Wood for stems


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Now that I have started on the 17' O.T. H.W restoration the first thing I need to do is replace the stems(front & back)--(bow & stern). Any suggestions on wood types. About the only thing readily available is oak
I was very pleased with the stems I bought direct from Old Town. I expect you can still get them through Jerry Stelmok. Other than that, stems are generally ash. Also I have either seen or heard of Oak, Elm, cedar. I really liked the Elm when I bent it. Could you splice onto the origingal stems?
Oak stems

At the Wooden Boat School in Havre de Grace, since I've been going there we have replaced several stems and always used oak. Start with a square or rectangular billet slightly bigger than you need. Sand it - no rough edges. Soak it for a week. Steam it for something like 45 minutes - maybe more. As soon as it comes out of the steam box, and paying attention to the grain of the wood, tightly clamp onto it a strap of steel with a 'stop' at one end. We have a form which approximates the curvature of a stem, and there are several holes along it for attaching clamps. The hot wood is laid up against the form, clamped on one end, then bent against the form, clamping as you go. Usually this is left to dry for a week before unclamping. About half the stems I've seen bent this way will have a few cracks along the edges (like hang-nails), but not so bad as to make them unusable. Sometimes there is a bad break. Make and bend more billets that you expect to need. This is an oversimplified explanation. Tom McCloud
Something tells me White Oak is the prefered species. I video taped bending Elm stems. I wonder if there is a you tube video of bending a stem.
You should upload your elm-bending experience to YouTube. And at the end, give a plug for the WCHA by including the web address (www.wcha.org). It would fun seeing how many times your video is viewed, and wondering how many new members come to this website because of your video.

Your computer probably has Windows Movie Maker or a similar program, if you want to edit the video and/or add some background music.


Here's a video illustrating how busy you can get bending stems!


I had a hand recently in steaming, bending and laminating some ash stems and that is a viable option. The result is a very tough stem. I saw one survive a head on collision with a Maine Glacial Erratic once.:eek:
I may be misremembering, but I'm thinking white oak has significantly better rot resistance than many other hardwoods, including ash. Anybody know for sure?
white oak rot resistance


You are spot on with this recollection! White oak wood fiber does not absorb water readily and this characteristic accounts for much of this rot resistance.

Fitz, I went a lookin' for stem bending and saw that video. And a few others. Nothing on steam bending for w/c, but it sidetracked me to steam bending Turkish bows. Kathy, when I did it I was not thinking of posting to youtube so I didn't comb my hair. Besides, I am not quite sure how to edit, although I do have a video movie making software. I'll think on it. Of the clips, I could just post the one-take clip, I suppose.
White oak is the preferred barrel wood because of its bending qualities and ability to hold liquids. This would also make it ideal for stems. The wood cells are blocked and do not allow moisture to pass through. Ash and red oak do not have the same cell structure. However the greater amount of tannin in the wood means that it will react with iron causing local degradation. That may not be good for canoes especialy if using iron including stainless staples for canvassing. Tannic acid will react with stainless steel. Ever wonder why your whiskey turns black in hard iron water? It is the reaction between the tannins in the whiskey and the iron in the water. For greater detail on white oak refer to Hoadley's " Identifying Wood".
Hi Mike,

Old Town used ash for stems and you'll find that its nice to work with. Make a mold as described in Rollin and Jerry's books, pay attention to grain; steam and bend and leave in the mold for a week or so. If you're not an ace with the band saw, then shape with a Sureform and sandpaper, etc.
You'll want to use the old stems as a models for the cutouts so remove them carefully. Also you'll want to use ash that is air dried rather than kiln dried. If you can't get it locally, you can get it from a restorer on the WCHA list - shouldn't be too much.

If you want to just order them bent, use Island Falls - http://www.islandfallscanoe.com/old-town-canoe-materials-repairs.asp
His site lists stems for OTCA / HW so you might want to call Jerry and ask about that.

Either his stems or yours, take some time to line them up straight or you'll never be able to paddle your canoe in a straight line!

Hope this helps.