Converting Canvas to Fiberglass


Curious about Wooden Canoes

I recently stripped off the old canvas from a very old Old Town Canoe. I have refinished the inside of the canoe and completely sanded the hull (planks). Is it possible to refinish the canoe with fiberglass? There is a very slight gap between some of the planks and I wonder if the fiberglass resin will take up the slack.

Man, but you opened a can-o-worms! Personally, the LAST thing I'd do is fiberglass a canoe. IMHO, fiberglass is the kiss of death for an old canoe. The planking can't flex, moisture gets trapped and causes rot, the aesthetics suck, and on and on. Why are you not interested in canvas? It's easy to do, will last 40+ years, is easy to repair, quiet in the water, and on and on! As you can tell, I am pretty much in the canvas corner. I am sure you will get others saying the same thing, and a few who will pipe up in favor of glass.


Many thanks. I have a friend who has a wood fiberglass canoe and I really like the look of the wood through the fiberglass. As I look through the various pages on the web... it is becoming apparent to me that canoes made of wood / fiberglass are designed that way from the beginning. The wood planks are laminated together and then glassed. Perhaps turning a canvas canoe into a fiberglass canoe is not such a good idea. My canoe has no rot. Its very old, but in good shape. I am still working on refinishing the inside. Before starting, I took the keel off, the thwarts & seats and the outside gunwhales. Then I stripped off the canvas which was starting to fall away from the gunwhales anyway and it was cracked. I was quite impressed with the colour of the cedar planks and thought maybe I could create a very striking canoe by covering it with glass. But perhaps you're right. Maybe I should complete the job of finishing the interior and then take it to a repair shop to get new canvas applied to the exterior. You agree? Any advice is much appreciated.


Like Mark said, most people here will argue against fiberglassing a w/c canoe for the reasons given. Canvasing a canoe is not hard, so you can do it yourself without too much trouble. There are several methods, some requiring more equipment than others, check out the upside down method at:

Filler is available from some of the online builders and suppliers at:

And if you have not heard of it look for a book called "The Wood and Canvas Canoe" by Stelmok and Thurlow, it has a good section on canvasing, as well as interesting history tidbits, and of course people here can answer any question you might have about canvasing a canoe.

I'll even let you borrow my Ford - Chevy Stretcher!:D

Seriously, any questions, just ask.


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Dan - Welcome to a great forum and great organization. The canoe I currently have was fiberglassed about 40 years ago. 2 years ago I decided to restore it to canvas and was amazed at the damage the glass did.

Remember, these boats were designed for canvas and for the wood to freely expand and contract according to moisture level. When you fiberglass a W/C boat, one side of the very thin (5/32") cedar planking is made waterproof and the covering sticks tightly to the wood. The other side of that thin plank is free to swell and shrink and tries to move against the glass, eventually causing the planking to crack, then moisture gets between the plank and the glass and trouble begins!

Do a good job restoring the canvas, and a smooth paint job to complement that nice varnish job and you'll have a boat to be proud of! If you really like the looks of wood, build a stripper or lapstrake boat.

You did the right thing by asking first. You might get a dissenting opinion or two, but most here opt for the traditional methods on old boats. Good luck.
I'll chime in, Dan, and add my voice to the myriad appreciators of canvas. I agree completely with all the reasons mentioned above, but there is also the nostalgia / "what's right" issue. These canoes were built with canvas, and it just seems right that canvas should be re-installed.

You may also be interested to hear that many wood-canvas canoe people also appreciated (and still do) the beauty of wood gleaming through a crystal-clear 'glassed surface (see the "Strippers" forum), but generally not on what would otherwise be a wood-canvas canoe. I'll bet that after seeing (and maybe test-paddling) some beautifully restored wood-canvas canoes, you too will appreciate the functional qualities of canvas and the beautiful contrast between painted hull and varnished interior. Not only does the canvas have excellent functional properties, but it is literally a canvas for artistic expression. For an excellent start, see the thread at:

Another thing you do when you glass a canvas canoe is severely impair or remove completely the ability to do future repairs. Canvas is easy to remove, and all of the parts of a canoe that need can be easily repaired or replaced. Glass put on with polyester can sometimes be removed with care and little damage to the canoe, but often not. Epoxy resin bonds well, and is pretty much final.
Mark Adams said:
...the aesthetics suck...


In theory, if fiberglass and canvas were both properly filled, sanded and painted, would there really be anything to visually distinguish between the two? Or is Mark referring to leaving the fiberglass clear as being unsightly?

Just to cover my behind: I'm planning on sticking with canvas - sounds like it's worlds better for the health of the boat, and eases future repairs. Just asking if even an expert could really tell the difference.
AND contrary to what most people think that canvas is quite tough.Although it cant stand up to the abuse a kevlar canoe can take.The old wood canvas boats can stand up to some mighty harsh abuse.
If it's well done, the outside of a fiberglassed canoe looks like paint, just as a canvas covered one does. Tapping on it with your fingernail will quickly tell you which covering is under the paint. Canvas makes a dull sound and fiberglass makes a very bright, hard sound. You're much better off with canvas for the reasons mentioned.

Just so that you'll know, fiberglassing a rib and plank hull is also a very tricky proposition due to dents from tacks and the small spaces between planks. Resin tends to run through the fiberglass cloth which is bridging these spots and leaves small patches that look like screen wire. Trying to fill them is tricky and not at all fun. Having done both jobs, I'd say that glassing a rib and plank hull is drastically more difficult than glassing a stripper and certainly not a good bet for a beginner project. Stick with canvas. You can do it and your boat will live longer.
You betcha. I can't see any reason for going with 'glass over canvas - it just doesn't make sense at any level, though I can see why people would look at pictures of a re-canvassing, what with the rigs, car bumpers, tons of clamps, etc., and think to themselves - heck, I'll just use fiberglass.

Thanks for the answers, and don't worry - we can keep the worms firmly in their can... I'm going canvas!
Depends on the use of the craft. I've got a grand laker thats been repaired and re-canvased. I use it as a fishing boat for trout in shallow waters with lots of rocks.

After many patch jobs Ive decided to have her glassed with epoxy and 10oz cloth and everything under water would have Dynal, apparently tougher than Kevlar and easy home repair and touch up paint after hitting most rocks. Shes a real beauty with mahogany and cedar and soon will be tough as nails and easier to repair when I get her into trouble. If its done correctly its a good option.
I would recommend these guys to do the work. Paul does allot of antique for Old Town, etc


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That depends on your personal definition of "tough as nails". Dynel has some good characteristics, and some that aren't very good for canoes, which is why it's rarely used on them. It does have excellent abrasion resistance (though not as good as Kevlar if the question is how much abrasion it takes to wear through it) but Dynel expands when resin-saturated and soaks up an awful lot of heavy, expensive epoxy. On a trailered boat like a Grand Laker, the weight probably doesn't matter much, where on a more typical canoe, it would be a major issue. Dynel also tends to be far more flexible than wood, so in most cases the wood remains the weak link on impact. The Dynel will simply flex past the point where the wood explodes, so while it may keep the boat from being holed all the way through, it won't prevent the wooden structure from being broken if you hit anything, or the hull from losing it's structural integrity. Like any exterior sheathing (glass, Kevlar, canvas, Dacron, etc.) the Dynel is not in a position to add much, if any, real impact strength to the equation. It is not in a position on the hull where its tensile strength can contribute, as the typical rock impact puts any of these coverings in compression, rather than in tension and the compressive forces need to be dealt with by what's on the inside of the hull (the wood) not by the exterior sheathing. On a stripper, we can increase the layup on the inside to increase impact strength (impacts put the outside layers in compression and the inner layers in tension, which is what these fabrics do best) but on a rib & plank boat it's still just the wood on the inside, and fiberglass, Kevlar, Dynel or other exterior coverings are all going to produce similar impact strength to the original canvas. In short, if you hit something hard enough to split a plank or crack a rib, it is still going to do so and your outer covering is not going to prevent that.

You can expect less abrasion damage in shallow water with Dynel if you can tolerate the additional weight it adds, and unless you really nail a rock, the actual repair is much more likely to amount to just touching up the filler coats of resin and the paint on top of the cloth, but understand that "strength" is a much more involved and complicated concept than it may at first seem to be, and adding a material which may be stronger or tougher than others in some ways, doesn't always yield an overall tougher boat. Everything is some sort of compromise.
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