-- Last Updated: Oct-16-08 9:24 PM EST --

My grandfather made a Kayak out of Burlap and orange crates in the early 1920's and its condition has deteriorated I need some advice on how to restore this Kayak. It has lasted from when it was built until about 4 years ago (it has been used almost every summer). Now it needs some serious work.

pictures to come soon

An 80 year old burlap & crate kayak !
If ever a post required pictures, this is it!

Have you considered preserving it as a family museum piece dedicated to the memory of your grandfather’s ingenuity, rather than restoring it to paddle?

Probably there is breakdown because
water is getting at the wood slats and rotting them. In general, a repair would involve removing rotting or damaged slats and then putting in new slats and burlap, fixing them in place with a binding agent.

There must have been a binding agent for the burlap and wood slats. There was no epoxy or even polyester resin in 1920, but oil based paint or spar varnish are possible binding agents. If you want to try for an “authentic” repair, you should try to figure out what was used originally. Obviously the first question is, is the binding agent clear, transluscent, or opaque?

You will have to figure out how to make a supportive template on which to mount replacement slats and burlap.

This is all likely to be difficult, so I echo the previous poster’s suggestion that you dry this kayak out and hang it in an honored place in your recreation room, with a plaque underneath.

And, after you have put that old kayak
on display, consider a new family project, building a new “stripper” or stitch-and-glue kayak for everyone to use. It may last almost another century in family hands. In fact, the skills you would acquire while building a stripper or stitcher would go far toward helping you restore the old boat.

Pictures needed . . .
Reading your post, I got the impression that the kayak your grandfather made is a skin-on-frame, rather than a strip-built, but photos showing construction details would help.

If it’s SOF construction and the (orange crate?) frame is still solid,you might get away with repairing the burlap skin. To paraphrase an earlier poster on this, it would be necessary for you to determine how the original skin was sealed, so you could re-seal/re-finish with a product that would properly bond to the original sealant.

Since I have not built SOF, maybe someone who has can add to this. You will need to first find out if the burlap is rotten or degraded to the extent that it must be replaced, before considering refinishing. There are books and experts online who can advise you on re-skinning it.

I bet your grandfather had an interesting history to go with his remarkable construction skills. It would be interesting to compare his design with kayak designs that were current at the time, including if the frame structure (if SOF) follows a native building design.

Wood and Canvas
Most of the kayaks I have seen from that timeframe are typically homebuilt wood frame and canvas. These are usually easily recanvassed. The kayaks were essentially SOF and the weave of the canvas was filled with paint rather than the canoe filler used on wood canvas canoes.

This book reportedly has plans for a 1920’s kayak called the “Walrus”. Maybe your grandfather built a Walrus?


burlap and orange crate construction
I am military and was deyployed so back at it. I will take some pics to post and hope that it helps.

and it is skin on frame with chicken wire to anchor the burlap painted with boat paint.(oil base)