Repair of Bell Wildfire Solo

I am fixing this boat after a fall from the truck. Truthfully it needed work on the gunwales before the fall.
The gunwales were previously stained and sealed with poly instead of oil. After talking to quite a few people I think I want to go with the oil finish now. I had trouble getting the seat out (which also needs either caining or replacement. I sanded and sanded and got most of the finish off (I will post another picture that attempts to show how much finish remains but I am wondering, if even a little finish remains will it look splotchy because there are spots that won’t absorb into the wood? Would it still be better to go with the oil? I have heard that moisture can get under the poly finish and rot it from the inside out. Also, the poly finish can make it pretty hard to get the screws out in the future.
The bigger problem is this damage in the bow. Still looking for tips here but this is what I’m thinking of doing. Remove the first screw that holds it side to side. cut both of the inside gunwale strips back to the point where there is “good wood”. Cut two new pieces to fit. Finish them and hold them in with the screws. Use some of the West System G/Flex to kind of seal and strengthen the area.
After the repair is complete I would like to fashion some sort of rubber bumper that can be placed over the tip of the bow when portaging or loading it onto the car. I am an oldish lady and I really don’t think I can load or portage without leaving one end down while I pivot it.
Last is the ding in the front of the bow that happened when it fell off the truck. I will post a picture of it. I plan to use G/flex fill the hole and then put two patches over the tip with fiberglass cloth. the inside one smaller than the outside one. Different people told me different things about filling the hole. One person told me to build it up in layers with no filler. Three others said to put some filler in the epoxy. Ideas for filler include wood flour, silica, and little threads of the fiberglass cloth cut up small.
Thanks for your help!

Here is another picture of the problem with the gunwale.

So, do you think I got enough of the old finish off to use oil instead of stain/poly?

Here is the ding in the bow.

You are working on some good old canoes.
This canoe is very fixable.
Finding new inwales is not so easy because of the length and the problems with shipping. You can make new ones in a cabinet shop. Do they run the length of the boat? It is hard to tell in the photo.

With a canoe like this I would be tempted to square off the damaged inwales and epoxy a new piece of wood in place. It will just as strong as new materials and a lot less work.

One of the best ways to repair the cracked material on the stem is use marine epoxy with a thickener. Microballons are the standard material but that will cure out white. I would find some wood dust the same color as the amber stem. Maybe birch or ash. You can make the epoxy as stiff as you want by adding more dust. Make it like peanut butter so it stays put. Sand it out and it will be acceptable without any paint.

Thank you, that is what I was thinking. I don’t think I want to replace the whole inwale. I don’t even know if I would be able to get the screws out judging by how hard it was to get the seat out. we shall see when I try to get the two in the bow out.

The long screws that go all the way through both the inwale and the outwale and into the deck plates can be quite difficult to remove. You can try heating the head of the screw with the tip of an electric soldering gun which will sometimes help loosen them up.

It would probably be best if you can just remove the gunwales and deck plates. That would make it easier to repair the broken inwales and also sand and refinish the gunwales. I think your plan for dealing with the broken inwales is good. I would carefully shape the ends of the repair pieces you use so that they fit inside and end at the inside edge of the molded hull. I would then trim off the outwales at a 45 degree angle so that you cut off the parts that extend past the last screw hole. Below is a photo of a Bell Wildfire canoe that I rerailed and used that type of end treatment of the inwales and outwales on. All of this would be much easier if you can get the gunwales off.

It is very common for the ends of the inwales and outwales of Bell canoes to break off like this when the tip of the boat strikes the ground or something else. I suspect with more sanding you could get the remnants of polyurethane off the wood and use an oil finish. If you get the gunwales off I would use the opportunity to treat the hidden faces of the inwales and outwales that contact the hull.

As for the stem damage to the hull, you could simply fill in the void with epoxy thickened with silica powder which would be the best additive to use in terms of strength although fiberglass fibers would also work. For a void of that depth, however, I would be inclined to fill in the void with successive strips of fiberglass cloth wetted out with unthickened epoxy until it is nearly filled, then a final application of thickened epoxy which can be sanded fair and smooth once cured. Cut the strips of fiberglass cloth at random bias angles to the weft and weave of the fabric for maximum strength.

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I have owned a Bell, nice paddling canoes.
Great photo by pblanc.
For a factory job the outwales are really clunky looking. Inelegant compared to the graceful lines of this canoe. I would be tempted to make them tapered near the bow. I never plan to run into anything.

Your canoe is gorgeous.
I agree that it would be best to remove them…
I will try the next time I work on it. Maybe it won’t be so bad. I agree it would be nice to also finish the inner edge and also not good to get any type of finish over the screws. Also, I have not started sanding the underside where it meets the hull. I was planning on using a flexible plastic cutting board to protect the hull while sanding but removing them would make that easier as welll.
However, if they are hard to get off I don’t want to further damage them. We got some gouges taking out the seat.
I love the way your solution for the ends, being cut at a 45 deg angle, looks. Any Ideas how to protect this area while loading/portaging? I wonder if the wood would be stronger or that molded hull. I do plan to put some fiberglass cloth there too because there is cloth showing, but I know I have to keep it thin so the wood pieces fit.
Also, thanks for the help with the boat part terminology, so, it is the inwale that is damaged not the gunwale.
I think I need to at least cut off anything that is rotted or fractured. This takes it back just to the tip of the deck on one side but further back on the other side. I’m thinking they should both be the same so that means I can’t put in one solid piece that covers both sides in the front. So, two longer pieces, thoughts? then, this came to me in a dream, and I am no expert woodworker. I have the tools however. At the spot where the pieces meet, I’m thinking a bit in front of the second screw, might it be helpful to have the area where they meet notched? Like V shaped, so that if the canoe hits a rock it would be more stable than a straight cut. Or, would this just make it harder for a relatively unskilled woodworker to get it to fit?
So is Silica powder the same as what I use for drying flowers? I think mine might be called silica sand.
Interesting point about cutting the fabric at a random bias angle. Others have said to cut it on the grain so it doesn’t ravel. I think you are right though, and I think I heard it from the master. So, sorry off topic, I’m covering the whole bottom of a Sauris River. Should I put that at an angle to the original build to increase strength?
Also curious about your boat stand. Right now I’m using 2 Coleman camp chairs.

If you can get your gunwales off it would be relatively easy to fashion a couple of pieces of ash to replace the broken ends of your inwales. With the hull bare you could easily shape the ends to fit the rather complex curves that the interior of the hull makes at the stems.

Fit one piece first but don’t cut the wood down the centerline until you have the fit in the hull perfect. Then mark the centerline on that piece and cut it. Then shape your other piece and when you have it perfect you can mark the line where it needs to mate with the opposite piece. Cut that centerline slightly oversize and then sand so that the two pieces mate with each other seamlessly.

Your repair will also look a little better if you joint those pieces with the existing inwales using scarf joints rather than simple butt joints. With the gunwales off, cutting and gluing up scarf joints would be much easier. G Flex epoxy is excellent for gluing joints in ash and other dense woods.

If you are unable to find any suitable ash for the inwale repair you could buy one of these 4 foot ash gunwale splicing segments from Ed’s Canoe:

The “kerf” is the little wood lip that covers over and hides the top of the hull. You really don’t want that on the inwale side but it is easy to sand it off or plane it off if you have a block plane. Although the segment is radiused it should be wide enough for what you need if the radiused side is trimmed off.

The idea about cutting fabrics at varying bias angles is first a bias cut woven fabric will lay down over a curve with much less tendency to pleat than if it is cut along the line of the weft or weave. Second, if you have multiple layers of cloth in which the lines of the weft and weave cross each other at a variety of angles, the strength of the mulit-laminate will be greater the more fibers that cross each other.

The hull of a Blackgold Bell is actually pretty strong. But you could certainly bond a reinforcing band of fabric transversely across the stem just below the sheer to protect the hull if you have to rest it on the ground. Heck, even a strip of black Gorilla Tape probably wouldn’t look bad and would not be permanent.

By the way, if your oil finish idea does not work out for whatever reason, you might consider a bright finish. The finish I used on that Bell Wildfire in the photo was three coats of low viscosity “penetrating” epoxy (System Three Clear Coat) followed by three or four coats of marine varnish (Pettit Captain’s Varnish). I have found that the epoxy seems to result in a more durable bright finish. It is also an excellent treatment for protecting and sealing the hidden faces of the gunwales that go against the hull.

Epoxy protects boats. It just needs varnish for UV protection.

That is one great looking boat! Love the inlay on the deck plate, and the scuppers give it a unique look. Did you varnish the inside of the hull also?

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