Sanding Bell center seams

Last weekend I started addressing the center seam on my Bell Magic. First a sharp scraper to remove the ridge, then wet sanding with 320 paper. My next step will be sanding with 400 paper.

How fine should I go with the wet-sanding before I go to rubbing compound? Or should I use a different compound?


Oh, What Hath TilleyMan Wrought?
jeez…I just wanted advice on wet sanding…

Mike hit it on the head. I am a natural-born futzer. Cannot leave anything un-modified. Since buying the Magic this spring I have built 3 (three) different yokes and attachment systems. On Monday I had just finished the final sanding and oiling the yoke/seat spacer pieces and reinstalling them, had rubbed in another coat of Watco (please take note NT!) and I stepped back, looked at the seam, and thought What the hey, I have a couple grades of wet paper so Why Not?

Of course, I will be tied up with trail maintenance this Saturday and will be traveling on business Sun-Wed, so now the Magic sits untouched, two steps closer to hull smoothness.

And now I have a beer and my reputation riding on my buffing skills! How did it ever come to this…

At least I now know an engineer would build a canoe. Stripper plugs? No way! CNC’d out of a billet of aluminum. For a price, of course.

Kevin, I will snap a couple of shots of your portage pads on my yoke system (Mark III yoke that is). Dey iz purty comfy.

Fact of life is that there are Monday and Friday boats from big manufacturers. There are also pre (insert major business decision) and post. Also there are boaters at one end of the spectrum who build furniture-quality-work-of-art strippers that get hung on walls. At the other end of the spectrum are Joe Sixpacks who kick a Coleman down the creek after dragging it there from its storage space under the porch.

Some of us don’t mind scratching the bilge (who put those single rocks in the MIDDLE of BWCA Lake Two?) but would like to eliminate the small seam ridge that is visible above the waterline and below the outwale. And most of us are somwhere near the middle of the bell curve on this. I don’t remember meeting any anal-retentives at Raystown!

And thanks for the good sanding advice.



I’m driving to Rochester NY next week
Heading to the Rochester Riverfest, followed by a few days in the Adirondacks. Are you somewhere between the two Rochesters? I’d love to see the yoke (and it would be good for an objective third eye to rate the buff-out job). Since I’m doing the eastern loop now, I doubt I can make the big Pennsylvania shin-dig, but I would sure love to.

By the way, that CNC’d billet would need alot of hand work before it would become an acceptable mold.


sanding that seam

– Last Updated: Sep-06-07 8:59 AM EST –

We split our molds lengthwise, along the keel line and buff the ridge out of both stems.

We start with 120 dry, move to 320, 600, 1000 and 1200, all wet, before going to rubbing compound. The key to life is clean water and wiping with a clean rag/paper towel to make sure all scratches are gone before moving up. It generally takes two passes with 3M rubbing compound to get where you want to go.

That ridge is a function of extreme tumblehome and the way molds are made over a plug boat. An average 1 piece mold for a cinstant flare canoe/kayak hull will cost ~$2000 in material and labor. A two piece mold costs almost twice that, and includes setting a dam around or along the hull.

The dam, and getting a sharp, hard, 90dg edge in a spray on gelcoat and FG product are the issues.

Yes, we can hold much tighter tolerences in metal, but a machined aluminum mold runs ~$50,000. That $45K difference might effect the price of the Magic just a little, but then what's another $K to paddlers who demand perfection?

Now if you want the thing to hold vacuum, to either wet bag or infuse for a lighter, stronger hull with fewer voids, that probably requires a gasket and room to compress it, so we're back to the gap and 1200 grit.

Oh what fun!

We should all know by now that Jim is the biggest trouble maker in the civilized world (next to Doc and his coffee grounds that is). Rags (as I know thee) you need to show up at Raystown in October. I know it is a trek for you, but I have to believe that you will find at least as receptive an audience there as little old NY. And then you can help defend Jim’s honor. Besides Wes and I still need to meet you!

Running for the BW now so talk to you all in a week.


Oh sure!
You run to the BW and I run to NY - something’s not right here… I still haven’t been up north this year, but WILL go in before th water gets hard. That’s part of the struggle with Raystown (that and the fact that all of my vehicles are over 100,000 miles)

Sorry Kevin
Saint Albans WV is about as far out of your way as you can imagine. Also, I will not have a chance to work on the boat for a week or so.

Have a great trip.


Have a great trip Randy
and your little Wes too!


"Bell Curve"
Dang, I made a joke and didn’t even realize it.


Who you callin’ little ?

bell’s seam
I don’t think this was noted yet…

The seam is most visible with a darker gelcoat. That’s why, I believe, you see so many clear gelcoats, ie blackgold with a clear gelcoat. If you go with a dark color like red or dark green the seam is really ugly. I had the seam buffed out when I purchased my red Magic.

One way to look at this is: the customer has the option of having the seam buffed out or saving some money and leaving it alone. I paid the extra money for the seam repair but maybe not eveyone would choose to. Certainly, on clear gelcoat the seam is not really an issue-it is barely visible.


BlackGold and clear gel
The reason so many BlackGold canoes have clear gel is to show off the carbon. It is the standard BG color. A colored BG hull is a special order item and usually costs more.

clear gelcoat
yes, it is a standard blackgold color becuase it does not show the seam and it is cheaper to manufacture (since the seam is not a big issue).


Reality check

– Last Updated: Sep-08-07 6:18 PM EST –

Ted Bell, Steve Nagle and i came up with the BlackGold lamination schedule in a bar in Madison WI during Canoecopia 1994.

Clear gel can only be used by a skilled lamination crew as it shows every void/air pocket/styrene bubble. [I once discovered 30 voids under the Autumn Mist gel coat on a tandem downriver racer from a well respected manufacturer. Must have been a winter lay-up.]

I repeat, the reason for the clear gel was, and is, to show the carbon outer layer. It was never discussed as a means to hide the radial seam. Bell used longitudinal mold seams, and sanded the stems at the time. Radial seam molds were developed a decade later.

If you want to enjoy the obvious benefits of tumblehomed canoes, there is going to be a seam somewhere. Hemlock and Placid use keel line seams because it seems less obtrusive, gives us better control of rocker, and makes the mold easy to work on. Wenonah's race solos unbolt along the aft third.

Bell prefers the radial flange and seam. I don't think you're going to make the case that Bell knowingly uses clear gel to hide that seam. They have fine designs, good laminations and try to make top quality production boats.

I dunno Wes…
For some reason the voice of the witch in Wizard of Oz crept into my head.

“And your little dog too!”

Must have been the crystal meth talking.


Appreciate the perspective
It’s hard to know where to jump in on this thread with my comments, so I’ll just pick a spot and go for it.

Thanks, Charlie, and everyone else who has taken the time to explain the different reasons behind Bell’s decision to do things the way they do. I’ve been a critic of the Bell center seam from the day one, but now that I’ve been educated a bit, I’ll be changing my tune.

Smoothing out that center seam doesn’t look like that much work. I think the hardest part would be convincing yourself to take that first swipe on your brand new $2500 dollar canoe with a chunk of sandpaper. That’ll probably cost you $100,000 in therapist bills over the course of a lifetime, but the canoe will be okay LOL

Thanks again, gentlemen.

Best method for removing the mold marks.
I like the term mold marks better than I do the less accurate term seam. It is just a mark in the gel coat or resin wher the molds meet. The fiberglass is continuous through that area.

NOw the easiest and best way to remove all traces of the mold line is to come paddling on my local river just for a few summer days. I promise you won’t notice the “Seem” anymore!

Here a futz, there a futz
Everywhere a futz-futz.

Why did I have to ask that question? Now I am committed to removing that darn mold mark. Spent time in the shop today, polishing the seam with compound. Nearly gone now, but there is a bit of “negative” seam on the bilge that would require a filler. Something tells me that it ain’t gonna get done.



Sail Fabrication!
Now that’s something that is really worth your while. It will make the boat prettier AND make it more fun to use!

What I have done is chopped up different old windsurfer sails. You can buy them for $15. My favorrite one is a ballanced lug rig I made from chopping the top off and chopping the mast sleeve off. I added a lug and a boom and WALAH!..a great medium to high wind canoe sail.