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Gunwale Bending Disaster

Discussion in 'Wood and Canvas' started by Carlton, Apr 12, 2018.

  1. Carlton

    Carlton Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Why do I do this? Because I love it! But mishaps are difficult to swallow. I'm restoring a 1924 17' Kennebec canoe, and have many happy hours doing so. But tonight was a heartbreaker. I was fortunate to find two beautiful 20' pieces of mahogany and have spent a significant amount of hours shaping the gunwales. I made a form that matches the shearling curve near the stems. I decided to bend one piece at a time and soak the gunwale end in water for two days, poured boiling water over the end, and placed it in a steam box for 1 hour.
    I have steamed and bent numerous stems from other cedar strip canoes I've built. So I know I need to take time securing the gunwale in the form. But at the very last moment, the wood snapped. What a disappointment. To tell you the truth....disappointment doesn't describe it. I guess this is a lesson I need to learn. It may take me a few days to go back out to the shop. But I know I'll get there. My wife continues to tell me "It's just a canoe". She doesn't understand. :) So why am I writing this post? I could use some encouragement and suggestions what I could do different. Thanks for your support.
  2. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    You're not the first... I've snapped a walnut inwale. A pair of well-executed scarf joints will be almost indiscernible. Splice in what needs to be spliced, and you'll likely be the only person who can ever find it.

    When I re-trimmed my cedar strip, I couldn't find long enough mahogany, so I have scarf joints on all four rails. On a bright, sunny day day, I've never been able to find more than three, often only two of them... but I don't know if I find the same three, or if they're different every time...

    So it'snot as bad as you think... Does that help?
  3. Rod Tait (Orca Boats)

    Rod Tait (Orca Boats) Designer/Builder

    I have snapped more gunwales, ribs and other pieces of wood than I wish to think about. One hour seems like a bit long time as the curve could not be that much so maybe it just came apart with too much steaming. I now steam the gunwales right on the boat in plastic tubing. If you have not seen it done, check out "tips from a shipwright" on YouTube. This way you can keep it in the steam while bending it and if it won't bend, leave it a bit longer. Then you leave the plastic on and let it cool with clamps in place.
  4. 1905Gerrish

    1905Gerrish LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Mahogany is very tough to bend. I have had bad experiences with it. Grain direction is extremely important. How long was the break? That will tell you a lot, now and in the future.
  5. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    Soak longer and use a metal backing strip. Make sure you stream long enough and keep the steam rolling hot.
  6. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    You can also check it out in these forums --
  7. Howie

    Howie LOVES Wooden Canoes

    So I read your post, then went to take my morning walk. I enter the garage, hit the garage door opener, gaze left, and see one of the outwales I had just made wiggling like crazy.

    Over the past few days I machined a pair of red cedar outwales, steamed 'em & spliced parts together to make the two rails. Then last night I brought them up to the garage and laid 'em on a 18' Otca/Guide to be worked on today. Now, to better hold these new rails I had also clamped a pair of old thwarts to the canoe, positioned with one extending past the side of the canoe so as to better cradle these new rails. Then I closed the garage door. Well, apparently the end of one of the rails was sticking out a tad too far & got hit by the door. So one end of the rail (steam bent mind you) is pressed against the floor by the door while the rest of the rail, held by the thwart it was resting on, is tilted at about 30 degrees with the other end smooshed against the garage ceiling. And it sits this way for 12 hours until this morning.

    Happily nothing broke. But I feel like an idiot. And maybe you feel a bit better now.

    I will say that I am happy with my scarf cut & gluing job. Long live TightBond II.
  8. Fitz

    Fitz Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    What species of "mahogany" are you trying to bend?

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