The Repair of a Cedar Rib Canoe


LOVES Wooden Canoes
I am the fortunate owner here in the UK of an early Peterborough Cedar Rib Canoe. She was featured a few years ago in Wooden Canoe and she is named Femme Fatale. I use her, paddle and sail here in the east and was sailing her just the other week.

This weekend I was due out on Sunday paddling and as it had been exceptionally hot here for the last week I loaded her onto the car late on Friday so that she could get a good smoking in the forecasted rain over Saturday which would enable her to "take up".

I have an Easiload side loading roof rack which makes loading a couple of wooden boats atop a Land Rover much easier. The instructions are quite clear

[url=] IMGP0021 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

I thought I had secured the locking pins but on the first corner having left the house the rack slid off to the passenger side and the precious cargo went with it. The gunwales took the brunt of the force but being old and wormy they gave along with them one of the longitudinal stringers, a thwart mount and a few of the T&G ribs. Here is the damage:

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3b3c by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3b81 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

As you can imagine I was gutted.

I stopped at a friends on the way home and he gave me a length of ash so that I could stabilise the wound when I got home which I did. Thes canoes are one of the most difficult canoes to build and the repair will be equally difficult. I grabbed every clamp that I had and set about trying to get everything nearly back where it should be. I used a ratchet strap to pull the end up and this closed the joint between the rib nicely but I could see that the tongue has been snapped. I also used some clamps and blocks to hold the ribs in and to reduce the bulging and to brace the split in the longitudinal stringer. Then bit by but I pulled her back into shape before screwing the temporary inhale into place.

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3b51 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

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This is the most worrying damage

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3b83 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

The repair I did last year was fine because it was new wood. The older wood was more worm-eaten in places than I though hence weakened.

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3b85 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

So his is now with her all straightened up within 4 hours of the damage happening.

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3b86 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

Here she is the other week in all her glory

[url=] fullsizeoutput_33d8 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

[url=] fullsizeoutput_276d by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

I will work out a plan of action but the list is:

1.Cut and prise out a length of the broken stringer and let in a new length. Need to think about this.

2.Get some maple and start shaping a new length of outwale. Will probably need 4- 5ft to give it strength. I can take out the section I let in last year and use the existing scarf as a starting point.

3. Speak with Mark Adams about how to replace the broken T&G ribs as I believe he has done this.

4. Call in quite a few favours

5. Go cry into my beer.

6. Do i an an inhale to give some additional strength. I have seen this on another cedar rib here in the UK ; not traditional and a bit clunky but added strength may help with longevity as despite the canoe being 120 years old I do like to use her.

I will get her back on the water. I was researching how this canoes were built and will do a presentation at next year's Assembly on the subject with now some rather unexpected first had knowledge on how to repair . I was due to be displaying her and smiling her at a Canoe symposium in Holland at the beginning of September; that will now be out of the question so the Dutch will have to drool over my Chestnut.

i will update this thread as i progress but do pitch in please.




LOVES Wooden Canoes

Having been thinking about this on and off all day, I think I'd replace both gunnels completely. It's a working / used boat and you already know the old ones are weaker. By the time you've cut in situ scarf joints you could have cut 2 new gunnels, and you'd not be worrying so much in future.
With the stringer, its a bit more complicated. Grinding the bent over nails off in the damaged area then scarfing a new bit in would be time consuming. It might be worth a think about sistering a piece neatly along side (as I did on my board and batten) - and far stronger (and easier) than letting a piece in I'd have thought.
With new gunnels in place, the 5 or 6 broken planks/ribs would get loads of support. Before trying to replace even part planks, I'd want to experiment. Even with the correct router bits it would be tricky as I think you'd want a scarf where it meets the old wood. Your boat already has one copper plate repair on it; It's an honest repair which you have no reason to replace. Would two honest repairs not be ok?

If it were me, I'd spend the next couple of months mulling over the options and not do anything until you are sure.



LOVES Wooden Canoes
I have the boat stable now and up out of the way. Mark is sending me the router bits so I can experiment with that and see. I will count how may broken planks/ribs there are and how far down the break extends.
Agree on the gunwales. I will renew both complete . What wood did you use on the other boat you made having lofted the dimensions off my rib canoe?
Agree that a sister/ slave across the broken stringer. May do a match on the other side so that stresses are kept even.

Nothing will happen until autumn/winter.

Thanks for the piece of ash, that did the trick and I got the shape back so she is in far better form than when I left you.

Good luck with the house move.



LOVES Wooden Canoes
Over the last couple of days I have slowly tweaked and persuaded the wood and canoe back to its shape as I had some time and daylight to have a close look. The gunwales and shape are stabilised with the slave gunwale. Mark is sending me some router bits from the US nut I had a close look at the ribs and planks and believed that I could ease it all back so I opened the joints up, picked and cleaned out any loose bits and frass and then eased in some G-Flex. Using a set of deep throat clamps and some bits of timber in and out as spreaders I then tightened it all up placing some cling film between the planks and the clamps. This helps with the cure and I have found prevents the G-Flex going opaque. I then left it for 24 hours

This is the area before

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3b95 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

This is after and in the raw after a bit of sanding and picking

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3b9b by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

I then started to apply amber shellac until I was happy withe the shade match

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3bb9 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

Here she is out in the daylight. I am more than happy with the match and results

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3bc3 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3ba9 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3bc4 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

When the router bits arrive I will arrange and get some ribs cut just in case this "Nick repair" fails so that I have a supply of spares if needed.

I have spoken with the owner of a local sawmill who I am meeting next week. He can cut me and plane to shape and profile a pair of gunwales in European oak but as the maximum length of timer available is 4.2 m I will have to create a scarf joint. Sam has said he can help me with the steaming and fitting so there may be a possibility that Cinderella will make the ball at the Dutch Canoe Festival at the start of September.

Watch this space!


Michael Grace

Lifetime Member
I can't tell you how sick I felt for you when I read your post. I know how much you cherish this wonderful old canoe and while my feelings can't compare to yours, I'm so sad for you. But then I love how you carefully assessed the issues and got right to work on making things better (not at all surprising, though!). Keep pushing forward. And isn't this a great group? You can count on people across entire oceans to help bring your cherished canoe back to water-worthiness. Big ups to Mark!


LOVES Wooden Canoes
Yesterday I went to a local saw mill and had a chat with the owner. He can make me up the new gunwales in European Oak and has agreed to plane them down to the required profile. This means that we will (I say "we" as Sam has offered to help) just need to scarf the sections together, then cut the taper, steam, fit and hand finish. I just have to wait for the sawmill to call saying that they are done.

In the meantime I thought I would make a start on getting the old gunwales off and the hull prepped.

There were half a dozen screws on each tapered end which I managed to get out with the normal few words uttered under my breath as there was a 120 years worth of varnish covering them. Of course these screws have another function; they hold the decks in place. I have temporarily clamped all firm but will put some screws in to hold it all together until the new gunwales are fitted.

Then it was slowly, slowly, gently gently working along the gunwale with a wide flat curved pry bar easing the gunwale off the fixing pin. I used a piece of wood to keep the pressure on and they slowly eased away and slid off the pins.

[url=] P1030922 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

This is where the front deck came away. I will introduce some G-Flex when it gets screwed back to give some added strength. Remarkably, there were only two cracked rib tops all in an area where a repair had been done before my ownership. These too will have a wipe of G-Flex.

[url=] P1030924 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

Eventually I had an instrument of torture with 160 pins sticking out (1 in every rib)

[url=] P1030934 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

These that were in the deck length were snipped off flush with the face and I will punch them back. All the others were pushed through and pulled out.

This area had quite a few more and a large copper nail suggesting an earlier repair

[url=] P1030935 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

There was clearly the residue of some glue or old bedding compound.

[url=] P1030942 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

Next job is to repeat the exercise on the other side , clean back the outside face of the old glue/gunk and get it ready for the new gunwales. I will also secure the decks with some screws which will be concealed beneath the gunwales. The decks are early 1 piece decks.

Thats all for now. Progress is good.


LOVES Wooden Canoes
Blymie, has been said sort of, a canoer's lot is not an 'appy one. You are a bit of alright and a bit more ! I once came close to your event, but wonder if I could have girded up my loins as you have to get it done, WOW. Dave


LOVES Wooden Canoes
I removed all the pins. 160 ribs x 2 +320. In removing the gunwales there was the inevitable cracking of a few rib T&G joints but I think only about half a dozen which means I have got away lightly. The most difficult areas to remove were where I had repaired before with a section scarfed in and an earlier repair with a lot of nails and glue. To the cracked joints I eased them open slightly and introduced some G-Flex then let them take back their own position under tension. I then sanded down and cleaned off the gunk, to give a good base for the new gunwales to be affixed. A vacuum, a wipe down with a damp cloth, a bit of shellac over the sanded areas and then the temporary gunwales were screwed back on to hold everything in position.

I am please at the continuous curve and shape which I have got back to the hull.

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3d13 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3d14 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

This is on the inside where the worst damage to the ribs was. I reformed the crushed rib tips with the shards and G-Flex which will be strengthened even more when the gunwales are re-fitted.

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3d11 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

and this is the overall profile

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3d15 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

Just need the call from the sawmill now to tell me that the new gunwales are cut and shaped. :)


LOVES Wooden Canoes
The sawmill called and I went and collected the new gunwales. They had set a jig up on the cutting table and cut and planed the timber to the profile I had requested. They gave me sis three meter lengths to allow for an inevitable cock up.

Sam had offered to do the jointing and fitting for me as he "loves a project" . The timber and canoe were delivered to him and he cracked on. I joined him for the last bit of steaming and fitting. A real Heath Robinson affair of props, straps, clamps and braces but it worked. The timber was steamed in a thin polythene bag.
[url=] fullsizeoutput_3ede by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3ece by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

In the end we got the full upward curve

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3eec by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

The gunwales were nailed with copper takes with a few bronze screws to give a good grip. I went and collected the canoe on Saturday morning and this is how she now looks

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3ef0 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

Having sanded the tops of the ribs the intricate T&G arrangement is clear to see. This is why these canoes were both difficult to build and even more difficult to repair.

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3efe by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3edf by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

The profile and shape is back as it should be. This is the area which was caved in

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3ed4 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3ef2 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

A brace was added below the broken stringer

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3ef3 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

A close up of the damaged area now repaired but not varnished

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3ef9 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

I then gave her a light sanding down in preparation of a couple of coats of Tung oil based varnish

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3ef7 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

Donkeys years ago she had been damaged so they simply repaired with a copper plate at that time

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3efc by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

I built up some layers of shellac on the new gunwales, caulked the joint on the underside of the gunwale where it meets the hull, gave her a further light rub and a wash down and then put her in the garage ready for varnish. I also added some filler to the old nail holes at the head of the ribs. Those areas will be sanded back stained and prepped ready for varnish. The aim is to have the canoe on the roof of the car on Wednesday evening ready for the journey to the Dutch Canoe Festival where I will have a WCHA stand.

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3efd by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

Great progress with light now at the end of the tunnel. Thank you Sam!

Michael Grace

Lifetime Member
Very nice. It's inspirational how you rose up from probable despair and depression and got right onto repairs, bringing this old gem back to fair and floatable condition. You (and Sam) have come so far in so little time. Looking forward to hearing great stories from the Dutch Canoe Festival.



Chestnut Canoe fan
What an inspirational post.
Watching what you and Sam and many others are able to accomplish bringing old boats back just confirms my reputation as a wood butcher!

Very impressed- and very envious of your talents!



LOVES Wooden Canoes
Well the say that every story needs a happy ending...

Last Wednesday I was able to load the Cedar Rib canoe on to the roof of the Land Rover along with my 1950 Chestnut for the 425 mile drive to the Dutch Kano Festival which was being held in NP Weerribben-Wieden which is a National Park north east of Amsterdam. Yes, I checked and re-checked the roof rack which was locked and well secured.

The varnish was still soft so I expected and got a few marks from the handling and display over the weekend. I will give her another rub down now I am back and build up some layers and let it harden properly over the next few weeks.

So we arrived after a long but steady drive with my precious cargo atop the Land Rover; an Englishman travelling through France Belgium and Holland with 190 years worth of Canadian sculpture and craftsmanship on the roof was a talking point.

We arrived safely

[url=] fullsizeoutput_401c by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

Over the next 4 days there was lots of interest in the Peterborough which was the first thing people saw when they entered the Festival resplendent with the sail up. Mouths dropped and eyebrows were raised when I said that I would be sailing her over the next few days; there was the incorrect assumption that femme Fatale was on load from a museum.

I managed to sail her on two days and fortunately she doesn't need much wind to make steerage. On one afternoon there was a nice steady breeze between the islands which resulted in me sailing around in my own world for a couple of hours whilst the Dutch looked on in admiration.

[url=] fullsizeoutput_40aa by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

[url=] fullsizeoutput_3f82 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

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The organisers came to see me and asked if I would open the display parade on the Saturday evening having the oldest canoe at the show.

I was happy to oblige and spent the evening just sailing around in the background as the freestyle displays were in hand

[url=] fullsizeoutput_40a7 by Nick Dennis, on Flickr[/URL]

I had a great few days. The WCHA got some good promotion as I had all my books, past copies of Wooden Canoe and managed to sell all the copies of the 2020 WCHA Calendar which Jeanne Greene had sent to me.
The other good leaks......yet!

Thanks for your interest.


Michael Grace

Lifetime Member
Outstanding! But Nick, you had me on pins and needles the whole time. Your first line - "every story needs a happy ending..." - had me worried about how this might end (as opposed to "...every story has a happy ending..."). So happy to hear nothing but good news. Both you and Femme Fatale are excellent representatives of wooden canoe history and the WCHA. She looks great and you surely impressed the attendees.