Lightweight SOF portaging canoe?


New Member
I've got an old canoe made of a lightweight wood frame covered with canvas. It's not planked - it has 4 heavy ribs with thin cedar strips about 1" apart attached to them, then the whole covered with canvas. It's got a wooden floor that sits on the ribs (otherwise your foot would go through the bottom.)

The canvas needs replacing and I'm wondering how to do it. I don't think I want to stretch the canvas as tight as you would with a planked canoe, as the pull of the canvas would twist the frame around.

Has anyone had experience recanvasing one of these?

See attached pictures. (Floor is not in - anything blue is canvas.)


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Your canoe looks like it was built from a Trailcraft kit. I built one nearly 40 years ago. I certainly did not stretch the canvas in one of the ways usually recommended (e.g., as in Stelmok and Thurlow's book). As best I remember, I simply laid the canvas over the frame, tacked it at the base of one stem, stretched it by hand as best I could, and tacked it to the other stem. Then I tacked the center of one side to the gunwale, went to the center of the other side, stretched by hand and tacked, and then tacked towards the ends, alternating sides every couple of tacks. All stretching was done simply by pulling by hand. The stems were done last, after slitting the canvas, tacking, and trimming to size. I believe that the building instructions called for nothing more in the way of stretching, except that once the canvas was tacked, I believe I wet it down (before painting) to shrink the canvas and thereby tighten it some more. I think you are correct that the frame would not stand up to the pressure of stretching the canvas with a come-along or some similar method.

Also, as I recall, the building instructions did not call for using any filler to smooth the canvas, but just called for painting with a few coats of paint. That proved satisfactory for purposes of water proofing, but did not leave the smooth surface that filled canvas provides. On the other hand, I suppose that the canoe was several pounds lighter without the filler. Mine was also blue, both in and out, and as the paint soaked through from the outside.

Thus covered, the canoe made a couple of trips down the Housatonic River in Connecticut, and a canoe/camping trip to Kejimkujik Park in Nova Scotia. The canvas cover held up well. It was my first canoe, and I did not find it very satisfactory -- too tender, but with none of the benefits (speed and responsiveness) that a tender boat can have. It was, in fact, a bit of a klunk. Perhaps I would have been more comfortable with it had I more experience, but I think not. I did have fun building it, and I did learn a bit about canoes and canoing for the short time I had it (I gave it away after about a year).

Anyway, canvasing in the way I did was certainly easy, taking not more than a couple of hours to stretch and tack. Removing the old canvas should be fairly easy (the hardest part will be getting the outwales off in reusable condition), and recovering should be similarly easy.

Good luck.
What Greg said works fine. The only thing I could add it that I find it helpful to snap a chalk-line (or draw a line) down the center of the canvas before starting so that you can see that you are pulling it evenly as you go. Also, using a staple gun (Like Arrow T-50) with stainless steel staples makes the work go really fast. I've never done a canoe, but I've done three kayaks built this way. With three coats of exterior oil based paint (sanding lightly - being real careful not to 'take off the coners' -with about 60 or 80 grit between coats) and you end up with a reasonably smooth finish. I've still got one my dad & I built 30 years ago in its original canvas & paint.


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Thanks for the great information - I think this gives me everything I need to do the job except: what weight of canvas did you use? (If you can remember that after 40 years I'll be even more impressed than I already am!)

I just used what came with the Trailcraft kit, and if the canvas weight was specified, it is not a detail that survives in memory after 40 years. I would think, however, that a lighter wieght canvas would do the trick. The boat is more sturdy than it might appear, but the frame stringers are nonetheless thin, and the ribs are sawn plywood, making it a boat unsuited to really rocky or rugged conditions. If you are going to use the boat on flat water streams or ponds and lakes, I would guess that a lighter canvas would be sufficient, and should be easier to work with. But that's just a guess -- while I have two project boats that will require new canvas after some rib and plank replacement, I don't have any actual experience with different canvases. Those boats are retirement projects, some years hence, after my daughter, now in high school, has finished college and I can retire.

Trailcraft was allegedly still in business in 1998, according to an archived post, although not building canoes. I have no idea whether they still existi, but their 1998 address was Trailcraft Inc. 405 State St. El Dorado, KS 67042. If they are still around, maybe soneone there would have a suggestion.

As to the recanvasing process -- I've been thinking about that boat over the last day or two, and seem to recall that it had an exterior keel. I think I was able to place a few tacks in the canvas right down the middle after stretching and tacking at the base of each stem, before tacking at the gunwales -- which would serve the same purpose as NedL 's snapped chalk line -- keeping the canvas centered over the boat. Otherwise, the chalk line sounds like it would be very helpful.

Would appreciate hearing how your recovering project turns out.
Again, As Greg said, I don't think the weight is to important, sopmething mid-weight. I thing the material used on regular w/c canoes should do fine. You've just got to remeber to watch out for & stay away from sharp things like rocks, sticks, & branches as they do puncture quite easily.
As a kid I used to take my kayak off the beaches of NJ on the ocean for some nice summer afternoons. No surfing or anything (that would be close to suicide in one of these), just waited & picked my time to get out between the waves , stayed out beyond the surf line for some nice ocean paddling, and then when it was time to come in I'd again wait to pick my time to run in between waves. Lots of fun.