Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Trappers Canoe Restoration: Stripping the interior

 One of the least enjoyable parts of any canoe restoration is the stripping of the old interior varnish. It takes time, uses smelly chemicals and cannot be rushed. This boat is made worse by the fact that the interior was coated in heavy layers of green paint. Performing the work outside is a must and during a warm stint here in the city, I set up to commence the necessary work. 

I've never stripped a canoe before, but a suggestion to first use a heat gun and scraper to remove the top layers of paint was suggested on an online forum. I started on a heavily painted section along the bilge and sure enough, most of the paint softened up and could be carefully scraped off without scratching up the delicate cedar ribs and planking. After cleaning up a small section about a foot wide, I tested out the chemical stripper in the area and the results were pretty good...

Working section by section, some parts of the hull were left with stubborn bits of paint after being scraped with heat. They required at least two treatments of chemical stripper before getting rid of the green paint leaving behind a sludge that looked like creamed spinach.

In order to access the spots under the seats, they needed to be removed. Unfortunately the steel carriage bolts securing them in place had corroded significantly and were a real chore to remove. I had to cut some of them with an angle grinder. Pounding them out with a hammer they seemed to get stuck in the inwale. So I ended up drilling a deep hole in the heads and then placing my pyrography pen set a full heat into the spot in order to heat up the bolts. It worked pretty well. At one point my finger tip touched the bottom of the cut bolt and I got a serious blistered burn.

The board covering the broken cane on the bow seat was easily removed. It seems the plank was also serving a structural purpose because the seat fell apart once removed from the hull. 

In order for the hull to maintain some of its shape, I kept one crossbar of the seat at the bow while stripping the other end. Here is the result at the halfway point...

Work progressed pretty well during a sunny period and I managed to get most of the remaining hull cleaned up. Difficult to reach spots at the ends will need to be removed once the decks have been taken out but that will wait until spring...

Just before the weather turned and snow + rain fell here in the city, I re-attached the outwales and put the bow seat back on with temporary bronze bolts in place. Still need to strip the rails and the deck on one end but now that snow is finally here, the work on the canoe has come to halt and it is being stored in a covered shelter for the winter.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Pair of Side Chip Carved Penobscot Paddles

A gorgeous pair of Penobscot Paddles is up for sale on 1stDibs.com. Dated to the 2nd half of the 19th Century, the paddles were varnished at one point in their lifetime and are now feature a heavily crackled surface. The seller cannot identify the wood species as it has darkened considerably due to age.

Length: 69 inches
Blade width: 6 inches
Date: Second half of the 19th century
Materials: Long grain hard wood.
Condition: Excellent. The brown varnish surface is deeply patinated with a beautifully crackled surface.
Comments: Both paddles are finely chip carved on both sides of the paddle handles and uniquely chip carved along the handle edges of each. The chip carved designs are classic, ancient, Algonquin symbols.
Source Link

The grip areas feature subtle carving symbols along the grip face, with one featuring the sun circular sun and and a crescent moon on opposing sides.

 Most unique are the geometric chip carvings along the thin edges of the elongated grips. Most certainly these were carved by the hands of a master paddle maker.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Trapper Canoe Restoration: Removing Fiberglass from the hull

Luckily, this canoe's experiment with fibreglass happened in the 1960's when polyester resins were used in the process. This meant that over time the glass would become more brittle and could (in theory) be easily removed by applying heat to soften the structure. Apparently epoxy resins used since the 80s are much more adhesive and stick aggressively to the planking making removal much more labour intensive if not impossible.

Over the course of a few days, I was able to use a 1500W gun and start removing the impregnated cloth. Videos I've seen online often show the glass easily coming off without leaving any resin remnants on the hull. This canoe was not so forgiving. It seems the application by the original owner was quite uneven and large sections of the hull left pockets of green-coloured resin in a weave pattern once the cloth itself was removed.

Here is a shot of the final bits of fibreglass covering coming off the other side of the hull. Plenty of resin left over meant that I had to go over it again with the heat gun and methodically scrape off the green plastic bits without damaging the planking

That process took a few more days but was quite enjoyable when the cedar hull began to reveal itself.

The resin had also soaked into the natural gaps in the planking. These were a bit of a chore to remove without splitting the planking edging but were cleaned out with a cheap dental pick obtained on Amazon. I could see how some of the planking had split down the middle, likely because there was no room for natural expansion with all the gaps filled with thick resin.

Here is the canoe finally free of its 50 year old fibreglass cloak...

All those removed bits were weighed and clocked in at 10.8 pounds. Next up an evaluation of the hull now that the glass is off and the start of the messy process of stripping paint and varnish from the interior.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Historic Paddle Photo: Maine Guide George Spears standing in bark canoe

Found some more historic photos on Archive.org taken by an amateur photographer, Ervin S. Hubbard sometime between 1893 - 1902. This scene captures two bark canoes and guide, George Spears standing with a paddle. Though undated accompanying text states it was taken on Tomah Stream in Maine

Tomah Stream, Maine, Undated
by Ervin S. Hubbard
Ervin S. Hubbard Glass Plate Negative Collection
Digitizing sponsor George Washington University Libraries

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Trapper Canoe Restoration: Removing Keels (took the whole day!)

 Closer inspection of the 14' Trapper's Canoe revealed a bunch of home-made additions and repairs.

This model of Peterborough Canoe (Mermaid) originally came with a wide shoe keel. When the canoe was fiberglasssed in the 1960s, the shoe keel was removed and the holes in the ribs plugged with dowels and covered with a little bit of resin. You can see them in the 1st, 3rd, and 5th ribs below:

After glassing the hull, three narrow oak were mounted to the hull, each with their own fastening system in an amateurish way.

One keel seemed to have re-used the old flat-head bolts and nuts from the show keel and some were mounted with steel washers. The centre keel used a variety of Robertson screws to attach from inside the hull through the ribs & planking. Rather than re-use the existing holes from the shoe keel, the owner opted to mount with new holes on alternating ribs. The final keel was attached the other way with the screw head drilled in from the keel side and the tips piercing the interior of the hull. The intention was likely to hide the tips by embedding them into the ribs, but the original owner missed and ended up leaving sharp, exposed screw tip in the planking. You can just see the rusted tip of one such screw where the awl blade is pointing below:

Each of these stainless fasteners was heavily corroded and/or covered in paint so removing each was a battle without stripping the head. In the end, I ended up patiently heating each up for about 5 minutes with an an electric soldering pen to break up the cohesion and it really did the trick. A heat gun was then used to soften up the resin and cloth applied to the keels. It took a while but slowly and surely the fibreglass layers were removed and the wood keels exposed. All three oak keels were heavily rotted under their glass layer and basically crumbled when pried off the hull. Definitely see why glassing a hull can accelerate wood rot with canvas canoes.

All this took a very long day of dealing with corroded fasteners and such. Ended up weighing all the discarded glass covering the triple keels as well as the oak remnants and rusted screws/bolts. This little canoe surgery took off 8.5 lbs of weight.

Update: Next post on removing fibreglass HERE

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