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Rebuild rotted tips

Discussion in 'Build and Restore' started by Treewater, Jan 18, 2013.

  1. Treewater

    Treewater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Rebuilding tips of canoes seems necessary so often simply because otherwise well meaning people find it easy to set a canoe on the ground, overturn it, and leave it there. True, the seats and ribs/interior are protected, and dry for when next you use it. But leaving the tips on the ground means premature wood rot. We see it so often.

    I am editing this to put in what I feel is a VERY VERY important point. You need to know what the original stem looked like both side and top views. I made a template using a 17 ft OT HW. I have been back to the other canoe a dozen times and more. I cannot rebuild what I have w/o knowing the shape of the original. The top view is necessary and I removed the band strip on the 17 footer to analize the way the rib tops, inwale, deck and stem come together. Anyone trying to rebuild a stem w/o an original template and top view can only approximate and in the end, chances are they are off. I'll post a good example of what I speak of. If you don't have a template for an original canoe like yours go online and ask someone to copy theirs. It has to be and they can photograph or sketch the top view.

    My limited experience rebuilding tips causes me reflection. I first seek to know what the original tip looked like, how was it made. Two general categories I found.
    1. The stem pokes up through the inwales and is visible after the bang strip, that wonderful metal band, is removed from the ends and keel.
    2. The stem is not visible because it is below the deck somehow.

    The basic difference here is going to be how the stem, inwales and deck or connected together.
    In the first case I have found the stem, that vertical end piece all the planking fastens to (right?); is often shouldered. That is, the vertical stem has a notch cut and the inwales can either go by, or terminate even. The inwales can be fastened from the sides using a few nails or even a single bolt through the three pieces. The shouldered notch sets the height of the tip and it’s a pretty fool proof setup and very strong. The challenge to the rebuilder is getting the right height and shape to the stem since this will set everything.
    In the second case the inwales join at the tip and then rest on the flat termination of the tip or are notched underneath to fit in a slot. Either way, the top of the stem is hidden by the inwales. Obviously, the nails go down vertically to fasten.
    The decks are usually rotted with the tips of the stem and the inwales. In the first case the deck terminates bluntly against the stem. In the second case, the deck is pointed and the inwales go by. Trying to visualize or get a perfect deck is critical to getting the whole thing right. In the few I have done I rebuild the deck first. Here’s a picture of an Old Town under repair. I cut the rot out at an angle and am gluing a new piece of oak, grain to match. Obviously, at this point, the wood is oversize so I can carefully cut it down intact. Once I get the deck right I have advantage of the old screws and holes to set it back in the canoe and begin to imagine where the stem needs to be.
    This is a 1937 OT HW, the patient in the operating room.
    I timidly submit to corrections.


    I am attaching this to the original thread since it seems appropriate. This is not mine but L... . . W/o his permission I will not print the name. I like the idea. I have no pictures of this method

    Rebuilding the tips commonly calls for making new decks, splicing in new wood to the existing inwales, and splicing in a new section for the stem, or replacing the stem entirely. The challenge is that all these four pieces must be fit together very precisely and then fastened together very strongly. When building a canoe from scratch on a form, it’s relatively easy to make stem, inwales and decks come together right, as the form holds everything in place. When doing restoration, it’s another matter. You’ve got to make up your mind as to how to fit stem and inwales together. Jerry Stelmok fits stems and inwales together with a mortise in the inwales into which the tip-top of the stem fits. But this ain’t easy to do. Things go a lot smoother by adding one small new item to the tip.
    Here’s how it works.
    One thing I (several other very part-time rebuilders around here) have done when tackling rotten stem tops is to make and install a kind of “sub-deck” under the real deck. I cut a triangular piece of wood (of ash or any hardwood would do) as wide as the deck plus both inwales and screwed it in place under the inwales and deck, out of sight. Into it I mortised a one inch by ¾ inch by six inch wood shaft, aligned and dimensioned so that it could serve as a backing for the stem and the stem splice. When your stem/splice is finished, it is screwed in place to the shaft on the sub-deck: you don’t have to mess with fitting the stem into a mortise in the inwales.

    It also adds a great deal of structural strength to the tip: it essentially re-enforces the whole area. Of course, if the tip of the model of canoe you’re restoring is very sharply curved, it won’t be as simple as fitting relatively flat parts together. The advantages of the “sub-deck”approach to this common restoration problem are obvious. It’s relatively simple to do and your cutting and fitting of parts can be done on the workbench rather than on components in situ on the canoe. It also adds a great deal of structural strength to the tip: it essentially re-enforces the whole area. Of course, if the tip of the model of canoe you’re restoring is very sharply curved, it won’t be as simple as fitting relatively flat parts together.

    1/23/1013 I took up the challenge of this posting so on we go. First, a mild curse upon those who do not admit or warn the neophyte about what a pain it is to rebuild tips. The photo shows the best tip, only one set of ribs needing serious help. The other end has two sets.
    I had to cut off the first set of wood repair to the decks. I just did not get them right. the second attempt is better. I went out to my 1947 17' HW, scribed and cut a template of thin cardboard to match the deck. The length was different by a half inch but the contour was the same (it's concave). Using that, I marked the new wood and put it through the band saw then sanded. Not perfect but much better. Lucky I had access to another similar canoe.
    Rebuilding the tips of the four ribs is awful. One, I have no good method of making a satisfactory cut on the old ribs to get a perfect beveled edge. I free handed everything to splice on new tips, one set needed 11/2 inch, the other four and 1/2 inch. Such is the upsweep on the HW. I had to break two joints and redo them after I realized while they were high enough they did not match side to side. Getting the rib edge bevel (remember, Old Town beveled the edge of their ribs) is a real challenge. The glue is drying now and I'll take a photo tomorrow when the glue is dry and the clamps are off.
    Re-building wood canvas caones is a challenge I have never met and I've moved/rebuilt a fair number of old buildings. Not the same. Not at all. Not even as simple as cabinet repair.
    1/24/2013 spent hours just trying to fit the stem repair. I'll try and post pictures. I conclude the idea of a false deck is near essential. This boat had distorted somehow, maybe as it sat and rotted. The stem is out of line with the deck by 1/4 or 3/8 inch. Thats a lot when it meets at a point. I've made a false deck to go under the original and will use it to pull the stem into alignment. My thanks to L. for that tip. See discussion. I'm only allowed six pictures here.

    IMG_2774.JPG IMG_2775.JPG

    Attached Files:

    Serge Lemay likes this.
  2. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I have a whole long piece I wrote on this subject that I believe was posted and you or anybody else is welcome to harvest from it. One thing in it was a method I called the second deck technique.
  3. OP

    Treewater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Thanks Larry, could you provide the link. I could not find it.
  4. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I think the posting was lost in the website crash. However I still have the text. I am not sure whether I can email an attachment to you here?
  5. OP

    Treewater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood


    If you cannot attach it here send it direct to :; I'd like to see it.
    Thanks, Tim
  6. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I’m so glad to see you say that. Its cut and fit, cut and fit, cut and fit. Then maybe start over again.
    If those are cant ribs at the ends, they are mostly just spacers. I ignored them till all else was rebuilt. Then I cut off the rotten parts. Then I just took some rib stock the same dimension (cedar shingles actually) over lapped them with the old cant ribs and attached planking, old cant ribs and new cant ribs with 4 tacks clinched through all. I did not splice or glue new sections to the old cant ribs. I don’t think a new precise splice is needed.
  7. OP

    Treewater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Pictures, new stem

    IMG_2781.JPG I've been the last five hours getting three pieces of wood on the canoe. I spliced in the new inner wales. Not so bad. Getting the new stem was a real bear. First, I'm only guessing what the original looked like. I keep going back to my 17 footer and measuring and surmising. The curve, the arc of the nose, made by the stem, is not a continous even arc. At some point the rate of curvature shifts and when the tangent runs out is only a guess. Add to that, the alignment of the stem is off, not much but a 3/8 shift on the point of the canoe is very significant. The sub-deck idea is sound and necessary in this case. I've pictured the new stem, and it is fastened with a bolt through the original and new in the scarf. I also show my new sub-deck to go in the mortise tomorrow. The angles piece is one of many templates I made to get things right. If they are right at all. At this point I'd challenge anyone to tell me they are certain they got the perfect re-built. If they did, I'd like to know how.
  8. OP

    Treewater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    day five, or six, rebuild stem and deck.

    At last I have one stem with enough wood fastened in place (screws, nails, glue) to begin the final shaping of the stem curvature and to fasten the cant rib tops. I have been back to the 17 ft HW a dozen times to copy the curvature and get the rib, deck, inwales right. This is the simple template I made but it is so essential. IMG_2787.JPG
    As you see, I still have wood to sand off and shape. the HW seems to curve back more than I thought.
    Another issue comes up; the deck seems to have flattened out over time. The inwales rise abouve the deck tip. I can either sand down the inwales and lower the tip of the canoe or I can veneer wood on top, oak, to raise the deck tip. Haven't decided.

    Attached Files:

  9. Dave Wermuth

    Dave Wermuth Who hid my paddle?

    To add to the disucssion.....I make my splices quite long if I can. I think the longer the better. 1 to 6 or 1 to 8. I generally just eyeball it. The longer the glue surface the better. The bird beak splice on the stem is a very good and much used repair.
  10. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    hnag in there

    You’re doing fine. That’s the way it goes. The big re-curve of the stem makes it harder. Did you steam a new stem? What kind of glue are you using? I started out with epoxy and then switched my devotion to T-Bond III. Glue a joint with epoxy and that bugger slides around like a greased pig. You about have to build a jig to hold the glued joint together. T-Bond III has a lovely fast tack. My boat and guitar builder friend from Maine swears by T-Bond III for both boats and guitars.
  11. OP

    Treewater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Agreed, and more

    IMG_2794.JPG I agree with the splice idea. In this case, it was against the deck and I took the easy way seeing as there'd be no tension on the splice. Yes, I'm using Titebond III. Love it. No, I've done no steam bending just cut to shape wood.
    So here is someone else's rebuild. The photos are a Morris which for years I never recognized as a Morris. I cut a template of cardboard from an known Morris that is original and compared it to the formerly unknown canoe tip. I surmise this: The rebuilder in this case, not me, used a template to get the original curvature right on his new tip which is an eight piece laminate (no steam bending). I surmise his tips were rotten and instead of rebuilding the tips he (or she) simply cut the old cant rib tips down and eliminated the deck. Perhaps he had no model to follow on his rebuild or perhaps this was just the easy way. Which ever the case, it worked but is not original. Still, the curvature is correct for what is there.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2013
  12. OP

    Treewater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Sucess at last

    IMG_2800.JPG IMG_2795.JPG At last, after a week, I have one tip done. This is the tip needing two ribs scarfed. As you can see, there is a fair bit of extra wood, and somewhat cobbled on at that. I've seen old houses this way. But it is solid and I call this a "don't ask don't tell" repair. I am confident when the canvas and outwales are on no one can tell. The deck I did laminate to bring it up to height. I may have to stain it to get the old to match the new.
    All this brings be to recall these are hand built canoes. Even though a form and factory methods were used I suspect no two canoes were exactly the same. My repair may be out of size by 1/2" somehow, but did the factory even get everything to within 1/2"?

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jan 27, 2013
  13. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    That looks super and one pic shows the sub deck idea real well. Maybe more needed with lots of re curve in the stem.
  14. Russ Hoffman

    Russ Hoffman Curious about Wooden Canoes

    I agree with Larry - looks great!
    I found a trick that might help on the planking. I used old cedar shingles. The shingles are tapered, so I sanded until the taper was gone and the thickness matched. Then, the repair was hardly noticable once finished.
    Russ 03 Stern Repair 20.jpg 03 Stern Repair 15.jpg
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2013
  15. OP

    Treewater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Thanks all

    And for those who did not see the exchange with Dan; as you see, I took the bait (dare?) and wrote the story. Not the best but it is out there for whoever wants it.

    An article such as you suggest is exactly why the Build and Restore section of the KnowledgeBase ( was created. All it takes is for someone to write it...
    Dan Miller
    WCHA Webmaster

    And we all look both ways and say "who me?" (treewater)

    Well, yeah. That is what usually happens. (Dan)
  16. Dave Wermuth

    Dave Wermuth Who hid my paddle?

    Very good shots of a very good repair. Well done. Gives me something to shoot for.
  17. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood


    Don’t ask, don’t tell. What is important to remember is that 95% of the wood in these canoes is not intended as finish level carpentry. It’s not a guitar or a coffee table. It’s wood to stretch canvas over. I have stuff out of plumb, trim and true in my boats that I know about, but no one ever notices.
  18. John Naylor

    John Naylor Curious about Wooden Canoes

    thanks all

    i'll be starting to dig into my '41 O.T. Otca hw ..... and this is addressing some things i've been fretting over for the past 2 years ( uuuhhg !! ) ...... i have a cardboard tempate of a 1940 Otca , can i assume that the outside curve of the stem is the same as mine ? and front to back is the same ? ..... someone did put a stem splice on it , on both ends , but had " laid it down " in other words , the curve wasn't complete , or , as rounded
    thanks john n
  19. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    The solution to all thiss anxiety is something I am waiting for Rollin Thurlow to invent: The Universal Canoe Level.

    We have carpenters levels to sort out when buildings are going up level and true and straight, right? So what we need next is a Universal Canoe Level, which I envision as some kind of little widget, that uses GPS, that you can slap down on any part of canoe and right away it will tell you whether that part of the canoe is in the right spot or of out of plumb or asymetrical from its counterpart on the corresponding other part of the canoe. Take all the guesswork out of this business of getting a restoration right back to where it was when it came of the factory.
  20. Russ Hoffman

    Russ Hoffman Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Larry, until Rollin sells that widget, I guess we have to use the old-school analog fingertips and eyeballs.

    I do a lot of work using the TLAR method (TLAR = That Looks About Right)! The broken stems were a bit tricky and "template+TLAR" worked great. I started with a cardboard trace from about 18" below the rotten part, then extended the curve by eye (TLAR). Then I traced the deck curve (the part of the deck that that was still there) and extended that curve until it intersected the stem curve. That was my template for cutting/rasping/sanding the missing stem piece. The final fit was made by clamping it with the replacement deck piece, which I designed in the same "template+TLAR" method, adjusting the pieces to a proper fit with a sanding block.

    My finished product admittedly may not match the original form exactly, but it does look correct. In the end, I got what I wanted - a beautiful canoe to paddle around with Trophy Wife on the weekends, rather than a museum specimen.


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