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We now own our first wood canvas canoe (and I need some advice)!

Discussion in 'Wood and Canvas' started by Feathers, Apr 26, 2014.

  1. Feathers

    Feathers Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    My wife and I have been searching for a wood canvas canoe for a while. Earlier this spring we found a canoe for sale that we fell in love with. It's a 17 foot 1920's St. Louis Meramec. The two previous owners did a great job taking care of it and we want enjoy the canoe while preserving it as it is a piece of history. We took it out for the first paddle last Sunday afternoon. We wet foot it into the water (which was a bit of a deal as there was still ice floating 80 yards away) to keep it safe from scatches. Anyway, it was such a joy to paddle the old canoe- even if it was for just a short time.

    As we paddled it I did notice that one rib that has a small crack was flexing and being in the water was causing it additional stress. We have no experience with wood canvas canoes as I grew up paddling Grummans. So, I'm hoping for some advice. My thought is to try to get some glue in the crack to make it last as long as possible. I've used a lot of epoxy and CA in building R/C airplanes so that is my first thought. CA would wick all the way through and lock the rib to the planks. Epoxy would do the job but it might be difficult to get it in there. I have used hypodermic needles to inject glue (but not epoxy) before. Thought about drilling some small holes to try to inject some glue in there. Or perhaps it's too late to do any good here?

    Anyway, if anyone has some advice so I don't so something stupid that I'll regret later I'd sure appreciate it.
    Cracked Rib.jpg
  2. Mark Adams

    Mark Adams all wood nut

    First, welcome to the WCHA! Please consider joining.

    As far as your broken rib goes, I'd say it is not that big of a deal. With the half ribs there to support it, and the adjacent ribs being good, there is really no need to attempt to fix it. You could try getting epoxy in there, which will firm it up somewhat. Drilling holes to get more glue in there would be horribly unaesthetic. The traditional approach would be to nail a piece of wood on top of the break, which again, would be rather unaesthetic.

    A broken rib will flex, but it really won't propagate to the adjacent ribs, especially if you continue to give it the love and care you described. Just consider it a scar from a life well lived, and when it is time to re-canvas, do a backside repair. Until then, doing nothing is the best course of action, IMHO.
  3. OP

    Feathers Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    "First, welcome to the WCHA! Please consider joining."

    Thanks Mark. Already taken care of. My check is literally in the mail.

    I was thinking of trying to glue it as when we were paddling I could see it was opening up slightly and thought that if I could prevent that it might be a good idea. I really appreciate the advice. Thanks!
  4. KAT

    KAT LOVES Wooden Canoes

    If you really want to glue it, you could try this... heat the crack with a heat gun/hair dryer then inject some epoxy. As it cools it will draw the glue into the crack deeper than just syringing it in. I did that on inwale cracks after another member here suggested it as an option.
  5. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I would not worry about it. Glues and epoxies are useful for securing together good, strong, crafted wood joints. That’s a very jagged crack, not a planned wood joint. Just slathering an epoxy into those fractured fibers would add very little to whatever residual strength is left holding together those fractured wood fibers. It would be like trying to glue a broken bunch of spaghetti ends together.

    I have paddled a canoe that over its years of use acquired seven cracked ribs. Never noticed any difference. Most of the wooden pieces in a canoe, ribs and planking, on their own are remarkably fragile.
  6. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    Shouldn't be a problem. There isn't much you could do to strengthen it. You could try epoxy squirted in, but the surface area is so limited, it would probably be futile. I would leave it, Tim.
    Let me know when you bring it north.... Let's paddle!
  7. OP

    Feathers Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Hey thanks for all the advice. To be clear, I was thinking of adding glue to help prevent the lateral movement of the two. It seemed like the left side was still holding but the upper right side was flexing up slightly and the lower right side was flexing down slightly. A little epoxy would prevent that movement. Not sure why being in the water would cause that- back in the basement now it is pretty much flush again. It could be that it was just really apparent as the angle from the stern seat of the canoe allows for a perfect view of unstained wood appearing.

    Dave, do you even have open water yet? Lake Wausau still had ice last weekend and it has current- slight, but still current. But when you do, would love to do some paddling!

    Attached Files:

  8. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    Squirt a little in there if you are concerned. Can't hurt.

    Only little bits of open water here. Places where there is some current are likely to be open, like in Ferdy's latest Vimeo. It's gonna be a week or more on smaller lakes, with larger lakes to follow.
    Have you ever paddled the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage?
  9. Dan Lindberg

    Dan Lindberg Ex Wood Hoarder


    Like the others, I wouldn't touch it.

    I've experimented with trying to glue/epoxy broken ribs in place. It doesn't work. In addition to the limited surface area, the break is usually dirty and a poor bond between the resin and wood results.

    For me, it would come down to, what is the condition of the boat and how original do I want to keep it?

    If I wanted to keep it original AND there were only 1 or 2 broken ribs (not likely on a boat that old) , I would wait until it got a new canvas, at which time, I would do a backside repair. (If you mess with the top of the rib now, including trying to glue it, you will see it and it won't look original.)

    But, if there were a bunch of broken ribs or I wasn't concerned about keeping the boat original, I would do a topside repair as was mentioned in an earlier post.


    ps, and I've had to make this same decision on a canoe. I had just finished our favorite boat, and on one of the first outings, we found a rock and cracked 2-3 ribs. This canoe got the top side repairs, as the ribs will be replaced next time the canvas is off.
  10. OP

    Feathers Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes


    In my opinion the boat is almost in too good of condition. I was looking for a canoe to paddle and use for landscape photography. When we found this one I just assumed that the seats, thwarts, and decks must have been replaced as it looked so good for an old canoe. It has been recently restored. After we'd already purchased it I contacted the seller to get more information and I found out that the decks, thwarts, inwales, and seats are all original to the canoe. A few ribs were replaced during the restoration and the outer gunnels (hope I have that term correct) were added as they were missing/broken when he purchased the canoe. Right now there are two cracked ribs but only the one in the photo is showing signs of "flexing" while we paddled it. With all of your collective wisdom offered I have decided that I shall not attempt to add any glue. It already has had ribs replaced so when it needs canvas I can either learn how to do this "backside repair" or put in a new rib. Or it will get to visit Dave for a while. :)

    I say it's almost in too good of condition because now I feel like it should be in a museum rather than out on the water. If I ever hit a rock and bust it up I will feel guilty for a long while.


    Yes, we've paddled/ camped the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage several times. Last Memorial Day weekend we led a Venture Crew trip down the Manitowish and camped along the river coming out at Murray's Landing. It's a very nice area.
  11. Dan Miller

    Dan Miller cranky canoeist Staff Member

    There are plenty of canoes in museums. You should feel free to enjoy yours without worry.
  12. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    As others have said, just soaking or injecting the crack will accomplish virtually nothing by way of strengthening the cracked rib, and will complicate, if not make impossible, a backside repair in the future. Like many have said, you may be best off with just leaving it until it is time to replace the canvas, at which time you could do a backside repair, or replace the rib.

    If you are bound and determined to fix it now, however, you might consider a doubler for that cracked rib -- a short piece of white cedar glued and/or screwed/tacked over the crack. If you were to go this, I would steam the short doubling piece when installing it, so that it can adapt to the hull's curve.
    One canoe that I acquired has had such a repair: sm 100_3321.jpg

    Depending on the location of the crack, this could present an aesthetic issue, and could also present a minor trip or snag hazard the pictured repair is under a seat, a location that minimizes such concerns).

    The only reason I might consider using a doubler here, if a new canvas is not in the relatively near future, is the possibility that, as you have described it in post 7, the flexing of the cracked rib may cause a small outward bulge disrupting the fairness of the hull -- mostly an aesthetic concern.
  13. OP

    Feathers Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    I'll try to remember that. But we'll still be going slow and lookin' for rocks!
  14. OP

    Feathers Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    You folks have given me enough advice to leave it alone that it has become the plan. It should be a while before it needs new canvas so I'll keep an eye on it for now. I really appreciate all the helpful advice here. I know very little about wood canvas canoes so I have a lot to learn.
  15. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Sounds like your concern is sort of an esthetic or ownership one; that is, the crack looks bad and maybe people will think we’re ignorant owners who don’t care enough to take care of this beautiful canoe. W/C canoes do go well with informed owners and you’ve launched yourself on the WCHA’s river of wooden canoe knowledge and wisdom. Every W/C owner takes on the task of becoming a curator and missionary to the misinformed. How many times have I had to answer, “What a beautiful canoe! How much does it weigh?” So start working on the spiel you’re going to give when you encounter compliments from alum-anoe and plasti-yak paddlers.
  16. OP

    Feathers Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Quite a few years ago my buddy and I stopped into a hobby store to pick up beer making supplies. We walked past the R/C planes and I mentioned that was something I always wanted to do when I was a kid and he said "me too". A week later we both were building planes from a kit. It took us a month and a half to build, cover, and install all the radio gear into our planes. One winter Saturday he was coming back so we could go fly our planes. Lucky for us somebody I worked with had a husband who was a R/C plane expert. He called me up and expressed his concern over our plan to go fly our planes without any experience. He said he'd come and help but had to work. I told him, "It's OK, we're not going to do any loops or anything, just fly around a bit and land". There was a lot of silence on the phone. The next morning he was there to help us anyway. He helped us balance our planes (which we didn't think was all that important), tune our engines, and get the throws set our planes. Then he got my plane up in the air, got it three mistakes high, and handed me the transmitter. I lasted about 10 seconds before I begged him to take it back. I had no idea how much I didn't know about R/C airplanes until that moment. My plane would have never survived that first flight if he hadn't shown up to help me. Years later I was flying in the R/C Combat Nationals in Indiana. I helped in the training program at our club and ran a kids program where they got to build and fly planes. None of would have happened either without him coming over that first morning.

    I have a workshop with quite a few tools, have pretty good building skills, and I learn things quickly. But to relate my wood canoe knowledge to flying R/C airplanes I'm pretty much back to holding the transmitter and asking somebody to "take it back". I have no idea of what is a good idea and a bad idea. The idea of not gluing that rib goes against everything I know about R/C airplanes. We glue everything. Years after I learned to build and fly planes the kit companies started to bring in Chinese-made planes that were already built called ARF's (almost ready to fly). People who started with those had no idea how to fix them when they crashed them because they'd never built one. I found a ready to paddle canoe so I don't have the experience of how it is repaired or built. So I have to learn. I'm glad for those of you who are willing to share your experience and wisdom.

    I'll be happy to talk about the canoe with folks. I have plastic yaks and love them. My kids grew up with so many adventures in those boats. I grew up with aluminum Grummans and still have them. The sound of a paddle hitting the aluminum boat may be loud and obnoxious but it still brings me back to mornings on the water on the Chain O'Lakes and doing T-rescues in Scouts at Camp Tesomas. I like them too. I also have a Kevlar boat that my wife and I take to the Boundary Waters. It glides forever and is so light at the portages that I love that boat too. But none of them have the air of history, the beautiful curves, textures, and patterns that the wood canoe has. I've only had this old boat a couple of weeks but there is something special about it. It is history, it is art, and it speaks to me somehow in ways I can't fully explain.
  17. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    Sometimes a good book can be a partial substitute for experience and for personal, hands-on help-- and there are two very good books for someone new to w/c canoes to help with sound ways to maintain/repair/restore these canoes.

    You would do well to get, or at least look at -- "The Wood and Canvas Canoe: A Complete Guide to its History, Construction, Restoration, and Maintenance" by Rollin Thurlow and Jerry Stelmok, and/or "Building the Maine Guide Canoe" by Jerry Stelmok. The first is often called the "bible" of canoe repair, restoration, and maintenance; the second is an excellent study of the wooden/canvas canoe and its construction.

    Also, the back issues of our journal Wooden Canoe have many articles on maintenance, repair, and restoration. The index to the back issues is at < to Wooden Canoe.pdf > and back issues are available from our online store.

    And of course, you can keep asking questions here on the forums.
  18. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    I may end up being corrected, but I suspect you've been bitten by the bug. Congratulations!
  19. OP

    Feathers Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Thanks, I will look into those two books. I already ordered three back issues of the Wooden Canoe that had articles regarding St. Louis canoes.
  20. Jan Bloom

    Jan Bloom LOVES Wooden Canoes

    You also need to attend the mini assembly later this summer in Wisconsin if you do not go to the big one in NY. Also join your state/local chapter. Might even want to start driving around looking for more canoes, then you know you have the "disease".

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