Beginning Old Town rehab


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Howdy Forum -

I am beginning to repair (I'll avoid the word restore, since I want a nice-looking canoe, but not necessarily an authentic-in-every-way canoe) a 1940s 18ft Old Town guide series. The canoe certainly needs new canvas, but I think mostly it's in pretty good shape... I hope. I successfully removed the keel, and have run into my first two (of many?) conundrums. 1. The canvas seems to be glued on with liquid nails or something. Is this typical? Any ideas how to remove it expediently? 2. There are interesting halos around just about every tack in the ribs. I've attached a picture (to help orient viewers, the large screw head toward the right is for the keel). Anyone seen this before? I think it was used in salt water (I live on the Puget Sound) and this might be some kind of corrosion, but I'm not sure.

Thanks for any info, and unsolicited advice!!

- Looney


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The halos you mention are a result of the canoe being paddled in salt water. It is a sign the fasteners and tacks are degrading.

The canvas being glued on may just be varnish that bled through the planking and is acting like glue. Do not try to pull it off as it will tear pieces of planking right off. You could try a heat gun to help soften and loosen the canvas from the hull or some chemical stripper as well. Hope this helps.
The first canoe I fixed up had spent too much time on puget sound. I had so many tacks break when I started reclinching them, I ended up replacing at least 3/4 of the tacks.

I suspect from my own limited experience and many posts on this forum that there are precious few boats the age of yours that just need canvassing and a little sprucing up. Since you have the canvas off, and since re-canvassing, filling, and painting are time-consuming, it's worth doing a job on the ribs, planking, and trim that you'll be really proud of for decades.

Just my two cents, of course! I finished an Old Town restoration this fall, so it's easy for me to say, now that the hard part is over. All the best to you whatever happens.
optimistic about glue

Ok -

Here's hoping I like lemonade. As I have been able to remove the canvas, the powdery bits around the brass/copper tacks and the opinions expressed here seem to confirm the corrosion hypothesis. So - should I expect to replace every tack?? How do you decide if the hardware's still good, or, once some kind of corrosion has begun, does that demand removal and replacement?

I really think it's some kind of glue between the canvas and the planking, not leaky varnish. It's erratically placed and very gummy (see picture). Regardless, complete de-canvassing is waiting until I get a heat gun, as per your suggestions.

As to my optimism - well, I definitely need to replace the outwales - they are both broken in half, and one is missing an end. The inwales are cracked right at where I suppose the yoke or some kind of center thwart would have been (not there any more - none of the thwarts are). Do folks think these require replacement, or could they be fixed? I've been thinking about splicing some kind of center piece in each inwale, rather than disassembling the whole thing. Also, I like the idea of leaving as much of the canoe as it is, rather than rebuilding. Not just because I'm lazy, but because I think it's neater to have a repaired piece of wood that's 68 years old than a whole piece of wood that's 1 year old. From what I can see of the planks I've exposed and the ribs from the inside - no cracks, damage or separation between the ribs and the planks. The bow and stern seem to have suffered from a surfeit of large & hairy spiders, but free of rot or structural damage. Anyway, please check out the glue picture, and thanks for all the replies thus far.


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Replace the inwales, new or not, its the right thing to do. Inwales are the backbone of the canoe. I'm not even going to get into original vs. leaving it alone, we already beat that dead horse to death!:rolleyes: Just search this forum for level of restoration, or something like that. As for the corroded tacks, I would carefully pull out some sample tacts and observe them. Pull the ones that look the worse, from all over the canoe. Look at them, how much head is left, how hard did they come out. That will tell you what youre up against. My opinion, and we already know what they are like, I would bail on the project if all the tacks need replacement. Unless, its a family heirloom, I would look for another Old Town. If your talking about replacing just the tacks on the bottom, I'd probably save her. However, it would be easier than starting a canoe from scratch, so who am I to judge! All's I'm saying is that Old Towns can still be found and perhaps another would be in order for a first time project.:confused:
missing thwarts and cracked inwales

Another point to consider (isn't free advice wonderful, since YOU get to do all the work?) should you go ahead: the thwarts have been out, and the inwales cracked, for a while. The shape of the canoe has changed. If the seats are also out, they may not fit where the holes are. This means re-positioning. If you have the old thwarts, they may not fit either. Not a big deal--you can make new thwarts pretty easily, and move the seats even more easily. Just don't be surpised when everything seems "different." Also, put in temporary thwarts made of 1 x 2 while working so that the problem doesn't get worse.

All the best.