Walter Dean canoe

Dave Wermuth

Who hid my paddle?
I recently acquired what I believe is a Walter Dean Sunnyside Cruiser. It needs work and I am pretty clueless as to how to do it.
1. can planks be replaced without damage to the battens?
2. or should cracks in planks be filled?
3. I don't even know what type wood this is.

I can do a w/c more or less but this has got me intimidated. Any advice?


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Hi Dave,

It is possible that it is a W. Dean, but also Lakefield Canoe Co, Capital Boat Works and O.L. Hicks built very similar models.

1. can planks be replaced without damage to the battens?
Very rarely. The metallic batten is formed like a U and pressed into a groove cut in the planking.
2. or should cracks in planks be filled?
I have successfully repaired many wide-boards with cracked planks, by routing out the crack with a v-shaped router bit and gluing in a spline. A quick and easy repair as long as the split is relatively straight.

3. I don't even know what type wood this is.
Planks are usually cedar or basswood but occasionally Spanish cedar and mahogany was used as well. Ribs are rock elm or white oak.

Dick Persson
Headwater Wooden Boat Shop
Thanks Dick

I got your msge too. I suspect it is basswood planks and elm or oak ribs. The only reason I believe it to be a Walter Dean is because Skip Gibson had it and says it is. it looks like the photos i've seen too. I don't know of any identifying marks on it. thanks for the tips. I have an IG and HW AA grade that need restoration as well so I'm gathering info at this point and not sure which boat to work on next. A nice dilema to have. There are no decks or deck frames to go from on this canoe. I'll have to figure that out.
Quick, get some sort of finish on it!

Hi Dave,
Love the stems!

I have recently refinished/refurbished pair of old wide boards and benefited enormously from the advice of Dick Persson and the vast expertise of WCHA forum members.

I see with alarm in a pic where the timber has torn away in a seemingly consecutive & repetitive series of tears - this to me indicates an important timber shrinkage problem. Arrgh!

I managed to resolved my nightmare overnight expansion/shrinkage issue (+/- 5mm) which repetitively destroyed my expertly repaired cracks, by firstly coating the bare timber, and then attending to the splits.

I found that my evening repairs in unsealed boards would move an unbelievable amount by the next evening- the only way for me was forward was to to seal & partially finish the boat, to stabilise it, & and then later attend to the specific plank/split issues. I hope your humidity fluctuations are not as great as mine.

My immediate advice would be to put some sort of coating on it to stop the timber movement and then appraise the structure for repair.

You will of course be well advised in this forum, if not come over and have a chat, this seasons Southern Right Blue whales have just arrived here from Antarctica. .

Bill P

If I put a sealer on it what should I use? And how will that affect the ability of glue to hold the repairs? I think I still need to strip some more color from the outside. Here in Michigan our humidity rarely gets below 40%. Except the winter, of course. And then it all freezes. But not like Antarctica. I've got much to learn about this canoe. I am glad to have the support and knowledge base of wcha members.
The plank tearing Bill is mentioning in his post (see photo below) is indeed alarming and is not easy to repair with the grove for the metallic batten also weakening the edge of the plank.

Plank shrinking damage like this is quite common with this construction method, especially if a lesser quality plank was used. This kind of damage always seems to occur in the bow and stern of the canoe where the planks take a lot of twist.

I don’t think you will have as much fluctuating humidity as Bill has in beautiful southern Australia, but it is good practice to seal a new plank or a repair to minimize wood movement. It is also advisable to choose days with stable humidity and temperature and using glue with low water content.

Bill, how’s the winter in Australia, any snow yet?:)

Dick Persson
Headwater Wooden Boat Shop


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Hey Dave,

Congrates on the new project.
Glad to hear you got it,
now I do need to come up one of these days.

Hi Dan

I'm generally always here, unless I am somewhere else. I am getting some excellent tips on this canoe. You missed out on the Bass fishing but the Walleye are starting.

I just used one coat inside & out of the varnish that I eventually finished the boat with to "seal" the timber, and to arrest the dimensional stability problems which affected my ability to fix my splits.

Much of my initial coating was eventually rubbed off in final finishing. I'm worried your splits will grow if you don't do that. How long has your boat's finish been stripped?


I'm going bushwalking in Tasmania for a week in August to look for some snow, hope to find some then.:cool:

Bill P

I really don't know how long it's been stripped. It belonged to Skip Gibson and I don't know how long he had it or how he got it. I've been debating which canoe to work on next and this one may have to be it. It needs more stripping in spots. I appreciate all tips I can get. I think I'll get this one on the saw horses and get to it. Skip did the new stems and the other rib repairs and a little planking replacement. It does make sense to me that the wood will move around too much and too fast with nothing to seal the wood. If anyone else has hints, I'm open.
Hi Dan

I thought about that but I'm not sure if they are supposed to get Linseed oil prior to varnish? I'm going to pull it down and get started on it. the OT HW and the Rushton can afford to wait, they're safe.

So, it's ok to get some boiled linseed oil on it for the time being?

Not sure if anybody but you is qualified to answer this but....

The standard instruction per S&T is to oil and then varnish a old canoe. I know that lately there are those that are now forgoing the oil but many canoes were restored with the oil/varnish process.

And I was curious a few years ago, well maybe more then a few but,
I made some test samples of red and white cedar, that I tried various combinations of pre oiling and varnish, and the bottom line was that I couldn't tell the difference between pieces that were oiled and varnished and those that were just varnished.

I tried both linseed and tung oil and several brands of varnish.

Good to know

The wood is in nice shape except for cracks. Not brittle or punky.. Sounds like a good couse of action.

Not sure if anybody but you is qualified to answer this but....


Great qualification Dan!.:) Dave I reckon the tears in your garboard plank (in my limited experience) have been caused by plank shrinkage, (which was likely exacerbated by the removal of the inside & outside paint/varnish coating.) The plank simply dries out, shrinks, and then splits along the restraining nail points. Subsequent damage is not reversible, but of course is repairable.

I've never used linseed oil on an old boat and its probably OK, anything reversible which can "stop" any further board shrinkage is required. Only after that you can effectively work on the repairs.

The planks in a regular all wood boat normally expand & contract a bit, but usually only across the longitudinal seams, and that's just part of the deal. (Could be why wood/canvas was a winner!. )

Bill P
Good stuff

Makes good sense. thanks for the input, I'll get to it. Now I am already looking at whether or not I can paddle this canoe without falling out. It looks like it will be tender. At least I can now see that far down the road.

Thanks, any more tips are welcomed and encouraged.

I have been muddling through. I have taken some license in that I had to add a center thwart. I had some good advice and have tried to follow best I could. I think this canoe was at the brink of no return. I stabilized it with cpes and it really seemed to help. I used mahogony life caulk on the gaps and replaced wood in other areas. Andre', I chose to not 'glass it at this point. Hopefully it won't leak. I've got some sanding and varnishing to do. I haven't decided on a keel or not yet. the deck beams are cedar and the decks are phillipine Mahog, 5mm. Combings and outwales are Honduran Mahog.


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Another update

I came accross this video of Skip Gibson working on my canoe before he gave it to Bob, who gave it to me. Answers the question of what it is. Maybe. In this vid Skip says it's a Hicks.
C:\Users\Dave\Desktop\YouTube - more Skip Gibson Canoe restoration.mht