleaner leaking under the keel from the other side, so the keel will, at very least, have to be removed and re-bedded.

    John
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jan 19, 2021
  11. OP
    OP
    John K

    John K Curious about Wooden Canoes

    More Deck Details:

    I took some additional photos of the Peterborough decks. I was a bit surprised to find that the stern deck is slightly smaller than the bow deck. I wonder if the finished size is dependent on the location of the first full rib, that the deck coaming contacts, which may vary slightly end to end.

    I found really useful information on restoration of this style of deck on Mike Elliot's blog site, here:
    Canoeguy's Blog September 16, 2018
    How to Rebuild Solid-Wood Long Decks in Fancy Antique Canoes

    https://canoeguybc.wordpress.com/2018/09/

    Last summer at the cottage I removed the deck coaming from our Lakefield canoe to look at the construction details, and I've included a photo of that. The Lakefield deck coaming is considerably smaller than the Peterborough's, as are the decks in general.

    John
     

    Attached Files:

  12. OP
    OP
    John K

    John K Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Lakefield Cedar Strip Canoe

    We bought the Lakefield at a local sports show twenty five or thirty years ago. The Peterborough had originally been left to a sibling, so I had only the fond memories of that old boat. There was no hesitation on my part when we spotted the Lakefield for sale. I recall that we paid $400 for it back then.

    The canoe had been refinished before we bought it; the general details are summarized in the OP. Although we don't leave the boat on the beach, there is still a considerable amount of blackening of the oak, which I attribute to localized finish failure and the high iron and tannin content of our lake, typical of lakes in our area. My plan is to restore the Peterborough, using the Lakefield until it's done, and then restore the Lakefield.

    Unlike the Peterborough, the Lakefield has no seats, just the three beefy thwarts, probably the main reason we've used it very little, and as I get older, my knees just won't take kneeling while paddling for any time at all. Using the former's as a guide, I've made a pair of caned seats which I'll install this summer.

    In my last post, I included a photo of the Lakefield deck. Along with that photo, I took several others last summer documenting the boat's condition, which I'll post.
     

    Attached Files:

  13. OP
    OP
    John K

    John K Curious about Wooden Canoes

    More Lakefield photos

    Although the canoe is in pretty decent condition, it does need work. Both photos below show localized finish failure and blackening of the exposed wood.

    Two previous repairs are very visible - the planking repair on the side, and the patch on the deck .

    The planking patch is well executed. I had considered replacing a few of the repair strips with longer pieces to stagger the joints, but a second repair attempt might be asking for trouble. Instead, I think I'll strip and stain the strips to match the adjoining planking as best I can. The hull varnish is blistered in a number of spots - these I can attend to next summer.

    Eventually, I'd like to replace the decks, both of which have sunken a bit at the stem end, which I understand is a common issue. Unsupported by the deck in that area, the king planks have cracked from handling, so these should be replaced as well. The patch appears to be the repair of a serious gouge to the deck and sheer plank - the gunwale still shows evidence of that damage. In the meantime, I've thought about stripping and staining the patch to make it less obvious.

    The deck hardware consists of steel #8 round head Robertson screws, and I doubt they are original to the boat.
     

    Attached Files:

  14. OP
    OP
    John K

    John K Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Seats for the Lakefield - Part 1

    The Lakefield has three thwarts, configured for kneeling while paddling. As I mentioned before, my plan to fabricate seats for it led me to use the Peterborough’s seats as patterns, which in turn inspired me to begin restoration of that boat, which has been in the family for over 60 years.

    The seats on that canoe were constructed of 1 7/16 x 13/16” white oak, blind-doweled with 3/8 x 2” maple or birch dowels, 2 per joint. Now it’s common to use a round-over cutter to ease the top edges, but these frames were chamfered 45 degrees x 3/8”, likely done on a shaper.

    The manufacturer didn’t glue the seat frame components – they relied on the caning to hold the seats together. (I don’t think Peterborough used glue except for the scarf joint in each gunwale.) In reality, with the seats secured with #8 countersunk brass screws at each end to a support cleat mounted to the ribs, there would have been little movement in the unglued joints anyway. Still, the glue might have protected the dowels from the deterioration that took place.

    The frame components were in really rough shape, pretty much blackened and with some rot on the underside of the bow seat where the caning, and later the cord holding the vinyl seat bottom in place, held moisture against the oak. In retrospect, it would have been far easier and quicker to make new seat frames, but in the interest of originality, I cleaned them up and repaired them instead.

    I was surprised at the colour of the frames once varnished – I hadn’t stained the frames, but they certainly darkened considerably. I think they will blend in well with the canoe interior once it is varnished. I guess that’s what they mean by ‘patina’, which the oxalic acid-based deck cleaner didn’t remove.

    I purchased cane from Levair's Woodworking & Caning Supplies, Barry's Bay, Ontario – really nice people to deal with, and great service too! I bought enough 3mm (medium) cane to do three sets of seats along with a dozen caning pegs. Levair’s supplied enough medium binding cane for the three sets.

    This was my first attempt at caning, using a modified six-stage, so-called “quick” pattern employed by Peterborough. Once again, I found Mike Elliot's site a great help, specifically this:

    Canoeguy's Blog August 5, 2018
    Weaving the Peterborough Pattern in Wood-Canvas Canoe Seats

    https://canoeguybc.wordpress.com/20...erborough-pattern-in-wood-canvas-canoe-seats/

    Apparently, Peterborough, when installing the binding at the edges, secured the cane through every second hole. That seemed somehow incomplete and I couldn’t resist the urge to do every one.

    There are numerous YouTube videos which are excellent references as well.

    The first photo shows how the seats were mounted. Three #8 countersunk brass screws through the planking and rib, supported by a conical brass washer, attached an oak cleat 5/8” wide x 7/8” deep x 10 3/4” long, chamfered on the bottom side ½” x 22 ½ degrees, on each side.

    The second photo shows the seat components after many applications of deck cleaner, scraping and scrubbing. The piece in the photo held together with tape had split down the center, but I resurrected that too. Also shown is one of the few original dowels still recognizable as such.


    The third photo is of the Peterborough seats after caning. As I said above, although unexpected, I’m pleased with the colour of the frames after application of spar varnish. I haven’t applied any finish to the cane – I’m thinking of Danish oil (boiled linseed/tung oil) on the top surfaces, followed by satin spar varnish overall, applied with my trusty touch-up spray gun.
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Feb 10, 2021

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