Keel Question

Tim C

Curious about Wooden Canoes
I am restoring a 17', 1967 Old Town Otca. The old keel was rotted and needs to be replaced. I am debating whether to make a new one to replace it or just not put one on. My question regards the forming of the cupped surface that is on the boat side of the keel (where the bedding compound gets applied). What are the suggestions for forming this? Are there router bits that can be used? One more, What type of wood should be used?
Thanks for any input.
I think if you do a search for "Keel" here you'll find lots of threads where the keel/no keel question is discussed. It boils down to personal preference... if you'd rather not have a keel, don't put one on... somebody recently pointed out that it's just one more place for water to get in. I don't put keels on my boats, but I have the keels that came off them, so if some future owner chooses to put them back on, they can.

I think the keels on my lumber shelf are all maple, but I'd have to take a closer look.
Hi Tim

White oak is what old town used for keels, red oak is not exceptable.
but it is some times hard to find 5/4 white oak at your local lumber store
and you will need to start with 5/4 stock to get the hight you need,
especialy if you are matching the new keel up to the outside stems like on
my Otca restoration.
The cove on the under side is very easy to do on your table saw by passing
the stock over your blade set at 1/16" hight at a diagolal by making a quick
fence clamped to the table. you have to play with the angle of the fence
on some scrap stock to get it right but once you have done this opperation
you will see how easy it is.

And my two cents, I opt for the keel, it strengthens and protects the bottom of the boat.
I just took my 17' Otca down a 16 mile stretch of the Delaware with
13 class one and two rapids, the river was very low with lots rocks to
avoid and some were not avoided.
The keel took most of the hits.
I will try to post some pics of the table saw set up.


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table saw cove

Here is the table saw set up.
it took me two minutes to set this up for these pics.

Good luck


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I just took my 17' Otca down a 16 mile stretch of the Delaware with 13 class one and two rapids, the river was very low with lots rocks to avoid and some were not avoided.
The keel took most of the hits.

It stands to reason that since the keel is sticking out that it will get the dings.
Keels are not helpful in riffles or rapids.
Without the keel you have more maneuverability to avoid contact.
It does stiffen the canoe, but I am not so sure that is a benefit.
A keel free canoe can slide over rocks and gives a bit more and it does not get get hung up as easily to broadside.

It really is a personal preference.
I vote for leave it off if it did not have one, replace it if it it did and if you don't want the holes in the floor and building new, leave it off.
They really don't do much other than help the tracking a bit...something a good J stroke also accomplishes.
Thanks for the quick replies.
Michael, the photos and description of the table saw set up are a great help. As with so many things, it is so easy when you know the proper method.
The canoe did originally have a keel and my first thought was to leave it off. The problem then would be the existing holes in the ribs from the original screws that fastened the keel on. I'm leaning toward replacing the keel, it would be good experience to have to build one since the other canoes I have worked on did have keels that were simple to reattach.
I do have another 13.5' canoe in need of restoration that also had an original keel. I'm quite sure I will not replace it, so again I will have the hole problem to contend with.

Thanks again, Tim
What to do with the holes

YOu can plug the holes a couple ways. buy a plug cutter and use one of the ribs you've removed (if there are broken ribs). Use a forstner bit to clean up the hole.

Or, glue in a cup washer and screw head. grind or cut the head off a brass screw. It'll look like it has a keel from the inside.

Or---Do nothing, just varnish over the holes and ignore them.
In my case I have an old Mansfield I am restoring. The keel is rotted and needs to be replaced or come off permanently. To replace it I have to get to the heads of the screws on the inside of the canoe floor which are sealed under a resin seal. Only the Bow and Stern pieces are fastened from the outside. I would love to just leave it off - based on what people are saying, this really is an option? I hope so... To replace the front and back I would have to bend / steam some pieces and that is getting beyond my expertise...