wood canoes

I read somewhere that wood canoes are essentially fiberglass canoes. I.e., though the interior of the canoe is wood, in a practical sense, it is a polymer that is exposed to the environment. Is this true? If so, in what way is it true? Just in regard to run-of-the-mill wear and tear, or does the hardness of the underlying wood play a significant role? With everything else wood that’s outdoors, sanding and refinishing is the rule. Is this the case with a wood canoe? Can it be stored outdoors, or would this work about as well as storing a piece of fine furniture outdoors? What advantages/disadvantages does canvas confer? thanks.

Indoors storage
Store them in doors or well covered outside.

Water will destroy the outer Gunwales, then the upper tips of the ribs.

Wood canoes
Some canoes are fiber glassed over the wood but not all… Ribless strip canoes are fiberglassed on interior and exterior . The fiberglass layers are thin . Durability is enhanced but still modest. The result is an ultralight , wood core layup. Spar warmish on the hull makes it very weather resistant but the rails are not. I keep mine under tarps.

I have made two wooden canoes that are
composites of wood, fiberglass cloth, and epoxy resin. As already stated, the epoxy needs to be protected by a UV resistant layer like Spar Varnish.As also mentioned, the gunnels will see a lot of wear so they have to be sanded and revarnished regularly.

These boats are very rigid and unless you overdo the construction, fairly light.

On mine, I used ash for the gunnels and cherry for the seats and extra glass on the hull. Overdone for sure.

A wood/glass stripper or stitch & glue boat is a glass boat with a wood core. This can be a very light, stiff, and elegant construction technique.

Compared to a conventional fiberglass layup, the glass is typically very thin – often just one layer of 4- or 6-ounce cloth. There is also no gelcoat layer for abrasion resistance and UV protection. Any puncture or abrasion that penetrates the glass will allow the core to become wet.

Wood/glass canoes work well for careful paddlers on open water. They are less suited to careless paddlers and rocky environments.

For outdoor storage, the biggest problem is UV protection. Epoxy breaks down quickly when exposed to UV radiation from direct sunlight. Varnish provides some protection, as does paint, but the best solution is keeping the boat under cover when not in use. You don’t have to treat it like fine furniture, but basic protection from the elements goes a long way to keeping it in good condition.

The canoe I built hangs in my garage when not on the water.

Benefits of Canvas

– Last Updated: Aug-13-15 6:30 PM EST –

You asked what benefit there is to canvas. When I was a kid our family had a wood/canvas rowboat made by Old Town. The canvas was remarkably durable, much more so than plain wood.

I'm no expert, and hope one of our w/c experts addresses this, but I've seen how some sort of filler material is rubbed in to the canvas prior to painting. The filler soaks into the weave of the fabric, and once it's sanded down smooth, you can't tell there's any fabric there at all. The filler material is very hard when it dries, so I'm assuming that besides helping to block water entry into the fabric, it also provides abrasion resistance. I'd rather scrape a w/c canoe on rocks than one that has little or no protection (fiberglass or just epoxy and varnish) for the wood.

wood canoes

– Last Updated: Aug-16-15 12:13 PM EST –

I have an Old Town Guide 18 in red cedar and canvas that I have paddled on rivers for years. These boats are much tougher than people imagine, especially compared to fiberglass and Kevlar boats. They are heavy and not easy to portage. Otherwise they are very versatile. People that think they are not suited to rivers have mostly never paddled one. Check out some Bill Mason videos.

I have a wood cavas
that is intended to be used on rivers including white water and I paddle in up to class 3 white water with it loaded to the gunwales with gear all the time. It is a 16 foot chestnut prospector built by headwaters canoes in wakefield quebec. Great boat. Very rugged. Infinitely repairable.

tough in what way
In what way is the wood/canvas canoe “tougher” than a fiberglass or kevlar boat? Just in terms of abrasion resistance, or also in terms of impact resistance?

A wood and canvas boat is pretty abrasion resistant, especially with a keel. In terms of toughness, and impact resistance there is no comparison. Wood boats can take some hits and withstand being full of water better than most fiberglass and Kevlar boats.

Can’t say I agree re toughness
WC is very tough, but my personal experience is that a heavy kevlar layup will withstand impacts a little better than a WC.

More on that topic
Kruger canoes have something like 11 or 13 layers of Kevlar. There used to be a guy who posted here frequently who was quite the Kruger fan. I never met him, but many of the people I have met paddled with the guy on numerous occasions. They said he routinely dropped his canoe on the ground from waist- or shoulder high, just because he knew the canoe could take it. When running riffles, he’d use the boulders to “steer”. I wouldn’t do either of those things with a W/C canoe.


– Last Updated: Aug-18-15 6:58 PM EST –

All Kevlar canoes are not the same . The lamination schedule varies from very light and fragile to not quite uber light but very stiff with selective additon of fiberglass in specific areas.

Not all wood canoes are the same. Mine are thinner cedar planking that allows a 15 foot long canoe to weigh 45 lbs.

Standard thicker planking weighs more. But my light canoes have withstood some blows including an unfortunate trailer ejection at highway speeds because wood is resilient and absorbs blows. Its springy.

Ray Rietze could repair any damaged wooden canoe ( rib and plank) as he was skilled in field repairs. He would lash broken pieces together with spruce root and use balsam gum and spruce tar

The problem is not the boat. Its the overall skill of the user not only with paddling but with repairs.


– Last Updated: Aug-19-15 8:12 PM EST –

Out of curiosity, what are some good brands? In the "Gear Guide" of this site, some are listed. Are there any contenders that aren't on the list?

These are the ones listed:

American Traders
Chesapeake Light Craft, LLC
Merrimack Canoe Company
Navarro Canoe Company
Old Town Canoe Company
Pygmy Boats, Inc.

Most wooden boat makers
are small one man operations and not geared towards advertising.

There are many

Bearwood canoes

Bear Mountain Canoe Works

Island Falls Canoe

Northwoods Canoe Co

Loon Works

Stewart River Boatworks

Look in the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association website. There are dozens more.

You are seeing only those here that can pay for advertising. Most are mass producers. Old Town does not make its own wooden canoes any more.Northwoods makes them for OT.

Thanks to kayamedic. The good old wood boats are made in small factories and garages.

Kevlar is strong for its weight. People think it is stronger than it really is. I had an old Kevlar boat, 1978 fall apart while lake paddling. My 1951 OT wood boat is still going strong with the original canvas.

Another builder is
Headwaters Canoe in Wakefield, QC. They build excellent quality wood canvas canoes, (reproductions of various Chestnut Canoe models), intended to be used in rough tripping conditions or as cottage canoes. I own one and I am very happy with the canoe and the builder, great people. The prices are quite reasonable - especially with the current canadian exchange rate if you are in the US. These are build to order canoes. They have a good website here - http://headwaterscanoes.ca/.

My 1920 OT
is still going strong. It is doing better than I am :slight_smile:

Got you beat
I have a JR Robertson from the pre 1910 days. It was stored decently and is in good shape

Not the oldest boat I have paddled. That goes to an 1881 Strickland. Also in fine shape

Kevlar and glass are fixable. But only a wood boat is restorable

Wonder what the properties of a current Kevlar camoe will be in 2100

Even if it’s still here
it won’t have the beauty and patina of the wooden boats which will probably still be here too.