Mahogany Strip Canoe Restoration


New Member
I have a 15' 9" hand built mahogany strip solo canoe that my father made with a friend 23 years ago. His friend was building radio towers in Honduras and his company had to clear many virgin mahogany trees. They transported as much of the wood as possible back into the states when the finished the tower job. One of the projects the wood was used for was the canoe. It's beautiful wood, but the craft has seen better days and desperately needs repair. I have offered to take this on as a project (my father is unable to do so), and hope to eventually build one myself.

I am looking for advice on how to properly restore the boat. The biggest problem is several cracks in the side of the boat. Some of the cracks go through and can be seen from the inside of the boat. If it weren't for the cracks, I'm sure the boat could just be sanded and have new coats of marine grade varnish applied, but unfortunately it's not that easy. There is also some cracking at the tail end of the boat at the very tip.

What is the best way to fix the cracks on the side and at the end? Do I need to somehow remove the fiberglass coating? What's the best way to do that if I have to. Any tips would be greatly appreciated. It's very important to me to do the best restoration possible on this beautiful and one of a kind boat. Pictures are below.


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I'm no expert, and these pages are stalked by many more expert than I, but if it were mine, I'd use a heat gun to strip the 'glass off the outside, sand to the wood, then re-'glass it. You may have to build some forms to force the cracked areas back into original shape, before sanding & glassing. Then flip it over, and repeat on the inside. The crack at the stem worries me; you might find some surprises in there, after the glass comes off.

It's A LOT of work, but it's not so much difficult as it is just mind-numbing tedious. Take your time, don't ignite anything with the heat gun. The final product will look a whole lot nicer than a patchwork job, and it'll weigh less as well.

Pick up a copy of "Canoecraft" available here at the WCHA site:

It has a lot of great information & instructions. There are other strip-building books out there, but I haven't read them, so I don't know which are better or worse.

Look in the forum under "Strippers," and search through it; you'll find a lot of excellent tips & information, and you'll also see you're not the first with this problem. Mine's almost re-done...
There are lot of options, but what you really need to ask yourself at this point is:

What do I want to end up with?

What are my resources? my skills, my time, my tooling, etc.
Yep, Paul pretty well nailed it. If you didn't have a family/emotional tie to the boat, most people would suggest running the other direction. It can be done, but it will be a major project. It's a little more tricky than stripping fiberglass off of a wood/canvas boat because the glass here is structural (no ribs to hold the boat together as you remove the fiberglass) so remember that it will be pretty fragile until it gets re-glassed. There are just too many problems evident on the old fiberglass skin to really consider trying to patch it. The white areas at the end are probably delaminated and may contain some water and/or rot. In any case, step #1 is to get it set up on something solid and start removing the old fiberglass from the outside of the hull (leave the inside fiberglass for now to help hold the boat together while you give it a new outer skin). It's heat-gun and scraper or knife work to get old glass off and it really can't be rushed because of the danger of pulling on a hunk of glass of and ripping big gashes in the wood as you do so. Slow and steady wins the race. If you can sucessfully get the fiberglass off the outside and the wood under it is sound, then the whole restoration scenario will start to look a lot better. At that point, I don't think fixing the cracks in the wood will be a big deal as you prepare for the new outer skin. It's a big job, but do-able. The boat already looks pretty nice and with new skins and some clean-up it should be gorgeous.
Todd's comment RE: the family ties is well-stated. If someone brought me a stripper that looked like this, and asked if I could fix it, my answer would be something like "Yes, but it'll take me at least a year, and will cost much more than buying a new boat. I don't know how much more, just much more." But the family ties are worth more than the money, and the overhaul will only add to the stories your boat could tell. Stories like, how'd those cracks get there in the first place?

Go ahead & do it. Be meticulously careful, follow directions, and don't hesitate to post questions; you'll find the community here offers a lot of free advice, and it's always top-notch.

Where are you located? There may be someone nearby who can help.

Oh, and post more pictures as you go... we like pictures!

I've started on the project. Step 1 was obviously removing the gunwales and hardware. That went pretty well, but I think I'll need to make a few pieces of the gunwales — the varnish came off years ago and some of it is pretty grey.

Next up is the big part, removing the old fiberglass. This is going smoother than I was anticipating. I'm using a heat gun to slowly heat it up, and then peeling it back. I used my putty knife a lot in the beginning, but after a while I figured out how to get nice long strips going. I suspect just one more day and I'll have the whole bottom of the hull cleared off.

I'm about 8 hours into it at this point.


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