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Canoe Restoration: A Mini Masterclass in Canoe Repair

A picture of a damaged Chestnut ProspectorTed Moores, one of the minds behind Bear Mountain Boats, goes above and beyond to provide lifetime support to their customers. A recent email exchange with a customer who purchased plans from Bear Mountain Boats unveils the true essence of this commitment. 


In 50 years of building, Ted has seen very few canoes with more than superficial damage - but it happens. Our previous customer faced a daunting challenge—a damaged canoe, shown above, after a move from the USA to England. Ted, drawing on his five decades of woodworking expertise, guided the customer through the intricate process of restoration.
Ted draws on a previous repair to help provide his step-by-step walk through on a damaged C15 sprint canoe - the 15 man crew was paddling outside the course heading back to the start line and had the boat bouncing up and down - having fun until they ran out of water. The average crew weight of 15 paddlers is about 2300lbs so when they came down on the rock, something had to give.

Damaged C15 Sprinter Canoe  
The damage was enough that piecing it back together and patching was out of the question. The only solution was to mold a new section to replace the damaged portion.

 

Taped off section of C15 Sprinter canoe
The first step is to roughly mark off the area to be replaced to get an idea of the size to make the patch.

 

Jig placed on top of the damaged area of the canoe
There are no flat surfaces in a canoe hull - everything is a compound bend - so the new section needs to be molded to the original shape. The repair area was covered with heavy plastic film to keep the new panel from sticking and protect the undamaged portion of the hull.  The jig on top is like a reverse mold. It will be used to hold the new planks in position while being glued together as well as supporting the panel for shaping, sanding and glassing the inside. 
Take note - the width of the original planking is much wider than the new planking. Ted used 7/8” wide canoe planking because it was easier to bend into the complex shape. Using the same width planking as the original might have been a better visual match but reproducing the shape was more important. Glue up the new panel larger than necessary. It will give you some wiggle room when fitting and will help to develop a fair curve. The planks are edge glued and held in place with a spot of hot glue on the ends. Go easy with the hot glue - the panel needs to be pried off with out stressing the glue joints. If you are fast, you will be able to put all the pieces together and the jig in position and weighted down before the glue begins to set. When the glue has set, gently pry it off the plastic.
In a perfect world, new planking could be the same width and colour but due to how much wood changes colour over the years, the odds of perfect match is hard. If the colour of the patch is going to bother you, you could try one of Ted’s "cheap tricks”: 
“Years ago we taught some friends in Belize how to build a racing canoe for their annual four day canoe race down the Belize River. After finishing the canoe we were talking about maintaining the boat and someone asked what to do if they punched a hole in it. I told them that if they had to patch it, make the patch look like something. In other words, if you can’t hide it, flaunt it. When we came back the next year, they had punched a hole in it. Their solution was to fill the hole with a piece of mahogany cut in the shape of a dolphin. It was beautiful and did not look like a repair!"

 

 

Clamped jig on the bench
Clamp the jig to the bench and position the panel, tacking the edges with 1” finishing nails. Set the heads below the surface so they won’t interfere with shaping and sanding. After shaping and sanding, lay up with one layer of glass and one coat of epoxy. When cured, the panel will hold the molded shape.

 

Panel trimmed to size and positioned over the hole on the canoe
Trim the panel to size and position over the hole. Use an awl to scribe a very accurate shape onto the hull, then carefully trim to the line.

 

Added tabs on panel for extra support
To support the panel during installation, Ted used a few little tabs. Cover the tabs with plastic packing tape and use two sided carpet tape for a temporary attachment to the inside of the hull.

 

Packing tape added to the panel to hold it all together.
Apply thickened epoxy to the edges, put in place then fasten to the tabs with #4 x 1/2” screws and a washer. Then use lots of plastic packing tape to hold it all together.

 

The panel sanded and shaped.
When the glue has cured, shape and sand.

 

Taped off panel with one layer of glass and one coat of epoxy.
Tape off the area to be glassed a couple inches outside the patch. One layer of glass and one coat of epoxy.

 

A sharp chisel sliding under the tape to trim the glass
Use a sharp chisel to slide under the tape to trim the glass. When feathering the edge of the glass, be careful not to cut into the original glass around the patch. Finish with two more coats of epoxy.

 

Inside of the canoe with the final coats of epoxy.
Finish the inside with one more layer of glass, feather the edges and apply two more coats of epoxy. After the epoxy has cured, sand and varnish.

It can be devastating to have to repair something we have worked of hard on, but we are here to support you as you figure out your next steps. Adjustments to the steps above will be needed based on your boat's unique characteristics but rest assured, the support from Bear Mountain Boats remains unwavering—we're always here to help you navigate the waters of craftsmanship.

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