In August of 1996, I learned of a canoe of undetermined vintage which was to be thrown away due to its deteriorated state. Having rented or borrowed, but never owned my own canoe, I figured that this was a great opportunity to acquire one and, in the process, learn more about design and construction.
I had a couple of decades of furniture building behind me, so I felt comfortable with working with wood.
Once I had stripped off the fibreglass, I suspected that this canoe was originally covered with canvas.
Specifications before Restoration.
My damage report was as follows:
- replace 17 ribs
- replace planking in several sections
- replace 3 thwarts
- rebuild stem and stern posts
- build seats (non existent)
- build new decks (non existent)
- rebuild rib tops for those that didn't need replacing
- replace gunwales
- canvas, fill and paint
Despite what appeared to be a daunting task, the canoe had good lines and looked as if it was worth restoring. I decided to proceed with the job.
The bending and replacing of the ribs was the first task. This was accomplished with the use of an eavestrough section in which I heated water using a two burner Coleman stove. Some white pine was found at a sawmill in eastern Ontario. This was an ideal match for the existing ribs. The new ribs were shaped and boiled for about 10 to 15 minutes and clamped onto the outside of the hull approximately two to three ribs toward the ends of the canoe from the one being replaced. They were left in this position overnight and fitted into the proper location the next day. In a couple of sections, two or three ribs in a row had to be replaced. I fitted all of these in one go in order to maintain the shape of the canoe. The rib job took approximately one week working for an hour or so at night.
After removing what remained of the gunwales, I roped the ribs across the canoe to maintain the shape.
The next task was to remove the planking along the rib tops and, using a combination of mahogany and oak sawdust mixed with epoxy, rebuild the rib tops. This took about ten days working at night. Since it was late September by this time, keeping the temperature up for the epoxy to cure was tricky. The Coleman two burner helped here. The stern and stem posts were quite rotted, so I removed the attached planking and cut them back to solid wood. The post patches were carved out of ash and lap jointed to the existing wood with epoxy and screws. The planking was reattached and some hull breaches were repaired.
I constructed bending forms for the new ash inner gunwales and boiled the last metre at each end. These were left in the forms for a day to partially dry and then initially attached to the ribs with two nails per rib. The outer gunwales were left until after the canvas was applied. Three new thwarts were fashioned out of ash.
New decks were made from walnut, as were the handles. These were epoxyed and screwed into place.
The Christmas holidays were fast approaching, so I had to get everything to the point where I could recanvas. I went over the entire canoe and reset or replaced every planking tack. There were a few spots which needed some building up with sawdust and epoxy in order to maintain the smooth curve of the hull.
During the holidays, I took a day to recanvas at Canadian Canoes in Mississauga. this was much preferable to rigging a stretcher in the garage in the middle of winter!
The cost of this included a gallon of filler which was applied in a friend's workplace and hung from the rafters to cure.
While it was curing (about 6 weeks), I set about learning how to cane the seats. These were sculpted in the shape of my posterior and caned in a radial design that I had seen at a canoe show the previous year. I was quite pleased with the results since it was the first time that I had caned anything.
During March and April, after the keel was attached, I primed (2 coats) and painted (2 coats), varnished all wood, bent and attached the outer gunwales and varnished them (3 coats). The neighbours made a few comments about my pink prime coat, which was my effort at reducing white scratch marks. The seats were installed and the canoe was ready to be tested.
When I originally got the canoe, it was not in any shape to be paddled, so I had no point of comparison for the way that it would handle at this time. I was blown away by the way it moved with the water. At that point I finally understood what the purists had been talking about for years. The canoe's handling was smooth, stable and responsive.
When you put your heart and soul into something, you become part of it.
Natural materials are so much better!!
After playing in a local lake, the canoe's inaugural trip was a week in Temagami, where it was a joy to use. The only drawback was the weight on portages. But it was worth it when you were in the water!
For more, see Recent Trips pages
Diamond Lake, Temagami
Ferguson Bay, Temagami