Wood Canvas Canoe

I am looking into buying a 70+ year old Old Town. It is supposed to be in pretty good condition. While I have a lot of nostalgia for a W/C canoe (I paddled one every summer at my grandparents camp) I don’t know what to be concerned with or if there are red flags that would indicate I should stay away. I am not looking for a real project here, just some wonderful history to paddle. Thanks for your input.

  • Mike

What kind of condition is it in?

There isn’t a single thing on a w/c
that can’t be repaired and most that I’ve seen of that age need something unless they’ve been recently and properly restored. Checklist items should be obvious. Rot, broken or cracked ribs and planking, blistered, torn, or cracked canvas, soft spots on the hull, all should be fairly easy to find. Eyeballing the keel-line, shear, and stems will reveal any distortions. Any “new” paint, inside or out, would be a red flag. Previous epoxy or fiberglass repairs would be deal-breakers for me.

Here’s a fun site: http://www.wooden-canoes.com/projects.htm

Post your question over at

The Wooden Canoe Heritage Association.

There are forums on that site and plenty of members in Maine and New Hampshire. One might even take a look at your prospect with you and give you guidance.

Usually checked canvas is not a deal breaker. However fiberglass complicates matters and can be a deal breaker.

Buy one restored
I would buy one allready restored unless you plan on doing it yourself.I just had a OT 15ft wood canvas restored by a professional and they are a dream to paddle but I also have a lot of money into it.I have it for sale so email me if your interested.I am in Upstate,NY


Yeah, it’s kind of like the Frenchman’s
axe. “It last me 40 years, I only replace the handle three times and the head, twice!”

Wood Canvas
They make real canoes out of other stuff???


Check the Ribs…
for small cracks, some of those old canoes were ‘Working’ canoes and took a lot of abuse that will show up in the ribs.

Sometime they aren’t worth repairing if there are too many ribs to replace.

Just found an 18’ Chestnut that will need a new canvas and outer gunwales, but it was also the cheapest canoe I’ve ever bought. It’s well worth putting money into.

Have a flashlight, …
and check the stems.

Also, I second posting your question on WCHA, there are a lot of people over there with an immense amount knowledge and willingness to share it.

Thanks for the input, I’ll store those tidbits for the next one, because it turns out this boat had been glassed long ago. Is it still a wood canvas canoe if there is no canvas? I don’t think so.

  • Mike

That’s a canoe of a…
different cover.

And makes it a lot harder to work on.

Keep checking they turn up all the time on CL, you just got to be quick AND lucky.

yes it is and if the glass is an OLD
application its easy to remove with an axe that is flat on one side. WCHA members can advise you how to do this. Bill Miller demos removal of glass(with an axe) that was cemented with a polyester resin.

Take heart. Dont tell the seller this. Use it as a bargaining point.

Here is another method


Yes, they do. And the good deals
get snapped up in wink. OTOH, every other listing is for either something better suited for kindling or priced as if it were a freaking Stradivarius.

And if your Damn lucky…
That 18’ Chestnut was only $200, and I passed on it for about 20 hrs!

Remove the glass with an axe??? How 'bout a jackhammer? Talk about gross overkill.

Most glass jobs can be fairly easily, though slowly, removed with a hot air gun and a pair of pliers and it protects the wood. The resin, no matter what it is, will soften with heat and the glass will pull free from the wood, easier if you grab and edge with a pair of pliers (easier on your hands). Takes awile but it works and has worked for lots of people for lots of years.


Bill H.

First, yes I know an axe is basically a big sharp wedge, it’s just the wrong tool for the job.

Second, the problem with glass is often people get rot started in a w/c canoe and they try to save it by using fiberglass and it works, for a while, then promotes more rot and you get a mess.

But, not always. Sometimes on an older w/c canoe the fabric gets bad and for quite a number of years it was thought that using fiberglass was a good way to re-canvas a canoe. If the boat was kept dry between uses it may be just fine. Fairly easy to tell, get a sharp thin knife (filet knife is ideal) and poke around in the boat a bit, if the wood is soft (rot) the knife will poke in with little resistance. If it’s dry the knife won’t make more than a dent.

Bill H.

one more post
Btw, even if the wood is ok under the glass, it still needs to be removed an the boat re-canvased. The glass (the resin actually) will hold a small amount of water trapped between the glass skin and the wood and will promote rot. The canvas will allow the water to pass thru it (gradually) and will allow the wood the breath and have a long life.

Removing the glass and re-canvassing is a fairly big job, but it’s not by a long shot impossible for the home craftsman.

Bill H.

Bill Miller and his family
have been making canoes sin Nictau NB since 1925 and he can tell when an axe will remove old fiberglass and when the resin used will make a porcupine out of the canoe.

You can poo poo it all you want but the process is worth seeing at a Wooden Canoe Heritage Association Assembly. Of course Bill knows what he is doing. The rest of us ought to stick with heat, especially if you don’t know what sort of resin was used or how long ago the fiberglass was applied.

Not saying it can’t be done, but the average person won’t do it that way. Just because one person can take glass off with an axe means pretty much nothing.

Bill H.