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Cliff Jacobson: NO to skid plates!

Glenn MacGrady

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Someone asked me in another thread why I am opposed to the preemptive installation of skid plates on canoes. Cliff Jacobson has just published an article on this abrasive subject, and since he is channeling my opinion and experience, I'll let him serve as my surrogate. I'll excerpt some quotes from him:

If you want to reduce the value of your canoe by about 200 dollars, put a thick, ugly skid plate on each end! Here’s why you don’t want skid plates!

1. They add two or more pounds to a canoe--that’s weight you’ll have carry! Worse, the weight is added to the extreme ends of the canoe, which affects its "swing" weight or ability to gracefully carve turns. The flywheel effect of this is most pronounced in lightweight solo canoes where the paddler is located at the center. But accomplished paddlers in high-performance tandem canoes will notice it too.

2. You can't sand Kevlar (it frizzes into string) so the harsh edges of the thick felt pads won't fair in to match the smooth contours of the hull. The result is increased wetted surface which slows the canoe and produces an audible gurgling noise.

3. Skid plates are (choose an expletive!) UGLY!

While there will be technical and aesthetic retorts to some of Cliff's post-damage skid plate installation methods, I believe his three arguments above against preemptive skid plate installation are sound, even if a fabric other than Kevlar felt is used, as is his long wilderness experience with skid-plate-less canoes:

Installing skid plates BEFORE there is any damage is akin to covering expensive leather car seats with cheap plastic! For two decades, my five Royalex tripping canoes were used on scores of tough rivers in northern Canada. They were lashed to the struts of float planes, shoved into crowded rail cars, dragged like dogs on a leash across the tundra, and paddled, heavily loaded, in long, difficult rapids. With just one exception (a split end that required a fiberglass field patch), duct tape was the only “on-the-river” repair material I ever needed.

While I have nothing close to Cliff's wilderness tripping experience, I do have decades of experience in hard whitewater with Royalex and SSKK composite canoes. While many of those whitewater canoes are quite banged up, NONE has ever worn out at the stems. A couple of my Royalex solo canoes with centralized saddles have worn through the vinyl layer directly under the saddle, because that is the deepest part of those highly rockered hulls and the most likely part to scrape over rocks. The most active tandem couple in our club would wear out the Royalex underneath the much heavier husband's stern seat every several years, but again not at the stems or ends.

None of my several composite flatwater canoes that I've purchased since 1984 shows any appreciable damage at the ends, or anywhere on the bottom, really. I've always been as careful as possible not to grind a composite canoe onto the shore when entering and exiting, fully wet footed if necessary, unless there is no alternative. And I don't run composite lake canoes in impossibly bony rapids.
 
I won't argue with Cliff's, or your, arguments against preemptive skid plates. Especially the thick, heavy, kevlar felt ones.

But I will continue to add thin dynel skid plates to the canoes I build for myself. During the building process it's so easy to add a layer or two of thin dynel to the layup that I can't think of any reason not too. Extra weight can't be more than a couple ounces and the improved wearability at the stems is impressive.

I have worn through the stems down to bare wood on a single trip with a cedar strip. That was with extra layers of glass at the stems. I've been unable to wear through the stems with dynel, though I did give it the old college try.

Down to bare wood after 3 weeks:
20150905_001 by Alan, on Flickr

Didn't wear through the dynel after 6 weeks:
20161017_002 by Alan, on Flickr

20161017_001 by Alan, on Flickr

Alan
 
I agree with Alan Glenn. I too use a thin layer of Dynel which is treated with G-Flex and West System resin, barely visible when treated with Peel Ply. You keep talking about skid plates but often refer to the old school Kevlar Fat crap stuff. That is not the norm these days in many schools of thought. A Dynel SP weighs next to nothing, no real way of testing that without wasting a lot of resin and material for a test and making a mess of a scale. And yes I trip, I do WW, I have bounced of rocks at a furious pace and ground out on sand more times than I can count and any boat with the Dynel on it has shown next to zero wear and tear. I'm not trying to down talk your view point or Cliffs but I think your reference to not having them as a waste is kinda like not have gunwales on a canoe but that is just me. To each their own.
 
I wore through the stems of my Encore and repaired one stem with dynel and the other with fugly kevlar pad. The dynel did stand up to abrasion, but suffered cuts thate punctured it in a couple places. The kevlar pad wore like rock, but was starting to come off when I sold the boat.

The Encore had a foam saddle mounted on the bottom, and yes, the bottom did wear through under the saddle. A buddy had a similar looking saddle that he suspended from thwarts. We paddled the same streams, yet his bottom did not wear through. One difference was that his hull could flex under the seat, whereas my saddle prevented the bottom from flexing. (another difference was he is a better paddler than I am.) Glen doesn't mention how his seats were mounted in the boats that suffered wear under the seats. Maybe it makes no difference--after all, it is the deepest running part of the hull and does carry the paddlers weight.

My OT Tripper came with factory skid plates. They do gurgle, as Glen mentions. But that 20-year old boat receives regular punishment and I don't at all regret the skid plates. One trip we found ourselves on a river on a pitch black night. We ran into unseen ledge after unseen ledge and the kevlar handled it all with no noticeable harm. The damage not done on that one trip was worth 20 years of gurgling noises IMO.

That said, I agree with all three of you and would not install kevlar skid plates again. I ran my OT Appy without skid plates until it needed repair after a disastrous low water run on the Machias. I'm really happy with the appearance and performance of the glass skid plates I installed. I don't remember if I included a layer of dynel in that one or not, but it was mostly glass and has held up well.
 
There are a few times when I will raise my voice to scouts and other students of paddling lessons especially after having been told not to do something. "Don't grind or push a paddle (thinking of my fine crafted cherry wood) in the dirt, either on land on the lake bottom when in the water", and "Don't ground the canoe on the beach" (run it at speed while driving to a landing on shore). Therefore my canoes do not have nor need skid plates, and theirs should not either.
 
Someone asked me in another thread why I am opposed to the preemptive installation of skid plates on canoes.

In that article Cliff’s objections were specifically about heavy, ugly kevlar felt skid plates. Cliff then mentions adding skid plates using two bias cut pieces of woven kevlar covered with a layer of fiberglass, or using three layers of fiberglass.

I do agree that applying a skid plate “preemptively” usually doesn’t make much sense, although maybe as a precaution if heading out on a long, hull abusive trip. I have always installed skid plates after some wear on the stems demonstrated where I needed a layer of protection.

I did not see a date on that article, but someone should let Cliff know about Dynel. The objections to appearance, weight and etc are all true with fugly kevlar felt, and equally untrue with even a single layer of Dynel compressed under peel ply.

A bias against skid plates, based on thick, heavy, gurgly kevlar felt is like having bought Yugo in 1985 and every since believing that all cars suck.

It’s like déjà vu all over again.

I don't believe in skid plates. I find them ugly, heavy in the worst possible place, the stems, and, most importantly, completely unnecessary even on whitewater canoes. Of course, I don't bash against rocks, ram onto shores, or drag the ends of my canoes along parking lots.

I do believe in the value of skid plates.

Unnecessary? Almost every skid plate I have installed has gone over visible wear areas on both Royalex and composite boats. Of course I do occasionally oops bash rocks, drive the bow ashore when necessary, nick the stern dropping over a ledge, and drag portage my canoes up steep banksides and around strainers.


Ugly? Yes, many kevlar felt skid plates are ugly. Even those are less ugly if the initial resin is pigmented to match the hull.


Heavy? Skid plates need not be thick, oversized kevlar felt fuglies, laid on using every drop of urethane resin in the kit.

The last properly sized Dynel & graphite powder skid plates I installed weighed less than 3oz each. I’ll pay that slight weight penalty for my known wear areas, even at the best-kept-light stems.

A single layer of Dynel, compressed under peel ply, is (yes, I measured the thickness when I did the impact and abrasion experiment) less than 1/16” thick.

Aesthetically I don’t mind a black skid plate, done with black pigment and graphite powder in the epoxy mix.

47017011494_7bfff5b378_c.jpg
P4290006 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

The ones I have pigmented white on white bottomed hulls are essentially invisible.
 
I've never added Kevlar Felt skid plates to the stems of my canoes. For the very same reasons Cliff offered.

I have used Polyester ( Sweat Shirt material.) on a couple of my Composites. It adds thickness, that can be sanded. I'm counting on it lasting longer than a few layers of glass.
I'm still testing it.

Having built a lot of strippers, I've alway tried to be easy on thehulls. I don't think that will change. No I don't drag my hulls, or drive them into shore.

Years ago, I bought a can of of stuff with Carbide mixed in a thick substance, like a thin putty, from Express Composites. They claimed it worked good on hulls that were pulled up on a beach. Their biggest customer was a resort owner. I bought a gallon can. Pretty expensive It used hardener like Polyester resin.

I thought it would be great. To test , I tried it on the stems and keel of an old Sears 12' fiber glass canoe . It chipped and did wear off .

It sat on the shelf and years later got pitched.

I have used Dynel, and on one hull, I mixed graphite and epoxy to fill the weave, Added this to my Black Pearl . Again I try and be easy on a hull, If I can.

Jim
 
I like putting a piece of duct tape on the stems and challenge folks to see who can go the longest without wrecking it. Skid plates on a new canoe are just excuses for abuse.
 
I'm an anti skid plates especially right off the shelf! I think if a boat needs skid plates it was not designed properly... Did I always think that way... No, but after 36 years of paddling and learning and fixing and installing skid plates, I think the only place they are useful is on ABS(Royalex) rentals, and when a boat is badly damaged. I have a Dagger caption for the 90' that doesn't have skid plates and is doing just fine after running class II III + bonny rivers(fixing cold cracks right now in it...) And plus I think kevlar felt is the wrong material for the application in most case!
I tried polar fleece last year for a client and so far so good.... I also did a bunch of skid plates for an outfitter friend of mine out of multiple layers of S glass... seems to old up ok,
 
I'm an anti skid plates especially right off the shelf! I think if a boat needs skid plates it was not designed properly... Did I always think that way... No, but after 36 years of paddling and learning and fixing and installing skid plates, I think the only place they are useful is on ABS(Royalex) rentals, and when a boat is badly damaged. I have a Dagger caption for the 90' that doesn't have skid plates and is doing just fine after running class II III + bonny rivers(fixing cold cracks right now in it...) And plus I think kevlar felt is the wrong material for the application in most case!
I tried polar fleece last year for a client and so far so good.... I also did a bunch of skid plates for an outfitter friend of mine out of multiple layers of S glass... seems to old up ok,

yup. Ok I could have hit the like button
 
I won't argue with Cliff's, or your, arguments against preemptive skid plates. Especially the thick, heavy, kevlar felt ones.

But I will continue to add thin dynel skid plates to the canoes I build for myself. During the building process it's so easy to add a layer or two of thin dynel to the layup that I can't think of any reason not too. Extra weight can't be more than a couple ounces and the improved wearability at the stems is impressive.

I have worn through the stems down to bare wood on a single trip with a cedar strip. That was with extra layers of glass at the stems. I've been unable to wear through the stems with dynel, though I did give it the old college try.

Down to bare wood after 3 weeks:
20150905_001 by Alan, on Flickr

Didn't wear through the dynel after 6 weeks:
20161017_002 by Alan, on Flickr

20161017_001 by Alan, on Flickr

Alan

Well that reinforce what I just said, if you need to add skid plate to a new boat off the shelf it is a boat that is not well designed... Buy incorporating appropriate material where it belongs and in the right amount, making it part of the layup that is good design and you don't need skit plate!!
If every builders would think and act like you Alan we wouldn't need skid plates on boats!!
 
I have a Bell fiber glass Wildfire, that appears to have Kevlar felt on the inside of the stems. I bought it used, from Alan actually.

Ted must have laid the Kevlar after glassing. The Wildfire has flotation chambers, and it would be hard to confirm this !

Maybe Charlie Wilson or Ted can confirm this.

So ? Put the Skid plate on the INSIDE ! ?

Jim
 
...I did not see a date on that article, but someone should let Cliff know about Dynel. The objections to appearance, weight and etc are all true with fugly kevlar felt, and equally untrue with even a single layer of Dynel compressed under peel ply.

A bias against skid plates, based on thick, heavy, gurgly kevlar felt is like having bought Yugo in 1985 and every since believing that all cars suck.
...

It's even worse than that, at least the Yugo was cheap ($3990?). A kit with a pair of fugly kevlar felt skidplates from Old Town is $299.99! For $100 I can get one square yard of Dynel and a couple quarts of Raka UV inhibited epoxy and do a dozen low gurgle skid plates.
 
Things never to discuss at a dinner party: politics, religion, paddle preferences (single vs. DDB) and, apparently, skid plates.
 
I have two boats with felt skid plates. I didn't install either, and I would prefer that they not be there. One was meant by the dealer to be a rental but was never used as such before I bought it. The other is a whitewater solo with distant history mostly unknown to me. The only serious wear points I seem to have are under where I sit or stand. Ironically, the worst hit one of them has ever taken was a misjudged eddy turn into a boulder that put a dent in that green RX hull aboveabove the skid plate.

It's true that Kevlar fuzzed when sanded, but I discovered by experiment (wanting to smooth that fresh plate) that it can be milled down with a farrier's file, without leaving any fuzz. Be very careful around the edges!

The only plates I've installed were over damage done by previous owners, and I just used a layer of glass tape with epoxy mixed with graphite. One of those is long gone, but the other is maybe my most paddled canoe. I almost never scrape the stems on it, but when I do, it barely leaves a mark. It doesn't seem to have much effect on the boat's performance, but I'd go with something even thinner in the future. It seems to me that it's the epoxy in the matrix that provides the abrasion resistance, more than the fabric.
 
I have a Bell fiber glass Wildfire, that appears to have Kevlar felt on the inside of the stems. I bought it used, from Alan actually.

Ted must have laid the Kevlar after glassing. The Wildfire has flotation chambers, and it would be hard to confirm this !

Maybe Charlie Wilson or Ted can confirm this.

So ? Put the Skid plate on the INSIDE ! ?

Jim

I confirmed this with Charlie Wilson formerly of Bell Canoe.
And Yes, Bell did add Kevlar Felt on the Inside stems of their canoes.

Jim
 
It seems to me that it's the epoxy in the matrix that provides the abrasion resistance, more than the fabric.

I don't believe this is the case. It doesn't take long to sand away epoxy. It takes very little extra time to sand away epoxy+carbon. It takes longer to sand away epoxy+E-glass. It takes longer than that to sand away epoxy+S-glass. I'm not quite sure how long it takes to sand away epoxy+dynel because I've always given up before I got that far.

Alan
 
I don't believe this is the case. It doesn't take long to sand away epoxy. It takes very little extra time to sand away epoxy+carbon. It takes longer to sand away epoxy+E-glass. It takes longer than that to sand away epoxy+S-glass. I'm not quite sure how long it takes to sand away epoxy+dynel because I've always given up before I got that far.

Alan

Good to know, but how fast would you get through the fabric without the epoxy?

Either way, unless you have some bad boating habits, I don't think it matters a whole lot to abrasion resistance what fabric is used. So going lighter and thinner makes a lot of sense.
 
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