Newbie: Got the boat home, now what?? Help with judging condition and repairs needed!


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Hi there everyone!! Just to sum up really quick, I bought a boat off of ebay(I know, I a sucker!!) and drove from Minnesota to Kentucky and back to pick it up. The seller was great, but I think his claims about the condition of the boat were a little inaccurate. I could be wrong though. He didn't have a return policy, so what was I supposed to do, leave and go home and not take the boat I had already paid for??

One more thing, I realize post trip to kentucky, that I know next to nothing about wood or wood and canvas boats and they are completely different than modern type boats. (All I know is that they are expensive here in Minnesota and any wood boat is kinda desirable and generally way out of my price range.)(Plus they bring up memories of going on canoe trips at camp when I was a kid) I admit I was stupid and didn't educate myself enough before buying to understand what I was looking at.

Now that we have that out of the way, lets get to the boat. I got it home safe and took it off my car this evening and had a chance to decently look at what I bought for the first time. Didn't really have time when I picked it up cause the seller was kinda hovering and I didn't know what I was doing, and it looked older and in not as good a condition as it had in the pictures the seller had took.

I will attach a whole bunch of pictures and maybe some very nice people on here will be able to help me identify what condition this boat is in. I already got a confirmation of the materials made in the boat via the serial number request I did on here.

Serial number: 108497
Old Town Octa 1933 CS model

Just an FYI, if you go into the complete listing on ebay and type in something like octa, you should be able to pull up the seller listing and see his pictures and description for reference.

It looks like the hull is in good shape, at least I don't see any holes in the boat anywhere. Seller claimed it had been re-canvased more recently and that it had been restored, at least at some point. I'm wondering if the ribs and gunwhales are all original, as they patina looks old. It didn't look like any ribs had been replaced, at least to my untrained eye. I have no idea if any of the ribs are cracked, didn't know to check for that. If someone can help tell me how to check for that, I would appreciated it.

I took pictures of the stem in the bow and stern and maybe someone can tell about the condition from them. It was getting dark, so the pictures are kinda crappy and I couldn't see enough to get in there and feel around for myeslf.

The seats are obviously not the originals, but they are like new and seem functional.

When you look at the wood strip that sandwiches the ribs on the sides of the boats, you can see the nails and it seems like some of them are not sandwhiched or nailed tight enough together. I took a picture of that too. Some of that same wood trim on the outside that runs the length of the boat seems pretty dry and there are a few slight cracks in the wood here and there radiating out from the screws holding the trim in place. I have no idea how well the canvas job was done, but judging from the classified sections on here and some of the othe boats I saw for sale, it doesn't look like it's that great of a job. What do I know though!! There are a couple places where the canvas doesn't come up enough to tuck under the wood trim at the top of the boat. Need advice on what to do about that and if it good enough just the way it is and just needs to be sealed or what.

So that's just some things to start off with. I don't know if this is the right boat for me or not. It's HUGE in terms of being used by just one person. I did want to get a bigge boat though so my family and my niece could go out in it too, but part of me would like a solo boat so I can easily car top it myself.

I like old things and things with history and this boat reminds me of the old grunmans that I used to use at camp when I was a kid. I know, there's no comparision between a grunman and this boat, but it's the same nostalgic idea. I like learning abou the history of these boats and the parts on the boats. I may even be interested in learning some small repair type stuff. I just don't have a lot of money and I already probably spent way too much on this boat. I'm not a collector, but instead want to use this as a functional boat. Maybe that's unrealistic for what I want to use a boat for.......

Any advice on the condition of this boat and more importantly if I got ripped off and whether to keep it or not would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!!


Here are the pictures of the boat. There will be more to come...


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More Pictures.....

Here are more pictures.......



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Here are picture of what I think is the Stem in the bow and stern of the boat. The first two pictures are of the bow and the last two are of the stern.


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More pictures......

Some pictures of the problem with the canvasing job that I was talking about. Wondering if there is any fix that can be done that doesn't involve a whole need canvas. Also, a picture of the sandwhiched ribs and the little bit of sepertaion as well as the dry cracked wood I was talking about.


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Pictures of keel and side trim

Here are some pictures of the keel and side trim that isn't seamlessly attached.


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Pictures of ribs and floor

Here are closer up pictures of the ribs and floor and you can kinda see the original patina. It looks a lot lighter though because it was getting dark and I had to use flash. Just an FYI, put all pictures were taken with flash.

That's all the pictures. I can take more tomorrow when it is light out and if any one needs pictures of certain areas of the boat please just let me know.

Again, looking for advice on the condtion of this boat and what categories of repair work need to be done inlcuding: has too be repaired, it is optional to repair, or it only needs to be repaired for collector or cosmetic reasons.

Thanks again for everyone's help and hopefully I can get this all figured out.



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You should get a copy of "The Wood and Canvas Canoe: A Complete Guide to its History, Construction, Restoration, and Maintenance" by Rollin Thurlow and Jerry Stelmok, and/or "Building the Maine Guide Canoe" by Jerry Stelmok, and you might also want to get "The Old Town Canoe Company" by Susan Audette and David Baker.

The first is often called the "bible" of canoe repair, restoration, and maintenance; the second is an excellent study of the wooden/canvas canoe, and the third is a great history of the company and its canoes. These are available from the WCHA store, are often on eBay, or from Amazon.

Unfortunately, “The Wood and Canvas Canoe” is out of print – but it is sometimes available on eBay, or perhaps you can get it from your library. It is worth chasing down, and will help you enormously in evaluating your canoe.

Any of us who have been involved in eBay boats know that a seller’s description is sometimes overly optimistic, and photos don’t always give an accurate picture. Take a look at Fitz’s post about the canoe he picked up yesterday (Saturday) in Maine
( that he bought on ebay.

In my opinion, the seller’s description is incorrect and misleading, in a number of regards. The canvas and frame are not in “good condition.” Canvas coming loose from the Outwale (2d picture, 2d series; 3d pic, 4th series) is not canvas in “good condition;” and both the outwale repair in the 4th and 5th pic, 5th series; the repair to the inwale near the stern seat (1st pic, 4th series) are poor repairs and are not part of a frame in “good condition.” There is also a split in the tip of one of the outwales (1st pic, 2d series) that is not “good condition.” And there is a missing piece of coaming at the stern deck (1st pic, 4th series – compare to the bow deck) that is not “good condition.” The items above would probably not prevent the canoe from being used.

However, the loose keel probably needs immediate attention, because the canoe will probably leak – at least one (probably more) of the screws that are supposed to hold the keel in place are missing (or at least seriously loose, and water will come in through the holes.

There are a number of other issues with the canoe – and a cracked thwart, a poor interior finish, and a keel that seems to be in two pieces (2d pic, 5th series) when a one-piece keel would be expected. In my opinion, these, with the more serious problems above, make the seller’s claim “Canoe is in good condition” not just inaccurate, but in light of the ebay photos that show none of the above (except perhaps the poor interior finish, misleading. Indeed, I would consider initiating eBay’s complaint process, to see about some relief, (such as adjustment in price?) – but I have never used their complaint process, so I don’t know how well it might (or might not) work.

Having driven a very long distance to pick the canoe up, and having already paid the seller, you had little practical choice, I would think, except to do what you did – take the canoe.
The canoe is, nonetheless, one with that likely has considerable potential if properly repaired. If the keel separation is taken care of, the canoe probably can be used easily in its current condition for a while.

If you do not see any visible cracks in the ribs, you probably don’t have any, or at least not any serious ones – same with the planking that you see between the ribs.
The interior finish is largely, but not completely, a cosmetic issue. Because it is so poor, water will readily soak into the wood, making the canoe heavier until it dries out, and eventually, creating a situation where rot may become a problem.

The missing coaming is largely a cosmetic issue, but being part of the canoe’s wood fabric (as opposed to paint or varnish), would have some impact on resale value

The breaks in the gunwales are perhaps more serious. The break in the outwale especially can affect the shape of the canoe over time. Some consideration should be given to at least applying a temporary brace or dutchman to those breaks unti a proper repair can be done.

The seats are not original, but appear to be serviceable. Duplicates of the original hand-caned seats could be made, and machine-caned seats which are similar to the original are readily available, should you wish to do a full restoration at some time in the future.
Your canoe appears quite repairable/restorable, and a good restoration would give you a very nice canoe. But that will take a good bit of some combination of time, effort, and money.

An 18’ canoe is a bit of a handful for solo paddling, but is readily handled by two people, and is a good size if more than two are going out (how old is your niece?). A 15’ or 16’ canoe might serve your needs better – it depends on how much solo paddling you intend.
Check your private messages later – I have a few more thoughts, but it’s too late to keep going.
You have what I like to call a "carpenter canoe" complete with sheetrock screws and probably pine outwales with the popular brown painted rails. I grew up with one - my grandfather kept an old Gerrish afloat long after she should have broken apart. She wasn't pretty but we loved her (and he was doing the best he could).

I agree with Greg: stabilize and/or fix the immediate items he mentioned so you can use the boat this summer, get the book and read through it several times, and next winter you can redo her properly. Between the book and all the knowledge here that boat doesn't appear to present any issues a properly armed novice can't handle. Plus I'm sure being in MN you have other WCHA members nearby to help if you need it. The good thing is she's not a rare boat and even a amateur restoration will improve her condition considerably so don't be intimidated. You saved another one! I will warn you though, these old boats are like rabbits: once you have two they seem to multiply :) Congratulations on your purchase (don't dwell on the negative aspects) and welcome to wooden canoes!
Floor rack

The floor rack is not an Old Town rack and is not likely original to the canoe. Welcome to Wooden Canoe Ownership though!!:)
Congrats on your new boat!

Nice old girl she is, plenty of potential in her for sure. I'm just finishing up my first refurbish project of an old wood canoe. With some education and all the kind and helpful people here, you will be able to make your new boat shine!

Nice job with the photo documentation - much better than I did within the confines of my basement!

First off, Gorgeous boat. The distance shots - overall shape and design are classic. This thing was a real beauty

I agree with everything above. It is not in 'good condition' but it is serviceable as is until you are tooled and motivated to have the canoe out of commission for awhile as it is massaged back to what it once was. It appears easily restorable

In the meanwhile, I would zoom your mental lens way out on this boat. It is in serviceable condition (with keel addressed as above) and you can paddle it as is until you get around to more definitive restoration - and it definitely is worth restoring but I wouldn't waste effort dabbing, cobbling and patching piecemeal on this.

On that note, From what I could see in inwhales (inner rails) appear mostly intact except where sawn off and butted on the right rear. This is a lucky break because replacing the inwhale, is a fairly significant process. I would remove the short butted piece and scarf in another piece properly then recut the notch to land the coaming. Cutting an 8:1 scarf with the inwhale in situ is a bit of a trick, but I accomplished this on my project (in virtually the same location) using a sharp back saw. The outer rails I would simply replace - same goes for the keel, I'm not even sure it is the correct shape anyway. Some would argue to leaving it off altogether.

From a cosmetic standpoint, it appears someone tried the quick and dirty with porch stain or something. I would go after that with the harshest, most noxious, environmentally unfriendly chemical stripper you can get your hands on and get it out of the boat. Don't bother with the 'green' stuff, it merely invites the paint to let go if it feels like it. Zip-Strip, 5F5, Methylene Chloride based strippers is the stuff, I've wasted so much money on the greener alternatives.

Lots of folks with lots of experience and advice on how to go about a restoration of this beauty when you're ready to go after it, but in the meanwhile, paddle it and don't bother with temporizing measures other than re-securing the keel
Hi there again everyon!!

Thanks for all the great posts and info. To be honest, I didn't really know my boat anatomy well but a local member on here contacted me and we chatted for a good two hours. He was very helpful and not only recommended more temporary fixes but once I learned some of the boat anatomy I was able to more accurately describe what was wrong with the boat. Thanks you so much to that gentleman for all his time and effort. Everyone on here seems really friendly and helpful and I look forward to chatting more in the coming months.

Anyway, this gentleman was able to calm me down about my bad purchase as I was freaking out and give me adive on the varying degrees of what needs to be done to this boat and I am actually thinking about fixing her up a litle bit or at least getting a better idea of what is wrong with her. I would loose almost a third of what I spent if I sell her and I still like the boat, although it is on the big side. I think my local library may actually have a copy of the "canoe bible", that book everyone is talking about and I am hoping I can get my hands on it.

I did look at the ribs and they don't seemed to be cracked anywhere except where the ribs are nailed to the inner gunwhale. In a few places there are some very small cracks radiating out from the nails. I was told by the local guy that cracks like that are common and you can fix them by using a glue or something like that.(Don't remember exactly what he told me to use) The cracks don't run down the ribs at all or past the bottom part of the inner gunwhale strip.

Now that I know my terminology, I see exactly what everyone is talking about as far as the outer gunwhale is concerend. It was suggested that I could put some kind of splice or something over that and that could be a temporary fix although it looks like people are recommending that I take the outer gunwhale off and have it replaced. I didn't know that these just screwed off and the boat woud still keep it's shape. Interesting!! I wondering if there is any way I can buy a replacement gunwhale without having to make one myself as I don't have the means to steam wood to bend it properly.

As far as the keel, I haven't had a chance to look at it again since I unloaded the boat. I do know that when I took the pictures, I felt down the length of the keel and it wasn't loose anywhere. I know everyone is saying that the keel shouldn't be two pieces but one, but maybe I could just leave it the way it is right now if I can make sure it isn't loose or any leaks coming from it. I'm not really sure what everyone is refering to about the loose keel, so maybe someone can explain to me how to look and judge what you guys are talking about. Any info would be appreciated.

As far as the wood on the boat, yes, it looks like someone slapped some old brown paint on it. At least on the outer and inner gunwhales and top deck. I think the ribs and planks are painted too. I was told by the local guy here and some posters on here that you can use stripper to take that off. My local guy mentioned that if you use stripper when the canvas is on the boat, you have to be careful so the stripper doesn't leak throug the cracks and damage the canvas and he seemed kind of hesitant about doing that. Any advice on the type of stripper or if I should even use stripper would be appreciated. I had acutally wondered why you couldn't just use a sander as the ribs on my boat are pretty weathed and slighlty pockmarked and will have to eventually be sanded smooth anyway. Would it be less time consuming and safer to just sand the wood and paint off at the same time as opposed to using stripper and then sanding smooth?? My local guy said that would take off too much wood. Any advice would be great.

Finally, I'm going to read up on the repairs in the books everyone suggested, but what should I tackle first or does it not really matter??

I'm also worried about the stem on the boat as my understanding is that is the stem is rotted or not straight it is not even worth fixing the boat unless you are going to do a total overhaul. I will try to take some better pictures of the stem tomorrow because I looked in the boat again today and there was some kind of debris that looked like it was on the stem that might have made it look like the stem is rotting and maybe it's not. I felt in there with my hand and it feels solid, but I will check again tomorrow.

Someone also mentioned that the deck or plank or whatever you call it that is running along the bottom of the boat is not original. Does anyone know that for sure?? That piece is not nailed down and you can pick it up off the bottom of the boat. Is it supposed to be loose like that??

Looking foward to hearing more from everyone and thanks for all the great advice and friendly welcome so far.
Floor Rack

The floor rack is not an Old Town floor rack. Floor racks are usually mentioned on the build sheet and are typically held in with brass clips made of brass stem band material. I have some photos of Old Town floor racks on another computer. I will post some.

Would it be less time consuming and safer to just sand the wood and paint off at the same time as opposed to using stripper and then sanding smooth?? My local guy said that would take off too much wood. Any advice would be great.

you do want to be careful with this one, as the boat is held together with brass tacks that are driven in from the outside to the inside, and are clenched - that is, they turn back at the top of the rib and point to the bottom, that is the part you see. This is what locks the planks to the ribs, and if you sand off too much rib top you will sand off the clenched part that is holding things together. Best to read that book cover to cover, you will quickly get an overall ideal of how the boat is put together, which will really help you decide how to proceed when working on it. Best of luck!
Before I would do much of anything, I would put on a life jacket and take the canoe to the water to see if it floats. If it doesn't leak, I would use it and enjoy it. If it leaks some , I would find the holes,repair them, and use it. In the near term, it might also need some small strips maybe 1/4"3/4" tacked under the rails to keep the canvas in place. The canoe might be usable for a long time before any major restoration needs to be completed. The fact that it might not be perfect shouldn't affect the enjoyment of paddling a fine canoe.
What Gil Said.

To be clear, I would not use any stripper on the boat until you plan to re-canvas it. The stripper I mentioned earlier was in the context of a restoration effort which would include recanvassing.

You won't gain much by simply sanding the inside, the clinch tacks will eat the paper and the paper will eat the tacks. These are what hold your boat together so you don't want to be sanding on them.

Aside from removing and re-bedding the keel and perhaps replacing the outwales, there is little to be done that makes much sense until you're ready for a full on restoration.

If you did want to start in on something, the outwhales wouldn't be a bad place to start. You can work on new ones without removing the old ones. (no I don't think you can purchase them ready to install unless Old Town Canoe makes some up and ships them to you at terrific expense) It is a great tooling up exersise involving milling, scarfing, planing, steam bending and will provide you essential skills and confidence. When they're milled scarfed and bent, you can remove the old ones, install the new ones, shape, sand and varnish them on the boat. They'll come off when you
're ready to proceed with the rest of the restoration and can go back on again when you're done.

But definately get a copy of The Book somehow.
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here's how I went about outwhales:

As you can see I had only the remnants of the originals left, so I definitely needed new ones.

I used the old ones to interpolate the shape using a thin piece of flat steel to continue the curve

I laid this out on a piece of 2 x 12 which was to become part of the bending jig, and I exaggerated the curve to allow for spring back after steam bending (turns out I was over exuberant)


So here are the two curves, I cut to the tighter one with a bandsaw - you could use a saber saw
So I cut it out and traced it onto the other, reduced the pieces by the thickness of the 'rungs' and ended up with this
IMG_3994.jpg, a form over which the bend the ends of the outwhales

Now on to the actual outwhales:

I got a couple pieces of clear spruce stock wide enough for two halves of the same outwhale. The idea would be to bend one end, split it down the center and join them end to end for a full length piece with the curves at each end. Each piece of stock was rabbeted along both edges so when split and joined, it would produce a continuous rabbet along the whole length of the outwhale (this is the side against the canoe)

Because of the angle of this picture, you see only one rabbet in each piece, but trust me, the other side has one too

I cut these rabbets using the rabbeting function on my jointer, but a table saw would work famously for that as would a rabbeting plane or a router table or number of other ways

Because the rails not only curve up at the ends but taper in depth as well, I planed a taper into one end of each piece of rail stock by hand - spruce is wonderful to plane

Nothing left to do but steam them: A simple self-explanitory set-up, I cooked them for an hour, but I couldn't get them hotter than 212 funny thing
while they were cooking, I set up some extra stuff on the mold with some wedges to hold the piece down. It bent like buttahIMG_4010.jpg

So much happened without being photodocumented, I split the bent pieces down the center using my bandsaw (could use table saw or hand rip saw) and scarfed them end to end using a long tapered scarf. I took the raw pieces and 'offered' them to the canoe. I fastened them in place with drywall screws being careful not to sink the drywall screw beyond where the final screws would go.

This is a shot of the scarf joint - a simple taper planed into each piece with a sharp plane and glued with Titebond III

using a number 3 plane, I planed the top of the outwhale flush with the top of the inwhale. The ends obviously are blocky and need to taper in thickness as well like the inwhales do.
Copy of IMG_4036.jpg

I laid out the taper while on the boat, removed the rail and tapered it on the bench
Copy of IMG_4037.jpg
The problem of overbend at the ends:


Was solved easily enough

and here the rails in their unfaired, blocky state attached to the boat with beautiful sheetrock screws

The weapons of choice for the process to follow included a plane and spokeshave for major shaping, and most importantly a couple of battens for fairing everything in - in one case a very thin piece of cedar planking with two blocks glued to the ends and adhesive sandpaper - this was useful for fairing the tops and sides of the rail and smoothing the round-over. Another useful tool was a spring steel batten made of an old Japanese pull-saw blade with the teeth sheered off to which I stuck some stick-on 60 grit paper. This was useful in fairing the up swept ends flexing nicely into the curve.



The rails will be removed for canvassing the canoe, then re-installed with proper bronze screws.

Milling, mold making, steam bending, scarfing, planing, fairing, installing - this project embodied the majority of the skills needed to carry out a complete restoration of a canoe with easily obtainable tools.

Thats why I say, outwhales are a great place to start.