Restore My wood/canvas with Epoxy?


Tight Lines!
My apologies to anyone I might offend with this post... ;-)

I was graciously given what turned out to be a 1918 Kennebec Model 16' wood canvas canoe. I am planning on restoring it, and had Dick Dodson (from Kalamazoo MI - professionally restores canoes - I thought he as a member here but cannot find him) take a look at it. He said it would be a fairly easy restoration, looks like there is 1 cracked plank, the gunwale has a slight crack in it, and the canvas would need to be replaced.

My biq question is about the weight of the finished canoe... I have canoed in Michigan's Sylvania Wilderness Area and am planning another trip this June. Would love to take this canoe with me but I am hesitant to take a heavy canoe on a trip that involves packing in and frequent portages. Could I remove the old canvas and essentially convert the canoe to an all wood with epoxy finish? Is this even possible? Would this significantly reduce the weight? Would it decrease the overall strength or performance of the canoe? Thanks for any help you can give me - I am obviously a novice, but can't wait shove off with that canoe for the first time!
I, and most others would discourage the epoxy coating or epoxy/fiberglass coating for many reasons. You can search the site under epoxy and/or fiberglass and see the many reasons that most of us feel that way. The bottom line on that is that the filled fabric, the planking, and ribs are all intrigal in a system that allows expansion and contraction of the wood. Epoxy or fiberglass coverings disrupt that system, causing inner stresses that ultimately compromise the structure of the wood (in the long term).

With your destination, Sylvania, and the size of your canoe, you already have a couple of good things going for you.

As far as Sylvania goes, the portages are primarily what I call "garden walks". They are relatively easy to negotiate in comparison to BWCA or Quetico. They are also short in general. The only one that comes to mind as being tough is the very beginning of the Clark to Loon portage. It starts our with a ballbuster hill. Might be worth having two people get to to the top....Wheels would be ideal there, but they are not legal.

As far as your canoe goes....It's a 16'er which helps reduce the weight. You now have the option to go lighter on your covering...Dacron or canvas. Your filler... traditional or not traditional.

I have never used dacron, so my opinion is based on hearsay. Tough stuff and light, too. However it allows humps, bumps, planking gaps, tack heads, hammer blossoms, and hull flaws to show more prevalently. It's an aesthetic thing. Dacron on newly built canoes looks great , and does not have 90 years of use and abuse. Mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter!!

You could lighten up on the canvas and use a #12. That would save some weight over what was applied originally, which was #10 or possibly #8. The canvas is more forgiving and "softens" hull flaws and is aesthetically more pleasing.

The traditional linseed/silica based filler is good, tough stuff, but heavy and takes at least 4 weeks to cure.

Non-traditional filler now being used can save weight. It is used on fabric covered aircraft and is a water borne product that dries super fast (no 4 week wait).
The product/system that I have used saved approximately 7- 8 lbs on a 17' canoe. Mike Cavanaugh documented the process for this system very well in a previous post. Do a site search on Ceconite to find out more about it.
My bandsaw blades just came in the mail.....gotta get back to work. Good Luck.
Stop and see me this summer. I'm only 35 miles from Sylvania.

I think y
ou are at the right place. There are a lot of good folks here that know this stuff inside out.

I am sort of a newbie here myself, but am about to start a similar restoration on a Peterborough Wood Canvas canoe.

I am not, by any measure, an expert on this, as this is my first such restoration, but over the years I have owned several such canoes, and have been doing a lot of study on restoring this one before getting started the restoration.

I have considered fiberglass in the past, but discarded the idea once I saw how beautifully elegant these canoes are once put back "right".

I can tell you right away that covering it with fiberglass, while many old boats have had this done to them, is not the best choice. There are a number of reasons, and I am sure more experienced folks here will point more of these out, but besides just being an outright sacrilege for a classic boat like yours, it will add weight, decrease flexibility, and because it will inconsistently seal the seams of the planks I expect it would also cause moisture retention in places you won't see until it rots right through the wood.

You mention considering fiberglass for a weight advantage, and I don't think you would get a lighter weight with the glass.

The boat was designed for canvas, and I think you would be surprised at how light such a boat can be, someone can probably even tell you what your specific boat weighed when new.

My Wood / Canvas boats have been lighter than the fiberglass boats I have owned of similar size, and the 15 foot Peterborough I have now seems about as light as the 13 foot Merrimack Osprey (wood / fiberglass) canoe I also own.

As I said, I am only about to start my first restoration of a WC boat, but I have done a lot of work with fiberglass, and I expect replacing the canvas on my boat will be a lot easier, and less of a mess than it would be to cover it with fiberglass.

As evidenced by the age of your boat, a properly cared for Wood / Canvas boat will last a life time, and that canvas is tough too. My canoe is at least 50 years old, and while it isn't real pretty right now, with fifty years of use and no telling how many paint jobs, it still floats, and it has the original canvas.

It even looks a little better than my 25 year old fiberglass covered Osprey, which is a pretty boat in it's own place, just a little weathered and chalky looking.
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Thanks for the great information! I remember that first hill on the Clark to Loon portage well - in fact, that may be the sole inspiration to reduce the weight!

My hope was to restore the canoe as close to original as possible, and still be able to use it without too much trouble on a trip like Sylvania. Love that place, and love the idea of using a canoe that was made for just that purpose.

I will read over the posts as you suggested and do my research. Thanks again!
I just went through the same thought process with an OT Guide 18. Epoxy is an intuitively simple solution. Old Town (Is. Falls) makes plenty of new wood boats with epoxy and glass covering which saves a very small amount of weight. The inside of the boat needs to be epoxied also before varnishing to exclude water as much as possible. The w/c boats were an update of the birch bark canoes. (Modern materials). Since epoxy is very stable with changes in temperature and possibly moisture, and wood has a large coeffecient of expansion there are some potential problems. Not only that but you will piss-off most of the people in WCHA, and lots of the people you meet if you go with the modern materials approach. It is really the only "right way" to repair your canoe is to use canvas. It is not that mysterious after careful study.
Great info...

Thanks everyone for your thoughts and recommendations...

I knew that it was a "sin" to consider not restoring this canoe the way it should be...

I am moving forward with restoring it to as close to original condition as possible. I am in contact with Dick Dodson (mentioned him in my original post) and he will be helping me with the restoration. Now I'm just looking forward to a day on the warmer side to start stripping the interior of the boat...

Am considering adding a yoke - I know that it's not original, but I want this boat to be functional and beautiful at the same time. Would it be best to just to make my own (I am a decent carpenter) or bite the bullet and buy one? What is the preferred material? Is everything on the boat cedar, the gunwales appear to be a different wood altogether? Thanks again for all of your expertise and ideas!
yoke and gunwale materials


Cedar ribs and planks are typical for canoes, but the materials for other parts are usually different. A yoke needs to support the whole boat at once, so hardwoods are used. White ash is the most common for yokes, thwarts, decks, and seats. I would encourage you to make your own yoke out of something you like i.e. ash, black cherry or maple (paddle materials). The gunwales were typically made from spruce (light colored) or sometimes mahogany ( reddish colored). Sitka spruce is commonly used now because white spruce is hard to find in clear grade long enough for gunwales. I hope this helps. The true boat carpenters out there can help if you need more information.

I have built some paddles with hand tools, which I have found to be a very rewarding process. A yoke would be fun because of the complex curves and the difference in what feels right to different people.
If you are making your own (easy enough to do) and it replace the center thwart, it would make sense to match the other wood in the interior of your canoe -- the seats and thwarts. Whether matching other wood or not, a hardwood is usually used -- ash, oak, mahogany, etc. -- for strength.

I made one myself from oak to replace the aluminum center thwart on my royalex Mohawk canoe some 30 years ago, and it's still in service (though that boat is used much less now since I've seen the light of w/c canoes). A saber saw, a spoke shave, and a couple of good rasps are all you need; a (stationary) belt sander is also useful.

But a simple unpadded one can be bought quite inexpensively from a number of sources -- for example, Dri-Ki Woodworking
( ) or Porter Woodworking
( ) both sell yokes for well under $20, and I expect that there are others; padded yokes are more expensive, but pads that could be mounted and unmounted on a simple shaped yoke could be readily fashioned.

An unpadded yoke is all that is needed to take a canoe a short distance from the top of a car to water's edge, and it looks better than a padded yoke. If the unpadded yoke fits your neck and shoulder well (one of the advantages of making your own), padding would not be needed for even a moderate portage.
more on glass vs canvas

Hi Ryan...You got some excellent advice from very wise folks on this site. I have nothing more to add except insights from my own experience. I picked up an older canoe (possibly a Bastien Brothers, or similarly built 'functional' less than 'beautiful' canoe). It had bad canvas which I replaced with epoxy/glass since I had build fiberglass boats in the past and was familiar with the technology. Well, long story short, the glass and wood combo didn't work out and I've just recanvassed the boat with #10 after replacing rotted stems and ribs. I'm glad to have a flexible covering that paint/filler/canvas will afford and I look forward to paddling her again this spring. Canvasing wasn't very difficult and the results look great. I'm glad you're moving away from the glass idea...good luck with your project.