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Bell Wildfire RX (Yellowstone) Restomod

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Nantucket, USA
I've just begun to rebuild a Bell Wildfire/Yellowstone RX that I was gifted last summer, from @saltandsky. He was kind enough to offer it up for free on CT.net and I jumped at the chance. Here's the original listing. If memory serves, Tom had acquired the canoe with significantly deteriorated woodwork and then decided not to complete the project because he bought a composite boat thereafter. Thankfully, he retained the seat and thwarts and was conscientious enough to pattern the gunwale profile, before disposing of the rotten gunwales which were otherwise not worth saving. The factory seat and thwart locations are all marked on the hull.

This canoe is an early production Royalex Wildfire, which Bell then later renamed the Yellowstone. I learned a lot about the history about the boat's development and nomenclature from @eckilson's blog post here.

The hull is a beauty, but the woodwork needs a lot of love. Here's the starting point:
WF Side original listing photo.jpg

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WF Bottom original listing photo.jpgWF Interior original listing photo.jpg
 
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As I put together my plan of attack, I was glad to find @Mike McCrea's very comprehensive rebuild thread for his own Yellowstone. That was a quite helpful and occasionally humorous read.

I'm planning a resto-mod of sorts, and will try to preserve as much of the original woodwork as possible. I'm re-caning the seat and will attempt to graft a new end onto the aft thwart, where rot destroyed it. That may seem a little silly, given that it'd be far easier to simply mill a new one, but what's the fun in that! Plus, I guess I'm just a sucker for the heritage of the parts and pieces that have already seen some good miles.

I went after the end of the thwart with a dentist's tool and removed all the soft wood. Here it is in process:
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Removal of the caning in the seat was a CHORE that I underestimated. A dear friend of mine has learned to cane recently with a group of island women (some of whom also craft the famed Nantucket lightship baskets) and she gave me good intel on how to do it properly. But it still took a lot of patience and hand pressure.

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The seats from Bell use a pre-woven, machine-made cane mesh that is held in place with fiber rush. Essentially the cane mesh and rush are forced into a kerf on the top side of the seat. To get the rush out, hot water and/or vinegar are the prescribed method to soften the fiber rush enough to make it malleable again such that it can be pulled out intact, rather than shredding. I was impatient and shredded it a lot. Towards the end, I began using near-boiling water and then started faring a little better. Ideally this patient work keeps the kerf edges intact and sharp, so everything looks crisp when restored.

caned seat removal.jpg

Caning and rush removed, ready to go.
caned seat removed.jpg

The kerf in the underside of the seat must have been done with a plunge router and narrow spindle. I noticed that the reveal to the edges of the seat frame are not regular, so perhaps the kerf was made free hand? That's be impressive router control (read: risky), so perhaps the variance comes from a worn-out jig. The good news is that the reveal variance doesn't catch your eye until the caning is removed, so I expect it will fade away again in the final result.
 
Pseudonym, if you get tired of trying to salvage the wooden parts, they are made by Ed's Canoe:


Because my Bell Wildfire seat from the early 2000's and other Bell's from that era have flat seats, I suspect that your seat is not original but is an Ed's contour seat:

 
Thank you, Glenn! There's a pretty good chance I just might, especially now that I've learned the parts aren't even likely original. :LOL: I'm routinely amazed at how much you, and many others on this forum, know about canoes.

I am angling to have this boat ready for a May group trip, so we'll see how my plans shake out since I'm under the gun. That said, we may end up with an even number of attendees, in which case this boat won't be needed.

I'll have more to share on my gunwale progress soon.
 
Ed's was the OEM manufacturer for all Bell wood parts. I suppose the first customer for your canoe could have requested an Ed's contour seat rather than it being a later replacement. It's likely the seat is the 32" version rather than the 40" version I linked.

After the composite Wildfire moved to Placid and then Colden, Charlie Wilson began using Ed's bucket seats rather than the flat or contour seats. I believe Colden eventually began using @Conk's seats. If you're a kneeler, I recommend the Conk seat over any of the Ed's seats because, in my opinion, they are lighter, stronger and more comfortable. I put one in my composite Wildfire and have another optional one for my SRT.

I also like web seats a lot more than cane seats. They won't stretch and rot like cane.
 
I've just begun to rebuild a Bell Wildfire/Yellowstone RX that I was gifted last summer, from @saltandsky. He was kind enough to offer it up for free on CT.net and I jumped at the chance. Here's the original listing. If memory serves, Tom had acquired the canoe with significantly deteriorated woodwork and then decided not to complete the project because he bought a composite boat thereafter. Thankfully, he retained the seat and thwarts and was conscientious enough to pattern the gunwale profile, before disposing of the rotten gunwales which were otherwise not worth saving. The factory seat and thwart locations are all marked on the hull.

This canoe is an early production Royalex Wildfire, which Bell then later renamed the Yellowstone. I learned a lot about the history about the boat's development and nomenclature from @eckilson's blog post here.

The hull is a beauty, but the woodwork needs a lot of love. Here's the starting point:
View attachment 140482

View attachment 140483

View attachment 140485View attachment 140486
I have a Yellowstone Solo in black gold, but I think your royalex hull is the one to have. This hull is perfect for class 1-2 rivers. Im looking forward to seeing the build.
 
The royalex looks like it is in nice shape - you are going to love the boat. I have a royalex Yellowstone Solo (green like yours) and a white gold Wildfire. I love them both, but for rocky rivers around here my go-to-boat is the Yellowstone Solo.

Bell sold two sets of seat hangers - 4" for sitting and 1"/2" tilted for kneeling. I have both but prefer the 1"/2" since I kneel most of the time. It feels a little twitchy when you sit with the seat that high, but you get used to it. In waves or moving water I kneel anyway. Looks like Ed's Canoe only shows the 4" drops on his site, but I guess you could cut them to any length you want.

Back in the day there were lots of debates on the old P-net site about running class III rapids in a Wildfire/Yellowstone Solo or similar 14' river runner. A lot of people claimed to do it, but rarely did you see pictures/video of people actually doing it. Last year I took my Yellowstone Solo down the Scantic Spring Splash Race in CT. The are a couple of decent rapids on the run - maybe not class III, but definitely class II+.


What you don't see is me dumping the boat out after. ;)

Good luck - looking forward to seeing your progress.
 
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Love mine. I’ve found a lot of mixed reviews for the Rx hull, and testing some friends, I found differences in primary stability that probably can be attributed to thwart width.

For safety and structural integrity you might consider a new thwart rather than trying to rehab that rot.
 
Thanks everyone! I got the varnish sanded off the seat and noticed "OCT 2005" branded/stamped inside the frame. I sanded around the stamp and left it for posterity.

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When the caning is done, I'll tongue oil the seat and caning all at once. It would likely be best to finish the seat frame first and then cane it afterwards, but I'll probably get away with it under given my rush.
 
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@Glenn MacGrady Webbing seats make a lot of sense and my other boats are webbed. This will be my first caned seat, so I'm leaning into it. I'll learn something and its fun to involve a friend who is eager to help retain the boat's character.

@kona Absolutely! Grafting a new end on this thwart doesn't really make any practical sense, but I'm doing it anyway. I've got whacky notion and will share the details if I manage to pull it off. If I fail, I'll just mill up something simple.

@eckilson I've watched a number of your videos and your blog has me very excited about this boat! I love whitewater but my paddling skills certainly still warrant Royalex. You're not too far from me, so I've made a few notes about your river selections to inform my future trips. All my river paddling has been farther afield on longer trips, so I'm intrigued by the possibility of day trips closer to home. It's not as easy from an island though, so I end up saltwater paddling more often.
 
I spend two-weeks each summer down at the beach in Narragansett, RI, so I have done a fair amount of saltwater paddling in my Yellowstone Solo and Wildfire. It's a lot of fun. Unless the sea is really calm (and it happens on occasion in Narragansett Bay) I tend to stay in protected areas (salt ponds, harbors/coves) or close to shore. Sometimes I'll get brave and paddle out to a nearby island (Dutch Island in Jamestown or Rose Island in Newport), but I have never tried a real open water crossing alone in my canoe.

For me, the problem with a solo canoe in any type of open water is getting back in the boat alone if I swamp. I've tried many times, but I just can't do it. With someone to help me empty the boat and hold the far gunwale as I get back in it is relatively easy, but I can't imagine trying that in big ocean swells. Two years ago I broke down and bought a sea kayak, and with a paddle float I can get back into that boat alone, at least in calm water. I have yet to try it in anything more challenging.

I have only been to Nantucket once, so you are more likely to come my way than I am to go yours. Let me know if you are heading this way. I know three other people with Yellowstone Solo's and two with composite Wildfires, so we could get a good group together.
 
I spend two-weeks each summer down at the beach in Narragansett, RI, so I have done a fair amount of saltwater paddling in my Yellowstone Solo and Wildfire. It's a lot of fun. Unless the sea is really calm (and it happens on occasion in Narragansett Bay) I tend to stay in protected areas (salt ponds, harbors/coves) or close to shore. Sometimes I'll get brave and paddle out to a nearby island (Dutch Island in Jamestown or Rose Island in Newport), but I have never tried a real open water crossing alone in my canoe.

For me, the problem with a solo canoe in any type of open water is getting back in the boat alone if I swamp. I've tried many times, but I just can't do it. With someone to help me empty the boat and hold the far gunwale as I get back in it is relatively easy, but I can't imagine trying that in big ocean swells. Two years ago I broke down and bought a sea kayak, and with a paddle float I can get back into that boat alone, at least in calm water. I have yet to try it in anything more challenging.

I have only been to Nantucket once, so you are more likely to come my way than I am to go yours. Let me know if you are heading this way. I know three other people with Yellowstone Solo's and two with composite Wildfires, so we could get a good group together.
Cheers, once I get my boat sorted, I'll definitely let you know if I have any designs on a mainland paddle! Thanks!

I too have a touring kayak for open water and windy days, but I prefer the canoe when possible. I limit my canoeing to the enclosed harbor and ponds, and always bring a marine radio. While, I can climb back into my canoe from the water when the canoe is empty, I've never tried it when swamped. I was hopeful that I might be able to do so once I outfit it with flotation bags, bailing it out once I was back on board, but perhaps that's wishful thinking in anything but a perfectly calm day.

Nantucket is a wonderful place to paddle, but the only noticeable river-like-current we have out here for practice is one tiny spot where water flushes in and out of the harbor, through the jetties in between the tides. There's a small "cut" in the east jetty, which is an opening in the stone embankment for small craft. It was created as a shortcut to save nearly a mile of travel out to the end of the jetty. Since the cut is a relatively narrow aperture, water flows through it a little faster than anywhere else; but only a few knots at its peak for a couple hours between the tides.
 
On to the replacement gunwales: I went back and forth on species but ultimately settled on Douglas Fir. It's a reasonable compromise between availability, weight, strength and rot resistance. I purchased two 16' 1x4 pieces of flooring, so they came with a tongue and groove, and a dadoed recess on the bottom surface. That flooring-style profile meant that I had to be a little conscientious about the milling, but it worked out ok. With this selection, I will now have three different species of wood on this boat, so my "restomod" is turning into a "mongrel."

This is my first gunwale replacement job, so I'm still ironing out the best order of operations. For instance, whether I should apply round-over profiles on the router table before installation or on the boat by hand after fitting the gunwales. So far I've managed to to do it half wrong both ways, but I'm muddling through it!

I wanted a solid wood cap, with no exposed Royalex, but I punted on that detail in the interest of expediency and simplicity. So I'm proceeding with separate inwales and outwales, sandwiching the royalex in between.

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My outwale is 3/8" thick by 3/4" tall, with a round-over on the bottom edge, which I made on the router table before install. My inwale is 3/4" x 3/4", and has a round-over applied to its topside before installation, which I would not do again. I planned that round-over on the inwale to be on the underside, thinking it would be hard to rout the bottom edge once it had already been installed on the boat. After doing so, I realized I wanted square edges at the connection to the seat drops, so I flipped it over (orienting the rounded edge on top) and installed that quarter-round flush with the top edge of the Royalex. With a boatload of bar clamps and alligator clamps the bending was pretty easy, with no steaming required.

Outwale: 3/8" x 3/4":
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Inwale 3/4 "x 3/4":
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I used 8 x 1" stainless steel wood screws, screwed from the outside inwards, giving them about 3/8" purchase within the inwale. Towards the bow and stern, where the bending/twisting is a little more severe, I might swap a few out for 1 1/4" screws hereafter.

So here's how it stands as of last night. Inwales and outwales fitted on both sides. One of two inwales already has a topside quarter-round (left-side in the image below), while the other remains square. Both outwales have a bottom edge quarter round.

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I'm glad to have left the quarter-round off the topside of the outwale, because the tumblehome amidships forced the outwale to be installed higher than top edge of the hull. I'm going to plane/trim-rout/sand the whole assembly flush on both sides. Any recommendations on how to best do this so that it ends up smooth and planar? I was thinking I might use my belt sander or power plane, set up with an outrigger that could ride on the opposite gunwale to keep it from tilting/rolling as I work my way down its length.
 
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With all my muddling, I've decided that this is a test fit of sorts and I'll still remove everything hereafter, so that I can make tweaks on the bench, finish my rounding of the inwale undersides and also tongue oil the gunwales on all surfaces (included the hidden surface that will face the hull). That's certainly an inefficient way to be going about it but I'm learning.

On the subject of cold cracks: When I remove the gunwales, I will have the opportunity to "slot" the new screw holes in the hull to allow a little lateral movement: effectively widening the holes on each side to allow for a little expansion and contraction. Doing so might spare me from having to remove/loosen screws in the winter time. That said, I'm a little worry it might weaken the point of attachment to the hull. The whole assembly is pretty tight, so I can't imagine that just loosening the screws would save me a cold crack because it seems loosening the screws would release tension in the gunwale through its cross section and not along its length, where the relative expansion and contraction of the disparate hull material would cause cold cracks. I also don't relish having to disassemble and reassemble the boat every year, so I'm curious what other folks do and/or if I'm overthinking this.
 
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Pseudonym, thanks for detailing your project with such rich text and so many informative pictures. I'm sure this thread will become a big help for future restorers.

I'm planning a resto-mod of sorts

my "restomod" is turning into a "mongrel."

I can't help much with woodworking details, but I am very interested in the correct spelling details of new words (neologisms) that members here invent. Does this word officially have a hyphen or not? The fate of the thread title depends upon your decision.
 
I can't help much with woodworking details, but I am very interested in the correct spelling details of new words (neologisms) that members here invent. Does this word officially have a hyphen or not? The fate of the thread title depends upon your decision.

Thanks Glenn! I do appreciate the word parsing I've discovered throughout this forum. Finding myself amongst fellow nerds, I rely heavily on my "edit" button after posting to amend my sins of syntax.

I'm going to go on record with "restomod" as the official word. It is an amalgamation of the words "restoration" and "modification" that originated in the world of custom cars, I believe. I've hyphenated it only once above to indicate its derivation. Henceforward, I swear off the hyphen!

While we're on the subject, can I complain about how the forum seems to automatically eliminate the double-spaces I include between sentences? I understand that I'm on the loosing end of modern typography here, but I ought to be allowed to make the mistakes I care about. I'm still trying to make my eighth-grade English teacher proud. Shout out to Mr. Kerner.
 
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can I complain about how the forum seems to automatically eliminate the double-spaces I include between sentences?

Sure you can complain. I also learned to double space at the end of sentences in high school typing class. However, I didn't know that the Xenforo software eliminates the double spaces. I'm using double spaces in this reply. If they are eliminated, I'm not aware of any any way for me to change that. One reason why double spaces may generally be unwanted is that each space is, I'm pretty sure, counted as a character and every message here is limited to 15,000 characters (which I can adjust). Allowing more spaces would disallow an equal number of letters, numbers and punctuation marks toward the message character limit.
 
Cleaning up the exposed Royalex edge:

I'd also be curious if anyone has secrets for finishing the exposed Royalex edge. It looks porous and dirty and just sort of bugs me. I also have tear-out in many places where the old gunwales had been screwed into place before. Those voids will be visible.

I've considered plunge routing a narrow dado slot to receive a filler piece of wood that I could epoxy into place but that seems like a lot of trouble and a recipe for permanently gluing the gunwales to the hull, making . I also don't relish trimming the top of the hull any lower and losing freeboard.

As ghastly as it might sound, I've considered Bondo too. It's color isn't so dissimilar to the Fir, so maybe it wouldn't be so bad? Not sure how it'll look with tongue oil applied.

Maybe a teak boat deck caulking can that can sanded? A clean black stripe in the middle might look crisp.

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