Fort Severn Freighter Canoe Restoration Project

The typical release agant for fiberglass molds is a combination of coats of wax and PVA (polyvinyl alcohol) mold release. This is a water soluble (usually green) fast-drying liquid that you spray or brush on over the wax. Normal procedure is to spray on a mist coat or two and then a heavier coat. The mist coats help keep the heavy coat from running on vertical surfaces.

You can also use heavy-duty hairspray from a spray can over the waxed surface. Hairspray is water-based plastic (so that it will wash out when you finally get hip and let your hair down) and a mist coat followed by a nice even coat is enough to prevent resin from bonding to the surface.

Wax-wise, you would ideally want one that doesn't have a strong solvent base, like Zymol (usually available in the automotive department at places like Target) or some of the other auto waxes that say you can apply multiple coats. The solvent waxes contain enough solvent that coat number two will pretty much liquify and wash off coat number one, so you don't get much of a thickness build with multiple coats. The multi-coat waxes like Zymol (water-based) don't do this. Once coat number one is dry. you can apply number two and it will sit atop number one, rather than melt it. If you have something fancy that you want to wax, you can apply five or six coats if you want and build up some thickness. The same places that sell mold release will often also sell special mold release wax that's based on this same technology (but probably marked-up more).
Nice Grand Lakers.
The one in your first pic doesn't seem to have a side spray-knocker/rub rail, or is it just not visible in the photo?
At about what power does a spray-knocker become necessary for these boats?

Do you take any measures to prevent your epoxy/fiberglass and epoxy/canvas coverings from bonding to the wood hull?
Do you mind sharing the epoxy mix that you use for the canvas filler? I assume it is quite thick if you have to force it into the weave.

Larry Westlake

That first canoe don't have a spray rail on it ( It's an option I offer ) They really don't need them and non of the old timers here ever put them on. Actually they pick on me some and call them training wheels. My personal opinion is Canoes where never meant to be powered by outboards. The faster they go the wetter you get and anything nocking back the spray helps. They also make a nice bumper when tying to a dock.

When I glass a canoe It is bonded to the wood. As long as it stays bonded will never be a problem. It's when that bond fails you get blisters and bubbles.

The few canvas ones i filled with epoxy I mixed right from the pumps with no thickeners added. I did some test on 12" squares stapled to plywood and found that the strait epoxy got the most penetration but would not go through to bond to the wood.

My honest opinion if i where doing this restoration I would glass them with epoxy. If they insist on canvas i would fill with paint the proper way . I will never fill canvas with epoxy again unless It's treated canvas or the canoe is going to a museum to be displayed. Untreated Canvas will rot out within 10 years. I also don't think fiberglass cloth over the canvas will ad anything but weight. what gives fiberglass it's strength in being bonded to a solid surface or enough layers bonded together to create a solid surface. Glass bonded to a floating canvas is no stronger than the canvas.

When I glass a canoe It is bonded to the wood. As long as it stays bonded will never be a problem. It's when that bond fails you get blisters and bubbles.
Very interesting. When I have glassed old canoes, I took pains to make sure that the glass did NOT bond. None of those canoes bubbled. Since wood comes and goes and glass doesn't, it may be that either total bonding or no bonding will work, but partially bonded (failing bond) sheathing will buckle.

Larry Westlake
OK after a few more delays....getting everything finally firmed up....we are bound for Fort Severn on March 21st (or soon to be confirmed yet)....the logistics of a project like this have proven to be almost mind boggling....but we seem to finally have a handle on everything....and finally we are about to see this project come to realization....updates to come...
So the group I’m part of is finally (yes FINALLY LOL LOL) heading north to Fort Severn to undertake the restoration project of several wood canvas Freighter canoes….we are leaving early Wednesday (March 28th) morning from Toronto….flying to Thunder Bay….then to Sioux Lookout….and then onto Fort Severn….should take the whole day to get there (including layovers….and connecting flights)….but Thursday we will be starting work on building the shop….assembling the various wood working stationary power tools (bandsaw, table saw, etc.)….plus sorting out the various supplies (canvas, wood, etc.) and storing these….then bringing the canoes into the shop….and beginning the actual workshop/instruction course next week.

We’ll be up for a month….working on several of the Freighter canoes.....

Initially Fort Severn contacted the Wooden Canoe Builders Guild with the following request:

We have twenty, 20ft square stern canoes in Fort Severn ON on the beautiful coast of the Hudson Bay, that need minor wood work and re-canvasing. This project would involve learning sessions, teaching members of the community the proper way to re-finish canvas canoes.

An important part of this project is for some of the Fort Severn band members to be taught how to do this work themselves. There will be at least 6 or 7 band members involved….but this could quickly grow to as many as 10 or 12 as we get underway.

This should certainly be a rewarding project for everyone involved….and there has been a lot of time and effort invested in it. Maybe more than we reckoned on at the start. We began planning for this project back in October. We had to source out not only materials (such as wood and canvas) but also all of the tools -power and hand – needed for this work. We literally had to get everything needed for a complete canoe/wood working shop. Then we had to arrange to get everything up to Fort Severn….most of the tools and supplies went into Fort Severn via ice road….the last few items are being flown in. The ice road wasn’t open until late this year….and only open for a few weeks….so this added to the task. And added to our delay getting up there. We had originally hoped to be up there by mid-January….then February….but at long last we’re about to depart.

Our team is John Hupfield of Lost In The Woods Boatworks. As many WCHA members may already know, John has years of experience in wood boat construction and restoration….and takes on the role of master builder. (NOTE: John is also one of the organizers of the Killbear Paddlers’ Rendezvous….a not to miss paddling event in September.)

Ian Devenney, the co-founder of B.I.L.D. (Boatbuilding for Interpersonal and Life Development) youth canoe building/restoration program, is also heading north. Ian is a certified Ontario teacher and outdoor educator with a background in working with troubled teens. He recently completed his Master’s of Environmental Studies (York University), where he explored the impact of changing technologies on craftsmanship, art making and learning. Ian also has begun a business called Tangled Tree Industries, specializing in skin-on-frame canoe and kayak building, wooden paddles and rustic furniture.

The last member of the group is yours truly….and I won’t bother (or bore) you with my ‘illustrous background’ (or lack thereof LOL LOL)….suffice to say I’m no expert (besides an EXPERT is better defined as an ‘EX-SPURT’ or ‘a former drip under pressure’ LOL LOL)….kind of a jack of all trades (or at least several LOL LOL), master of none….maybe I can best define my role as ‘chief cook and bottle washer’….I’ll be writing posts for here and elsewhere online….taking photos and video of the project’s progress….pitching in wherever I can with the actual work….and, for better or worse, I helped organize this project.

One member of our group that was very involved in getting this project together was Pam Wedd of Bearwood Canoes….Pam will not be going up this time (we’re planning for a follow-up later in the year at which time Pam can hopefully go)….but Pam was key to this project….we worked out some of the restoration techniques at her shop….her knowledge and experience was essential in developing the logistics….what we needed and where to get it….going up in November to initially access the canoes and work needed (she went up with Ian)….so even though Pam is not going to be there in person, she is very much a part of the project….certainly Pam will be there in spirit.

I have to thank Lynne Case and Doug Long of the Wooden Canoe Builders Guild for letting me know of this potential project….and for their support and advice….as well as other members of the Guild such as Bruce Smith….and also from other canoe builders such as Bill Miller, Doug Ingram, and Dick Persson.

So why are we doing this project?

These canoes have been in use in the north for long enough that they can probably be considered to have heritage value. Certainly helping the Fort Severn band members to continue to use them, instead of turning to a more modern alternative, would fit in with the mission of many of us, which would be:

1) to preserve the art and craft of wooden canoe bulding;

2) to pass on the skills of wooden canoe building through workshops, courses and apprenticeship programs;

3) to preserve the heritage and history of wooden canoes through education and restoration.

Since these are effectively the pick up trucks for the local people, they are work vehicles and don’t require a lot of fine finishing. It should be possible to turn the rest of the restoration work over to the Fort Severn band members after they have been instructed on the first two or three canoes. Working together as a team, our role is to facilitate this project.

The local youth will also be documenting the project through video….which will be shared via link to the Canadian Canoe Museum website.

So we will have more to share over the next month….the next time I post here it will be from Fort Severn. Paddles up until later then….
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These canoes have been in use in the north for long enough that they can probably be considered to have heritage value.
I agree. I also maintain that the living knowledge and practice of the skills has heritage value over and above that of the material objects.
Looking forward to updates and pix.
Been pretty busy last week or time to really post much....besides sometimes pictures speak louder than here are just a few photos from Fort Severn:

Checking it out 025.jpgChecking things out 024.jpgErnie at work  019.jpgErnie still  sanding away 020.jpgErnie still working away 029.jpgFort Severn in morning 015.jpg
Looking good! I hope you or someone involved with the project will write it up for Wooden Canoe.

Thanks is great to be part of this project....I'll be writing something up for Wooden Canoe....
More photos from past weekend....some paddling kayaks already....other canoes waiting for break-up (or restoration)....

Freighter Hulls

More photos from past weekend....other canoes waiting for break-up (or restoration)....
View attachment 20709
Great to see all this work in progress.
This freighter (attachment referenced) is the only one I have noticed in your photos that shows a broad stern for planing. The ones in the shop photos all seem to have narrow displacement sterns, with barely modified underbodies.

Do many of the candidates for restoration have the broad sterns?

Larry Westlake
No they don't....but there are at least two including the one in the photo that will be restored appears that this project may become ongoing....
So we got initial funding approved for continuation of Fort Severn canoe project....guys will be back in shop as of May 14th....hopefully Chris K. will hold down the fort until I can get up there likely just after May long weekend....teach the guys some basic wood work skills....using tools....especially how to use the table saw....and the band saw for something other than to cut up caribou LOL LOL....and the others will be up soon too (Doug I. and John H.)....

This is great news as we move forward to getting this project to the next stage of becoming an ongoing operation....with band members running....lots more to do....restore rest of canoes....especially for trip in September with youth and elders....maybe even make some cradle boards (tikinagans), snowshoes & toboggans....even build new canoes....restore canoes of nearby communities....take part in Creefest (in Fort Severn), doing demos and canoe races....

I'll keep you posted as we go....