MN Lake Country Greetings


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Hello All, I’ve been a quiet member since I joined last fall. Reading and learning from all of you has been a great way to enjoy winter evenings. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. It's time to get my canoe project on the books.

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I’m an old house guy, so spring & summer normally includes stair work, window work and more. But this spring there’s this canoe with what looks to be #56420 17 stamped in the stems. According to my father-in-law it’s an Old Town. He said it was old and needed TLC when he bought it in the late 50s. Sadly it's back in tough shape once again.

Last fall I squeezed in a bit of work on the canoe. I nearly finished removing the interior paint with stripper and green cleaning pads. I learned that the late 50s fiberglass releases from the planking fairly well--if patiently warmed with a heat gun. I’m fairly certain I’ll become pretty okay at manufacturing new rib tips--almost all of them need help--except for those on the three to four broken ribs that will get replaced. Besides the squashed ends, the planking looks good (so far). I also believe I’ll replace the flat decks with steam-bent decking--I may as well since I might be creating new (steam-bent?) stems, along with all the other refinishing. The list is long, but not impossible. What seems hardest, so far, is acquiring sufficiently long clear-grained gunwale wood that will steam-bend nicely. Does anyone know of a midwestern source of appropriate spruce?

I’ve attached some pictures. I look forward to any advice. Thanks.


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Wow, you really started with a challenge! Are you sure that your gunnels are spruce? It looks like you have a “double gunwale” Old Town, and if so the wales are likely mahogany.
Hello Michael,

Thanks for the quick response.

I looked up double gunwale info here at WCHA. The descriptions of a rabbet for the rib tops match the construction used by my father-in-law when he repaired the canoe in the 50s. Dave & Peggy Davidson's 1909 OT work is inspirational ( I'll need to ask my father-in-law if he built the gunwales based on what was present or off another canoe. I just looked at the gunwales and they are not spruce. I guess I assumed. Were double gunwales always made with mahogany? I might have to change my search from spruce to mahogany.

If this is an Old Town, I'm assuming it's an older one, because it doesn't have diamond head bolts. Instead they are round-topped, fin head bolts (picture attached). Is that correct?

Also, it appears to have had sponsons. Every other rib has two holes each lined with a brass ring.

Be well.


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Welcome and congratulations, the Old Town canoe with serial number 56420 is a 17 foot long, CS (Common Sense or middle) grade, HW (Heavy Water) model with red western cedar planking, open spruce gunwales, a keel, outside stems, and sponsons. It was built between September, 1919 and March, 1920. The original exterior paint color was dark red. It shipped on April 5th, 1920 to St. Paul, Minnesota. A scan of this build record can be found below.

This scan and several hundred thousand more were created with substantial grants from the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association (WCHA) and others. A description of the project to preserve these records is available at if you want more details. I hope that you will donate, join or renew your membership to the WCHA so that services like this can continue. See to learn more about the WCHA and to donate or join.

It is also possible that you could have another number or manufacturer if this description doesn't match your canoe. The fin head bolts you found are typical for this period. Diamond headed bolts were not introduced until the early 1920s. Double gunwale canoes were always built with mahogany rails but this canoe didn't have them originally.
Feel free to reply here if you have any other questions. Good luck with the restoration,


Thanks for the information. If the space for the floor rack is blank, does that mean it wasn't installed in the factory?
The floor of this canoe has the brass fittings that appear to go with having had a floor rack.
Steve Fisher
And do you know Barry? He lives just a few miles south of Brainerd and is the MN Chapter lead.
He's currently in the middle of skinning a Morris.

Hello Dan,
Thanks. Yes, I do know Barry. He's my local go-to expert. He's why I joined this group.
We met through cycling and have yet to paddle with one another. Hopefully that will happen soon.
When the project get more technical, I'm hoping he can help.
Be well,
If the space for the floor rack is blank, does that mean it wasn't installed in the factory?

Maybe, the lighter colored ink stamps are often missed by the black and white scanning process. See an example of this. A colored scan will probably show more but access to the original paper records has been limited for over a year now due to Covid-19. I've made a note to look up this record when I can get access again but it may take another year. Some pictures of the fittings may help confirm if they are the style commonly made by Old Town. This canoe has had so many non-standard repairs (including the outside gunwales) that it may be difficult to tell what is original.

My guess is that the build record is correct for your canoe. The fin-headed bolts were used for canoes of this era, but they were originally countersunk and plugged. It appears as though the shear was lowered when the new gunnels were installed which was not uncommon. That would explain why the sponson screw holes are closer to the shear than normal.
Hello Craig, Benson, & Gil,

I've attached two pictures of the serial number. The imprint is weak after getting covered with at least three layers of paint.
I'll let you know how much my father-in-law remembers about working on this canoe 50+ years ago. Having good specific questions about lowering the shear, changing the gunwales, etc. might help jog his memory. I do recall that he said it was in very tough shape when he bought it.

Benson, what other fitting pictures would be useful?
Gil, I will admit that it's tempting to rebuild the gunwales with the closed style out of mahogany.
From earlier conversations, I believe my father-in-law rebuilt the thwarts, seats, and the interior stems (which are cut from wood lumber).

Appreciative to all of you,


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Give Barry a call, he just sent out a message about the 1st paddle, RUM RIVER PADDLE, MAY 15.
and have him add your address to the list.
Hello again, Benson & others,
Thanks for the image. What I have is very similar. Barry helped me check out a few details today. It does appear that the shear has been lowered some. Time to stock up on a few cedar boards, a bit of ash, and two more lengths of spruce for gunwales. We're still waiting for it to get a few degrees warmer in the garage before this project can fill in "down" time.
Appreciative to all of you.
Be well,


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I was at the factory recently and able to get an image of this build record as shown below. The floor rack was installed at the factory on February 11th, 1920. Let me know if you have any other questions,


Hi Benson,
Thanks much for the new & better image of the build record. That's useful information.
Appreciative for all you do,