16' 1950 Penn Yan Rainbow


Wooden Canoe Maniac
Just completed my last canoe for the year - a 16' 1950 Penn Yan Rainbow. Red cedar, white cedar, ash, spruce, and mahogany. A prettier canoe was never made.

Very nice! Very, very Nice!

I would like to see a couple of pics of the outside stem / keel joint if you have them to share. I am building and installing a new outside stem and keel on my Morris #158 rowing pod. How far back should the outside stem reach to meet the keel?

I am seeking any input I can get on that step of my restoration. Installing the original outwales and a temporary keel (from another canoe) so I can handle it this winter is where I am now. I put a second coat of paint on the new canvass last week. Outwales next. What would you use as a bedding compound between the new keel and the painted canvass when I do the final install?




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Good questions.

You want to someday be able to separate the outer stem from the keel, so you need a joint held by screws passing through both parts and into the inner stem. Use a #8 flat-head wood screw about 1.5" to 2" long depending on keel height, making sure to bore for a flat-head screw holes through parts to avoid splitting the wood. See below for a pic of the keel-to-outer-stem joint I used - I believe it's close to what Penn Yan did on the original. Make a 45deg cut on one part such that the pointy part is at the surface not touching the canoe, then cut off about 1/8" of this pointy part making its edge perpendicular to the surface. Then trace these cuts on the other part & cut to match.IMG_4211.jpg

As for making the outer stem... I've tried different methods, both laminating thin strips as well as bending whole hunks of wood. I use a form for both methods - the form matches the outer profile (minus a little) of the inner stem. The form is thin enough to allow me to clamp the wood in place while it dries to shape.

As for steam bending, I believe there are those who steam the wood and use the canoe itself as the form for bending. Once bent into place they just screw it in & let it dry. I can't bring myself to do this - I wonder if it risks putting too much stress on the inner stems. I suppose it's ok for inner stems that are new, but for an old canoe I worry that the threads won't hold & rip out of the inner stem - or that the planking holes for the ring nails going into the inner stem will fail. So I've always used a form.

You could use some bedding compound when you attach the outer-stem to the inner. Or you can just cram it in the cracks later. Just remember that whatever you smear on while you're screwing it into place is going to end up smearing all over you plus the rest of the canoe as you wrestle the outer stem into place & screw together. And just accept the fact that the outer stem will never perfectly match the inner stem's shape. So use putty + bedding compound as required - see my post a few days ago on this subject.

Thank you for this help. I see and understand the stem / keel joint you used. Is the stem "overlapping" the keel? Should the lap joint occur where it can be fastened through and into the inner stem?

I will steam some white oak for the stem. Taking the profile of the outer stem from the boat and building a form are next.

I am thinking of using butyl caulk as the bedding compound for the keel. What do you suggest?

The outer stem should flow smoothly into the keel. Ideally it - both external stems & keel - would look like one piece of wood.

I was thinking about my advice to you above. I forgot to mention something: learn how to make good scarf cuts. First, steam/bend the external stem, and then trim it into shape (more on that below...). Now, you'll need this stem to extend into the flat of the canoe into the keel area and lie flat to the bottom of the canoe like a keel would. If it does then congratulations, you're a far better steamer than I. If you find it easier, steam bend additional wood and then scarf cut & glue (Titebond III) piece(s) to get the needed shape. THEN scarf cut & glue the keel into place. Once this joint is dry you can make the 45deg cut I describe above: cut at 45deg from the surface that'll lie against the canoe and stop cutting about 1/8" from the other surface. Then turn the part over & cut through to the 45deg cut you just made. That'll give you a perfect fitting joint. Repeat with the other external stem except the 45deg cut will need to be accurate to cause both stems to be the right distance apart to fit the canoe properly. If the distance is wrong you can always recut or scarf-cut additional wood to the keel. Come to think of it, a more acute cut angle would be better - say closer to 30deg. Get the idea? And it's probably better to do much of this fiddley work after canvassing but before painting.

As for steam bending, I think you'll find that the wood will need to be square shaped in profile to bend without cracking. So you'll likely need to trim the width since the external stems I've seen are all a rather steep V shape - maybe 7/8"x 3/4" with 3/8" flat on the outer edge. Then you'll need to flare the height down to match the keel height.

As for caulk, make absolutely certain whatever you use contains NO SILICON. Once silicon touches a surface paint won't stick to it, and you'll have a devil of a time removing it. As for caulk type, look at my posting a few days ago for runny caulk: http://forums.wcha.org/showthread.php?13595-Bedding-compound-too-runny

And oak or ash is a great wood to use for steaming. They say steam for 1 hour per inch - I steam for 75 to 90 minutes.

Ya know... just typing this out makes me realize how much work is involved. I'm gonna be selling this Rainbow (I restore too many canoes to keep 'em all) - makes me think I'm asking too little for it!
I ripped up a 7' white oak plank last week. I got 8 pieces 1 1/4" X 1" X 7'. They all have favorable grain and the plank was not kd. It will take some soaking. I'll tie them to a piece of granite and toss them in the brook behind the house. I have had that plank over 20 years. It had a lengthwise split in it and I kept putting it back in the stock pile. I might make the keel end of the bending jig a little "tight" to flatten the stem into its scarf joint with the keel. If it is too "tight" I can shim the end for a second try. I intend to bend the stem pieces two at a time, side by side in the jig

So? The outside stem / keel lap joint does or does not need to take place over the inside stem?


As Howie says, stay away from anything silicon.

Butyl is not much better. It is messy and difficult to clean up, and more important, it will be very difficult to remove at that time in the future when you may want to remove/repair/refinish your stem and/or keel.

A traditional marine bedding compound such as Dolfinite (or even common plumbers putty) will seal things well and is fairly easy to clean up, and will not be stuck on for eternity as will butyl rubber.

Keep in mind that one of the good things about a wood/canvas canoe is that it is reparable and restorable. So don't do anything that is not readily reversible or un-doable. The next person to work on the canoe (it might even be you) will thank you.
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The screw joining the outer stem to the keel must be screwed into the stem or straight section of the inner stem.