repair canvas- skin on frame kayak

David Niles

Curious about Wooden Canoes
A friend has a skin on frame kayak made in Greenland. There are two splits in the canvas skin (coated with "house paint" in Greenland). The splits are near the gunnels, one front and one back. She wants to repair the skin. She is a expert roller and wishes to use this craft to practice in. Because of where it was built, friendships involved, ect. ect. the simple solution of replacing the skin is unacceptable to her. My uneducated guess would be to glue patches on with Ambroid cement and then paint over with oil paint mixed to try to match color of skin. I assume some of you canvas experts have better solutions, please advise.

Dave Niles
I have three kayaks of that construction (one for 30 years now). I have had to patch the oldest a couple of times & have simply used contact cement to glue the canvas patch on with, and then painted as you described. The oldest repair is more than 25 years old & s still fine.


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I've been thinking....If the splits have any lenght to them I think I'd first stitch the edges together with a basebal stitch to make sure they are together when the patch is glued on. (This wouldn't be to add any strength, it would be to help in not ending up with an area of loose canvas when finished.) I suppose if you can get to the inside you could put some duct tape over the spit on the inside to hold the edges together before glueing on the patch & then remove it when the cement is well cured - it would do the same as stitching. I also found that it helps to hold some sort of backing up against the canvas on the inside when applying the patch (heavy cardboard, sheet metal, piece of wood, etc.) to keep the canvas from pushing & separating the edges of the split when pressing on the patch. This also helps to avoid loose canvas when done. Good Luck.
Thanks again for your further consideration of the canvas repair job. Will pass on advice to my friend.

Interesting---- with WCHA having a membership of a few thousand canoe nuts, most with a wood/canvas focus, you are the only one responding to this post.


Hi Dave,

Not all that surprising, to me at least... WCHA has about 1800 members, but this forum only has 160 members. That's less than 10% participation in the Forums (and not all forum members are WCHA members, but we hope the benefits they receive here convince them to join the WCHA).

Further, I would think a repair like you are working on is significantly different than a repair to a wood canvas canoe, where you have a rigid backing in the form of a fully planked hull to support the repair - thus, you simply slip some canvas into the tear, saturate with ambroid cement or something, and Bob's your uncle. Heck, I've even seen repairs with duct tape and shellac that held up quite well. But the skin on a frame kayak is quite different, and such repairs probably won't work. At least for very long... Sounds to me like Ned is on the right track with the sewing bit. I would expect the folks who build skin-on-frame baidarkas and Greenland kayaks may have more practical experience in this type of repair.


Thanks for filling me in on the WCHA and forum numbers.

While canvas is used by some USA Greenland style kayak builders, more seem to use synthetic skin. Canvas is used more in other countries where availability and cost limit synthetic skin use. Also, the majority of Americans have been building their own skin kayaks for less than 10 years so they have faced less old canvas than WCHA restorers. I was looking to see what suggestions WCHA members would have.

With regards to this kayak, Cheri has posted her repair issues on the Greenland oriented "Qajaq USA" site and has recieved a number of responses. The range of suggestions from the Qajaq USA site include: build a replica and put that kayak in a museum, recanvas it, sew the rips and then glue on patches, and glue on patches.

I look forward to seeing what she does and how it holds up. The splits could indicate that canvas is starting to rot and if so the sewing may not hold, as I think you're guessing. She is practicing the Greenland rolling list of about 38 different rolls. The skin will be stressed frequently, reducing the chances of a patch holding.

Today is cold and snowing, but the days are getting longer, so summer is coming! See you at the assembly. Thanks for responding.