Neil and Andrea's Great Chestnut Adventure!

Neil B

Curious about Wooden Canoes
I've posted bits and pieces of our Chestnut restoration project on other threads, but now that were finished, I figured I'd post a bit of a photo journal.

This canoe has some history. It's been all throughout the Northwest Territories, down the Mackenzie etc. About 30 years ago it took a fateful flight off a car and has been sitting in my uncle's (he's had the intent of restoring it himself) garage. This April my aunt decided that it's really time to get rid of it.

My wife and I were planning on building a strip canoe this summer, but with some coaxing and some arm twisting my dad and Uncle convinced us that this would be a really fun project instead. Knowing what what we do now, we probably would have gladly accepted and then used if for kindling, but despite the headaches we had a great time along the way, and I now that we're not in the thick of it anymore, I think both of us would have trouble passing up a distressed W/C canoe at the right price.

The canoe had some serious problems, some caused by hard use (e.g cracked and braced middle ribs, some caused by flying of a car (broken inwales), some caused by neglect (rotten decks), and several issues due to poor workmanship in the initial construction. I believe this is a later chestnut probably 60's or 70's, and man was it a dog. The last seven ribs on the stern end were out of plane with the rest of the boat. In the bow one of the ribs along the stem was bent about 2 inches off of center. The stem pieces were twisted and warped.

Though this was a "restoration" we decided not to do everything traditionally. Really the only places where we broke tradition was some of the materials, and the seat design. We used douglas fir for the rails and decks, figuring of all it's readily available out here in California, and that a boat should to some extent should reflect where it is made, that it is reasonably hard, light and strong. We'll see how it holds up... The seat design I credit to my Dad who picked it up from someone at the University of Wisconsin back in the day. He uses it in the strip canoes that he built and man are they comfortable. The curved fronts and backs really conform to your shape a lot better, not to mention seat height and angle are infinitely adjustable (a huge ASSET). To those of you working on canoes who aren't totally bent on tradition I highly recommend this technique.

It's been an adventure to say the least, including lots of visitors from the animal kingdom(baby barn owls, black widows, and snakes), and we'd both be lying if we said there weren't times we thought about burning up, but we're thrilled with the outcome. When we replaced the middle ribs, even though we did the one at a time we totally lost the shape of the boat and the hull was ridiculously lumpy. My dad and I thought we might be able to save it by wetting them and placing alot of weight on top (didn't really work) so we wound up cutting out the whole center section of the boat, recreating the shape with battons and starting over. We had some problems with cracking planking around the stems and bilges too. We're still having a few issues (see my thread "Temperamental Canvas"), but we took it out on the water last weekend and fell in love with it.

Here are a few (I guess you're only allowed to post 10. If you want more I'll give you a link to a larger web album)highlights from the project but we hope you enjoy them. And though we only discovered this forum a few weeks ago, thanks for the bits of help along the way! We've asked for a membership to WCHA for christmas!










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Andrea and Neil,
Looks like you guys did a very good job and it is nice to see a young couple joining the ranks of our passion! :)
You ever figure out what model it is?

Don’t know what it is but something about restoring a w-c canoe is a deeply touching and personal experience. My life seems to be divided into a few big epochs and one big moment has certainly been BC and AD—“before canoeing” and “after discovering” w-c canoes. I’ve rebuilt two, both Chestnuts. Maybe it’s just that most our lives, all we do to gain admission is just plunk down plastic. Owning and paddling a canoe you’ve rebuilt yourselves sets you apart from that crowd. Like, “not only do I know what I am paddling, I KNOW HOW IT WENT TOGETHER!”

And plainly they’re beautiful boats.

One thing I wonder about, though. It looks like you’ve hung your seats from straps on the gunnels. I wonder whether the lack of a rigid connection between seats and the canoe will impede paddling. After all, one of the most important connections between paddle and canoe occurs because your butt is directly connected to the seat, which is connected to the gunnels.
Don't know what model it is. I know it's a chestnut because of the original decal on the decks. I assumed it was a prospector, but have absolutely nothing to base that on. It's 17' and it was about 13.5 inches deep. Relatively narrow (I think about 32 or 33") at the center thwart, we widened it to 34.5" because we thought it looked a little funny before. I saved the piece of the old stem with the serial number.

I think your right that there is something really personal and special about using something that you've built. Though more disposable than canoes, I love to catch fish on flies that I've tied. This project is especially significant for us as it is the first big project that my wife and I (we got married last September) have tackled together from start to finish, and now we have something really meaningful to show for it. It's also our first canoe. I know we could have bought a decent used royalex canoe for a couple hundred bucks, and saved ourselves the headaches, and been paddling together much sooner, but isn't it worth it?

As per the seats I can assure you that they work great! My dad's used this system in two cedar strip boats of his. I don't remember my physics enough to do the force calculations, but there are two angles that really help you out. The distance between the gunnels is significantly(several inches) wider than the seat. Because the seat isn't hanging very low below the gunnels, the webbing forms quite a shallow angle (maybe 20-30 degrees), which it means that there's a lot of tension in order to provide the vertical force to support my 170lbs butt that I apply to the seat. Also the distance between where the webbing is attached to the gunnel is probably about 2 inches wider than the distance between the front and back of the seat. This coupled with the tension due to the paddlers weight (I think it would be paddlers wieght/sin webbing angle) means that all four corners of the seat are being pulled in opposite directions. The end result is a very rigid and comfy seat platform (as long as there's somebody sitting in it). I think you would run into trouble if the distance between your webbing mounts was the same or narrower than the seat, or if your seat were as wide as the gunnels, or if you slung the seat very low (so the angle that the webbing makes with the seat is very close to 90 degrees). I think in these cases you'd have a swing!:) You also have to remember that your knees or your feet are connected to the bottom of the boat too.
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That’s interesting. The swing affect is what I was worried about. The seats are arched, as well. I see you would have to have some tension on them. How about the webbing abrading? Does the webbing last a while?

How about when you portage solo, meaning what happens when you’ve got the canoe upside down on your shoulders? Is there enough tension on the seats that they don’t flop around?

And of course seats fixed with carriage bolts do also serve as surrogate thwarts, hold the sides together.
The seats do flop around a bit when the canoe is upside down. When we put it on the car I usually strap a bungee around the seat and the thwart, though I can't think of any reason why flopping around is bad because there's not enough slack in the straps to allow it to hit anything just makes me feel better I guess. I also suppose you could tighten the straps (there's a buckle on the bottom) so that it can't move at all, but it's more of a pain in the butt to adjust it back to how you like it.

I think the straps will pretty much last forever. My dad built his boats back in the late 60's and he's still on the original straps, and about the third revarnishing. Though it would probably take all of 30 minutes to replace them.

I was also thinking some more about the swinging. Even if the seats did swing, I think ultimately the same amount of forward energy would be applied to the canoe as rigid seats. The concern is that if you're not solidly connected to the canoe you would move forward while the boat is remaining in the same place. But because you always wind up in the same position relative to the canoe, and not miles up the river ahead of it, I think ultimately it all goes to the canoe. I suppose you could lose some responsiveness, as it could take some time for the pendulum (you) to stop swinging, thus delaying the forward motion of your boat in response to the paddle stroke.

Well, if your wife was with you on this one, maybe, just maybe you will have a lot less explaining to do when you bring home No. 15.

My first half project (I refinished it and Kevin Martin did the canvas job) was a canoe we inherited from my mother-in-law. She is solely responsible for my severe case of wood canoe bug, but alas I still cannot avoid the "explanations". See recent "Morris" thread.

Seriously, you did a wonderful job. Don't even think about Royalex. You made a great decision.

Paddle and Paddle Frequently.

PS. It looks awfully dry in them thar parts. Need some water? Ask Maine politely. They have too much.

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Well, they’re certainly handsome and apparently comfortable and functional. The bow seat looks wider than what you’d usually find. Personally, I’d like the stern seat a little further back, both for a little more storage in that half of the canoe and because I think the stern paddler has a bit more control when closer to the stern.

I think the most economic transfer of force from paddle to canoe, via the body, occurs when kneeling with butt on a thwart or leaning against a seat. That’s a compact three point—or tripod--connection. When seated, I don’t think that much force transfer occurs through the legs.

I’ve asked around among folks who have built both strippers and w-c and w-c comes out on top almost every time, as being both more enjoyable to build and to paddle. The great advantage of the w-c is its flexibility—it’s got give in the hull and feels more alive than a relatively more rigid stripper. Plus, aesthetically, the w-c has so many lovely lines and curves and such variety: complexity in the interior balanced by that great big splash of solid color on the outside.

Great to see one so well traveled back in the water again. Its got a history, and a story, and loving owners now.
Searched the site and cant seem to recall if you posted the serial# or not. If not can you post it here?...I have an 18 and a 16 and would love to pinpoint the era it was created....Maybe I will start a new post with mine to see if I can narrow down when mine was created!....As for liquid sunshine... I have a lot here in South Paris Maine I would gladly DONATE to anyone who wants to come over and harvest it;)
OOPS!....PS: Dontcha just luv the feeling when your sitting in one and GLIDING along!...I was always into TANKS that acted like they were on a battleground! Congratulations on a fantastic first effort... /B]
Very Pretty guys! I especially like to color you chose. Well done, I'm sure there will be another coming your way soon. There always seems to be.

I have made a few strippers in my time and have to agree with Larry's research. IMHO they are largely over rated. They are touted to be a good way for an amateur boat builder to get on the water but I am yet to be convinced. The glass and epoxy is nasty stuff and there is no end of sanding AND they aren't cheap to build! I think there are much better and cheaper ways to get a nice boat on the water.

IMO the way you guys did it is the way to go. Find an old wood/canvas and bring it back to life. Not only do you gain a beautiful object but you have a wonderful shared experience with your family. Even your cat got into the action.

In my stripper days (someone will jump on that one for sure :D and let me tell you it wasn't a pretty sight) none of my family would step in the shop, too many fumes. Now that I work only on wood canoes, my wife loves to come out to "pound" tacks, bend "stuff" and my dogs help out with keeping the shop clean carting away any pieces (stems, seats, etc.) left around and triming the ends of those same pieces...oh sure, they leave those teeth marks but at least it's a family affair and it adds character to the boat.

Anyways, awesome job, guys. I look forward to your next one.
What a great project to share as a couple! You've already survived the restoration and I assume that you get along on canoe trips? Then you're very well placed to survive the marriage!

I often say that a canoe trip is an excellent marriage prep experience - you get to see what a person is really made of!
serial number

Since some of you were curious the S.N of this canoe is 25171 (I think)
Stemband Ends

Hi Michael. Sorry I haven't posted sooner, I was off on vacation using my new Canoe!

I don't have pictures of the stemband ends on hand but I'll try to take some and post them in the next few days.

Also I meant to mention that It's great that someone else in California has a wood and canvas boat. I live in Davis and wondered whether our chestnut might be the only one.