Shell Lake??


Broken Carted
Just got my first WC canoe. From the planking and the cleats to mount the seats it appears to be a shell lake. Canoe is 16' long but has no serial numbers or markings of any kind. Stems and gunwales look to be ash, decks are maple I think. Planking is attached with square cut copper tacks and the canvas unfortunately was tacked with steel tacks. The decks and seat supports were attached with steel wood screws. Any one have any idea how old it might be?


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Hey congratulations, and welcome to the forums - the people here are super helpful and knowledgeable.

The planking pattern does indeed look thompson/shell lake-ish. For what it's worth, I had a shell lake once and the deck pattern was very different. It also had deck thwarts. It did have those seat-cleats though. Let me see... think I've got a picture sitting around here somewhere...

I'll leave the real analysis to the experts...


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Check for

Check for a dado on the underside of the deck. There will be a threaded rod and a n\ut on each end holding the inwales and deck together if it's Shell Lake. I also had alot of steel fasteners in my Shell Lake. And Dave Osborn seems to be enjoying lots of steel in his recently. Shell lake records exist and may be available at the Washburn Co Historical Society. The number should be on the stem.
No dado under the decks and no threaded rod, just screws from the outside. A few other interesting features, the spaces between the tips of the cant ribs have been filled in with small pieces of planking material. Also from the nail holes in the top of the inwale and whats left of the outwales, it looks like there was a cap on top of the gunwales.


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Perhaps a Thompson?
My Shell Lake seats sit on cleats fastened through the ribs. I think thompsons dropped their seats from the inwales using a one piece spacer that both corners of the seat fastened up through.
I'd guess thompson. I've got one of each in the barn.

I do now see cleats on this canoe. So, Sprocket, I will have to retract my guess. Horizontal planking and Cleats is likely a Shell Lake but with replaced decks? Or perhaps Shell Lake did not always use the dado in the deck?
Dave, does the deck on your Shell Lake match Sprockets? Or Nick's? Mine Matches Nick. I'll have to pull down the thompson and check it.
Our Shell Lake's deck matches Nick's and has a dado and a serial number on a brass plate. And lots of daylight shining through planking...
I think I might go with the replacement deck theory. The top two planks on both ends have oval headed copper tacks while the rest of the hull has flat headed copper tacks. But why would anyone use so many steel nails and screws when replacing decks? Spite perhaps.

The guy I got it from had a theory that it might have been rebuilt during WWII when brass was not readily available. That would account for the use of steel tacks on the canvas and the steel screws in the decks. We may never know though.
Mine's like Nick's. The deck replacement theory may be valid. If so, they fooled with the inwales, too. Both Shell Lake and Thompson inwales joined together way before the deck hit the edge of the stem (see Nick's deck photo). On Sprocket's canoe, it looks like the deck is almost the same length as the inwales. My Shell Lake had extra long copper nails holding the outwales to the decks.
What do the seats look like? Thought I saw nail holes on top of the inwales on one of Sprocket's deck photos. Was it a closed gunwale originally? Also seems odd that a Shell Lake made it out east, when so many other builders were already there. But then a canoe from an obscure builder in Maine, made it here to N. Wisconsin (A.R. Daisey). So who knows??
I have not seen a lot of Shell Lake Canoes, but the one's I've seen have had numbers stamped in the stems.

Who else used cleated seats in their w/c canoes?? Peterborough did on rib and plank canoes ala Walter Walker...not sure about canvas covered?

In this game of vintage canoes, unanswered questions far out number the number of answers. Maybe that's what part of the attraction is!?

I'm all done dealing with steel screws on my Shell Lake, as of about an hour ago.......Today I used a plug cutter to cut out the hated steel screws that broke off or that I cut off on the keel:mad:
Good observations. The inwales in fact extend at least 3/4" beyond the stem. There are nail holes in the inwales the whole length of the canoe which leads me to believe it was once closed gunwale. The outwales are pretty thin (1/4") and were attached with copper nails. I only have two pieces of the original seats (pictures attached) looks like a mortise and tenon deal.

I feel your pain with the steel screws. Luckily most of mine turned out or were stripped enough to pull out with pliers.

Thanks everyone for all the input.

I wonder if it might be an early canoe. With closed gunnels.

There appear to have been several owners of the company over the years since incorporation Dec. 1904.

Perhaps they changed things over the years. That may explain the lack of the dado, and the nail holes on the top of the rails. Or it could be the prior restoration/repair work that was done. Check real close for numbers stamped in the stem. They may barely show.

Maybe Andre' knows.
There also was Peterson Brothers Boat Works in Shell Lake, WI.

Also Peterson Boat Works at Hayward, WI; Gunderson Canoe Mfg. Co. at Eau Claire and Hayward, WI; Hayward Boat Co.; Rhinelander; etc...

I know nothing about construciton of any of their canoes.

Thompson/Shell Lake Inwale Joint

Here is typical Shell Lake and Thompson inwale/deck joinery....


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For some reason, this canoe looks Canadian to me. The nail holes in the inwales were probably from caps similar to the Many of the native American built canoes. The planking grain looks like white cedar. If it is a Shell Lake, and the decks have been changed, there still should be horizontal holes in the inwales where the steel rod was. Gil
I'm going to vote early Shell Lake.
Here are pics of one I have.



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That might be it! In the second pic it looks like the inwales go past the stem and the deck butts to the stem like my canoe. The deck looks very similar too. The seats are mounted very close to the ends in my canoe. I noticed the stern seat is set really far back in your pictures. The outwales are nearly identical, and it appears that yours has white cedar planking just like mine. I even had green canvas on mine at one time. Any idea how old your shell lake is? Thanks for the post and pictures!

No, I have no idea how old this one is, just that I "suspect" it's older then another I have that looks like the ones the other guys have.

It does have that very open face grain on the planking, (which is loose and starting to buckle on this one), I haven't looked close but didn't see any evidence of numbers or placks on the stems.

The Shell Lake name plate is still on the ft deck.

This one is a 18 ft canoe, meaning that it has the carry thwarts, your's being a 16 ft'er may not have.

It came from Bemdji MN and for some reason I didn't think it had been worked on. I'm not near it so can't look for other info at this time.