Canoe Tacks - Why did brass supercede copper?

Dan Miller

cranky canoeist
Staff member
So, walking to the mailbox today to post a check for, quite literally, a boat load of copper canoe tacks, I got to wondering why brass became the de facto standard for canoe construction.

Cost? Pound for pound, copper tacks and brass tacks today cost about the same.

Strength? Maybe, brass is stronger than copper, but I don't recall seeing a canoe (canvas-covered or lapstrake) where copper fasteners were the major cause of failure.

Dezincification? Copper wins this battle hands-down.

Availability? yes, today it is much, much easier to source brass canoe tacks than copper. Still, it is possible.

What other factors may have played a role?
I'll guess strength and price perhaps. Shell casings are of course brass for greater strength as brass is less malleable. Additionally, the components to make brass would come in at less money I would guess. Pure speculation of course. Did guerney do another run? I thought Dylan and I bought the last of their on hand copper stock. In other news I'm restoring a Temagam I special built by Bill Smith in 1946, and it's copper fastened. Guess he had a keg of copper tacks while the war effort took all the brass
My guess is that strength was the primary factor originally since the prices were similar even in the early 1900s. Bent tacks would really slow down anyone who was planking canoes on a production basis. The information at indicates that the prices were similar in the 1911 and 1913 era. The pictures below show the Old Town tack inventories over time. The hand written one from 1917 shows 2950 pounds of copper tacks at 41 cents per pound versus 300 pounds of brass tacks at 48 cents per pound. This situation had reversed by 1918 when the prices had equalized. They had 9945 pounds of brass tacks in stock but far fewer copper tacks. Brass tacks continued to prevail in the 1920 and 1936 inventories.


IMG_3077.JPG IMG_3082.JPG IMG_3081.JPGIMG_3080.JPG
Last edited:
@Andre - Gurney will be doing another run. I need two sizes of specific tacks that are the closest match to the ones in the ca. 1881 Rushton hunting canoe (and a couple others) that I am restoring. So, fifty pounds will be on their way soon. I expect to share the wealth in the classifieds once they arrive.