Need help with 2 cracked ribs


New Member
My son and I are tackling our first restoration - a 16' 1949 OTCA Old Town canoe. The wood is in good shape except for two cracked ribs. I'm decent at wood working but don't have the knowledge or tools to handle anything too complicated. What is the easiest method to repair these ribs? See pictures attached (the fourth photo is a view from outside at the cracked ribs' location). Thanks in advance for your help.


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Rib replacement is not all that complicated. If you don't want to fabricate them yourself you may order them from Jerry or Rollin or any of a number of other builders that list on this site. Jerry is making the OT canoes now and would have those ribs available and Rollin would make them up for you pretty quickly if he does not have them ready to go. You will want to be able to tell them which ribs (it looks like close to the stem??) these are so that they can send you the correct length. It would not hurt to have the SN (from the stem) handy so that they can tell what year and model you are dealing with.

To replace these you will need to pull the old ribs and steam and shape the new ones over the outside of the canoe. The rule of thumb is to bend one rib down (smaller ) on the outside from where you are replacing one. As luck would have it there is an active post where you can see how Fitz is dealing with this on a nice old canoe he is working on:

Once you have them set to shape you will need to install them with brass tacks. You'll need to clinch the tacks and make sure that you put the tack heads below the planking. Folks are often too dainty when the drive tacks. Don't be!

There are books that will tell you every step. Rollin and Jerry (that's Thurlow and Stelmok) have written the ones worth owning (IMHO).

Finally, there are WCHA chapters located throughout the US. Members are often willing to lend a hand. Check with your local chapter to see if someone will lend a hand.

Good luck with that project.
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Good looking canoe, looks like it'll make for a fun project for the two of you.
If the thought of replacing the ribs seems a bit daunting, you may want to think about doing a back-side repair. This will allow you to keep the original rib in place, maintaining visual continuity. This method was used throughout the restoration of my families early 20's St. Louis canoe, under the watchful eye of Dave Osborn. And we have not had any issues with any of the repaired ribs.
As the name implies, this repair is done on the "backside" of the rib, or the side facing the water.
Basically, all you do is cut a small window out of the planking, over the ribs next to the damaged ones, carefully cut out a small pocket/ recess in the rib above and below the crack.
Cut a small piece of hardwood to match the pocket size. Using your favorite epoxy (West System worked well on mine) glue the patch piece in, and clamp it down so that it sits all theway in the pocket.
Once the epoxy is dry in a day or two, using your belt sander, sand the exposed portion of the patch down to match the contour of the rib, and your rib is repaired. Button up the plank with clinching tacks, and you're ready to go.
I hope I load up the right pictures to help illustrate the concept.
Good luck, and have fun!
13.1 step 1 of back-side rib repair.jpg13.2 Step 2 glue in splice.jpg17.5 window for rib repair.jpg18. Broken Rib closeup.jpg18.5 rib in repair.jpg19. finished repair.jpg
I like the idea of a back side repair. What did you use to cut the planking, a router? Also, what tool was used to carve a patch out of the cracked ribs? Thanks.

It looks to me that the combing is missing on both decks. Those two pieces will have to be steamed so they will bend without breaking. Regarding the rib repair - a backside rib repair works best if the broken rib is not terribly displaced such as the rib pictured in Mark67's first two pictures. If the break is in the chine of the hull or if the rib is out of alignment so much that the hull is badly deformed it might be better to replace the entire rib. Your photo of the two broken ribs is taken too close to assess their location in the canoe. I just did a backside fix on a rib this evening. It took me about two hours. Not counting the time needed to clean up the repair after the glue dries. The one nice advantage of doing a backside repair is that the old rib appears the same as all the other ribs when the canoe is varnished. New ribs stick out like a sore thumb unless you take the time to carefully stain them to match. I second Mark67's advice to buy the books, especially "The Wood and Canvas Canoe." There are a couple for sale now on Ebay. All the materials you will need are available from the builders listed in the Directory here on the website. Good luck with your project. You will have a very nice canoe when you're done. Have fun, take pictures, read the threads here and ask questions. I should have added - you will not need a router to cut out the back of the rib. Cedar is soft wood. All you will need is a sharp bench chisel, utility knife, rasp, etc.

Jim C.
Hey Poston Boys!,

Glad to see you two on here. Good luck on the restore. I'd try the backside repair first if I was trying it.

Those ribs are not cracked.
They are broken.
The "backside" repair is really not an appropriate repair in this case. We are offering these folks bad advice by suggesting that is the right repair.
The effort to do either repair is about the same.
After looking at the pictures again I now see that these are broken on the side of the hull where they are always going to be stressed.
Better to do it properly, give the boat a couple solid ribs and remove the bulge from the lines (IMHO).
I agree with MGC, if the ribs are broken and in a stressed location, they should be replaced. With some clever staining, the new ribs will blend right in. In re-reading my post I see I left out the importance of the location of wounds, and how that will dictate the work to be done.
Simply meant to provide one other possible solution to investigate.

Good luck.
I looked at the pictures again and can't see where the broken ribs are located. But like I said above if the break is in the chine or if the hull is deformed from the break replacing the ribs is the way to go. A back side repair is simply that, a repair, and is not a substitute for a new rib if its location or the severity of the break dictates it. Just my two cents worth.
I looked at the pictures again and can't see where the broken ribs are located.

Actually now and after looking again I am back to not knowing where the breaks are either. Initially I thought these were tight to the stems on the bottom. Then I thought I was seeing the keel in the background and that the breaks were in the chine. Now after looking again I have no idea. The only things I am sure about is that I would pull and replace.
Thanks for all the help. Here are a couple of additional photos of the cracked ribs. They are the third and fourth ribs to the front of the forward thwart. They are located near the stem. They are cracked on the starboard curvature of the canoe. Excuse my description if it's incorrect. Thanks.



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