Splice or replace gunwales and stem

Dave Nagel

This Year's Obsession
I recently got a 17 foot Old Town H.W. in A.A. grade made in 1942. I am still in the “Contemplation Phase” of restoring it. It looks like most of it is in good shape but it might have been stored upside down on the ground causing the ends of the inwales and the stems to rot out. The rot on the inwales does not appear to go as far back as the deck. The stems look rotted and broken about to where they meet the bottom of the canoe. The outwales are off the boat rotted and broken in several places so I plan on replacing them.

I am wondering if it is better to replace the whole inwales and stems or try to splice them. Does it make a difference to the historical significance and or value of the canoe how much is original? How likely am I to get the color to match if I splice the inwales, they will really show. My plan would be to buy the new rails and stems from the factory if I go that route.

I attached a few pictures of what it looks like.

I look forward to your input


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To check for rotted stems use and ice pick and test the wood, if its solid you are OK. My recommendation based on the photos is to replace full inwales by placeing new ones 1/4" below the old ones, use clamps to hold it there. Screw the ribs to the new inwale and cut off the old one with a jig saw. This will lower the top of the canoe about 1" and it looks like that will be enough to hit the top of the stems. Reinforce the top of the stem as needed and connect to the new inwales. This cuts off the tops off the ribs and gives you new wood to sand flush with the new in and outwales. Remember its a 42, my recommendation is to do only what is necessary to get it back in the water.

Bills description is very good. However I have seen plenty with the tips spliced. Gunnels spliced. Even the tips of the decks. If you splice use a long one for the gunnels. I've seen some cut on a 45. Nearly butt jointed. By cutting the shear down an inch you are in good shape still. Only thing is, it is real tough to reverse that decision. It can only be done once realistically. A good splice is attractive. A nice piece of joinery.
I decided that the Morris was past "historical signifigance" and went with a slightly untraditional stem/inwale/deck-tip grafting. The single mahogany piece replaces all the missing wood, with an added knee integrated.


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Very cool

Your Ideas are all pretty cool. I apriciate your input. Most of the rib ends look good. It is just a couple on the bow and stern I won't be able to nail into. So I don't think I want to take an inch off to get down to fresh wood. Mostly I can't bear to change the lines and the boat is only about 12 inches deep. So I think I will find a way to build up the bad ribs. If I end up splicing the rib ends they won't show much. I'll poke at the stem and see how much I can save. I'll just do my best to match the color when I stain the gunwales. It will only be a foot or so that is spliced when I make a nice long splice. It is reassuring to know that a good splice is appriciated even if it's not origional. that splice into the deck is sharp. The extra bracing under the deck can only help with sttrength.

If anyone has ideas on matching stains I would love to hear them.

Thanks again for your input I will post more pictures as I go
Where do I get the wood

Okay, I have decided to splice the inwhlaes but I don't know where to begin looking for the right wood. I know it's Mahogany but I don't really know what else to ask for. I guess I will also need to know where to get the wood to splice the ribs and how to ask for that.

You want a true mahogany not philippine which is not a true mahogany. There must be sources of exotic lumber in your area. The ribs are Northern White Cedar. There are several sources for that listed in the builders and suppliers section of the WCHA website. Find that by looking at the table of contents.
Perhaps one of the builders or restorers out on the West coast can give you more information. Good Luck
Denis :)

Eric Harmon at Harmancanoes.com is up is a bit east of Arlington. He had northern white cedar before christmas when I picked up some outwales and tacks. Give him a call, he's very helpful

I haven't done business with Pat Chapman, but I've seen his willets brothers canoes. They are incredible.

There are number of places in seattle selling boat lumber. Crosscut Hardwords down a mile south of Safeco Field on 1st avenue has an intimidating selection of specialty woods. Edensaw in Port Townsend.