Cedar Canoe Strip Rebuild - help with the strategy.


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Hi all,
I just got myself a Great Canadian Huron, a 15 or so foot cedar strip canoe which is in sore need of repair. I posted this in the forums at woodenboat.com and was told to come over here.

I myself have never done this but I'm a pretty decent woodworker and I share a woodshop on the farm with a master craftsman. He hasn't done much boat repair either but the two of us are handy folk, thats for sure.

So without further ado, here is my girlfriend holding the canoe (she's excited):


Further, here is a diagram I made of the damage the canoe has sustained. The darker the color, the worse the damage, or more difficult to repair.


From here, I've taken pictures of each one of the damaged pieces which I will put in subsequent posts. Any suggestions on how to do this, what tools to use or other links in the forum will be most helpful. I've been reading a lot and am learning a lot, but I'm superstitious and always want a real person giving me some of their own hands on wisdom before proceeding.

Thank you kindly!
Damage Point A - Crack on the side hull

The biggest problem of this canoe is a fairly large tear down the side of the hull. This tear goes through the fiberglass and through the cedar.

Here is the tear:



Repair Strategy
So, I'm looking at this: How to repair a cedar strip canoe and honestly haven't perused too much on these forums so any links are graciously appreciated.

Here is what I'm going to try as far as my steps:
  1. Cut away the Fiberglass
  2. Cut out the Cedar strips
  3. Cut replacement Cedar strips
  4. Glue Cedar strips into place
  5. Fix the Cedar strips to any ribs with nails
  6. Sand the Cedar strips nice and smooth
  7. Epoxy coat them (or put on Fiberglass patch and then epoxy coat that?)

Yeah I have to read up on the fiberglassing portion before that but the rest seems straight forward. Any tips there or links are great.

Of course, there is also the concern of whether or not to strip down the entire canoe and start a rebuild from the start, so if thats something I should think of, please tell me know! ;-)

Materials Questions
Here are my main questions on tools/materials:
  • Cedar Strips - I'm thinking of Western Red Cedar or Northern White if I can get it. I have a lot of Aromatic (Eastern Red) Cedar on the farm which I don't want to use due to epoxy dissolving issues. What would you folks use?
  • Epoxy - do I use the same type for glueing cedar strips into place as I do later to coat the fiberglass/hull/everything?
  • Fiberglass - any recommendations on places to get this or brands that work well?
  • Orbital Sanders - which grits tend to work well for this work? Any recommendations on a make/model?

So I figure I can patch this fairly easily using the technique in the link above unless someone wants to correct me. Any links or recommendations are greatly appreciated, as I said.
Damage Points B & D - Disintegrated Stern (and Bow) Decks

The bow and stern decks are really bad too. This is going to have a lot to do with how I do the gunwhales later.

The Damage
Here are the images:


The Stern


The Bow

Repair Strategy
I figure I'll try to rebuild this out of some form of light wood. We have a lot of white pine here and that's pretty light though it does dent easy too. If anyone could let me know on what type of wood they would use, I'd be glad to hear it.

My steps here would be:
  1. Cut wood to measurements using the old piece and the gap
  2. Sand/Polyurethane/epoxy coat it (suggestions here for what to use?)
  3. Nail it into place.*

* Now this is going to be tricky too because I haven't researched what wood to use for the gunwhales. I've read that some people use white pine as I wrote above, but I'd love a definitive voice on this to help me make my decision.

Main Questions
  • Wood - What type of wood to use for the decks?
  • Epoxy - What type of coating do I use on the decks?
  • Attaching Decks - What type of nails / how do I secure this?
  • Decks to Gunnels or Vice Versa - Should I do the gunwhales first and attach the decks to those or vice versa?

again, thanks!
Damage Point C - Broken Seat Weave

Now I'd assumed this was cane weaving but I was corrected and told that this is rawhide.

Here is the Damage:


Notice on the right hand side the straps is not attached for the seat.

Here are my ideas:
  1. I might be able to glue this.
  2. I might be able to nail this.
  3. I might even be able to glue and then nail it.
  4. Other option is to replace the weave and do the whole thing right.*

* Now it might be hard to tell from the picture on that, so I might take another one on this. I don't figure this is to be too hard, but again any suggestions are appreciated.
Damage Point E - Ribs Deteriorated

So I've gotten to the ribs now. It seems they were chewed up a bit by some hungry little fellows. This basically means that for genuine repair, I'll need to take them out, bend some replacements and put them back in.

This step will probably come along last as its the only point which is highly cosmetic I believe. However, I'd be curious of how to go about it from tips from the experts.

The Damage


The Repair Plan
  1. Carefully pry out one of the Ribs.
  2. Finish my steambox and build a press form for them.
  3. Get some replacement wood for this.. Is this cedar*?
  4. Steam it and drop it in the form within 30 seconds
  5. Coat it in Epoxy / Poly
  6. Glue / Nail it back in to the boat**

  • Wood - what type of wood do I use to replace a rib? Just try to match it?
  • Attaching - What are the fine steps on glueing and affixing it back into the boat? Do I epoxy it first or after re-affixing it?

Again, any recommendations on this would be wonderful.
Damage Point G - The Missing Gunwhales

So the main piece of the canoe that's absolutely gone are the gunwhales. I'm going to need a lot of help on these.

The Damage




You can see the problem of this...

Repair Strategy
  1. Remove all remnants of old rot
  2. Remove all nails, etc.
  3. Get some matching wood (what type?)
  4. Steam it, bend it (how does one make a form for this?)
  5. Sand/ Poly / Epoxy new gunwhales
  6. Affix them to the canoe - nails, glue, etc

I figure that covers it but I'm really scratching my head at this one..

Main Questions
  • What type of wood should I use for gunwhales?
  • What dimensions should I use for the gunwhales?
  • How do I make a good form to clamp the gunwhales to? Or do I just steam and clamp them to the actual canoe?
  • Do I use all one piece for this? Do I use multiples to make steam bending, etc nicer? pros / cons?
  • Do I coat it and then put it on or do I epoxy it after?
  • Do I do the gunwhales before the deck or vice versa?
  • Does that last image mean I should replace ALL of the ribs if they're that bad? If so, where to even begin...

As I said, this is the part of the puzzle I don't know if I can really just hack my way through, it's going to require a bit more finesse.

Thanks for any tips!
Damage Point F, H, & I - Don't forget the small stuff

Here is the basic patching tutorial I linked above. The one question I have is what to do if there is only a little rip in the fiberglass and nothing else?




Any tips or links on this? Thanks much!
Re: Cedar Strip Canoe Repair - Any kind souls to help me plan the rebuild of this bea

This was posted in the forums @ woodenboats.com by Canoez and I'm still digesting and weaving it into my strategy which I will update. I hope its ok with him for me to repost it...

Where to begin...

Not to be discouraging, but Great Canadian Canoes were/are not of the best quality. Unlike what Chuck has said, that canoe was more than likely built as you see it with the fiberglass covering. It is not a "sorry repair" but perhaps an "unfortunate build" Great Canadian, Old Town and others offer what I would refer to as "traditional" canoes, but with fiberglass coverings intended to show off the wood, rather than a canvas to provide waterproofing. As far as I know, they still make them like this. The fiberglass coatings that were put on for clarity were generally epoxy - epoxy bonds very well to the planking and can be difficult to remove - still, nature appears to be starting the removal process for you. If you soak the bot to get the wood wet and use a heat gun, you will soften the resin and it allow you to scrape/peel it off. If it was polyester resin (which I doubt) it may come off more easily.

Overall, I think you may wish to evaluate how much time and effort you want to put into the boat before you get started. When you get done with your restoration, it will still be a Great Canadian canoe. That being said, if you are willing to proceed, I'd recommend -as others have - to go visit the WCHA.org website and forum. They specialize in wooden canoes. Also, I'd pick up a copy of the Wood and Canvas Canoe by Jerry Stelmok and Rollin Thurlow that is available from our hosts. This book is the "bible" for wood and canvas canoes like you have. Another good choice would be Building the Maine Guide Canoe by Jerry Stelmok - a worthy addition to the first book. Still, here's what you'll need:

Spruce is one of the typical materials for inwales - you appear to need to replace most, if not all of the inwale - the ends are mostly rotted away and broken in several locations in the middle.

White Cedar - particularly Northern White Cedar - is desirable material for rib replacement. Mostly, your ribs appear fairly good with some damage at the tops where they meet the gunwale - it may be possible to scarf on some new tips. I should note that the "half-ribs" in your canoe are mostly cosmetic and unless damaged I'd leave them alone. For bending the ribs, you can form them over the outside of the hull - just move them down the hull to a slightly smaller section that corresponds to the inside shape where you want to replace the rib.

Cedar - Northern White, Atlantic White or Western Red are all used for planking stock. You'll need some to repair what's under the fiberglass. Hot water and a swab at the end of a stick will make the planking lay down on the ribs.

Decks - you obviously need new ones at both ends of the canoe - your choice. Something with figure and color is always nice, but you know the saying about silk purses and sow's ears....

Seats. That style of seat is called "Babiche" and is a woven rawhide that is done much the way snowshoes are made - it shouldn't be difficult to replace. Sno-Seal on the Babiche will protect it when you are done.

Stems - more than likely the tip of the stems are rotten like the inwales. Typical stem material would be white oak although it isn't uncommon to find other hardwoods and even softwoods used for them.

As an overview: Your biggest challenges are to get the damaged fiberglass off the hull and then do a good evaluation of what is underneath. Once you've done that, I'd repair/replace the inwales to give you a sound foundation to continue. The rib and stem repairs would follow and finally the planking repairs. During this whole process, you need to work slowly - taking a rib or two at a time to maintain the shape of the hull. If you remove too much of the structure too quickly, it will lose shape. You may need temporary bracing to help hold the canoe's shape. It may be in the form of "thwarts" to keep the inwales from spreading under the rib tension - it may be thin strips attached to the outside of the hull with short sheet-metal screws to keep the hull shape "fair". Once the planking is done, turn your attention to seats, thwarts, decks and grab-handles if desired.

At this point you'd need to decide whether you want to put a fiber-reinforced composite back on the canoe or if you want to put traditional canvas/filler/paint on it. Personally, I vote for the canvas as it makes it much more repair-able in future. I think this will make perfect sense to you after you've tried to remove the fiberglass. When the covering is on, you will need new outwales - they may be able to flex into place as the sheer is fairly flat. If in doubt, steam the ends before bending into place. Outwales on this style of boat have a rabbet on the back surface to cover the canvas and the top edge of the planking which is cut down about 3/4" to facilitate the tacking of the canvas.
Last edited by Canoez; 35 Minutes Ago at 08:02 PM.
"We know one eminent canoeist who keeps a fine canoe in his cellar and feeds her on varnish and brass screws for fifty weeks of every year. " - W.P. Stevens

I think Canoez gave an excellent summation of how to go about it. I would consider staying with the 'glass on the outside only because it's already there. If you remove the 'glass completely then definitely go wiht canvas.

Get the book and read it.

Learn the vocabulary of the parts. It'll make asking questions easier later on. It's a big project for a first time but you can do it. Don't be afraid to make a mistake or two. Or three. Enjoy the journey. Keep us posted.

I also have just acquired a Great Canadian canoe very similar to yours. This is also my first attempt at a restoration, so I'm not sure if I can be of much help. Mine is in somewhat better shape than yours, but these pictures may help you see your way forward.



Mine has some of the same issues as yours, such as torn & gouged fiberglass covering, and what would appear to be water intrusion between the fiberglass and the planking.


I have started working on mine. When I removed the outwale, I found it as described by Canoez with a rabbet on the back side.


I have started to strip the fiberglass off with a heat gun and putty knife. It is pretty tedious, but it will eventually come off. On mine, as I heat it up, the fiberglass will begin to blister away from the planking, so I know it is ready to be attacked with the putty knife. So far I have not pulled up any major amount of wood.


So much for now. I hope this helps. I have more pictures if you would like to see other parts. I will no doubt have questions of my own as I move forward.