Canvas, or Glass?

Pernicious Atavist

Canoe Sailing Publisher
Hello all,
Trying to get a feel here. Do you prefer canvas or glass over wood? Why?
Seems to me, canvas can't take long-term abuse, yes--abuse:eek: --especially in shallow, salt waters. Why "abuse?" Well, if it's to be well used as a boat, it's bound to get beached, grounded, etc.
Age-old argument not only in the wooden canoe world, but elsewhere as well including the runabout/launch circle. Depends upon type of boat/construction. Many people argue that full encapsulation in epoxy/glass is fine (as long as the coating doesn't get breached). Covering a lapstrake hull with 'glass presents special problems as you can imagine, but the wonderful writer and boatbuilder Robb White (unfortunately no longer with us) built lapstrake fashion by first encapsulating each plank in epoxy.

But many argue that covering one side of a hull (i.e., the outside) with fiberglass and epoxy is a sure, slow death because of water being trapped against wood by the exterior covering. Canvas not only breaths, but it may solve another problem as well- it is flexible; while it may tear, generally it won't fracture like epoxy/fiberglass.

Here is a thread on this topic, and it contains links to other such threads:

Note Mike Cav's use of the phrase "can of worms"... very true!
Having owned Fiberglass, wood-and-canvas, and then cedar strip and 'glass boats, I'd have to say that you need to make a distinction between all fiberglass boats and fiberglass coated wood.

Gelcoat takes a fair amount of abuse but looks bad cosmetically pretty quickly. It's also hard to find somebody to do a good re-spray job to make it look good again. After that, my preference tends towards cedar strip and 'glass. It takes a fair amount of abuse and isn't difficult to repair or bring back cosmetically. Wood-and-canvas boats stand up to the abuse about the same as the colored fiberglass, but are easier to make look good again with a paint brush. The canvas also has a little bit of "give" which can help as long as what youre running into isn't too sharp.

As my father used to tell me, the bottom of a canoe should only touch two things. The first is air, the other is water. Then again, some of his boats have seem some pretty hard water. :eek:

Actually, the canvas is pretty tough stuff, all in all for abrasion, but can't take a sharp edge. Haven't had the opportunity to patch canvas, only change it.
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Maine Stream vs. Beach

I dunno fella, but I gotta believe them nice warm beaches down south are a heck of a lot easier on a canvas canoe bottom than a Maine "STREAM" full of glacial erratics. :D

Seriously, canvas is very tough and easily paintable. You may get an very rare occasional puncture wound, but that is easily repaired too.
Big Crawdads

We have big crawdads called Lobster.:cool:

Yes, I see your point. I just think canvas might surprise you and no mess too. I glued a few things yesterday and I had that stuff all over the place...:eek:
Maybe this is a case where, rather than ruining an otherwise good boat in an attempt to make it suitable for local conditions, perhaps an alternative boat should be found?

Don't forget as well what the salt water is going to do to all those brass tacks...
Pernicious Atavist said:
Hello all,
Do you prefer canvas or glass over wood? Seems to me, canvas can't take long-term abuse, yes--abuse if it's to be well used as a boatFeedback?

Canvas canoes will hold up and last forever. Most of the members of this site own numerous canoes that are 80 or more years old. That should be proof enough, eh?
It's easy to repair minor damage as long as you don't totally stove it up. Even then repairs can be done even if there are only a few splinters left. Consider all of the working canoes in Maine/Canada. They held/hold up. Certainly the old White's and Chestnut's did not live sheltered lives.
If you feel obligated to bash around then consider picking up a beater. I own a couple of Old Town Royalflex canoes for bashing around and lending out. I use these in salt water and when I am running water with an inexperienced partner. And if the Scout's want to "borrow" something. :eek:
Here is a site where there are always lot's of bashers available:

As far as glass over wood is concerned, I am personally not too keen on it. If it's clear (best looking) it's very hard to avoid ugly repairs. If you add a color coat to the resin it's better but you still end up with a heavy boat. Having owned one, I will say that a glassed wooden canoe is stronger than anything else around. Mine once survived a trip off of the roof of my car. But, what a beast to carry. I once wanted to cry half way through mud pond carry. On second thought, I wanted to cry half way through mud pond even when I had a lighter canoe. Maybe Thoreau's Indian knew what he was talking about.
See....I KNEW if I chose the right topic I might get some conversation going!:D
Okay, good info is being shared here, let's keep it up. If not here, maybe at my place!
Ed, I suspect Dan Millers salt water comment above would be the strongest arguement for staying away from cedar planked/ribbed construction regardless of the cover material. I've seen references to silicon bronze tacks but don't know a source. Built new you could go that way. Replacing 100% of the tacks in an old canoe would be daunting. I probably replaced 40% of the tacks in the last Old Town I re did. Along with a comensurate amount of ribs (18) and planking (125 linear feet).