Major remodelling of a fiberglass canoe

OK, might as well ask if this is even feasible. I have a 16 foot flat-bottom fiberglass chopper-gun canoe of unknown heritage. It’s got a keelson along the bottom on the inside and floatation chambers at each end. It has aluminum gunnels and trim and is really rather ugly. I bought it some years ago for $50 and am thinking I’d like to take a shot at improving a boring design.

My ideal is I can cut out the keelson and float chambers, replace the aluminum with wood (aesthetic reasons), and reshape the bottom to a shallow arch instead of flat, ending up with a more maneuverable, lighter and aesthetically pleasing canoe. Pipe dreams?

Research seems to show that a coarse sanding of the interior to thin the material after cutting out the keelson, followed by application of heat in the 200-250 degree range may allow the reshaping of the bottom. IF this works, will re-applying a couple of layers of fiberglass cloth hold the new shape? Will cedar gunnels and trim give a weight penalty compared to the original aluminum? Are float chambers really necessary? Am I nuts for thinking this is possible?

Not sure how to do heat for this, but I’ve thought several gallons of water in the canoe perched on trestles and hot rocks (or even a low fire in a trench underneath) to boil the water and heat the material. Some kind of straps or forms to support the bottom could help. Alternative is some kind of heat gun (recommended on other sites for small applications), but how would it work on something this size. A torpedo heater?

Anyway if you’re not rotflol by now, maybe you know something that could help me figure this out. Obviously this is not something to do on an expensive canoe, but on a cheapo like this one? Could be interesting. Thanks in advance.

You are very ambitious!
My first thought is about what happens when the re-shaped hull turns out to be not perfectly symetrical. The tail end of a Bell Merlin II is slightly warped along the keel line (this is true for all boats built from the newer mold that split into front and rear halves (look for the ridge in the skin coat that crosses the bottom of the hull from left to right at center)), and most people don’t notice this, but I sure do (I only looked for the deformity AFTER being perplexed for a couple of years by the way the boat wanted to nose-off gently to one side more so than the other, and how the bow splash would always be bigger on the right side when paddling lefty than what happened on the left side when paddling righty). I can only imagine how goofy the handling would be if various parts of the hull were out-of-symmetry from side to side by half an inch or more. This seems like tricky business, but more power to you if you can make a neat job of it!

For the Sake of Petie Boy
You’ll be throwing good money after bad. This is not a rationale project.

As noted above
Save your time, effort and money for something else. You can even buy a decent Alumacraft or Grumman for $300-$400 and be way ahead of the game.

Oh, I agree…
You’re right, it’s not rational, but it could be enlightening. Of course, then what do I do to dispose of 65 pounds of twisted fiberglass?

I already have a Grumman…
I’m just wondering if it’s conceivable to do this and if there’s anyone out there who has advice/experience despite the strangeness.

Interesting thoughts…
Yeah it could be weird if it were out of whack like you said. I wonder though, how many canoes (birch bark, wood/canvas, homemade, etc.) were “off” before the advent of mass manufacturing. Especially if your Merlin has a noticeable oddity. Any advice on how to do it? If I pull it off I’ll post the details.

Good point
I’m sure many wood or wood-canvas canoes have some minor irregularities too. Certainly there are lots of modern plastic canoes that are terribly warped, and the owners seem to like them anyway.

As for your project, I have no experience with such a thing and haven’t got a clue. However, I would suspect that the idea of grinding a chopper-gun hull to a thinner wall thickness might leave you with a much weaker hull, not to mention the difficulty involved. I’d personally spend such a significant amount of time on something with a surer outcome, but that’s just me, and it’s one reason I don’t have much advice.

I had the same idea.
But when adding up the cost I was way ahead to just buy another canoe.

As for what to do do with that boat? Well you could just patch want needed as use as a spare for guest or chop it up in little bits.

OK… fiberglass
You aren’t going to heat it up and re-shape it… NOT going to happen. It isn’t like plastic, it’s resin and glass. You would have to get it to the point the glass fibers become elastic and that is somewhere north of 1000F. If the resin softens and the fibers don’t you are just thinning the glass and when it cools it will have a very crystalline, fragile consistency.

If you want to do something to see it can be done, you can sand the boat down thin, take foam, create the shape you want over the flat bottom, layer in new glass, it needs to overlap the original glass a lot. After that, cut out the old bottom from the inside, sand and fair with thickened epoxy. A lot of work, and a lot of money…

Use a jigsaw to cut it into segments
that the junk men are willing to accept. I’ve disposed of a couple of canoes that way.

Save your time.
At fifty bucks the boat owes you nothing.

Sit it outback and use it as a loaner-spare.

Go buy what you want, then you know you will have a safe canoe and the bottom wont fall out when you hit the rocks.


Sell it to finance the new canoe.

Better safe than sorry.

partial rebuild
Go for the gunnels and maybe add some fresh paint. But trying to reshape the bottom, that’s asking for more trouble than it’s worth.

If the building bug has bitten you, why not build a canoe from some plans?

Ive seem a few turned into pretty cool coy ponds. Just bury it so only about 6" is above ground throw in some nice rocks, airator, and water/fish.

Yankee Rebe?
Sounds kind of like the Yankee Rebel that Sawyer sold thru K-Mart years ago. Can’t remember if it had a keelson or not. Personally, I wouldn’t bother. Not because I don’t myself occasionally engage in hair-brained projects but because I doubt you’ll be able to effectively change its shape. I bought an old Mohawk Jensen WWIII for $50 25yrs ago. Sell the one you’ve got and keep an eye open on Craigslist for a similar deal. Meanwhile, design and build your own stripper.