Bell aluminum gunwales: seat hanging?

I just got a black gold Bell Flashfire with aluminum gunwales a couple days ago and have paddled it a couple times and the seat was hung too high - 1.5" in front and at the gunwales on the rear, so I was going to lower it. Just getting it off was a challenge because the seller had hastily installed a new seat when they saw the original was torn and drilled the holes in the wrong place on the seat frame and bent a few screws forcing it in and therefore I was unable to install spacers to lower the seat and couldn’t get the seat back on - I was doing this all at the lake, not my garage, as darkness approached.

So, my boat has no seat.

Question is what’s the original way to hang a seat from Bell aluminum gunwales? The holes in the gunwale only leave about 1/16" before hitting the inner side of the gunwale, which doesn’t allow much structural integrity on a wooden seat hanger.

Are the the stock hangers made out of metal, rather than wood?

Is it ok to have the holes in the wooden hangers just 1/16" in from the edge of the wood?

Do I drill new holes farther in on the gunwales to allow a little more thickness of wood on the hangers?

I’ve never hung a seat on aluminum gunwales or removed one from them before.

What have you seen and what would you do?


I just checked my Bell

– Last Updated: Mar-13-12 11:08 PM EST –

My Bell has aluminum gunwales. Answers to your questions are based on how mine was originally set up, and what I needed to keep in mind when I raised the seat (opposite of what you are doing). Raising the seat makes you do things properly (unless you are the previous owner of your boat), but lowering it gives you all kinds of leeway so that you can hardly do anything wrong. See below.

One other thing. The range of reasonable seat heights is limited by the depth of the canoe. My boat is a Merlin II, which has quite a difference between the factory position which was "low" for sitting (in fact, I'd never seen a canoe with such a low seat before, but I guess some people must like that) and what's needed for kneeling, but even with the seat "all the way up" as high as it will go for kneeling, it's really not very high. I don't know what range of seat heights is reasonable for your model.

"Question is what's the original way to hang a seat from Bell aluminum gunwales? The holes in the gunwale only leave about 1/16" before hitting the inner side of the gunwale, which doesn't allow much structural integrity on a wooden seat hanger."
The bolts must tilt inward if the seat is mounted up high like that, but there will be plenty of room if mounted lower. This is described in greater detail in the answers to your other questions (below).

"Are the the stock hangers made out of metal, rather than wood?"
My seat hangers are wood, and they are the same as on every other aluminum-gunwaled Bell I've ever seen. The hanger looks like a stretched-out, upside-down "U", with a long flat edge butting against the bottom of the gunwale, and the two legs of the "U" joining the two cross frames of the seat. My seat was originally much too low for kneeling, so I trimmed the hanger so the legs of the "U" were much shorter, to achieve nearly the same seat height as what your boat already has, but note differences in what I did from what the previous owner of your boat did (below). I understand you can get ready-to-use Bell-style wood seat hangers from Ed's Canoe.

"Is it ok to have the holes in the wooden hangers just 1/16" in from the edge of the wood?"
No. The previous owner did something really stupid. The holes should be in the center of that flat spot on the top surface of the gunwale which could be interpreted to mean there's no clearance between the bolts and the hull, since a bolt going straight down at that location will "just about" come in contact with the hull right below the gunwale. But who says the bolts must go straight down? The bolts need to angle inward just a tiny bit, and that creates all the clearance you need to keep the bolt hole well inside the ends of the seat frames. Ordinarily the bolts would pass through the center of the wooden seat hanger, and thus would also have plenty of clearance (way more than 1/16th inch) inside the ends of the seat frames since the seat frame will have enough room to AT LEAST extend outward to a point that is flush with the outside edge of the seat hanger. After all, if there's room for the hanger, there's room for the ends of the seat frame too. This is hard to explain. Basically, the ends of the seat frame are flush with the outside edge of the wooden seat hangers if mounted very high so that they nearly touch the hull, but can overhang the outside edge of the hangers quite a bit if the seat is lower, because down lower the seat frame will be alongside that outward bulge of the hull. Basically, I'm saying that a bolt that goes through the center of the wooden hanger will always have good clearance from the end of the seat frame. There will be about half an inch of clearance from the end of the seat frame if the seat frame is flush with the outside edge of the wooden hanger (that's the farthest the seat frame can stick out if mounted right below the gunwale), and easily two inches or so if the seat is low, adjacent to the region of the hull's outward bulge, so that the seat frame can extend well to the outside of the hanger. (Sorry this is so wordy - it's how it is working out as I answer independent questions that are all related to each other).

"Do I drill new holes farther in on the gunwales to allow a little more thickness of wood on the hangers?
Are there not any original holes?"
If the existing holes are in the center of the flat strip on top of the gunwale, my guess is that they are original and properly located. I really don't see how you'd drill them farther in. That would create the same problem with the gunwales that you currently have with your seat frames. You will see that those bolts can aim "every which way" below the gunwale. Just use that freedom of alignment to keep them well inside the ends of your seat frames. This will all make sense once you buy or build new seat hangers, which will be a far better method than installing spacers. You MIGHT need a new seat too, if the end-to-end span of the frames is too short for easy mounting at the lower height. I seem to remember that I had to trim my seat frames to a narrower end-to-end dimension in order to raise the seat, since there's so much less clearance up high than there is down low, and that makes me think you'll want to make the seat wider if you mount it low. If your seat does not have original bolt holes that are at least 1/2-inch inside the frame ends, that would indicate that the frame was cut narrower by the previous owner.

For Starters;
Take a deep breath.

The original Bell Wood drops, Walnut for a B/G should be ~ 1/2 in at rear, ~ 1.5 at front drop. You can easily make new drops or purchase new ones from Ed’s Canoe, who supplied Bell with drops for several years.

In a perfect world, the hole spacing on the rails should be 8". This may be a perfect time to upgrade your seating with the additional purchase of Ed’s Contour bucket seat.

I’d be glad to offer more targeted advice privately, but I’m off for the Florida FreeStyle Symposium tomorrow and won’t be back for a week. I will receive email on my I-phone, but will not have access to electronic records re Bell/Placid/Colden seat location[s].

Your old/new boat is not ruined, these issues can be dealt with.


Inwales 1/2" ledge - holes against hull.

– Last Updated: Mar-14-12 1:16 AM EST –

Thanks for taking the time to examine your set up so thoroughly.

Hole location is as you described. The inner edge of the hole is against the hull. Might just have to enlarge the holes in the inwales (slot them) to allow the screw to be at least 1/8" away from the hull in the hanger.

Wouldn't angling the screw inward as you suggest, also mean you'd have to angle the hole through the hanger and the seat frame or make those holes large enough diameter to allow the angle inside the holes, rather than close tolerance to the screws? I assume that I want the flat edge of the hanger flush against the underside of the inwale.

I should have picked up some hangers at Canoecopia, rather than starting from scratch to make my own. If my efforts don't yield an adequate hanger, I'll order from Ed's.

I'll resume this project at my garage.

The spacers were just for experimenting with height and angle before I cut new hangers. They had a dowel on the front and nothing on the back.

Thanks for the info, Charlie.
I may mount my seat a bit lower than those standard measurements, though those drops may work better once I install one of the two Ed’s cane bucket seats that I picked up at Canoecopia. The front edge of the straight seat doesn’t hit me in the right spot when kneeling with it only 1.5" down in front and is uncomfortable.

The seat height as I received it - 1.5" drop in front and 0.0" in back - results in a rather sensitive ride when sitting.

I have an Ed’s cane bucket seat in my Curtis Lady Bug and am pretty pleased with it after two years.

Angling the bolts inward
You are correct. I just looked at my seat hanger again, and it is flush with the bottom surface of the gunwale AND flush with the little right-angle piece of the gunwale the sticks downward along the inside surface of the hull. That means the seat hanger is just about vertical, but the bolts angle inward to keep the bolt holes from almost being at the edge of the wood within both the hanger and seat-frame ends. I seem to remember re-shaping the holes that go through the hanger to make everything fit right.

Thanks for that verification. n/m

Observations from Ed’s Canoe

  1. They often rounded the top of the seat drops provided to Bell to allow the hanger to pivot a bit.

  2. Some people intentionally bend one of hanger bolts to reduce the likelihood of the hung seat from swaying side to side.

  3. It’s common for people to work the drill bit at various angles in the hole in the seat frame to accommodate the varying angles of the bolts coming out of the hangers. Flat washers are used to cover too large hole openings.

  4. Some mount the hangers to the gunwales first and measure the hole spacing on the bottom of the hangers to determine where to place the holes on the seat frame, rather than assuming that the hole spacing at the bottom of the brackets will be the same as the hole spacing between the gunwales.

    Some of these observations are obvious to those who have done the process a few times.

I just hung the new seat. What a pain.
1. The hangers I got from Bell were drilled dead center, rather than closer to one side, so I had to try to waddle out the holes with the cordless drill to get them closer to one side of the hanger. Got it good enough. A round file would have worked better, but I couldn’t find it, maybe I don’t even have one.

2. Hole spacing on the on the gunwales was shorter than spacing on the hangers. Gunwales about 7.75" and not actually the same on both sides and hangers about 8.125". I lengthened the one hole on one gunwale and drilled another hole on the other. Probably not the best solution, but I didn’t have the ability to drill another hole in the hangers.

It was a big huge pain to hang the Ed’s cane bucket seat, but it’s finally in. I hope it’s in the correct location - front holes are 84" from the tip of the composite end cap (deck plate) on the Flashfire.

Now I just need to install the black Wenonah sliding foot brace to keep me from sliding off the canted seat when I’m sitting, rather than kneeling.