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White Oak Stems

Discussion in 'Traditional All-Wood Construction' started by jchu, Mar 4, 2008.

  1. Dan Miller

    Dan Miller cranky canoeist Staff Member

    In a canoe, that sees water maybe less than 5% of its lifetime, as is typical of most of our canoes I would wager, well-varnished red oak holds up just fine. There are lots of Rushton canoes surviving that can testify to this.

    And if you don't believe me, just ask Splinter...

  2. OP

    jchu LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Well I kinda wondered about it.If you could tell me that peterborough used red oak I'd be fine with it. I'm sure they used what they could get on that day, and the way the rear stem and tips where rotted I wouldn't doubt it was red. I did a scarp joint on the front stem, seemed like a pink hue to it. Could of just been the age though. Just figured with all the talk about the differences between red and white it was a clear choice. I do believe red would really hold a good varnish job better, soak it up good.

    I'm so over it, I made a veneer one to get me finished . I do want to get some green white oak and try to make a few, maybe even red. Just know that the white available here doesn't do the bend. Let me sand up the stem and get a pic posted.
  3. Ed Moses

    Ed Moses LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Good stem wood

    Black Locust is a highly rot resistent wood and the best part is, it steam bends beautifully. :D :D I use it for both inner and outer stems on rebuilds and restorations. It is native to and easily found in the Northeast. Peterson's field guide to Western trees states that it has been planted widely in the West and grows prolifically there. New Mexico Locust is a similiar species and I notice that it is shown growing in Colorado. It may steam bend similiar to black locust. Worth experimenting with.

  4. OP

    jchu LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Thank you everyone for all the suggestions and advice. I do want to do it the right way and try to keep it to it's original material build. It is a white oak stem, it's just strips that vary from 1/8 to 3/16 glued with titebond III, which is suppose to hold up to water. I just ran them through a table saw and left the surface rough so the glue might adhere better. I hope it can get me through a summer. I'm going to have to post a few more before this is over.

    Oh, I did use some red oak, on the 4 thin battens I had to replace in the inside of the hull. I needed 16' and couldn't find WO in that length. Sorry guys, I used what was available. I hope it doesn't get to wet in there.

    Attached Files:

  5. fred capenos

    fred capenos Canoe Pilot

    One other thought that I have carried over from my experiance with aircraft, both wooden and metal is a zero tolerance for tool marks. And no sharp edges. Stress risers ya know.

  6. Rollin Thurlow

    Rollin Thurlow member since 1980

    some basic rules for bending:
    -the closer to 212 degrees you can get the better results.
    -the wood needs to be wider than it is thick.
    -pre shaped beveled stems are difficult to deal with and much more likely to twist or split than unshaped stems.
    -always use a backing strap. steel is good but even a strip of aluminum flashing can do the trick. the strapping needs to be wider than the peise of wood and secured to each end of the wood.
    - the higher moisture content of the wood the better, air dry is better than kiln dry, green is best for bending but too much moisture can also be a cause of failure but this is seldom a problem
    -steaming adds heat to the wood, it does not add moisture to the wood except for the very surface where the steam will condense.
    -steaming will dry out the wood and over steaming can be a cause for failure.
    -the bending for the stem should be completed within two minuets of taking it out of the stem box.
    -minuets ahead of time with scrap. HAVE THE CORRECT CLAMPS READY TO GO.
    -nothing is better than just pain water for soaking and steaming. kerosene, fabric softener, and other wifes tales do not do any harm but do not improve the bending qualities of wood.
    -knots, splits, checks, deformed grain will be good sources of grain separation. always check your grain pattern for long straight grain.
    -red oak is good for bed post, white oak is good for boats.
    -nothing beats a cold beer after a succesful steam bending operation with your friends. You would think that Budwiser would have already made that into a commercial.
  7. OP

    jchu LOVES Wooden Canoes

    That is very good information, Thanks Rollin.

    Trying to get some fresh cut White oak for a few attempts next month. Just can't wait on it to finish this project and start to use it.

    Jeff Church
  8. fred capenos

    fred capenos Canoe Pilot

    That leaves the question, how long do we keep it under tension on the form at 65 to 70 degrees room temp? Is one week over-kill?

  9. Dan Fera

    Dan Fera Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Here's a shot of me during my first attempt at bending 1"x1" WO at a class during the WoodenBoat Show last year.


    It was pretty easy to bend (1 hour soak) even without bending straps, but you can see one cracked. Just the nature of the beast. The guy teaching the class used the same stock (which he said was far from ideal) to make a 90 degree bend for a thwart knee using a bending strap with end blocks attached.

    I suspect the problems you are having are as much related to your altitude as anything. This class was at Mystic which is, guess... at sea level. Plus, it was a bright sunny day. That means the air pressure was high enough to get the wood to a full 212F. Using green wood will help for sure (they say from the stump to the steam box is best) but you will still need to get the temp higher. You may have to drive your gear down the mountain to a lower altitude. :D

    This is a real good site for bending info:

    Hope this helps. :)
  10. dboles

    dboles LOVES Wooden Canoes

    In your area ,there may be a railroad tie pressure treating plant.They are a good source for different species of hardwood that isnt native to your area.Hardwood ties are used on curves, closest thing to a corner on a railroad.Curves are real tough on soft wood ties
    They bring it in as cants and in the green, some surprisingly long lengths also. One time I made arrangements to purchase a white oak tie some 16 feet in length ( was going to make a donation to the company Christmas party fund) Didnt follow through though as a friends woodworking shop had a piece the size I needed .
    You had posted pictures of your canoe awhile ago then not much for a little while.Good to see you at it ,seems and extensive redo on a very interesting canoe.I for one will be most interested in seeing the finished results.Nice work!
  11. OP

    jchu LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Thanks Dan and Dan, for suggestions and the compliment.
    I'm shooting for some green just cut or air dry material with much moisture. Also going with a temperature gauge. Maybe another technique on steaming or boiling. I just got stumped.

    The rear is done, front a few more ribs, a couple pieces of trim to do router the rails, dressing up then varnish.

    I went through periods when I didn't work on it, and never in the summer, girlfriend requires attention, but going to finish it this spring.

    I can replace the stems next winter, give me something to do.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Mar 21, 2008
  12. OP

    jchu LOVES Wooden Canoes

    What about white ash? I've read where it is used for stem material, looks similar to oak, maybe not as rot resistant? Going to Denver tomorrow, wondering if it was worth trying. It still would be kiln dried.
  13. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    I've bent white ash that is kiln dried with good success. Not 100%, but acceptable. Ya gotta plan for blow outs on pretty much whatever you are bending. I was wondering why nobody brought that up in this thread.
    Itching to paddle......
  14. Dave Wermuth

    Dave Wermuth Who hid my paddle?

    Good thread

    Bending is daunting.
    I noticed my Journal for 5/22/05: "Having trouble bending stems, have broken three"
    And that's in Michigan, definitly not high altitude.
    I was eventually successful.
    Ash is good.
  15. OP

    jchu LOVES Wooden Canoes

    It has a nice grain pattern as well. I think anything will be problematic. Not sure on other canoe construction but this has to be at least an 1" thick and at it's widest point 1 1/4". I'll spend a few bucks and try it. I did notice a blow-out on the factory stem from some 80 to 99 years ago. So I guess perfection is not the idea. I have looked at other peoples work here and it looks very nice.

    I did strap before but not sure how it is done properly. Have to come up with a good technique.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Mar 28, 2008
  16. Bill Mackey

    Bill Mackey LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Pre bending

    When your stem comes out of the steam or in my case the hot water, bend the piece over your knee in several places along its length, You should be able to get at least half of your bend before taking it to the form for clamping.
    If you need further instruction give me a call, 303 646 4636 That piece will be hot so don't do it wearing shorts, and a good pair of work gloves certaiinly helps. Best of luck Bill
  17. OP

    jchu LOVES Wooden Canoes

    I'll give it a try Bill but not putting to much into it. I'm becoming convinced green is the only way to do it.
  18. Dave Wermuth

    Dave Wermuth Who hid my paddle?

    quick thought

    If you have a thermometer it might be enlightening to check the temp.
  19. OP

    jchu LOVES Wooden Canoes

    I do have a good friend who is a plumber and does boiler work so can have him set one up. I'm interested in the temp to. I'll do the week soak and give it a shot. Altitude might have something to do with it. This ordeal has got me interested in stems.
  20. Dave Wermuth

    Dave Wermuth Who hid my paddle?

    Don't give in

    By the time you are done You will be the answer man/expert in high altitude steam bending. But if all else fails you could thin kerf slice the stem and glue it up over a form keeping the pieces all in proper relation. It would look nearly indistinguishable. How do I know that? Hmm.

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