Can I fix a cracked wooden gunwale?

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Hoping I can get an answer to this before I need to pull the trigger on this canoe, it seems like a great deal.

So I found a 17' "easy rider" royalex canoe for $350 and it looks to be in decent shape except for a duct-taped seat, which I can fix (I've got some woodworking experience).

Anyway, the part that bothers me is that some of the wood is cracked along the gunwale - I think that's the right term... she says it's the wood along the top. Is this going to be fixable, and if so how involved? I was planning on epoxying it back together.

Would appreciate some input on whether this is something I should get or if I should pass on it. Seemed better than getting a plastic coleman for the same price, but I don't want to have to put 10 hours and $200 into it to get it fixed.

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Looked at their web site and the MSRP on a new 17 footer is $1800. Looks like it would be worth putting a few bucks in the boat. Glue might work fine if the wood is not rotting. You say that you have wood working experience, I say go for it. Dave
 
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Thanks Dave. It turns out that the hull actually has cracks in it from where the gunwale was screwed into it by the factory. The cracks are about 4" long and there are 3 on each side! I emailed the company since they're fairly close to me... we'll see what they have to say but that seems like a pretty significant manufacturing defect!

I also saw the price of the new canoes and thought I would be getting a steal for $300... now I'm thinking I'd better stay away considering all of the cracks in the hull :(
 
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Apparently it's the differences in contraction/expansion rates between the wood and the royalex in really cold weather that causes the cracks.
I was told by a friend that he had to back off the wooden gunnel screws each winter to avoid stress cracks in the royalex at some screw points.
FWIW,
Ted
 
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Pretty sure royalex has always been some kind of a combination of ABS sandwich. Many people confuse royalex with polyethylene....poly boats tend to be floppier and heavier, but they are very slippery and robust as well. Full strength royalex is lighter than poly, although usually only by ten pounds a boat or so, and tends to be stiffer as well without sacrificing the ability to take a beating and return to a normal shape.
 
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In YC's link, the author mentions that Royalex is an ABS/foam sandwich.
Does anyone know for sure if Royalex is actually ABS??

Yes. Royalex is a name for ABS foam sandwich. There is only one maker of Royalex sheets, Spartech, now known as PolyOne. There is more than one weight of ABS as canoe manufacturers can specify what thickness ABS sheet they want Poly One to make for them.

The OP boat is NOT polyethylene.
 
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Buying a canoe with cold cracks

Buying a canoe with cold cracks

Hoping I can get an answer to this before I need to pull the trigger on this canoe, it seems like a great deal.

So I found a 17' "easy rider" royalex canoe for $350 and it looks to be in decent shape except for a duct-taped seat, which I can fix (I've got some woodworking experience).

Seemed better than getting a plastic coleman for the same price, but I don't want to have to put 10 hours and $200 into it to get it fixed.

Thanks Dave. It turns out that the hull actually has cracks in it from where the gunwale was screwed into it by the factory. The cracks are about 4" long and there are 3 on each side! I emailed the company since they're fairly close to me... we'll see what they have to say but that seems like a pretty significant manufacturing defect!

I also saw the price of the new canoes and thought I would be getting a steal for $300... now I'm thinking I'd better stay away considering all of the cracks in the hull
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I would be leery of any RX canoe with existing cold cracks. While those cracks are repairable my experience has been that cold cracked canoes often continue to develop new cold cracks.

I don’t mind repairing a damaged canoe if the price is right, but I don’t want to have to keep repairing it.

$350 seems a little pricey for a cold cracked hull, and if it in fact needs new brightwork (gunwales and deck plates) those costs begin to add up unless you have a source for 18 foot lengths of suitable wood from which to rip and router your own gunwales (or scarf two piece inwales and outwales – 8 shorter lengths of wood and four scarf joints).

Another option might be to purchase vinyl gunwales and deck plates. Again though, even if shipped with a manufacturer’s load of canoes to the nearest outfitter, costs mount ($150 for the vinyl gunwales, $40-$60 for a set of deck plates).

$350 + $200 + other materials (stainless steel screws or pop rivets with vinyl gunwales, sandpaper, wood protective oil, and etc) and the cost is fast approaching $600, plus time and labor for a suspect hull.

FWIW, while wood gunwale canoes are most susceptible to developing cold cracks I have seen them on pop riveted vinyl gunwaled canoes, including one on which the cracks emanated from holes drilled through the hull for float bag lacing.
I would keep looking for a used canoe. $600 should turn up something far better than a Coleman or Pelican.
 
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Thanks for the great responses everyone! I decided I'd better wait for a boat in better condition, I've still got a couple of months to look. A few Old Towns have popped up on CL for $400-$650 so I'll hold out and see what I can find as people get desperate this tax season ;)

... And it sounds like I'll be avoiding a boat with wooden gunnels at all costs...
 
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... And it sounds like I'll be avoiding a boat with wooden gunnels at all costs...

Hold on a minute...any boat with wooden gunnels!!??

Thanks for the info YC and memaquay,
So since Royalex is an ABS, it should be a simple matter to solvent weld a repair.
Last year I needed to fabricate a 50 inch diameter ABS ring, to very exacting tolerances. I could find no machine shops to quote the job.
I ultimately solvent welded arc segments into a larger, rough ring, and then final machined to meet some very tight tolerances.

But I digress...my point is that any ABS is actually pretty easy to work with, whether machining, hot forming, or solvent welding.
 
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Wood is a little extra work but well worth it. Many benefits come with wood gunnels. Wood can be an ideal gunnel if you take the time to take care of it and can store inside. When you burn your hand/leg on hot aluminum or black plastic gunnel this summer think I could of had wood. When you damage that expensive carbon or wood paddle by rubbing it or banging it on aluminum think I could have had wood. When you need to repair or replace your gunnels think of how you could have done it yourself with wood. On the other hand if you have to leave your canoe outside. Don't have time to oil the gunnels. Just want a boat to use hard and put away wet then go for aluminum or plastic gunnel. No mater what the gunnel material always check for cracks, punctures, and worn out keels.
 
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Ended up finding a decent Old Town Penniscot 16' and going with it. The bottom has been patched because it got worn from running it ashore but it's a good patch job and the rest of it looks to be in good shape. The cane seats are torn, so I'm going to re-string them today. Decided on Paracord after looking online a little bit. I'll post a pic once that project is done.

$350 and it came with 2 oars, 2 adult and 2 child life jackets, and 2 cushions for the kids to kneel/sit on. The wife was a little underwhelmed when she saw the repairs on the stern and bow, and the torn seats... but I plan to have it looking good when she gets home from work today. I think we got a heck of a deal considering the $100 worth of gear that we'd have to have gotten otherwise.
 
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Cold Cracks

Cold Cracks

... And it sounds like I'll be avoiding a boat with wooden gunnels at all costs...

I wouldn’t necessarily exclude wood gunwales Royalex canoe s from your search. Wood gunwales have both aesthetic and practical values.

All of the cold cracked canoes I have seen or worked on have been residents of the mid-Atlantic region. It gets cold here, but nothing like further north, so the actual degree of cold may not be that much of a factor. And plenty of folks in the northcountry store their wood gunwale RX boats outside or in unheated areas, without backing out the screws and without problems.

So it isn’t just the cold, and it isn’t every canoe. The actual “why” is more of a mystery.

Back when I had deeper connections to various canoe manufacturers I offered to perform an experiment; I had plenty of wood gunwale scrap in the shop, and access to -20c, -80c and -150c freezer space. And liquid nitrogen. I suggested that if I had some test pieces of RX material I could screw together pieces of inwale and outwale and do some freeze/thaw experiments at different temperatures and different rates of temperature change.

Since no one in the business seems to know exactly why cold cracks occur, aside from the combination of cold temps, RX and (almost always) wood gunwales, I was surprised that no one was interested in trying to find out why.

Why would some (few) RX canoes cold crack and (many) others, same make and model, stored in the same conditions, endure cold winters without any problem? And why would the manufacturers not know the cause, or not want to find out?

Cracks in Royalex CAN be fixed. They are not a manufacturing defect, rather as Ted indicated, operator error.

I believe that beyond the RX/wood gunwale combination the root cause may in fact be a manufacturing defect.

“Royalex® sheets are custom-made in a process that combines sheets of vinyl, ABS, and foam and then vulcanizes them together. The Royalex® sheet starts out as a flat sheet, which is then thermo-formed. During heating, the core expands, forming closed-cell flotation within the hull. At the proper temperature, the sheet is removed and placed on a platform, the mold is lowered on top of it, and the sheet is vacuum-drawn into the hull shape.”

I think the important phrases are “during heating, the core expands” and “at proper temperature”. I had a Royalex canoe in the shop 10 years ago in which “at proper temperature” was not achieved; I suspect that the foam core never expanded sufficiently, and the hull bottom had all the rigidity of an inflatable. One of my test paddlers famously exclaimed that the canoe “shook more than Katherine Hepburn on an acid trip”. When I reported this to the manufacturer they admitted having had problems with their oven at the time that particular boat was manufactured. (Fortunately it was a vinyl gunwale canoe – it never cold cracked, but it remained inflatable floppy)

My suspicion is that cold cracks are the result of improper temperatures during the manufacturing process. Not hot enough for long enough, or perhaps too hot/too long…who knows.

If that’s the case I can understand why Royalex canoe manufacturers would prefer not to know, or at least not admit that they know the cause. It’s easier to CYA by suggesting backing out or removing gunwale screws than to admit that a certain small percentage of RX hulls might have a manufacturing defect at could cause them to cold crack in the right conditions.
 
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