canvas? or Epoxy/Fiberglas?


Curious about Wooden Canoes
I stopped by my friend's boathouse yesterday and saw the old guide boat he had bought. It's an old Old Town, I believe, with two rowing stations. Ribs and planks are all in restored condition, but there's no skin on the outside. So, the question arose: should he cover it in canvas to maintain its historical accuracy, or coat it in epoxy and fiberglas?

My friend is a bit of a traditionalist, but then again, he wants this boat to be robust and be able to take a lot of banging around. Strength and durability is important to him.

I was wondering if anyone had any opinions about this? :)

If he chooses the epoxy/fiberglas route, what coverings are recommended? The hull's strength will repose in its ribs and planks, so the fiberglas wouldn't have to be that thick. Should he use a layer of mat, overlaid with a layer of thousand-weave cloth? Or just one layer?

Any ideas?

Can you say "can of worms"? Well, you just opened one! Although there are some differing opinions, many people, myself included consider this a bad move. A wooden canoe is designed to move as the wood fibers in the planking and ribs change from moisture variations due to humidity and immersion in water. In a boat that has been glassed, one side (outside) of the wood is sealed and locked in place. The other side (inside) is still free to swell and flex. The tension between the two sides causes obvious problems.

Do a search on the topic on this forum - there have been many posts about the advisability of canvas vs fiberglass on a boat that was originally designed for canvas.

Here is a thread or two to start with:
Thanks, Mike. I knew I'd be raising an issue of contention, much as if I had posed this question:

"I'm getting ready to vote next November. Which is correct, to vote Republican or Democrat? Anybody have any ideas about that?" :)

I'll go read those threads you pointed me toward.

I understand the problem of having water able to get into one side of the planks but not the other after epoxying.

Just to be thorough, is there anybody who *prefers* the epoxy/fiberglas solution? If so, what is your reasoning?

Also, does anybody have any experience with this method? If so, you could tell us what the *real* results are.

Thank you,
A canvas-covered boat or canoe is pretty much infinitely restorable/repairable. Once you've glassed it, you've eliminated this option, and the boat will sooner rather than later be relegated to the burn pile. Polyester resin is bad enough to get off. In my experience, glassed boats tend to emerge in worse shape - there is often more rot, more cracked and broken planking, and the surviving planking is more brittle than on canoes that have only been canvassed.

Glassed boats may look nice, but it is a dead end street. Oh, and glassed boats lose a significant amount of value on the open market.
I am currently working with a good friend who bought an Old Town square stern that someone had fiberglassed...If you have ever taken "glass" off of cedar planking then you would know all the problems involved...Its a NASTY job!...NOW...Having gotten it all off and having to replank in spots where the glass had stripped out sections of the planking, which by the way Dan Miller described it right, it was all dry and brittle., we have found that there is considerable rot where the water got in and was trapped. As a result, what should have been a very simple re-canvas has turned into a major restoration...It has taken months to repair and restore all the damage that the glass had done, but now it is ready for the canvas, the way it was designed to be...Its just my opinion but if he has a real OT Guide and it has any age at all it would be a shame to see it become "just another canoe" that this throw away society is today....Your losing the value the minute you do it and that would be a shame.....Do it right and appreciate the treasue you have found.

" Its not how many strokes of the paddle it takes to get where your going, rather it is in the JOY of the journey"...Blue VikingB]
Hi Jack,

Maybe some from the other side of the canvas/glass fence will weigh in, but early responses are what I would have expected. This is not nearly the can of worms you might think- most people who are serious about wooden canoes (minus stripper canoes, of course) think that the problems of fiberglass far outweigh any potential benefits.

I have de-'glassed a number of old canoes. Some removal jobs were easy, as though I were separating two nested canoes. Others, however, were much more difficult. Just a couple of months ago, I removed 'glass from a wonderful AA-grade 1916 Old Town Otca. It came off in pieces, with difficulty, and left big patches of resin strongly adhered to the hull. It took many hours of hard work with chisels, scrapers and spokeshaves to clean up the hull. In other cases, removal of the glass has pulled out chunks of cedar from the planking. There are many people out there with many similar tales. Bottom line- I would never consider fiberglassing a traditionally wooden or or tradiationally canvas-covered hull for any reason.

I have original 1972 OT Guide (#187872). I custom ordered it with canvas and no keel. They split the canvas when they built it and rather than fix it properly or re-canvas it, they glued a thin hunk of Dacron sailcloth behind the split, filled over it and shipped it out as a new canoe. Within a year, the glue let go and an 8" split opened up below the gunwale on one side. Old town was no help at all and unless I was willing to pay freight from Illinois to Maine and back and pay to have them recanvas it, they weren't about to do squat.

I eventually stripped the canvas, tried recanvasing with no instructions or help (which failed - remember, back in 1972 there weren't any books on the subject, no WCHA, no WoodenBoat, no internet = no help) and eventually I decided to fiberglass it. That failed, too, as it was the first boat I ever fiberglassed. I eventually ground the glass off, which we all know now is not the proper way to remove it and was left with a lumpy cedar hull that hung in the rafters for a couple decades. Finally, after about 25 years of building and rebuilding wood and fiberglass boats, I faired out the lumps and glassed it properly. It's usable, looks just like any wood/canvas canoe, weighs about the same and as long as I baby it, it will be fine for a long time.

Would I do it again? Hell no! The only reason that it worked this time is because I spent a lot of years learning how to fiberglass boats. With a combination of cracks between planks and small dents where the tack heads are you would have to look long and hard to find a more difficult boat fiberglassing project. Unless you already have considerable experience fiberglassing boats you will fail, and may well ruin the boat and it's chances of ever being properly restored in the process. The fact that you even mentioned fiberglass mat is enough to verify that you aren't even close to being ready to attempt fiberglassing the boat. It would add an tremendous amount of excess weight to the hull.

You and your friend can certainly recanvas the boat and wind-up with a beauty. All the help you'll ever need is right here 24/7. Fiberglassing one is hard enough when you know what you're doing and in the long run you don't gain anything, in fact, you lose a lot. As a first-time boat-glassing project, I'll agree with Gil -you might as well save some money and just burn it now.
Use Canvas

It Sounds Like You Have An Old Town Double End Boat (2 Rowing Stations, Plank Seats Etc..) I Spent Last Summer Removing Fiberglass & Resin From My 1946. Like So Many I've Read Here, It Was Done In The 60's When There Wasn't Any Help Available On Recanvasing. I'm Sure Glassing Must Have Seemed Less Daunting. I Haven't Finished The Project Yet, But I've Got To Believe This Boat Will Be Much Lighter W/ Filler/canvas & Paint. As Todd Mentioned,most First Time Glassers Must Have A Tendency To Go Heavy On The Fabric/resin. This Is A Double End Boat, Not A Standard Canoe. Already Heavy By Old Town Canoe Standards, Mine Weighed A Ton. The Previous Owner Really Layed In On ( And The Results Didn't Look That Smooth). Also, The Plank Seat Braces Are Partially Fastened Through The Sides And Glassing Will Make It Impossible To Get At These Bolts. Something To Think About As The Seats Replace The Thwarts As Hull Stiffeners. This Group Of Folks Can Give You All The Resources You Need To Be More Comfortable With A Recanvas.
Come With Me And "restore" Your D.e. Boat.