25 ft. Old Town Repairs


New Member
Hi all,

I am working on a 25 ft. wood and canvas Old Town canoe from the 1960's. The reoccurring issue is that each season moisture gets trapped between the wood and the canvas of the canoe and then freezes during the winter and tears holes in the canvas. In the past we have mended the tears using bond-o and tried different kinds of paints and fillers to help seal the canoe. What would you recommend to repair this canoe? Is the canvas salvageable? Is the filler the root of the problem?
Last edited:

Greg Nolan

Pictures, please.

Without some pictures showing the condition of the canvas, it's really not possible to give a sound opinion. But it is possible to say that if the canvas is the original canvas, now some 50 years old, it likely needs to be replaced, especially if it has various repairs and patches of questionable effectiveness. Indeed, I suspect that the freezing of a damp canvas is not the cause of the recurring damage, but rather, you have old canvas that is weak and ready to fall apart. I have occasionally paddled when it was cold, with freezing air temperatures late in the day and overnight, and have never had a problem such as you describe.

How late into the year are you paddling and how often and how long are you paddling in freezing conditions?

Also, it is likely that using Bondo in the past has exacerbated whatever problems otherwise exist -- ordinary Bondo is just not meant to be wet.



New Member
This boat is owned by a summer camp so it is paddled no later than August. The canvas was last replaced in 1995. From what I have gathered, the use of Bondo was a recommendation of a canoe builder from Ely several years ago.

Thanks for the advice!


  • IMG_0784.jpg
    81.4 KB · Views: 1,306
  • IMG_0785.jpg
    64.7 KB · Views: 542
  • IMG_0786.jpg
    71.7 KB · Views: 506
  • IMG_0787.jpg
    64.3 KB · Views: 525
  • IMG_0788.jpg
    58.9 KB · Views: 504
  • IMG_0789.jpg
    39.9 KB · Views: 487

Larry Meyer

Wooden Canoes are in the Blood
I would ditto Greg’s view. It’s very unlikely that dampness freezes into ice that then holes the canvas. Unless the boat has a real serious leak. I have never heard of or read about this condition. Thousands of w/c canoes have been exposed to freezing with (presumably) some canvas dampness and I know of no case where enough ice formed to punch through the canvas. The canvas is likely pretty rotted.

Dave Osborn

I would suggest re canvassing... The photos show that the canvas is pretty well shot.
Replacing the canvas would also allow access for repairs to ribs and planking as well.

Moisture is the evil demon on wood and canvas canoes.... Assuming it is a camp canoe, it is wet quite often.
My suggestion is to take it out of the water when not in use....don't moor it.
When it is out of the water, it should be under cover and out of the sun. If the inside is wet (it will be!!) it should be stored right side up so that evaporation can take place.
For long term storage, after a camp season, I'd suggest again, storing right side up, and if not inside, at least under cover.....knowing that there is moisture in it. A dry canoe can be stored upside down....
In any storage situation it should be well supported.... Not just hung with a couple of ropes. I would suggest 3-4 points of contact for support on a 25'er.

I've repaired a couple and restored a handful of war canoes....they take a beating..
One camp that I do work with has now gone to fiberglass war canoes. They require little or no maintenance and can take a beating from the kids. The cost of a fiberglass War canoe is less than what I have typically charged for a full restoration.
Should you decide to recanvas, there is a listing of builders and suppliers that provide those services on the home page.

Greg Nolan

I agree with what is said above.

The canvas on a well-treated and well-cared for canoe can last a long time, but the need for replacement after 20 years or so is not uncommon, especially with a canoe getting the kind of treatment the it might get at a kids' camp. It's replacement in 1995 is not surprising, nor is the fact replacement is needed again.

If the brownish-red stuff is Bondo spot putty, I think that is not causing a problem. Unlike regular Bondo, my experience with the spot putty is that it does hold up to water. The spot putty is good for smoothing a rough surface after a repair is made, but it is not an adhesive and it will not hold torn canvas together.

But -- that much spot putty indicates that this canoe has been used pretty hard (rode hard and put away wet, as it were). The cracking in the paint indicates that the canoe has been repainted quite a bit, and repainting again will not eliminate, or even really hide, those cracks. Also indicative of hard use are what look like repairs to the planking on the bottom of the interior -- I count at least 17 of what I presume are wooden Dutchmen backing up broken planking and/or are sistering cracked or broken ribs. Further, the varnish on all of the wood is pretty well shot -- worn and chipped and providing no protection against sun, wear, and water. Good marine varnish protects against ultraviolet damage, wear, and water absorption by the wood.

Neither Bondo spot putty nor any other material that I am aware of will repair a tear in canvas by simply coating over the damaged area -- Bondo and other fillers, including epoxy, will simply pull apart at the tear line -- the edges of the tear must be adhered to some sort of backing -- a new bit of canvas or some other fabric, but not the planking of the hull. It does not seem that this was done in the torn areas in the photos. (Alternatively, tape or a patch can be glued over a tear, but it is difficult to smooth over and conceal such a repair -- but an external patch will hold the canvas together, and can serve till a better repair -- or canvas replacement -- can be done.)

In my opinion, this canoe is overdue for a good restoration -- new canvas and paint, stripping the old varnish, repairing wood (ribs, planking, and whatever else is cracked or broken), and a new varnish job. The best time to repair wood and re-varnish is when the canvas is being replaced.

This canoe is certainly not beyond restoration -- quite the contrary. A good shop can restore a canoe like this, or even worse, for decades more service, but it wouldn't be cheap, and a restoration would not eliminate the need for regular, proper, and timely repairs and maintenance in the future.

It's probably too late to do a proper restoration for this summer season, and you might be able to patch and paint this boat to limp through to August. But it looks to me that unless some substantial work is done on this canoe, it is just about at the point where it really shouldn't be used any more, certainly not used regularly at a summer camp.
Last edited:


"Tiger Rag" back on the tidal Potomac
In Memoriam
The canvas was last replaced in 1995.
Thanks for the advice!
You sure that's canvas? That's the coarsest weave I've ever seen. Looks more like glass, painted with resin and no filler. Rip it off, re-canvas, fill, sand, paint, and it will be good for another 20 years. Tom McCloud


Old War Canoes

Campers, counselors and camp employees have to be taught how to treat these big canoes. They are too expensive to repair to let them be mistreated. When you do recanvas your canoe you must make sure to get as much mildewcide soaked into the canvas as possible. Just to recanvas - remove gunwales, stembands, outside stems, keel and canvas; reset proud tacks, oil hull, stretch on new #8 duck canvas, apply mildewcide, fill, prime (2 coats), paint (3 coats), attach keel, outside stems, gunwales and stembands - will run cost about $3,600 for labor and materials.

As mentioned above, this is the time to do repairs, maybe strip and refinish the interior; bring the old girl back to nearly new. Much $$$.

Good handling and good maintenance are the keys. Attached are photos of a local camp's canoes and shelter. And here is a link to a restoration we did a while back: http://smallboat-shop.com/camp_pinecliffe.htm

This is a great site - many here to help. Ask all the questions, we all want to keep these old canoes in service.

Good luck. Dan


  • War Canoes.JPG
    War Canoes.JPG
    203.7 KB · Views: 515
  • Storage.jpg
    174.5 KB · Views: 477


Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes
Beautiful restoration photos, thank you Dave, and the Smallboatshop. All this is so inspiring.