Restoring an AE Flewelling 12 foot canoe?


Curious about Wooden Canoes
A newbie here to wooden canoes. :)

I've recently met a neighbor who is beginning a project to restore an A.E. Flewelling 12 foot canoe. I've gone to take a look at the canoe. He has removed the fiberglass completely (I asked him to save a piece to inspect it and it seems between 4 and 6 oz weave). Before I found out about this project, he had done quite a bit already, smoothing surfaces with an RO and 50 grit (ouch), and inspecting and then removing the rotted rubrail and breasthooks. He is currently also removing the inwales (not as bad, but partly rotted).

The canoe appears to be plank on bent ribs. I have built an S&G sailboat and so I am familiar with epoxy and glassing. But I have no idea how much flex is normally to be expected in the bottom of a canoe of this build method. I can post pictures if they would be helpful. Some questions...

1- Is anyone familiar with this canoe and a proper restore method and materials?

2- Bottom flex... If I put x amount of weight in the center of the bottom, with the hull inverted, how far y should it normally flex without glass on it? With glass on it?

3- What is the normal weight glass used to cover the outside of a canoe such as this?

He is pressing on to do more work as this is a winter project. I already highly suggested that he no longer hit the bottom with that 50 grit, as the planks have lost some thickness already from it. Looks like copper nails (or brass?) were used throughout. I also had suggested only a light technique with 150 or 120 on and between the ribs inside, to remove flaking varnish and wood fibers, in an effort to retain as much material thickness as possible. He isn't looking for a museum showpiece, but hopes to have a useable painted glassed hull when completed, varnished interior.

Any answers to any of these questions would be greatly appreciated. :)

Edit- After some browsing here, I'll edit this in... although the removed cloth did look like glass, that might have been applied with polyester resin, back in the 50's, it is possible that it was canvas, but looked like thin threads with big spaces between them, that I am more accustomed to seeing in some glass weaves. I admittedly have no experience with canvas. The interior structure looks like it was only varnished and not sealed with an epoxy. This is where, again, it will be very helpful if someone here knows this Flewelling canoe, and knows for sure if a restore will best be done with canvas, or glass and epoxy. Thank you again for any input.
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Welcome to the Forums!

I found this information in the list of Maine canoe builders:

Flewelling, A.E., & "Cedarcraft 20" 1950s (era) Crouseville (town) Aroostook (county)

Someone else here may be able to provide the information you need that is specific to the Flewelling canoe. Pictures always help. You've done some important research, reading the archives here.

A nicely-finished canvas canoe will surprise a lot of folks because it may appear to be fiberglass or plastic... but canvas with filler and paint is meant to have a "carriage finish"--- essentially like that of a fancy horse-drawn vehicle or early 20th century "horseless carriage"... and the later fiberglass finish was designed to mimic this.

A '50s canoe could be a fiberglassed canoe... but a ribbed canoe (as it seems your research has shown) needs epoxy on both sides, or problems may begin to mount up.

The advantage of a canvassed canoe is that it can be restored to "like new" again and again, because it is built of component parts which can be replaced as needed.

Because I haven't restored a canoe but have only read about it, I'm only full of opinions and not experience... but it seems to me that if the fiberglass is removed from the canoe and the inside isn't epoxied, even if it originally had fiberglass on the exterior, you'd have the option of using canvas... which would probably be better for the canoe in the long run.

Stelmok and Thurlow's book "The Wood and Canvas Canoe" is essentially "the bible" of canoe restoration.... and there are videos, including YouTube videos, which show the canvassing process. Plus there are a lot of experienced folks here...

Thank you for the speedy reply. Now, with at least one reply getting things moving, I will let my neighbor know of this thread. After some additional replies, he may participate himself in the thread. He will know best if he wants a traditional and long lasting fix, after study of the recommended text, and viewing videos, or if he wants something quick to last 10 years, a solution that won't require becoming too much of an expert overnight. Hopefully, with a few more posts, he can better decide method and materials. I have my own views forming already thanks to some browsing here, and will sure pass those along, as suggestions of those wiser than I. Thank you again so much for the momentum of the first reply. :)

I am also preparing some pictures for posting tonight or tomorrow.
I'm no expert, of course, but it seems to me that canvas may actually be easier to work with than fiberglass anyway, and as Kathy pointed out, will actually be better for the canoe in the long run - allowing the components to flex a little bit instead of shatter upon meeting an underwater obstacle, or the ground, or your wife's car, or...

That said, I am unfamiliar with the brand, and if it wasn't canvassed originally... I don't know.

If you're overly concerned about flex in the bilge, you could always add a floor rack - distribute your weight a bit more. Will he be paddling from his knees then?

Maybe I'm making it worse... I always vote for canvas - maybe there's someone from the wcha who lives nearby and could help you guys out. Where are you at?

And welcome. If I can get help building boats here, surely you can - the folks around here are amazing...
Thanks. Located in North Carolina. I'm about 20 minutes north of Raleigh, the owner and the boat are near Cary. :)

Here are 15 initial pictures of the current state of the canoe. The sun had just gone down, so the pictures are not as ideal as I'd like from the flash of the cheapie camera. I could take others with better lighting, if it will help. Detail was better in the originals, but the gallery restrictions forced loosing some of the details (bandwidth issues understood). Included at the end of this post is a link to the gallery, for future convenience.

The owner seems committed to replacing the inwale even though most of it seems in good shape. The rubrail is already removed and was quite rotten in places.


Original breasthook rot and removal.


Overall condition of interior.




Condition after stripping cloth and some RO.


50+ year old fasteners look alright!




I've split the images over two posts due to forum restrictions...
Images continued... and link to gallery...

Glass or canvas?


Glass or canvas... weather side.


A section of rubrail, now removed.


An old repaired gouge.


Current state of bottom.


Bottom without flash to show relief better and see how much wood is already removed during the 50 grit RO cleanup. I suggested he unplug the RO for now, to save wood, especially until we hear from others more experienced.


Bow underside


Planking pattern, and some spots of unknown filler repairs.


Hopefully that gives you a good idea of the scope of the project. :)

Flewelling had a construction company in the northern Maine town of Croseville. He and his brothers would build a few canoes in the winter when the construction business was slow. They were mostly noted for the large twenty foot freight canoes that were used on the Allagash and St. John Rivers. The boats were not real beauties but the forms were good, the Flewellings knew what they were doing and the canoes were perfectly serviceable and built for heavy use.
I believe just about all their canoes were originally fiberglassed. A.E. died around 1988 and since then the forms have been sold a couple of times but they are reported to still be in the area but I have not heard of them being used.

You are right about the grinding of the hull. Don't do any more! The wood planking is not that thick and it the pictures I can see where the wood has been ground down around the brass tacks. this will make the finish layer of fiberglass a bit lumpy because the tacks will end up being high spots. You do not want to grind off the heads of the tacks because the tacks are what holds the planking together! I would recommend the boat be refiberglassed and not canvased. the high spots in the canvas would quickly wear through the canvas. At least with new fiberglass you can add a bit more cloth so the tack heads will not wear through.
Far be it for me to give my limited experience with fiberglass removal from the outter hull and sanding what I thought was to smooth the hull, I starting sanding the clinche nail heads also...Fortunately with the advice of a friend..I stopped....I then proceeded to re-clinch all the nails that had risen above the wood planking... Any further sanding down was done by hand and planks were removed and replaced as I felt needed... This canoe is carefully being prepared for a canvas cover....I personally like canvas! However, as Rollin explained, you would most probably be doing the correct restoration by using fiberglass...As for the FLEX question, you are working with a cedar built is meant to have flex...If you ever get the chance to paddle a real birchbark canoe then you will experience a flex like you cant wishes and keep us posted....when its done you will have that feeling of pride.
Thank you for all replies. I will be forwarding them to the owner. If the Flewelling 12 was originally fiberglassed, that I can help him with. Just wish I could be certain of 4 oz or 6 oz weight glass. I'm tempted to suggest 6 oz because of the wood that the 50 grit *removed*.

Do the pictures show what is typical of a canvas removal, or, a fiberglass removal? Would be nice to be certain of the materials.

Keep the replies coming. :)
Appears to be fiberglass that came off in nice big sheets. There doesn't seem to be a "typical" fiberglass-removal-job--- just a consensus that removing fiberglass from a ribbed canoe can be a major undertaking (and you can replace "undertaking" with stronger words and phrases). Fiberglass removal usually involves a heat gun and putty knife and many hours, or submerging the boat in a pond until the fiberglass gives up.

Canvas removal is much easier, because the canvas isn't attached to the wood. It may come off in one piece, and make an interesting rustic wall-hanging.

Sounds like a 12 footer made by this company wasn't the usual size... a canoe built for someone who wanted to poke around a pond and maybe do some fishing-- not their usual freight-hauler.

Keep us informed of the progress on this little canoe!

That's helpful. :)

I believe he needed a heat gun and scraper. That makes more of a case for fiberglass. I didn't realize a canvas removal was so easy. It is interesting though, if you look at the following picture, you can see where the *cloth* seems to have holes where the rubrail nails went through, and looks like, if it is fiberglass, it was not thoroughly wetout with resin in the final upper inch to the rail. Wish I had seen it on the boat before he removed it.


I'm giving the owner the link to this thread today. Thank you again all, for the replies. Keep them coming as other thoughts arise. I'm very ignorant of canoe construction techniques. And I'll keep browsing around in these helpful posts.


That looks to be fiberglass in your pictures. I was thinking your canoe may have been originally fiberglassed because I don't see any tack holes through the planking at each rib location. Tack or staples at each rib location hold canvas on.

You don't need tacks at each rib for glass.
I'm learning with every reply. No tack holes from canvas install. Good to know. Has me now wondering what weight glass to use. I'm thinking 6 oz minimum because of the wood loss, and wondering if 9 oz is way too much, or reasonable, again because of the wood loss.

Also wondering what sort of filler. If glassed, it will certainly stiffen things up, but I wouldn't want the owner having unnecessary cracking from unnecessary stiffening. A microballoons and silica filler is certainly more prone to cracking with flex. Maybe a wood flour filler with no silica at all? And is there experience with various brands of epoxy that shed some light on which is more flexible (for where that is desired)? I've used System Three General Purpose (haven't tried their Silver Tip yet), and I've used MarinEpoxy. They are both fine for S&G methods, but I don't know about the flex I'm seeing on the bottom of this canoe. Also wondering about a filler to fill the weave of the glass. What is typically used on glassed canoes. The owner wants to paint. Filling the weave with straight epoxy sounds like a heavy unnecessary alternative compared to a much lighter compound with a final epoxy seal over it before primer.

Also wondering about the treatment of the inside. Varnish only? Or epoxy seal first and then varnish? Traditionally speaking it sounds like varnish only, but this isn't strictly a traditional canoe with the use of glass instead of canvas. I'm concerned with an epoxy seal inside, that it would crack here and there with flexing, let water in, but not let it out so easily, and encourage rot. Any ideas there? My S&G sailboat is thoroughly sealed, and very stiff, so the water just won't get in to begin with, but this canoe is a different animal. And I might take a different approach if this were my own canoe, but I am trying to gather the best approach for someone else. :)

Since this is the wood and glass forum, I guess you could consider those my questions for this post. I truly appreciate your combined experiences. The owner is now also reading this post. Your photos are also nudging me to take a second look at any wooden canoes that may be hanging in an antique shop or laying in the hay of a barn. Thank you again, to the community. :)
Also wondering what sort of filler. Also wondering about a filler to fill the weave of the glass. What is typically used on glassed canoes. The owner wants to paint. Filling the weave with straight epoxy sounds like a heavy unnecessary alternative compared to a much lighter compound with a final epoxy seal over it before primer.

Also wondering about the treatment of the inside. Varnish only?
First, you have a problem that needs to be fixed before you glass this boat. The low spots that were sanded in need to be brought back to level before you layer your glass weave over the boat. If you do not, the finished boat will show every imperfection. If you are glassing it as it appears that you will, you could use loose glass fiber mat (as opposed to weave) and fiberglass resin to build the low spots back up. You will need to carefully level the low spots after it hardens. You can build this up in a few layers if need be and then fair it to level by carefully sanding. The hull will be plenty strong enough. You will have glass, planking and ribs layered over each other. I once bounce a glassed wood canoe off of the top of a car and the only damage was a small crack in the resin!

As far as fillers go, there is no need to get too carried away. I would not get too fancy. The original builder used resin as a filler. Do the same.
With respect to paint, tint the resin. Paint scratches off.

For the inside, has it been damaged by having only varnish inside? Probably not.
As long as the owner cares for it and it does not allow the boat is not constantly waterlogged, varnish is absolutely fine. Trying to get an epoxy to bond well to a previously varnished hull is not foolproof, but putting another few coats of varnish on is.

Good luck.
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The biggest problem with fairing a project like this is every filler I've ever used sands harder than the surrounding wood. This creats a problem, especially in this situation where the wood is already getting dangerously thin in places.
One method I have used with success is to just fill and sand the gaping cracks and then lay my fabric. The glass will lay just fine over an unfair surface. I would use 4 or 6 oz. Once cured, the sheen really makes it easy to see what kind of fairing needs to be done. The down side of this method is that you now must make a secondary bond to the glass with your fairing materials, so you have to properly prep the surface according to the epoxy manufacturers directions. Don't cut any corners here and it will stay put. You can then sand away with no danger of cutting into the wood. You just need to be carefull not to cut into the fabric, but this isn't much of an issue as your fairing mixture will now sand easier than the straight epoxy on the glass. If you do cut into it a little here and there, no worry, the primer or a little more epoxy will seal it back up.
Once faired, if you would like a bit more rigidity or strength, and I am guessing you may in this case, go ahead and lay on another layer of fabric over everything. Again 4 or 6 oz. and this time go ahead and fill the weave right up with epoxy, hot coating so you dont have to prep and sand between coats. Just keep in mind that in using this method you are making some secondary bonds which are physical, not chemical.
I've done numerous repairs and one complete glass job this way and have had no complaints yet.
Good luck!
The biggest problem with fairing a project like this is every filler I've ever used sands harder than the surrounding wood. This creats a problem, especially in this situation where the wood is already getting dangerously thin in places.

Bingo. Those are seriously costly divets that are going to be a major pain to raise back to level.
From my experience (I once maintained a fleet of glass canoes and built a few kayaks) mat glass is a better filler since it can be formed and rolled while it cures. He should be able to get it pretty close to level before sanding. With weave, all you can hope for is to get it to bond and not trap air. Unlike loose mat, the thickness is fixed by the weave that you select.
As an underlayer, I think there is no need to worry about cutting the weave when you sand. As long as the top layer is done properly, the only thing that matters is that the build-up is faired and properly prepared.
Thank you again to all. I haven't heard from the owner lately. I may call him tomorrow to see what and how he is doing. He has been working on this outdoors, and it has been freezing and snowing quite a bit. He may be sitting by the fire. :)