Newbie needs lots of help....

Tim Clancy

Curious about Wooden Canoes
Just purchased my 1st canvas canoe. It's a 16' 1924 Old Town Square Stern w/ sponsons. Been looking for quite awhile for one, it's more of a boat than a canoe. Hoping some one here is an expert on sponsons and repairs. Bought it from a fellow who pulled a nasty little trick on me and want to get a good idea on what I'm up against to make this right.

He said he took it down to original canvas and gave it 4 coats of marine paint (interlux I think). Said he didn't do anything to the wood because it was all fine. I asked if he saw anything structurally wrong that I should be aware of and he said nothing's wrong & bragged what a great craftsman he was and how I was going to love this boat and the way it handles. Well the 1st part was all a big lie, but hopefully the 2nd part can still be true.

Took it for a maiden voyage last Sun. and once off the trailer I got in and 2 pulls on the oars and one of the brass oarlocks snapped off. He had remounted the patented oarlocks onto blocks of Oak and they were screwed onto the top of the sponsons. The one that pulled out revealed an ugly and amateurish attempt at a repair. Looks like he used wood filler or maybe an epoxy to fill some big hurt, painted over it and mounted the oak blocks w/ the brass Oar locks. Once off it revealed there was some rot on the out wale (I'm a novice so I'm hoping I'm using the right terminology). It's about a 4" area where about 1/5th of the wood on the underside has rotted away but, it's still solid. Maybe less than a pinky's worth of wood is gone. Right in the same area where the sponson has problems so maybe it sat in weed or leaves on that side. The other side i removed the oak block and that side seems fine.

This is a great craft and certainly worth the effort at a full restoration just want to know what I'm up against. My work load is too busy to try to learn this art so what kind of price do you folks think I'm looking at. Not thrilled at what he did w/ the paint and probably interested in a recanvas and a top shelf restoration of damaged sponson and out wale. Only other problem I've seen so far is one inside mid rail that the maple bench seats are mounted to has a crack from Mr. craftsman trying to mount the seats. I could see a piece of wood being spliced in that would be adequate.

Can anybody give me a contact to discuss that is very familiar w/ sponsons construction? Anybody here that knows more than me, that would be all of you, that lives anywhere near Lake Hopatcong NJ, that might consider stopping by to give me some advice?

I really think this beauty is worthy of a full restoration, and I plan on using it, it won't be a trailer queen or decoration. It will be boat house kept and share some space w/ my 1947 Chris Craft 22" Sportsman. Just looking for some guidance. My email is and my cell is (908) 415-2895 and that is usually good during daylight hours 7 days a week. I'll check back for any comments. Thanks for any help.

Welcome to the WCHA.

Just as a starting point, use the search function above and search "sponson."

You will get all sorts of ideas and thoughts -- some even useful! See, for example, the threads at:

If you go to this site's home page, you will find a Builders' and Suppliers' Directory under "Membership Services." Some of the folks listed there can do the work your canoe needs.

And even if you are going to have someone else do your repair work, you should get your hands on a copy of what is often referred to as the bible of working on canoes -- "The Wood and Canvas Canoe: A Complete Guide to Its History, Construction, Restoration, and Maintenance" by Jerry Stelmok and Rollin Thurlow -- available from the WCHA, Amazon, and often on eBay. After reading this book, you will have the information you need to assess what you canoe needs and how it should be done -- you will know enough to avoid nasty tricksters in the future when hiring someone to work on your canoe.

If you have any photos of you canoe (and the damaged spots), we would appreciate seeing them. We all enjoy seeing other w/c canoes -- especially those that are not run of the mill (such as a sponson square end) and we can all learn from seeing pictures of problems.
Greg--Good stuff. I have Jerry's & Rollin's book and had skimmed through it and am reading it but I missed the side bar on pg. 172 about sponsons. So now I have a good idea what I'm up against.

Also that thread about the autopsy was really helpful. 1st to see photos of what I was only guessing at and also it made me feel a lot better knowing that my problems are not that bad. Everything is relative. I spoke to some folk I know from ACBS Chapter that I belong to that I know have older canvass canoes and they were no help. Was told "I think them sponsons are cork filled" to the more honest "I don't know nothin about canvass". And these are folks that could take a basket case triple cockpit barrel back and turn it into a show stopper at Clayton. So I was feeling some angst.

Well the good news is that I can already see a reasonable solution that is going to get me back in the water this season. Where the seller had mounted the patented oarlocks onto oak block he screwed them into the cedar strip instead of the "D" frame which would've been strong enough for rowing. The fact that the one that failed was over a miserable attempt of a repair, didn't make a difference they would both eventually fail. Thinking you could apply that much pressure on cedar strip, shows he wasn't thinking at all. Think he was more worried about hiding an ugly hurt.

Now I know at some future time I'm most likely going to go for a full restoration, because I think this boat (hope that term is not offensive, but it is very boat like and MUCH heavier than any canvas canoe I've been in) is worthy of being preserved. The ribs, planking and gunwales all look good w/ exception of the spot on outwale that I mention in initial post. Everything I can see looks good except the mid rail that runs the length to hold the original maple seats and I can see myself splicing in a strip of wood for that. I imagine that they were screwed from the out side in so I'm thinking of sistering up a longer strip below my splice and screwing or bolting it and when I get to the major restoration then replacing it when the canvas is off.

As to the sponson oarlock dilemma I'm going to make thick strips of mahogany that are long enough to span 4 of the sponson's interior "D" frames and screw them through the cedar strips and catch some meat that can easily handle the pressure from rowing. They should be easy to locate because I did see a screw head at every other rib that didn't make sense to me before I saw the pics in the thread you steered me to. It does have the original oars w/ thick leather handles and very ornate copper tips.

Just think I want to have it in the water and see if there's anything else major that I should be aware of before I bring it to a pro. As an example just to see how his painting over original canvas was holding up I put about a gallon of water in it to see if it evaporated or weeped out. One spot about one foot forward of where the SN# is stamped on the bow, it dripped out of there. Also about midships where some water pooled behind a rib a little weeped out. Not enough that I would worry about too much water getting in when in use it but enough to make me think I might have a rot problem in the stem. This boat has about a 3"+ keel that tapers down to the width of the stem at the bow. It all seems firm and sturdy, but when it gets recanvased I guess I'll find out then.

Plan on putting an electric jet ski type lift in the boat house w/ modified bunks to lift it out of the lake after each use, so it will be pampered. Was thinking about hoists and slings and spreader bars but knowing who I am, if it's not user friendly it won't be used.

My real passion is collecting old fishing tackle, particularly pre 1920 wooden baits. When I got this house w/ a 1928 built boat house (Bud Abbott actually used to summer upstairs in it) I decided to try the classic wooden boat thing and fell in love w/ it. So I went from little pieces of old wood that folks would throw into a lake to a Big pice of old wood that people would throw into the lake. I really wanted to bring the two passions together and have been looking for a classic real early fishing type vessel. I was thinking Maine or Adirondack guide boat or a St. Lawrence skiff but kept coming back to an Old Town square stern w/ sponsons because a little antique outboard would be practical to fish this lake.

So hopefully I get a little time w/ it on the water this fall, see what else is wrong and make a decision this year if it needs to be medivac out this winter or if I can get a couple of years of use first. Once again if anyone here lives any where near Lake Hopatcong NJ that might be able to come by and give me some pointers it would be greatly appreciated. Tim The Newbie
Sounds like you have a good plan. With a boat house and lift, your boat will certainly get the care that keeps an old w/c canoe going -- and it should be kept going. Most WCHA members are devoted to the idea that these boats (I have no problem with the word boat -- a canoe is a boat) should be used, with perhaps the exception of very rare and/or very fragile museum-quality specimens. My own newly-acquired Old Town 50-pounder from 1931 had badly crackeled paint, a couple of cracked ribs and broken planks, broken seat caning, and some other minor dings when I got it. But a couple of coats of porch and deck paint put on this past winter seem to be keeping it water-tight, and with recaned seats it is paddle-able for the couple of years until I have time to properly restore it. So sister up that seat stringer, improvise the oarlock mount, and go fishing!
Tim, I read your post with great interest being new at this myself. I'm not sure how much expertise I can provide, but being the shop teacher at Jefferson Township High School and having a few tools of my own at home I might be able to provide some help that way. If nothing else it's always good to bounce some "how to" ideas around to get something figured out. I'm currently (slowly) working on a 1945 Otca that I'm looking forward to getting into the water by the end of the summer. I have a 1922 OT HW hanging from the rafters for the next project.