Need advice to repair cracked inwale

Glenn MacGrady

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I have a cracked inwale on my Bell Wildfire. I bought the boat used, and the area in question was sort of squashed flat, as by compression, when I got it. Since then, the flat spot has been right near my car rack cross bar, so it has borne the pressure of years of strap tightening.

I am, no kidding, probably the most tool-challenged canoeist there is. All my indoor tools fit in a shoe box. I don't even have a wood saw. Nor do I have the money to pay for a complete gunwale replacement, even if someone could match the size and shape of the skinny, rounded Bell gunwales.

I'll show some pictures and would appreciate any repair advice from the woodworkers on the forum. The inwale is cracked both on the top and on the inside between two screws. The outwale appears intact.

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My initial amateur thought is to squeeze some glue into the cracks and then get some of those screw C clamps to compress the inwale and outwale together. If that's a solution, what kind of glue would be best?

I don't anticipate any impacts onto the side of the gunwale. There will be continued strap compression against the Thule rack bar, however. I can't shift the boat much or the rack spacing.
 
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Well Glen I hate to sound dismal but from the pictures it almost looks like there is some rot in the wood.
Given the conditions you've set out: fix it as and where it is and probably with glue. First I'd determine just how bad the damage is to the wood. Pick at the cracks with something long and thin to see if you get crumbs of rot out. Vacuum out what will come out. Pick and poke till you've got all the loose wood bits removed, when the glue goes in you want it to grip onto solid wood so it will hold. Next, I'd get several clamps and see if I could get them to stay in position to where I could draw the wood back into near the shape you want. Sometimes on rounded wood it's really hard to get the clamps to stay where you want them. Most lumber companies carry molding strips, some with concave sides that could fit on the gunnel and then the clamp might grip on to that. You see, without the glue you've all the time in the world to figure out how (or if) you can draw the parts together.

Thinking about glue: I've had good luck using a little pallet knife to get glue into spaces that were awfully tight. It's worth remembering that once you're clamping up the glued wood, the glue will act to slick up the surfaces and the clamps really will need to be able to grip on what they're clamping and not slide off.

I guess that I'd try some slow setting epoxy resin glue. Spread it as good as you can inside the gap and then clamp it closed. Of course some of the glue will get squeezed out. You might want to have some plastic bags or something to catch the drips.
I'd hope that inside the crack some of the glue would get squished further into the crack than what I'd been able to reach with the pallet knife. Then I'd release the clamps and go on ahead and put more glue into the crack, who knows it can't hurt and might help, then clamp it back up for the last time.

At this point you could wipe up any glue messes so long as you don't bump the clamps. I'm not kidding those darn clamps are just looking for an excuse to slip and pop off!

If this works, I think the best we could say is that it's a big band-aid, not a real fix. When you come to put the canoe up on your bus, I wonder if you couldn't put some length of wood under the gunnel and spread out the force of the bumps.

That's all I know and a little bit more,

Best Wishes, Rob
 
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~~I've fixed a few similar cracks this way-
first go see your dentist, no kidding! Ask of they have any worn out picks, you want one with a short heavy scythe shaped hook (I think they call it a scraper)
Next it's off to the local horse vet for some shots, seriously you want to pick up the largest bore needle they have.
Then to the dollar store for some cheap screwdrivers, not the alcohol ones (though they might help too) they're gonna get glue on 'em so you don't want to use your good ones.
Now you need a tube of "gorilla glue" and you're ready;
Open the cracks gently with the screwdrivers, take the pick and scrape out the loose bits and crap until you see nice clean wood, if it's black, it's gotta go, vacuum out the cracks with your wife's vacuum and crevice tool, wipe down and hide the vacuum. Next squeeze some glue out onto some paper or foil and suck it up into the needle. put the tip into the cracks as far as you can and start filling, you want to try to fill the cracks as full as you can to push out any air pockets (air will let the wood continue to rot). once the glue oozes out either side, pull out the screwdrivers, put some waxed paper over the gunnel and clamp. the glue will ooze out everywhere so be prepared to wipe it up FAST.
Leave it clamped overnight, sand and scrape off the excess, wait a couple of days for the glue to cure, then put on a couple of coats of good spar varnish.
I've done a split gunnel this way and it's lasted 8 years now
 
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Excellent advice so far from (the original ) Rob and Scoutergriz. I can only add a suggestion for treating that wood rot. If it's fairly extensive and has left the area punky, there's a product I like. It's called Wood Stabilizer from Elmer's. It hardens dry rot to permit repairs. It can be squirted into the open cracks and allowed to thoroughly soak the rot. After it's dry I'd follow with the glue procedure Best of luck Glenn. I hope it works out.
 
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I am rather doubtful that doing some sort of repair in situ by trying to squeeze glue into the break and clamping it is going to result in any durable repair. If the inwale has been affected by dry rot there is probably no fix short of replacing the unsound section of inwale by scarfing in and shaping a new segment of inwale. If the wood seems to be basically sound, I would detach enough of the rails from the hull so as to be able to lift the inwale up off of it to work on it properly.

Removing the rails from Bell canoes is problematical because the outwales extend past the end of the hull and join together. The gap beneath the ends of the outwales is filled with some type of goop. C. Wilson told me it was epoxy mixed with wood flour (sawdust) at least on some models. This stuff can result in the inwales being bonded to the stem of the canoe. Also, of the four screws at each end of the rails that enter from the outwale side, the center two are long (around 2 inches) and go through the inwales into the deck plate. These can sometimes be difficult to remove. If the break is sufficiently far from the stem, you may be able to loosen the inwales enough to lift it up leaving the outwales and inwales attached to the deck, however.

If so, I would clean all bad wood out of the cracked areas and bond the ends back together using epoxy, not wood glue. G Flex epoxy bonds wood well, is easy to mix up and use, and you can buy enough to do the job and more for around $20. You can also use epoxy to fill in any voids left by missing wood. The cured epoxy sands easily. I would then use some 4 oz/sq yd fiberglass to wrap around the inwale over the full length of the break extending about 2 inches past each end. You can use G Flex to wet out the glass and fully fill the weave. The glass itself will be virtually invisible when fully wet out, but the epoxy will result in a different color, although not bad. The glass will cover several screw holes but you simply open these up again by cutting out the cloth covering them with a sharp knife of some type.

If you want to try this I can mail you a piece of 4 oz S 'glass big enough to cover the break if you let me know the full length of the break.
 
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The actual crack looks a lot like a scarf joint, meaning it is a long angle which is easier and stronger than say, a 90 degree break. The above advice is all good. Other options would be the use epoxy in the syringe but heat the wood first with a hair dryer/heat gun and shoot the epoxy as deep as you can. As the wood cools it will naturally draw the epoxy deeper into the joint. Then just keep filling it until it is flush with the surface. The method I describe does pretty much the same as Brad is suggesting, but eliminating any rot with the epoxy bath.

It does look like the outwale has some compression damage as well.

Glueing syringes can be purchased at Lee Valley tools.

Just my 2 cents, 1 cent after taxes.
 
G

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If you want to try this I can mail you a piece of 4 oz S 'glass big enough to cover the break if you let me know the full length of the break.

Glenn, if you opt to try the repairs as suggested above by Pete I’ll better his offer and send you a length of fiberglass tape (seamed edge fiberglass cloth, not adhesive-backed). Glass tape would be ideal for that gunwale repairs since the long edges are seamed and don’t fray when cut.

I have glass tape in widths from 1” to 4”, just let me know how wide and how long.
 
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Glen,
Take heart. Your boat has a problem, but it has been gliding along okay this far, and you can fix it. I would forget about any kind of glue. Epoxy is your friend in a case like this. I like the dental pick idea. I use them for all sorts of stuff. The large syringe works great for epoxy. I would try regular undiluted epoxy first to ooze it in the cracks. You may want to rotate the boat as it is setting up. Then I would use some epoxy with wood dust in it and a putty knife to fill the cracks and match the color of the existing gunwales. You will be cheered up by filling the cracks and sanding the gunwale smooth

It is easy to tell who the real wood workers are in the group because they all want to replace the inwale or at least scarf in a new piece. It is probably not necessary. There is something about canoes with battle scars that really appeals to me. I no longer strive for perfection. I strive for structurally sound . My cedar and canvas OT has some problems and could use restoration. When I got the boat, it had a mangled gunwale which I fixed with the above method. I thought it would be a temporary fix to get the boat back in the water. After thousands of miles and 15 years have gone by it works just fine. I still fear that I will be reluctant to take a restored boat on fast rivers. Tell us about your results.
 

Glenn MacGrady

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I really appreciate all the thoughts so far. I don't have the tools or skill to scarf (?) in a new piece of inwale. The glue idea is bonding my thoughts.

So far this seems prudent: Clean out rot, maybe by partially unscrewing and lifting away the inwale somewhat, with small scraping tool. Perhaps stabilize rot with Elmers. Use syringe to inject glue, epoxy getting the most votes so far but Gorilla also recommended.

The part I'm still not clear on is the necessity or virtue of clamping. If I clamp, I squeeze out most of the glue, and maybe the inwale returns to a less distorted, lumpy shape. Ppine, are you suggesting filling the cracks without clamping, just letting the epoxy fill up all the voids? That also makes sense to me. The inwale would be slightly misshapen, as it is now, but I don't really care. And maybe I can shave or sand it a little.

I'd appreciate any additional thoughts on the pluses and minuses of clamping vs. not clamping after injecting glue.

After the glue job, I could fiberglass the area for additional strength. (Actually, I've never fiberglassed anything. Pitiful, I know.) Mike, what's the difference between fiberglass tape and just a strip of fiberglass?
 
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Glenn, it's hard to really say which would be best without having the damage right in front of me. But if you use Gorilla glue, you have to clamp - but not too tight. Clamping closes the excess voids, and helps to force the glue into voids you can't see or reach. Gorilla and other polyurethane glues expand while curing, and that forces some glue into places you might not have been able to reach (for better or worse). Gorilla glue will expand to fill a pretty large void - but makes a much weaker joint when doing so. If there are large voids to fill, it usually is better to use epoxy. If the voids are large enough, mix some cut strands of glass with the epoxy.

With either glue or epoxy, over-tight clamping will starve the joint and make it weak. Easy to do with screw clamps (C-clamps, etc.) not so easy to over-tighten with the modern Quick-Grip style clamps.

Getting the loose rot out first is definitely required.
 
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Just buy this kit: http://www.amazon.com/West-System-6...8&qid=1410107628&sr=8-3&keywords=g+flex+epoxy

Ignore the fact that the package says "Aluminum Boat Repair Kit".

It contains 4 oz of G Flex resin and 4 oz of hardener, more than enough than you need. It also has some mixing tools and silica powder, which is useful for thickening the epoxy. I suspect that after you remove the loose wood and splinters and do the initial bonding of the pieces, that you will need to fill in some voids. Thickened epoxy can be used for that purpose so that you can fill and fair the joint flush with the adjacent inwales. The kit also includes a couple of dental syringes which have long, drawn out tips that can be used to inject epoxy into cracks and crevices. You take the plunger out of the syringe barrel, pour some mixed epoxy into the open end of the barrel, loosely approximate the end of the plunger to the barrel, invert the syringe and let the epoxy slowly run down. You can then eject the air from the syringe.

G Flex is ridiculously easy to use. You can mix up batches of any size, but you will mostly be using small batches. This can be done 1:1 by volume and can be done by eye. The G Flex will have a honey like consistency at most working temperatures, but you can render it a bit less viscous by warming it gently. If you want thicker, stir a bit of silica powder into the mixed epoxy.

The position of your break relative to the thwart suggests that there should be plenty of room between it and the bow deck to allow the forward part of the inwale to be lifted away from the hull. You will need to remove the thwart to allow the midships part of the inwale to be lifted away. Just use a #2 Phillips screwdriver to remove all of the screws going into the inwale from the inside from the break to the deck. Remove enough screws in the other directions to allow enough freedom for the inwale to lift away. While working on the break you will probably need to shim a couple of thin wedges between the inwale and the hull to hold it off. This should allow you to get at and clean out the crack without need for dental instruments.

I have not used Elmer's wood conditioner. I know someone who did who was very unhappy with it. They used Minwax Wood Hardener instead which worked much better but I have not used that either.

I personally would not clamp the pieces together tightly. What I would probably do is put several rubber bands over the inwales before jointing the break and run them down away from the break. Once the break is clean, use some thickened epoxy as a glue and apply to both ends of the break. Then wrap either plastic wrap or wax paper around the inwale to cover the break and contain the epoxy. Slide your rubber bands down over the break to keep the ends in alignment. As the epoxy is curing, remove any wedges holding the inwale away from the hull so that the jointed inwale has the correct curvature.

After the initial jointing you will need to sand off the excess epoxy and fill and fair any voids. If you want a nice, smooth result, you will need to make multiple, small applications sanding in between.

The fiberglass job I described is about the easiest imaginable. Fiberglass tape has what is referred to as a selvage edge running down both sides of the tape. The selvage edge prevents fraying, but results in a significant raised bump when the tape is wet out. Personally, I would not use if for this purpose. The first reason is that it usually comes in 8 oz/yd thickness which is thicker than you need. Secondly, the selvage edge is not likely to be of much assistance to you. You will probably wind up cutting it off. It looks as if your fracture is around 6-8 inches in total length. I would glass over a segment about 2 inches longer than the break in each direction, say 10-12 inches. I would wrap 4 oz glass completely around the gunwales overlapping the edges either on the side of the inwale facing the hull, or the bottom of the inwale. The cut ends will have some tendency to fray but it does not matter and you can later use sandpaper to feather the ends of the glass. Wedge the jointed inwale off the hull, coat the entire area to be glassed with some epoxy, carefully lay your strip of glass over the epoxy and wrap it around, then apply more epoxy to wet it out. The glass may try to lift away from the gunwale but as the epoxy starts to kick it will get tacky and the glass will stick to it. Also, 4 oz/sq yd fiberglass lays flat and goes over right angles much more easily than heavier glass cloth.

Once the wet out coat of epoxy has cured to a 'green' state, you can apply a bit more epoxy to completely fill the weave of the cloth so it is smooth. Wet sand the cut edges to smoothly feather them. You can cover this area with whatever you would use on the rest of the wood.
 
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To give you an idea, this Flickr album shows three pictures of a Mad River Twister that had a broken inwale:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/42020723@N02/sets/72157647282446176/

The boat was built with rather thin, light rails and a prior owner had pincushioned the inwales by mounting a lot of pad eyes to the undersides using larger than necessary screws. When I removed the rails to repair the hull, the starboard inwale fell in two at a location at which a pad eye screw had been placed in very close proximity to one of the screws holding the inwale to the outwale. Except for the fact that the inwale was completely off when I repaired it, I bonded it in the method I described, using G Flex and 4 oz/sq yd S fiberglass.

The break in on the starboard side, between the pedestal and the thwart at the first inwale screw hole behind the thwart. The brown "dot" in the same inwale opposite the knee pad is an unwanted hole from a prior thwart that was filled with G Flex, to give you an idea of what cured G Flex looks like. The break was fairly clean but the line of the fracture is clearly visible in the close up photos. What is not so apparent is the area of fiberglass reinforcement which is barely visible. It can be made out by the slightly darker and shinier area of inwale extending forward and aft of the crack.
 
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Would not use epoxy. Could cause serious problems when you finally MUST remove the gunnels. Would use Titebond III. Would also put a wood patch under the break area. Did this with my Mad River Royalex Explorer. The hull flexed but the epoxy in the gunnel scarf joint broke. Yes it looks kind of bad with a double gunnel but over thirty trips later the temporary patch is still holding. Just how long is temporary any way.

Pblanc seems to have the best write up of how to solve the problem.
 

Glenn MacGrady

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Pete, thanks for all the detail. I'll likely get that kit, which I see NRS has in stock for a little less.

If I'm reading you right, you seem to be assuming that my inwale is split through into two pieces. It's not. The crack on top goes to a certain depth but it's not through. The crack on the inside surface will join the crack on top if it travels much further. The bottom of the inwale is not cracked through.

Thus the procedures of pulling the inwales apart, putting on rubber bands, and wrapping glass around the inwale, I don't think are necessary -- unless I deliberately cut the inwale into two pieces to create a clean break.

The partially cracked-through inwale is now in a no stress equilibrium. If I clamp it, there will be a rebound stress of the inwale wood pulling against the G Flex after I unclamp. I'm thinking now of a no-clamp procedure and just flowing the G Flex into the cleaned out cracks. This would inevitably epoxy the inwale to the hull, but should I care about that?

Either the inwale or outwale has a little "lip" that caps over the hull. That's gone in the cracked area. I was thinking about just epoxying right over that opening, too. If I do that, I will again have glued the wood to the hull.

If I fiberglass, as an alternative to just wrapping the inwale, I was thinking of wrapping from under the inwale, over the top of both inwale and outwale, to the underside of the outwale. This would join the inwale and outwale together for added strength.
 
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I'd still go with the gorilla glue, it's a totally waterproof urethane adhesive, NOT a wood glue, which is usually polyvinyl acetate and is only water resistant. I've never had much luck with epoxy adhesives and wood on what is essentially an unintended scarf joint as epoxy has poor penetration into the pores.
 
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G Flex has excellent bonding properties on all types of woods including those with a very dense grain. Here are the adhesion data if you are interested:

http://www.westsystem.com/ss/g-flex-...adhesion-data/

I have used it to bond together broken gunwales, thwarts, and portage yokes, with and without fiberglass reinforcement, and have yet to have a joint fail.

I also built a 17.5' Cheapeake Light Craft stitch and glue kayak with scarf jointed panels of okoume plywood using conventional West System 105/206 epoxy and that worked very well.
 
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Pete, thanks for all the detail. I'll likely get that kit, which I see NRS has in stock for a little less.

If I'm reading you right, you seem to be assuming that my inwale is split through into two pieces. It's not. The crack on top goes to a certain depth but it's not through. The crack on the inside surface will join the crack on top if it travels much further. The bottom of the inwale is not cracked through.

Thus the procedures of pulling the inwales apart, putting on rubber bands, and wrapping glass around the inwale, I don't think are necessary -- unless I deliberately cut the inwale into two pieces to create a clean break.

The partially cracked-through inwale is now in a no stress equilibrium. If I clamp it, there will be a rebound stress of the inwale wood pulling against the G Flex after I unclamp. I'm thinking now of a no-clamp procedure and just flowing the G Flex into the cleaned out cracks. This would inevitably epoxy the inwale to the hull, but should I care about that?

Either the inwale or outwale has a little "lip" that caps over the hull. That's gone in the cracked area. I was thinking about just epoxying right over that opening, too. If I do that, I will again have glued the wood to the hull.

If I fiberglass, as an alternative to just wrapping the inwale, I was thinking of wrapping from under the inwale, over the top of both inwale and outwale, to the underside of the outwale. This would join the inwale and outwale together for added strength.

If you are able to thoroughly clean out the break including removal of all crap wood without separating the halves, and if you are able to inject epoxy into the depth of the crack using a dental syringe, then what you are suggesting should work. If not, I would just take a coping saw and complete the break. That will result in a clean cut that is easily bonded. I don't think you need to clamp the pieces together any more than is necessary to keep the pieces in alignment while the epoxy cures.

Bonding the rails to the boat with epoxy is no big deal. Mad River did that with some of their models. Marc Ornstein did that with his Wildfire when he rerailed it to avoid the need, and weight, of approx. 55 stainless steel screws.

It is outwale that is rabbeted on Bell Wildfires, not that that matters. Sure, you can replace the kerf with epoxy, or wood putty, or whatever. Glassing across the inwale and outwale should be structurally sound, I would think, as long as you don't ever plan to remove the outwale.
 
G

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The fiberglass job I described is about the easiest imaginable. Fiberglass tape has what is referred to as a selvage edge running down both sides of the tape. The selvage edge prevents fraying, but results in a significant raised bump when the tape is wet out. Personally, I would not use if for this purpose. The first reason is that it usually comes in 8 oz/yd thickness which is thicker than you need. Secondly, the selvage edge is not likely to be of much assistance to you. You will probably wind up cutting it off.

Pete, my rational for suggesting tape was that while cutting and epoxying glass cloth is easy for the experienced, the frays and strays might be a sloppy handful for…

I am, no kidding, probably the most tool-challenged canoeist there is. All my indoor tools fit in a shoe box. I don't even have a wood saw. Nor do I have the money to pay for a complete gunwale replacement, even if someone could match the size and shape of the skinny, rounded Bell gunwales.

About the seamed edge bump -– quite true, but the use of peel ply eliminates that raised seam edge.

While most tapes are 8oz (6oz is also available) the overall weight difference needed for small amount needed on this gunwale repair is insignificant, and if it was covered with peel ply would be essentially the same in appearance as 4oz cloth.

I have some 1"” fiberglass tape that is lighter weight and more tightly woven than most; it looks like 4oz S-glass. And the seam edge on that tape is practically invisible.

If I fiberglass, as an alternative to just wrapping the inwale, I was thinking of wrapping from under the inwale, over the top of both inwale and outwale, to the underside of the outwale. This would join the inwale and outwale together for added strength.

In that application I would absolutely use tape. 4 inch tape would wrap around both inwale and outwale leaving the seamed edges near the hull on either side. Keeping it in place while the epoxy sets up might be an issue, and I’'d probably work with the hull upside down and install the tape when the resin was sticky/tacky, even if that needed a topcoat to fill the weave.

BTW, a question for folks who work with glass cloth – has anyone tried spraying Super-77 (or Aqua-net hair spray) on the to-be-cut edges to help keep the strays and frays together? I know that is done with the more difficult to manage carbon fiber cloth.
 
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