Modern Wood and Canvas

Is anyone building solo WC boats with modern shapes? What if you could get the shape and performance of your favorite composite or royalex boat in the great looks of wood and canvas. I am thinking about building a form and trying it. What do you think?

I think you might be surprised to learn that many of the new designs have nothing on a lot of the old ones. I’m primarily referring to designs prior to 1900 up until the late 50’s, which is when some of the larger companies started adding more beam for stability.

Most of the all-wood designs from the 1850’s, until this type of canoe was replaced by the canvas-covered, were generally fast, tender hulls built for experienced paddlers.

Back then, canoeing was more than just something to do on the weekends as there were no cars, tv, radio etc. Because of this, many paddlers, more so than today, were what we would consider very experienced.

Canoeing was definitely the thing to do outdoors.

These design traits were carried over to canvas-covered canoes, which really took off around 1900, so many of the early canoes built using this method were also fast & tender. Most canoeists today probabaly wouldn’t even consider owning one.

As times changed, and paddling had to compete with other pursuits, the bicycle being the first, canoe manufacturers started widening their hulls and making the floor flatter so they would be more user freindly. This allowed people that may only paddle a few times a year to be able to go out and have a relaxing time instead of trying to keep the canoe upright.

Back when the early all-wood canoes were it, it wasn’t uncommon to have a 16’ or 17’ canoe with a 30" or 32" beam, round bottom and no seats. These hulls were so “tippy” that if they did put seats in them there was a good chance of an upset, which is exactly what happened when they did start putting them in.

If you look, you will find some old designs out there somewhere in between the fast, tippy models and what we ended up with in the 1960’s. I have both modern & vintage designs and can tell you that I’m always amazed on just how good some of those old hull’s are.

They’ve become some of my favorites.


modern wood/canvas boats
Tom MacKenzie (e-mail builds wood/canvas boats that could be called modern…even though all are symmetric. He doesn’t build very many…

I have a Loonworks “Aria” and it’s literally made on a Wildfire mold (Dave Yost design)…the wood/canvas boat actually outperforms a regular Wildfire by a bit…since the ends are finer plus the sides of the hull roll over more smoothly. It’s still under 40 pounds - and - purdy. And it’s repairable!

That is the kind of thing i am looking for!

want something different
While my on the water experience in wood and canvas is limited, (none in a solo,) I own and paddle a tandem. I love it. Much of what I like about paddling will be enhanced by something like a wood and canvas Wildfire. I am aware of the evolution of the canoe, “The Bark and Skin Boats of North America” Adney and Chapelle, “The Wood and Canvas Canoe” Thurlow and Stelmok etc. are on my shelf. I have a great love for Rushton and George Washington Sears. I have not yet found what I will call a modern solo in wood and canvas. What I would like is a 14-15’ boat with 29” of beam, a little tumblehome, plumb stems, shallow arched hull, good volume in the ends, and low decks. I hate everything about the up swept ends on most WC tandems.

Chestnut Solo
Hi Mike, I turned a 15ft wood canvas Chestnut “Chum” into a solo, it had new inwales so I didn’t have to deal with old holes from the old seats, just put a seat in the middle.

It is about 30" wide, and paddles very nice. I would like to see a wood canvas solo like you mention, it “wood” be quite a nice boat. Robin

did you post pics of it this year? I saw one somewhere.

Stewart River Boatworks
has two very modern w/c solos, the Unity and the Traveler.

Excellect designs and good craftsmanship.

w/c canoes
Red River Canoes in Canada makes a beautiful 14ft ‘Red Fox’ w/c canoe which is also similar to the Wildfire as far as design, but actually based on the Chestnut Fox. Also, if your into wood cedar strip canoes Kedros Canoes in Minnesota makes the Merlin.

Second on the Fox

– Last Updated: Mar-10-04 4:39 AM EST –

You beat me to it Boo! For those that are looking for a super solo, I would put this one up against any modern design out there.
Here's three builders that copied it, which indicates it's a hull worth looking at.

Chestnut marketed their version as the Fox, which was their 14' narrow ribbed {1 1/2"} pleasure model. Prior to this, when it had the wider 2 3/8" ribs, it was known as the Little {1st grade} & Peach {2nd}. Peterborough marketed it as the Mermaid / Muskrat, but it was the same hull, built on the same form by the Chestnut Canoe Company of Fredericton, NB.

As you can see, Hugh Stewart, who had taken the lines off of a Peterborough, calls it a cruiser type hull, a reputation that it lives up to.
It's fast for it's small size and is responsive to the paddle, making it a versatile little canoe.

And last, but certainly not least, here's Doug's.


Merrimack Baboosic
Hi Mike, I’ve owned the Bell Wildfire for about a year and really enjoy it. It suits me and how I use it. But I wanted a more classic design. I’m picking up my Merrimack Baboosic on March 15th. It is a blend of current hull materials(kevlar) and performance designs with thin cherry ribs and ash thwarts and gunnels. It’s a classic beauty. Ben

Yes, I posted some on NPMB, or a link to pictures of a solo trip I took to ZEC Kipawa with the Chestnut Chum set up as a solo-Robin

pics of solo wood canvas
Here’s some pics of my Solo Chestnut Chum (15’,wood canvas)Robin

nice boats
Have you paddled them? They look hot. Skinny, light, beautiful…what’s not to like?

Chapelle Article
I am trying to locate the publication that featured an article by Howard Chapelle where he gives detailed instructions on how to build a simple canvas kayak from plywood and dimensional lumber. He said that his grandchildren used one of these for over 16 years before it had to be retired. I would like any information anyone could give. I know I found it at the local library after searching for a Saturday or so and even made a copy of it from the magazine. I think it was either National G or maybe one of the Popular (Mechanics or Science).

Thanks all and happy paddling.