Questions about a well used Chestnut


Curious about Wooden Canoes
I have been looking for a canoe for awhile and came across this Chestnut and decided to buy it and ask questions later. Please see photo's on my website here

I don't know much about this stuff besides what I learned reading here today, so I will be an easy target for the unforgiving.

I have measured it but I am not sure if I am measuring it correctly.
From end to end it is 176". Does that make it a 14 or 15 footer?

The width from outside gunwhales is 36". I read on another website that Chestnuts were measured from outside canvas to outside canvas. what the heck does that mean? The depth is 13 1/2" from top of gunwhale to top of center wood strip, whatever that thing is called. The tapered ribs are ~2 3/8" (some are 2 1/4" some are 2 1/2".

It was last registered in Minn. and it was a camp canoe. I was told it was a 40's model.

Can you tell what wood it is from pictures?

The outer and inner gunwhales and some the planks are rotted at the tips. I haven't removed the canvas completely yet. It appears there were previous repairs at some of the plank butts or it's just rotting there. How pliable can this wood be and still be usable? It's pretty flexible and soggy. We've had an unusually wet summer and this thing has been siting outside.

I would like to do a refresh and get it in the water within a reasonable time. Can I do some epoxy impregnation and use most of the material without a full rehab or is this boat mostly toast?

Thanks for reading all of this and providing any information!


Hello, Joe. I'll leave it to those with restoration expertise to answer your questions, but I'd like to wave at you and say something about this place and the folks who inhabit it.

You said something about being "an easy target for the unforgiving" because you are new to fixing up an old canoe. Please don't worry about that... you'll get lots of encouragement and support from these folks. I've met some of them "in person" and can tell you that they are just as willing to dive in with both hands to help out as they are to dispense advice on the internet.

Your Chestnut is definately a "worthwhile project". I hope you'll share the experience of her restoration-- even if you decide to do only what's necessary to get her into the water. Knowing another old boat is back in the water, adding to the pleasure of someone's life, is a cool thing. Knowing another person is becoming "hooked" on wooden canoes is also cool... maybe because it's a bit less lonely out here in canoe-nut-land!

Again, welcome!
The canoe definitely looks in pretty decent condition to me. Believe me when I say that I've seen much worse.

The most time consuming part will be the learning curve, the figuring out how to do what you've just spent hours determining is the correct thing to do, and the drying times for the various paint, varnish, canvas fillers, that you'll be applying.

From the look of it, I'd guess it to be a Bob's Special. But then again, I don't really have much to go on. 176" is 14'6". The Bob's is considered to be a 15' canoe, end of stem to end of stem and then rounded off to the nearest whole number. They take much the same approach with width, widest point and then rounded off to the next largest whole number.
Thanks for the welcome, the encouragement and the information.

I have order the suggested reading found on this forum, still waiting for delivery.

I have pulled the canvas, removed the cutwaters and the wood piece on the bottom (whatever it's called) and removed the outwhale. I have started cleaning up the old wood filler and preparing the joints.

I have posted many detailed pictures at this link.

Where should the line be for repair vs. replacement on the planking? I put my finger through a plank in one spot, but that is the exception here. The bow and stern have a a couple of holes/missing pieces of planking. The tips of the stems and the tips of the inwhales are rotted. Is it possible to repair without tearing the whole boat to pieces? I like using epoxy. Can I use a penetrating epoxy to get the boat usable in short order? If I start tearing the boat down, it will end up like all the other projects I have started.

A few ribs are cracked on the tips where they are attached to the gunwhales.
Is this considered mandatory replacement or is there room for subjective decisions?

Thanks for you opinions.
Hello again, Joe.

I offer the picture of our 16' Detroit as an example of a canoe we consider restorable. We drove from the seller's house with the wipers on, because the canoe was raining particles---but we were thrilled with our acquisition. Others might have figured it was only fit for the wood-box.

There's been discussion here about restoration versus conservation... you could search those topics and see what the fuss is all about, but it's up to you in the long run. My understanding is that "conservation" involves salvaging as much as possible of the original boat... either because it's a special boat, or because that's your choice. "Restoration" involves returning the boat to "as new", as much as that is possible. It helps to read and read and look at what others have done.

The picture of the Detroit we paid $250 for is an example of how individual this canoe restoration/rescue thing is: this boat was an exciting find for us. And for us, the boat itself will dictate how it will be restored. We'll salvage as much of the original wood and other parts as we can, as long as the canoe itself will be solid. Where there's damage to the planking, Denis will remove a section of planking from the nearest rib on one side of the damage (or rot) to the nearest rib on the other side... so that the new planking is attached firmly to ribs. Ribs that are cracked all the way through will be replaced, but ribs with minor cracks may be salvaged.

You say you want to get your boat into the water with as little work as necessary to make it usable. Nobody is going to fault you for that! Canoes are meant to be used and enjoyed. You aren't going to enjoy your canoe if the restoration project is so complex that it eats up the time you could be spending out on the water!

You ask, "Can you tell what wood it is from pictures?" The planking and ribs on most wood/canvas canoes is cedar. Gunwales look like ash. Someone is welcome to jump in here and disagree. But your Chestnut wasn't made of chestnut.

Best of luck... and please post on your progress, especially pictures of your boat afloat!



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The Chestnuts that I've worked on usually have gunnels of either Spruce or Oak. Sometimes Ash, but I don't recall many of them being so.
When my father bought our Otca for $45.00, it looked like a wreck. The front deck was cracked where some buthead attempted to nail on a tie-down ring fixture. D'OH!

It was painted a dark brown; obviously w/ many coats built up around the camp logo on each end. The interior, after 15 or so years of camp use was re-varnished w/ a mahogany stain varnish, think old piano dark!

It weighed a ton!

Dad was gingerly disassembling the front end and removing the cracked deck. He made a new one at a cabinet makers from a thick chunk of white oak cutting the curved shape & working it to fit. His father, a woden boat builder, had reciently passed on and I think this was his way of feeling better.

As the canoe came back to shape I started in w/ green porch & deck enamel while he cut peg board to fill the empty seats screwing into the corners old the old cane spline and after a liberal application of MORE dark stain varnish, we were off to the river!

I was a sophmore in college and had grown up fishing onthe Delaware w/ pappy but I was really thrilled to 'learn the river' from dad. So thrilled that I busted my butt to store the canoe away for 17 years or so before finding this site.

A few years after we got the canoe, I saw one that was original and wanted to se mine look the same. I started on it in 2001 and spent a year doing it when I could find the time. I recomend stopping and gettign an idea of what you want it to be and do it. You won't regret it. Stick to original stuff and you can always 'restore' more later too!
Most, but not all, Chestnut gunwales were spruce. This seems to be the wood of choice as it is very rot resistant. Your canoe shows a scarf joint on the outwale. This is fairly typical of Chestnut construction. You will have difficulty finding spruce long enough to make new outwales (as apparently the folks at Chestnut did), but there's no reason you can't go to your local Home Depot or Lowes and sort through their pile of construction lumber to find some boards you can get clear stock out of. I recently made a mast and spars for a sail rig out of this material. It took me about an hour of sorting but I found seveveral 2 X 8's that had long clear strips in them. There is no reason you can't scarf together two ten footers to make your outwales. Just be sure to make a very long gradual tapered scarf and use good glue like Titebond III.

Go slow and ask lots of questions. You have a potentially wonderful canoe there that should be a real joy to paddle.

Good Luck!!

The index pages didn't come out right, I'll fix that this evening and reduce the set to a more manageable number of useful images.

page 2
page 3
page 4

Anyway, the outwale probably has been replaced at some point. I think the inwale is a single piece, I will confirm this evening. There is more than one wood filler type and what appears to be some planking patches. The bow in particular has some holes filled.

Thanks for all the valuable responses!