Filler and Canvasing Question

Jeff Aslan

New Member
Hey, I'm a newbie restoring my great grandfather's 16' Chesnut.

Question 1) I was just wondering if anyone had some more information about the upside down canvasing method. I've read The Wood and Canvas Canoe, but there is no information about the upside down method. I noticed that there were some links that people were posting in past forums which no longer seem to work.

Question 2) I wanted to canvas and fill this weekend. The only problem is I need to move the canoe to Vermont two weeks after that. Will moving the canoe - which requires a tight strap across the hull and driving on the highway - upset the curing of the filler?

Your suggestions are much appreciated.

RE: upside down canvasing

I don’t claim to be an expert but have helped canvas a few by the upside down method. This is how it has been done at the museum at Havre de Grace, MD, by the Upper Chesapeake chapter.

Make sure the hull is very smooth because every lump will show thru after the canvas is stretched. Run you hands all over the hull, checking for roughness and proud tack heads. Correct problems.

You can estimate the height of the ‘sawhorses’ from the photo (maybe 36”). These have wheels on the bottom so they can move as the canvas is stretched. The canvas is laid over the hull, and evened out with approx. 2’ extra front and rear, and 4-6” hanging over each inwale at the center.

Wood pinch clamps are attached at each end. These shown have a ‘tongue and groove’ down thru the center, and steel eyes near the center which accepts a heavy bolt, and rope or chain gets hooked to this bolt. Notice additional C-clamps.

Rope on one end gets tied down low to a solid object, in this case a tree. On the other, end rope goes to a come-along winch, which is secured down low to another solid object, in this case a truck. (Sometimes the winch is dispensed with and the vehicle is used to pull on the canvas.)

Carefully pull the canvas very tight against the hull, working out wrinkles. Hard to describe tight, but nearly enough to start ripping canvas.

Start at the center, grabbing the edge of the overhanging canvas and pulling it inward and upward, over the inwale, and when extremely tight, with canvas just starting to rip, place two stainless steel staples into the rib tip. A ‘ducksbill’ type vicegrip like a sheetmetal worker would use is good for this canvas stretching operation. Work evenly toward both ends and on both sides until you get to the deck plate and can go no further. You probably will need to cut away some of the excess canvas as you approach the ends, as it gets in the way of stretching and stapling to those last 3 or 4 rib tips.

Relieve tension of come-along, remove pinch clamps. Mark the centerline of the canvas and cut back to near the keel. See second photo. Apply a strip ~1/4”/ ½” wide of double sided carpet tape to the stem, then remove the paper.

Now you need to recruit 4 or 5 friends, a couple to hold the hull steady while the others grab an end of the canvas and pull it as hard as they can across the stem. Starting near the keel line pull down and across, working out wrinkles, and put several staples into the stem. Then grab another handful, pull, work out wrinkles, staple, and repeat all the way to the stem tip. Some excess canvas can be cut off. With this entire first section done, tap the staples with a hammer, and then apply another strip of double-sided carpet tape over the staples. Have your friends grab canvas, pull across, work out wrinkles, staple and repeat until done. Tap staples down, and trim off excess canvas at the stems, but leave excess hanging from the inwales, as that provides a bit of protection to the inwales and interior of the hull during painting.

Not entirely necessary, but makes for a smoother stem: mix fine sawdust into epoxy to create a thick paste and spread this over the stems to give a slightly rounded bead all along the edge. Then stretch saran wrap or stretch wrap plastic over this, which it is still unset, and use fingers to smooth out the epoxy mixture. Use masking tape to hold the saran wrap in place until the epoxy sets hard. Let set overnight.

With both ends done, and looking good - we hope - filler could be applied without moving the canoe from the horses.

Hard to put some of the process into words.

Like you I would be concerned about putting a lot of rope tension across fresh filler, but if it has to be moved, put something wide but flexible under the rope, like ethafoam, or building insulation foam, or pipe insulation foam. Good luck, Tom McCloud


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I have recanvased a grand total of one (1) canoe, so I'm certainly no expert. But I used the upside down method, didn't have anyone else around to help pull canvas tight, and am very pleased with my results; absolutely no wrinkles etc.

Instead of using a come-along and/or any anchors, to keep the canvas tight lengthwise I just rolled up the excess canvas at each end into a vertical roll, that I then secured using one of those one-handed ratchet-style clamps that you can get at Home Depot. (I didn't use the end clamps until I'd first tacked the middle third of the boat.) The tension of the canvas kept the roll tight against each end.

I pulled and lightly tacked (i.e. did not drive tacks all the way, using carpet tacks from local hardware store) the canvas several times to get it as smooth as possible, repulling the canvas & retightening the end clamps as I went. As soon as I got it as smooth as I thought I could, then I lightly wetted down the canvas (in the middle of the canoe first), then retacked the center again before it completely dried. I then wetted down each end the same way, retacked each. For final finish I removed the tacks and used SS staples.

Again, I did it without any special tools all by my lonesome in our basement, and I think it came out great.

I do wonder why so few people describe using water to help shrink/stretch the canvas?
On the issue of moving the canoe after filling: I would be hesitant to tie anything over the filler until it is fully cured. You could possibly secure the canoe to a cartop carrier by clamping to the inwales. I used to carry my old clunker Grumman that way and it worked fine with no straps. If you strap it I'm guessing you will likely leave an impression in the partially cured filler.

On the issue of canvasing upside down: It's the only way I've ever done it. If you can get Jerry Stelmok's book on Joe Saliga I think you'll find everything you need explained with great clarity and photos. Using the technique shown in the book, it's a one person job and goes very easily.

Best of luck with your project!
I have done a grand total of one (1) and it was upside down. BUT, I would like to hear others comment on Tom's instructions to pull the canvas tight almost until it rips. That seems way too tight to me, and I wonder if it might have a detrimental affect on the structure of the canoe itself. I pulled mine nice and snug, (and it turned out fine) but it was nowhere near the point of ripping the canvas. Al
Thanks all for the insight. Tom's instructions more or less conform with my suspicions as well as the advice I was given by Bill Clements. I'm not sure I'm going to pull the canvas quite that tight, but I'll figure out what amount of tension works as I'm doing the work. I think I'm going to use bedding compound on the stem instead of the carpet tape. There are many ways to skin a cat.

When moving the canoe on top of the car, I think I figured out a way to tie it down without having to run a strap over the hull.
Hard to describe 'tight' in words, but we stretch the canvas very tight. You have to put some muscle on the come-along for those last few clicks.
Sorry about that sideways photo. It was upright on my monitor.
The purpose of the double sided tape is as an adhesive to help hold the canvas to the stem without allowing slipping while you are working on making the canvas tight and wrinkle-free. It is not at all unusual to pull part of the staples from the stem and re-work to get wrinkles out. Double sided tape makes this possible without loosing the good work you've already done. I don't see bedding compound providing any adhesion to the stem. TM..