I would appreciate help identifying/dating my canoe.


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Hello everyone. This is my first post here as I am a spanking new member of the WCHA as well as to wooden canoes. I am attaching some photos of my recently purchased old wooden canoe and would REALLY like to have a better idea of what it is and some educated guesses as to its age. Here's what I know:

The seller said it was presented to him as an "Old Town" over 25 years ago. He said it was old when he got it. It has been in storage for over 20 years. There is no serial number on the stems or anywhere else I can find (I carefully removed varnish just to make sure). It seems to have been covered in fiberglass at some point in time (might be canvas but I believe it's fiberglass). The dimensions are 17' long, 34" to 35" wide, 11.5 to 12" deep. I've had one opinion that it is a Carlton. I apologize for the long post but I just wanted to provide as much info as possible. Any and all opinions would be appreciated. Thanks.


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The short answer

is, yes, you do have a Carleton. At least I think you do. The short curved carry thwart in the bow is a dead ringer for a Carleton, but the decks on Carleton were heart shaped. Yours appear to be more like Old Town decks. It should have serial numbers stamped on the stems at both ends unless the stems were replaced during previous repair work. One of the decks (third picture) appears to have had the tip replaced so it's possible. Carleton was bought out by Old Town in 1910. Old Town continued to market canoes with the Carleton name for many years. After Old Town started using diamond head bolts in the 1920s they were used on Carletons as well. The build records are available for both Old Town and Carleton but if your canoe's number has gone missing you're sort of out of luck. Do a search of the forums and you will find other threads and pictures of Carletons. Welcome to the WCHA and good luck with your new old canoe. If you become like most of the rest of us it will not be your only wood canoe for long. Therapy has been suggested for my problem but I always figured therapy was for quiters!

Merry Christmas,
Jim C.
Carleton -2 votes


Thank you so much for the response. I've been anxious to hear other opinions and I value your input. When I purchased the canoe I was disappointed that there were no obvious serial numbers. I had been researching (I love the internet) prior to my post. The thing that was confusing me was the shape of the decks appeared to be old town. All photos of Carleton canoes had a distinctively different shape, yet mine did have the curved bow carry thwart. There are no diamond head shaped bolts. All bolts for the thwarts appear to be hexhead stainless. The other thing is that the stern deck appears to be much older than the bow deck. It is made of mahagony whereas the bow deck is appears to be cherry. It also appears hand hewn on the underside. I'm thinking this canoe is pretty old and probably has gone through a partial refurbishment sometime in the past. Also the bow seat has the mast hole but it is obvious that a mast foot was never installed so it was probably a replacement. Another piece of information I forgot to mention was that it has 49 ribs. Don't know if this is indicative of anything but I'll mention it anyway. The ribs and planking are very solid and I want to restore it for certain. The information I gather here will determine how the restoration will progress (as original or choose a little different scheme). Thanks for the welcome. Likewise, I am afraid that I have been bitten by the wooden canoe bug. I look forward to communicating with and meeting others with the same affliction. I'll chalk one more vote up for Carleton.
The bow carry thwart is relatively crude, and appears to have greater curvature, as compared with the typical Carleton thwart. Possibly a replacement or a later addition. Hex head stainless bolts are most definitely later replacements. Carletons typically had heart-shaped decks, but examples with Old Town decks are also known.
Helpful information

Hello Dan,

Thank you for the additional input. Your comment "Carletons typically had heart-shaped decks, but examples with Old Town decks are also known" answers a major question for me. For a newcomer like myself, every piece of information is helpful. In case you hadn't recognized the photo (first one), this was the photo I emailed you on your Dragonfly site a few days ago. Yours was the first opinion I had obtained. The deck shapes were really confusing me though. Also, as you stated, the bow thwart handle looked a little different. I appreciate you clearing this issue up for me.
Welcome to WCHA!

This thread shows where to look for serial numbers:


I don't see any numbers on the stem you posted.

To confuse things, there were other canoe companies that copied the Old Town deck, to one degree or another... sometimes with extra curves or different undercutting... and Old Town's deck evolved over the years as well. So, while the deck appears "Old Townish" that's only a clue. It might be my imagination, but the deck doesn't look totally Old Town to me... more curve to the bumps or something. Additional pictures might help... pictures of the ribs, and of the seats and thwarts might say something. The forward seat is a mast seat.

At any rate, it's a nice old canoe! And Welcome to the WCHA!

a couple of random observations --

Mast seats are usually installed with the mast hole on the aft side of the seat, so that someone might sit on the seat in front of the mast when the mast and sail are in place. Yours was put in backwards. Mast seats are also usually bolted directly to the gunwales, rather than being hung with spacers, to better deal with the torque loads imposed on the seat by the sail. So the seat is pretty certainly a replacement.

While photos can often distort the appearance of curves, to my eye the shaped curves on the short side of each of your two decks of your canoe are somewhat different, which would indicate that at least one of them is a replacement.
Mast seat

Mast seats are usually installed with the mast hole on the aft side of the seat, so that someone might sit on the seat in front of the mast when the mast and sail are in place

This may be a preference thing. With a lateen rig, no one could sit on the seat without the big pointy end of the sail in your back.

I am used to seeing the mast hole forward, like in this picture:


But I have never seen one I could say was "factory installed". Does anyone know how OT installed them?
The usual position was with the mast hole forward on a factory installed bow seat and and with the mast hole aft on a factory installed stern seat. The picture at http://forums.wcha.org/attachment.php?attachmentid=1665&d=1151334414 shows this with two sails sailing 'stern first.' It really depends on the size of the sail(s) since the intent is to center the sail(s) on the canoe as much as possible. I agree with Fitz that you are not likely to find anyone sitting on a bow seat when a canoe is rigged for sailing. The lack of a serial number means that the manufacturer of this canoe may never be confirmed with any certainty.

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One thing that caught my attention on the close-up of the stem is the squared-off end showing grain orientation of vertical rather than flat! Not the preferred orientation for bending or for holding fasteners. Interesting.
RE: Welcome to WCHA

Hello Kathryn,
Thank you for your response and for the welcome! Regarding the decks: the inboard edges of the stern deck was beveled on the underside while the bow deck appears sawn at a 90 degree angle. The stern is mahagony and the bow appears to be cherry. It just looks like they came from two different periods. I suspect the bow was a replacement. Per your suggestion I am attaching some better photos of the ribs (49 of them all total). Thanks again for your comments.

Lanny Thompson


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Hello Greg,
I agree with you in that I believe the mast seat was intended for sitting only. I don't think it would withstand the loads of a mast and sail in it's present configuration. I'll probably replace it with a standard seat. Thanks for your input.

Lanny Thompson

Is there a step beneath the seat in the bottom of the canoe where the mast would sit?

I don't see one in the photos.
Hello Fitz,
I appreciate the comments. I'm thinking one would have to mount the mast seat to the most solid locations possible which in this case would be directly to the inwales.

Lanny Thompson
Mast seat

Hello Benson,

Concerning your comment "The lack of a serial number means that the manufacturer of this canoe may never be confirmed with any certainty", I am afraid you are right. My hope is that I will find something whenever I began removing the fiberglass or remove the decks. But, at the very least this will be a good platform to do my first restoration with. I won't feel so bad if I make a mistake!
Thank you for the input.

Lanny Thompson
No step is present. It doesn't appear to have ever been installed. No evidence of leeboard attachment (scars or abrasions) on the gunwales either as well as no rudder hardware. I don't think it was ever used for sailing.
Sharp eye! I wasn't sure anyone else would notice the vertical grain in the stems. The other stem grain is oriented at approx. 45 degrees. I only noticed it due to my involvement with homebuilt aircraft over the years. This brings a comment/question to mind that I thought of the other day. I would have thought that it would be more practical to build bent stems by laminating several thin strips together since there are no compound curves to contend with. Is this method used when building canoes?
I would have thought that it would be more practical to build bent stems by laminating several thin strips together since there are no compound curves to contend with. Is this method used when building canoes?

Laminated stems are often used by modern stripper builders (those that still use stems anyway). Traditional stems were always steam bent, and those building traditional canoes today still mostly do so. Truth is, assuming you have decent bending stock, bent steams are a whole lot easier, faster, cleaner, and kinder on your tools. Fun to do, too!
I am looking forward to trying my hand at the steam bending techniques I've been reading about. I anticipate having to bend the gunwales and decks. I plan on using the methods detailed in "The Wood and Canvas Canoe". I'm liking this forum stuff! My canoe IQ has increased a couple of points in the last day or so.

The stems, decks, and untapered ribs remind me of a Prescott Canoe, made in Old Town or somewhere close by. The decks might not have been bent, but simply sawn from a thick piece of wood.
The only one that I've ever seen resembled an old Town somewhat, but had a Prescott decal on the deck.