Repairing rotten stem tips

Dennis Vidal

Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes
I recently purchased a 1907 O.T. The first thing I'd like to do is repair the stems. The top four inches on the stem is gone, the rest is solid. Any suggestions on how to make this repair?
Thanks, Dennis Vidal #7740
Buy a couple books on canoe repair. Seriously. Jerry Stelmok and Rollin Thurlow are a couple of experts and their books are terrific. Bill Miller recommends cutting right down the middle of the stem with a saws-all. (Shudder) The big problem with stems is they are difficult to remove without damaging the ends of the planking. And what you don't want to do is make more work for yourself. The saws-all approach reputedly destroys enough of the nails so that the damaged stem cap be lifted out with only minor prying. I've not done it that way, nor have I seen it done, so maybe some one else can comment on this approach.

It's going to be a long winter. Get your books, a nice warm fire and a mug of tea, and learn how to be a restorer from those who have gone before you.

Paddle on!

You might also consider purchasing Wooden Canoe, Issue #70, it has a good article on stem repair. Wooden Canoe back issues are available from the wcha store
Thanks Mike,

The picture is very helpful, and the sunrise/sunset is awesome. I'm removing the top row of planks as I type. It looks as though I have some rib ends to repair. I've canvassed a couple of canoes and made some minor repairs but nothing quite as involved as this. I'll be getting an education with this restoration.
Thanks to all for the help,
Dennis Vidal #7740
Thanks Ebeeby for the pictures. Great pictures that answer several of my questions.
Dennis # 7740
One thing I (several other very part-time rebuilders around here) have done when tackling rotten stem tops is to make and install a kind of “sub-deck” under the real deck. I cut a triangular piece of wood (of ash or any hardwood would do) as wide as the deck plus both inwales and screwed it in place under the inwales and deck, out of sight. Into it I mortised a one inch by ¾ inch by six inch wood shaft, aligned and dimensioned so that it could serve as a backing for the stem and the stem splice. When your stem/splice is finished, it is screwed in place to the shaft on the sub-deck: you don’t have to mess with fitting the stem into a mortise in the inwales.

It also adds a great deal of structural strength to the tip: it essentially re-enforces the whole area. Of course, if the tip of the model of canoe you’re restoring is very sharply curved, it won’t be as simple as fitting relatively flat parts together.

Hope the above is clear.
The idea is simply that rebuilding the tips commonly calls for making new decks, splicing in new wood to the existing inwales, and splicing in a new section for the stem, or replacing the stem entirely. The challenge is that all these four pieces must be fit together very precisely and then fastened together very strongly. When building a canoe from scratch on a form, it’s relatively easy to make stem, inwales and decks come together right, as the form holds everything in place. When doing restoration, it’s another matter.

So this sub-deck is sort of a “mini-form” that lets you custom fit all these pieces into a new tight joint. Plus it lets you to secure the top of the stem into something other than the inwales—which don’t have a lot of room for a mortise anyway.
Ok then, with a fiberglass hull, how would you go about fixing this stem tip?
See pictures


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Now you know why fiberglass and wood together on a canoe is not good in the long term, unless it is kept dry when not in use. All you can do is try to make a cosmetic fix. Maybe dig out the rot and make a wood piece that fits in.
Typically with a wood plank and canvas canoe you canvas and planks can be removed to expose the bad stem. A scarfed repair can them be added to the good wood on the stem.
That's what I thought. No real way to get in there without ripping it apart. I may just fill it with Resin Epoxy with filler... Clamp it tight to dry. This does not have to perfect, just better. I can then sand, paint or gelcoat and I'm good. No?
Ditto. Thanks, Larry. I have been pondering how to replace the stem tips on my cedar rib construction canoe. The "rib/planks" run vertically, so I can't separate them from the stem as in a wood canvas or cedar plank canoe. So I have been wondering how I will cut a scarf on the stem to splice to.

When I removed the decks, I found a stem backer and triangular deck support just as you describe.

The rot doesn't extend too far down, so I may be able to chisel it out and get enough of a flat surface to which to glue a new piece.