Friday, April 8, 2016

A much needed book on canoe restoration - This Old Canoe by Mike Elliot

Anyone with a true love for wood canvas construction will appreciate the recent efforts by Mike Elliot of Kettle River Canoes. I've been a devoted reader of Mike's blog for many years now since it first came out in 2009. Over the years, Mike has been generously sharing detailed tips and guidance on everything related to canoe restoration. His brief web posts have been a valuable resource to folks who have wanted to tackle a repair on their own boats, especially when online information regarding canoe restoration can been hard to find for the first timer or those intimidated by the job.

Mike has now taken some of these web writings as well as his more detailed personal notes from years of wood canvas restoration and compiled them into an organized and well prepared book. The official Canadian launch date for This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood-Canvas Canoe  is set for April 15, 2016.  I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy to review and share with readers here.

This Old Canoe book specifications:
8.5″ x 11″ paperback
192 pages
$24.95 USD ($32.95 CAD)

There are just a few published resources out there to aid anyone wishing to attempt their own repair or restoration job. Most sources, like The Wood & Canvas Canoe by Rollin Thurlow and Jerry Stelmok (published 1987) focus overwhelmingly on building a craft from scratch, including the complexities of making the initial form. Thurlow & Stelmok's book contains a well written chapter on the basic steps for canoe repair but space limitations and few visual aids certainly leave the amateur woodworker wanting more specific details.

Back issues of Wooden Canoe, the Journal of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, have featured many different attempts and solutions to restoration since their first edition from back in 1979. The WCHA forums are wealth of information and friendly advice but both sources require plenty of time and research to dig through all the information in order to find the specific guidance you might need.

This Old Canoe is the only book currently published which is entirely devoted to the complex topic of restoration. As such, Mike has been able to cram wonderful tips and lengthy, precise details into a very useful reference publication.  In addition, there are over 300 photos (black and white) that provide much needed visual assistance on the most common repair jobs of wood canvas canoes.

Below is a preview of the Table of Contents where chapters have been logically arranged in the same order as one would follow for an actual restoration.

A sample section has been made available for preview (.PDF format). The first chapter, Getting Ready, covers the basic terminology of canoe parts, discusses necessary safety equipment and thoroughly delves through the relevant tools, adhesives and finishes for a complete job. The detailed write-up on fasteners is particularly useful as it clearly organizes the varying size info on canoe tacks, screws, carriage bolts and nails into easy to read charts. For the new restorer, this takes the confusion and guesswork out of the appropriate fastener for each specific job.

Also useful in Chapter 2 is Mike's 57-step checklist of how to approach a thorough restoration. Of course, not every canoe will require a total overhaul such as this, but having a complete sequence of events allows the reader to plan appropriately and ensure things are done in the proper order without having to backtrack and redo areas of concern.

One area very prone to rot and decay with improperly stored canoes are the stem ends and deck tips. Chapter 4 details the methodology of repairing this section with sequences of clear photos to assist in the job. Most canoe manufacturers had their own system of joinery for the stems and decks. The chapter here deals with the common method used by Peterborough and The Chestnut Canoe Company which makes sense given that these are the most common wood canvas canoes found here in Canada. While the stem/deck joinery of other wood canvas brands are not shown, nearly all the steps and principles documented are the same regardless of the canoe's origins. As a plus, there is a page devoted to various canoe deck designs used by many different companies if one wished to replicate the original shape.

Canvassing a canoe may seem like a daunting task, but the book once again covers the process in a practical manner, inspiring confidence in the first time restorer. The initial setup described in Chapter 7 might look complicated at first, but the illustrations and details of the author's preferred methodology (canoe right side up, slung in a stretched canvas hammock) make it seem straight forward. The detailed illustration of Mike's clamping system used to tightly hold the canvas ends while stretching is particularly useful.

As already inferred, the book is real visual treat. It also includes 70 different plans and illustrations for items such as useful jigs, seat frames and a traditional Chestnut Canoe Co. centre yoke. The lengthy chapter on constructing both cane and babiche style seats has detailed dimensional info for the frames and useful sequential photos of the weaving pattern. Usually, learning this method involves sourcing out other books on weaving cane for chair seats or rawhide weaving for snowshoes.

A practical discussion of canvas filler, finishing techniques and varnishing help encourage the reader that their beloved canoe is nearing the end its restoration. Paint formulations for three iconic canoe colours (Chesnut Red, Chesnut Green and Chesnut Grey) are provided so that anyone can obtain them at a local paint store. A necessary chapter on care, maintenance and proper storage of a wood canvas canoe ensures that the restorer's efforts are not in vain. It includes schematics for a basic wall mounted storage rack and a pulley lift system for those wishing to save floor space by hoisting their canoe.

Mike's final chapter, Restorer's Guide features wonderful graphical summaries of a variety of Canadian made canoes - Chesnut / Peterborough, Huron, Tremblay and Greenwood.  These include all the relevant dimensional info needed to restore the canoe back to the original as close as possible and are valuable reference sheets..

Squeezed between all this valuable technical information, the author has included a few personal experiences about restoration jobs, including some horror stories of trees landing on canoes or canoes flying off roof racks onto hard pavement. Ouch! These interesting little diversions certainly show that almost any wood canvas canoe can be repairable using the principles and techniques showcased in the book.
For anyone feeling intimidated by the work involved in restoring a beloved watercraft,  This Old Canoe provides a wealth of useful information and guidance in the form of an inspiring instructional manual. It fills a much needed gap in publications about wood canvas canoes and would be a valuable addition to any workshop collection. Thanks to Mike Elliot's devoted efforts, hopefully the world will see more vintage wood-canvas canoes restored to their former glory and being paddled as they were always meant to be.

This Old Canoe book specifications:
8.5″ x 11″ paperback
192 pages
more than 300 photographs
more than 70 plans and illustrations
$24.95 USD ($32.95 CAD)

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1 comment:

Rob Stevens said...

Mike will be presenting, signing and selling his book at the Annual Assembly of the WCHA, held this summer from July 12-17th at Paul Smith's College in the beautiful Adirondacks region of New York.

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