Novice restoration questions

Andy M

Curious about Wooden Canoes
I am new to canoe restoration and hope to get a few answers. I'm beginning a restoration of an 18' guide model that was started right after Pearl Harbor. Interesting. I wonder if they were really thinking about that boat when they were constructing it? Kathryn was very kind in her words of encouragement and quick results with it's history. My goal for it is to get a boat I can use for tripping that will hold up to use and to get my feet wet. I have a Robertson that's been in my family for a long time that I would like to restore after this.

I have read lots of of information here but do not have Stelmok and Thurlow's book yet. I'm trying to make decisions on what I will attend to on this boat and what does not need to be fixed and then I'll order materials and the book.

My biggest questions have to with:
order of repairs
How to decide whether to replace ribs. 4 have cracks (as shown) and I want to decide whether to replace them.
How difficult is replacing inner rails and should I (one is cracked). The crack is right at the center thwart so epoxy may not be an option. I read that getting a boat with malady as a first timer can be hard.
The stern deck has a break right where the last stem band screw was.Replace or repair?

I think I'll stop there and wait to read the astounding comments sure to follow. Feel free to answer all, some or none.
Thanks in advance,

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Stelmok and Thurlow will be a big help to you. There's a great section in the back on restoration, but all the material on new construction is applicable to the restoration process as well.


- cracked ribs: consider backside rib repair. Search threads here. It is doable and produces a string repair that doesn't show. You'll have to judge, though, whether damage is severe enough that a backside repair is warranted

- inwale repair/replacement: yes, this is a serious task, but anything is doable on these old boats. You'd have to find appropriate stock, mill it to the proper dimensions, and perhaps steam bend (but probably not on a guide model). Split away the old one and nail in the new one

- decks: if they are otherwise in good condition, repairing a break where the stem band was screwed on should be easy with wood and epoxy. But getting decks out for work can be a bear if iron fasteners were used. Hopefully brass screws.

Bottom line- if others can do it, why not you? Yes, there is a learning curve, but take it slow and think. Also, within a few hours of you there are many people with lots of knowledge of canoe building and restoration. See the builders and restorers list here, but know that this is a very limited list.
Hi Andy,

This canoe was constructed before the WWII shortages and probably has brass rather than iron.

I forgot to mention you might also like the book on Old Town history, Sue Audette's "Old Town, Our First Hundred Years", which is available through the WCHA store and most booksellers, eBay, Amazon, and public libraries... I think Sue sells autographed copies on eBay.

The topic of next year's WCHA Assembly (July 2012) will be Old Town Canoes.

Interesting. My OT 18' Guide #135352 was made in May 1942. It also has a broken inwale. It appears to have sheared cleanly. No damage to ribs or planks in that area. I'm thinking it wasn't steamed well enough. The break is near the middle, where the greatest bend is.

inwale 135352.JPG
This canoe was constructed before the WWII shortages and probably has brass rather than iron.

But sometimes ferrous screws were used to install decks, even when brass used elsewhere. Also iron nails used to attach inwales to stems. There was a lot of ion used even when brass was available. Into decks, especially with certain woods, these screws can be really tough to get out. Bit there are always ways.

Workingbadger: the inwale is a pretty straight run there, esp. on a big Guide. The break shouldn't have anything to do with steaming. Looks like the canoe got a huge whack right there. Looks like the inwale is displaced a little as well.
Perhaps. This photo shows the break is at the thwart also. I still believe it is a strss fracture, as there is no damage to the ribs or planks. But then, it could have been a whack.....

inwale 135352 a.JPG
Thank you for the responses. Just doing searches for topics is quite helpful. I ordered the wood/canvas canoe book yesterday so I'll read that too. Be assured I'll be back.
I also recommend reading Mike Elliott's great blog, CanoeGuyBC,, particularly the following 'checklist' of canoe restoration,

Planning Your Wood-Canvas Canoe Restoration January 23, 2011
by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

In many ways, the process of restoring your old canoe is the opposite of the building process. You start with a lot of ripping and tearing. Damaged woodwork is repaired and/or replaced and then the canoe is put back together again. The big questions are: a) What steps are involved in a restoration? b) What is the sequence of events? So, here is a general plan for the restoration of your old canoe.

1) Remove the outwales.

2) Remove the stem-bands.

3) Strip the old varnish (if required).

4) Clean the interior with TSP.

5) Remove the thwarts and seats.

6) Remove the keel (if present).

7) Remove the old canvas.

8) Remove planks from around the inwales (if ribs or inwales are to be replaced).

9) Remove planks from the ends to expose the stem-ends (if the stem-ends are to be rebuilt).

10) Remove the cant ribs to expose the deck screws.

11) Remove the decks.

12) Stabilize the stem and fill small holes.

13) Rebuild the stem-ends (almost always required).

14) Rebuild the inwale-ends (if required) or remove the inwales entirely (if required).

15) Make new inwales (if required).

16) Stabilize the rib-tops and fill small holes or gouges before replacing the inwales (if required).

17) Install new inwales (if required).

18) Make new decks (if required).

19) Install the deck and join the stem-end with the inwale-ends at each end of the canoe.

20) Re-install original planks and cant ribs at the ends.

21) Replace damaged planks or cant ribs (if required).

22) Repair, rebuild and refinish thwarts and seats (as required).

23) Install thwarts and seats.

24) Make new ribs to replace broken ones (if required).

25) Bend each replacement rib to fit (if required).

26) Allow the replacement ribs to dry for about 48 hours (if required).

27) Remove one broken rib and install the corresponding replacement rib (if required).

28) Replace broken ribs one at a time to maintain the original shape of the hull (if required).

29) Rebuild rotted rib-tops (if required).

30) Re-install original planks around the inwales and replace damaged planks.

31) Replace other broken planks (as required).

32) Fill small holes and gouges in planks on the hull exterior.

33) Sand the hull exterior with 80-grit sandpaper.

34) Vacuum the interior of the canoe and brush the entire canoe.

35) Stain all new wood to match original wood.

36) Apply a mixture of boiled linseed oil and turpentine to the exterior of the canoe.

37) Apply a mixture of boiled linseed oil and turpentine to the interior (if required).

38) Allow the oil to dry for about two weeks at room temperature.

39) Stretch new canvas on to the canoe and tack it along the inwales and on the seams at each end.

40) Make or obtain canvas filler (usually a concoction which includes silica, enamel and linseed oil).

41) Apply canvas filler to the canvas and rub it smooth.

42) Allow the filler to dry for at least four weeks at room temperature.

43) Sand the filler with 220-grit sandpaper.

44) Make new keel (if required).

45) Make new outwales (if required).

46) Prepare the keel and re-install it (if required).

47) Make new stem-bands (if required).

48) Prepare the stem-bands and install them.

49) Apply four coats of alkyd enamel waiting 48 hours between coats.

50) Between coats of enamel, apply three coats of spar varnish waiting 48 hours between coats.

51) Apply a coat of carnauba wax to the painted canvas and buff until it shines.

52) Install outwales.

53) Install painter rings (if required).

54) Apply decals to bow deck and/or hull sides (if required).

55) Allow everything to dry for at least one week at room temperature.

56) Celebrate with a paddle on the water in your “new” old canoe.

Also check re: ribs,

re: gunwales,

re: decks,

Also these articles on Rebuilding A Wood & Canvas Canoe,, from Old Town Canoe resource page.
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