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Restoring an old Trapper's canoe

Discussion in 'Wood and Canvas' started by Murat V, Nov 17, 2020.

  1. Murat V

    Murat V LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Picked up a new boat that seems a perfect candidate for a restoration.

    Seller was a lovely senior (in her 70s) just north of Peterborough, Ontario. She was the neighbour and caretaker of the original sole owner, who passed away this year at 93. A few years ago she was given the canoe by him and she intended to do a full restoration but had given up on the project. She stated he picked up the canoe in Peterborough directly from the canoe factory sometime in the mid-to-late fifties and that he fiberglassed it himself sometime in the late 1960s after the company shut down the factory.

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    The bottom of the hull has three keels covered in more sloppily applied glass. When I saw the triple keels I asked if he by chance was a fur trapper. Recalled a post on Dick Persson's old blog about how some local Peterborough trappers would add three keels to protect the hull from the damage caused dragging over beaver dams and/or winter ice during trapping season. She excitedly confirmed that he actively trapped beaver well into his 70s and that his estate was still sorting out some of his old stuff, including his old traps.

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    Dimensions and build look very much like a Peterborough Mermaid. It seems to identical in shape and dimensions as a Chestnut Playmate / Peterborough Mermaid I already have in the fleet. It's a just over 14' long, quite narrow (30" beam) with a 12" depth. Ribs are the narrow "pleasure" style (1- 1/2" spaced 1- 1/2" apart). Unlike my existing boat, this one has squarish ash outwales that were never rounded off or spliced. One end looks to have had the inwale tips scarfed with non matching wood, possible oak. The seat caning has long since disappeared but the original holes are there. He covered the stern seat with a board and the bow seat with some sort of rigid metal mesh. Presumably it was better for usage in the colder temps and wouldn't have become brittle like cane. Center thwart is gone and replaced with just a plank. This was definitely a functional user boat meant for a purpose other than pleasure paddling.

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    The interior was coated with green paint at one point. It looks to have been applied directly over the cracking varnish. The good news is these surface coats are easily flaking off and should be simple enough to remove with chemical stripper. The lady I obtained it from said she started sanding one end as part of her attempt at a restoration. She revealed the replaced deck but also sanded the stem piece. Unfortunately she seemed to have coarsely sanded off most of the model number + serial number combo that would have confirmed Peterborough construction. All I can gather right now is a "59" that has survived her efforts.

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    Once I told her about the WCHA, our local chapter and the arrangement to work neighbourhood high school kids to help with the restoration, she graciously threw in 4 vintage paddles, including two very old ones that were heavily used by the original owner. You can see them in the background of the 2nd & 3rd pics. Hoping that by replacing the glassed hull with canvas, getting rid of the triple keels, and perhaps replacing the stern seat with a thwart, the weight can be significantly brought down. Won't be used for trapping anymore but will get to have a second life as a nice little solo canoe.
     
  2. OP
    OP
    Murat V

    Murat V LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Removing the keels, outwales and stem bands on this sucker turned out to be quite the adventure. It seems the original owner was a practical guy and reused whatever fasteners he had handy.

    I believe this model originally came with a wide shoe keel. When the canoe was fiberglasssed in the 1960s, the shoe keel was removed and the holes in the ribs plugged with dowels and covered with a little bit of resin. You can see them in the 1st, 3rd, and 5th ribs below:

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    The the original owner appears to have installed the three narrow (7/8") oak keels. These were mounted to the hull in an amateurish way, each with their own fastening system. One keel seemed to have re-used the old flat-head bolts and nuts from the show keel and some were mounted with steel washers. The centre keel used a variety of Robertson screws to attach from inside the hull through the ribs & planking. Rather than re-use the existing holes from the shoe keel, the owner opted to mount with new holes on alternating ribs. The final keel was attached the other way with the screws drilled in from the outside and the tips piercing the interior of the hull. The intention was likely to hide the tips by embedding them into the ribs, but he missed missed and ended up leaving sharp, exposed screw tips in the planking. Definitely a hazard when kneeling in the hull! You can just see the rusted tip of one such screw where the awl blade is pointing below:

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    Each of these stainless fasteners was heavily corroded and/or covered in paint so removing each was a battle without stripping the head. In the end, I ended up patiently heating each up for about 5 minutes with an an electric soldering pen to break up the cohesion and it really did the trick. A heat gun was then used to soften up the resin and cloth applied to the keels. It took a while but slowly and surely the fibreglass layers were removed and the wood keels exposed. All three oak keels were heavily rotted under their glass layer and basically crumbled when pried off the hull. Definitely see why glassing a hull can accelerate wood rot with canvas canoes.

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    Ended up weighing all the discarded glass covering the triple keels as well as the oak remnants and rusted screws/bolts. Just this little bit of canoe surgery took off 8.5 lbs of weight.

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    The stem bands were their own adventure. They were secured with a mix of steel Robertson screws, copper nails, steel nails and even brass screws with the heads cutoff and preened over...

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    Anyway, removing the glassed cloth was relatively easy with a heat gun, but plenty of resin was left behind on the planking

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    Wasn't expecting this but had to go over the hull with the gun and a scraper over a few days to delicately get rid of all that resin...

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    The resin had also soaked into the gaps between the planking. These were a bit of a chore to remove without splitting the plank edges but other posts suggested using a dental pick. Thanks for that tip! Some of the planks show signs of severe splitting perhaps because there was no room for natural expansion with all the gaps filled with hardened resin.

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    Anyway, its been cleaned up of all that 'glass...an additional 10.8 pounds of weight.

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    To my eyes, it looks like the planking is white cedar rather than red cedar that was on my similar Chestnut Playmate.
     
  3. Olivemyjourneys

    Olivemyjourneys Chris Harris

    This is a fantastically informative post Murat. Thank you.

    I just recently rescued a glassed over W/C from a bonfire. Ironically from the Kawartha Lakes area also.

    I’ll be starting this same process over this winter. Do you have any updates on your progress?
     
  4. OP
    OP
    Murat V

    Murat V LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Spent most of the fall of 2020 stripping the green paint and old varnish from the interior. Was a really messy and time consuming job but got all those layers off. Here's a section after testing out the stripper and cleaning up...

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    This is as far as I got before the first snow hit the ground...

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    Removing all the glass around the ends revealed rotten stems at both ends. Basically the rigid glass was holding everything together.

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    This spring, I finally finished the chore of stripping the hull and have done a few rib top splices. Cracked / broken planking have been removed. Luckily didn't have to replace any ribs.

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    Started to re-plank some of the smaller areas with some scrap white cedar I had on hand, but need to obtain some proper planking for the rest.

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    It was actually nice to have a backyard project during our extended lock-down since April.
     
  5. chris pearson

    chris pearson Michigan Canoe Nut

    Great job Murat. If anything like your paddles, It'll be a great boat when finished....
     
    Dave Wermuth likes this.
  6. Alex Guthro

    Alex Guthro LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Murat I have a little bit of planking if you need some. I'll check to see how much I've got.
     

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