Tempramental Canvas

Neil B

Curious about Wooden Canoes
I guess I should preface this message by a brief introduction, as I'm new to posting on this forum, and new to wood and canvas canoes (though paddled them at my grandparents cottage in Macgregor Bay (Ontario). I recently inherited a chestnut (prospector I think) that had a fateful attempt at flight from a car about 30 years ago. My wife and I have been lovingly (to the canoe, if not always each other:) ) restoring it. I'll try to post more of a journal type thread at sometime as the community here seems to like to see peoples projects, but for a few pictures veiw ("rotti123's Chestnut" thread, where I posted a few pictures of ours) We're just about finished, the last coat of paint is going on tomorrow, and we should take it on it's maiden voyage next weekend. YAY!


The only problem is that the canvas tension is really temperamental, or should I say tempraturemental. I thought we stretched the canvas tight enough, though evidently we did not. We used the method with winches described in the Stelmok Thurlow book. Everything looked just like the pictures, the little bunches formed above the tacks, you could clearly see the edges of the planks. Everything looked great while filling, and waiting the four weeks for the filler to dry. Then we varnished the inside.... We were feeling great about ourselves, the boat was beautiful, and we left it outside because we didn't want to mess up the fresh varnish (until this point it had always lived in the barn) then when I went out at about 10:30pm to admire it one last time before going to bed :eek: I noticed several large vertical wrinkles on the last two feet of both the front and back of the boat. I think there were a few on the bottom too though I didn't check then. The wrinkles were still there when we awoke in the morning, but within about a half hour of the sun hitting the canoe and warming the surface they were gone. Each night this happened. I thought I had a brilliant Idea. I would soak the canoe from the inside, and in the brilliant California Sunshine it might shrink the canvas. When I got home it was still damp and was wrinkly as I had seen it yet. I decided at that point it was probably better for my health and the boats to put it away in the barn and forget about it for a couple of days. It totally re equilibrated and was tight as normal, though I hadn't tempted fate by leaving it out on cold damp days. We painted it the other day and sure enough the wrinkles appeared again. They seem to be smoothing out as the paint cures, but seeing as how this is a canoe and it is likely to get wet in it's general operation makes me a little nervous.

My hypothesis is that we shot ourselves in the foot when we stretched the canvas initially, not so much that we didn't pull it tight enough, though in retrospect we probably could have pulled it a little tighter. But we had just oiled the canoe and it was the hottest day of the summer 115 degrees. I think the boat was a little bit bigger when we canvased it. It also may not like the huge swings in temperature and humidity that we have in California's Central valley. It goes from being about 100 and very low humidity (the surface of the boat probably heats up to about 130 in the sun) to about 50 degrees, and below the dew point at night.

I think the worst part of it for me (my wife seems to be taking it better) is the fact that it changes from being tight to loose. I think if it were just loose I could accept it, but these swings are liable to wind me up in a mental institution.

We've come to accept the fact that we're going to have to re canvas. We'll use the canoe in the meantime, and try to learn to love it wrinkles and all, but the real question is, when we do re canvas (I plan on doing in in the winter when it's about 45 degrees outside) how do we keep from having this happen again?

I am hoping the experts and amateurs alike have might have some insight in to what may be going on and how we can prevent this when we do it over.

Thanks so much. I've learned a ton just by browsing past threads on this forum, and am heartened by what an encouraging and supportive community this seems to be.

Neil & Andrea.
The same thing happened to my very first restoration project. I canvased and filled it in high humidity and temperatures (90 deg.), lakeside on Lake Superior. (I know, high temps and Lake Superior aren't typically thought of together.)
The following day, I drove 500 miles with the canoe on top of my vehicle. When I returned home to a cooler and dryer environment, the wrinkles showed up...BIG TIME!!
I unstapled it and used a pair of pliers to restretch it. Also had to untack the stems a little bit, stretch, re-bed and re-tack.
Been fine ever since.
Good Luck
I would certainly give Daves option a try!....I just had to undo the canvas on a 65 OT Otca newly canvassed and painted to repair a stem tip and found that filled and painted canvas does stay flexible to a degree if your careful...Sure beats wasting all that time and money with something your not happy with..Mine went back together with some gentle pulling and stapling and a careful retuck at the stem.. Looks great now and your not working below the water line so it shouldnt have any leaks...
"Its not how many strokes of the paddle it takes to get there, rather it is the Joy that is in the journey".....Blue Viking
Thanks for the advice! Glad to know I have company. Isn't it just a sickening feeling that first time when you are expecting to see your beautiful taut boat, and there are wrinkles? I think I may have to un-tack the stems a bit as I think some more horizontal tension might help. I've played with the wrinkles, and I can pretty much move the wrinkles to the stem which leads me to believe that if I were to open it up I could probably pull some fabric. I just hope theres enough canvas that I can grab and re-tack effectively. Any insights as to the best way to refill/seal this joint. I'll try to stay above the waterline, but might come close.

In the meantime I think I'm just going to live with it, see what it does in the water, and who knows maybe It will equilibrate to an acceptable status. I figure I'll tackle this project in the winter when I'm likely to be paddling less, not to mention the weather will be cooler so it should have relaxed as much as it will, and I'll go in with the attitude that I'm planning to totally re-canvas, so there's nothing to loose if it doesn't work.