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Peterborough Litelift restoration

Feb 14, 2020
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Goshen CT
Last summer I won a 1940s - 1950s Peterborough Litelift at the WCHA auction. I was told an older gentleman began the restoration and decided it wasn’t within his skill/ability to finish it properly. I hope I do it justice. If anyone can date it more exactly I would be very appreciative (see stem photo).

Thank you to Pat Corey and Jim (Boatman53) for their input and take on the scope of the project and Tsuga8 and Pat for help loading and giving their blessing on the precariously loaded canoes. I fashioned six foot closet rods from a nearby hardware store to extend my roof racks. Needless to say I took the back roads home and thankfully without incident.


I learned my lesson from the last restoration to strip the varnish before it is too cold to use a hose. I have had good results with Total Boat paint and varnish remover and again it did a fine job. I like curved card scrapers for the planking and a carbide scraper for the ribs.


After washing with TSB there were a lot of black marks. Most of them came off with Total Boat two part Teak cleaner.

I believe I can get the rest with some light sanding. The teak cleaner did raise the grain on some ribs so it needs a light overall sanding anyway.

It is always easier to tell what needs done at this stage after it is clean and you’ve gone over every inch several times.

The good: All the ribs are in relatively good shape. A couple slight cracks that don’t seem to go all the way through which can be stabilized with backside repairs. The planking is in great shape. A couple cracked planks that I will remove and replace. The planking at the shear line was replaced nicely.

The bad: Almost all of the rib ends are rotten. I might as well do every one so they look uniform. It isn’t a difficult job, just tedious. There will be 80 of them 😞. I could have gotten away with scarfing new inwale ends, but it will be easier to have all the rib ends exposed. I have a long piece of Norway Spruce for new inwales. The decks will have to be replaced, as they are currently what look like doug fir from a 2x6.

I plan to make this a lightweight solo tripping boat. A centralized seat and Dacron rather than canvas. It is about 14’8”s long and currently 34”s wide. I am going to attempt to squeeze it a bit narrower during reassembly.

There is currently another project in the boat shed at the moment so this will have to wait a bit in its current state. I have a couple weeks off around the holidays and I am looking forward to the woodworking part.

Thanks Jim. Did you glue it to the shearline and stem curve or staple? What did you use to fill the weave?

Nice canoe. That Total Strip is well worth the price, best stripper I ever used.
Those new rib tips and inwales will really look nice, well worth the effort imo.
How bout' the keel?
I used #12 canvas on my 14' Fox, it was a new hull Schuyler deemed worthy of Dacron but I like the canvas.
Nice post, Thanks. Nice Ford in the background of pic #5
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What is this, a model name?
Correct. Same planking and rib thickness as a 50 pounder and other lighter builds.
What are you going to use for filler, the traditional stuff being quite heavy? Airplane dope?

Was thinking airplane filler, but I am open to suggestions from those who have done it. I have used a two part urethane on skin on frame, but I don’t believe this is the right application.
Thanks Robin.

No keel. I’m not a fan. I will cut off some brass Robertson screw heads and glue them in the holes with brass cup washers for aesthetics.

I am going to see Schuyler next weekend and will pick his brain about weight differences between cloth and fillers.

Nice Ford
Thanks. I am slowly restoring it. It came from Montana- no rust. It’s a pleasure to work on that way.

I used hot melt glue and staples. I ran a small bead of glue along the sheer line and down the stem. Then when the fabric was draped over the hull and as wrinkle free as possible I used a hot iron to remelt the glue and secure the fabric, then I stapled it so the shrinking wouldn’t pull the fabric from the glue.
I filled the fabric with a two part epoxy barrier coat for fiberglass boats to prevent blisters, it’s what I had and seemed to work well. If I didn’t have it would I have used it? I’m not sure, it depends if it can be purchased in small containers, I had a left over gallon.
One thing with the Dacron is the exterior of the hull has to be really smooth, almost flawless. Any wonky planks or a proud tack head will be noticeable through the fabric.
Thanks Jim. Great info. I have read how it “telegraphs” imperfections. I’ll give it some consideration.

I have a couple of thoughts. Your Litelift appears to be identical to my Bobs Special. For most of my rib tip repairs I used a belt sander to accomplish the scarf cut. First I square-cut off the damaged portion of the tip, then hand-held the sander arriving at the longest possible scarf angle finishing to a sharp edge at the top. The new rib tips I cut on my table saw from straight rib stock using a taper jig. You'll have to remove the sheer planking to do this, but cutting the tacks with a hacksaw blade shouldn't be too difficult, then you can re-use the planking.

I wonder, are your inwales one piece, or scarfed near the center? Mine were one piece.

I thought about Dacron as well, but my hull had way too much "character". I went with #10 canvas and traditional filler. In retrospect I might have tried #12 which is lighter (and less sturdy!) but really, how much lighter would it have been?

When the time comes, I can send you a tracing of my original Chestnut deck shape. Yours would have been the same I believe.

Good luck, that's a great project boat!

Thanks Pat. That is the same method I use for removing the old rib ends and shaping the new material scarfs. I resaw the rib material from roughcut boards on my bandsaw and shape the tapers by hand. I enjoy using hand tools when practical and the white cedar planes effortlessly.

The inwales were one piece and the new ones will be as well. I have some long white oak stock that I’m thinking would do nicely for the outwales or I may stick to spruce.

Thankfully I have plenty of time to decide what covering and filler to use. I do appreciate the input from everyone. The day dreaming and weighing the options is half the fun for me this time of year.

I'm sure that some here will recoil in horror at the following. Go back now if you're sensitive.
All clear? The boat in my avatar was built long ago as wood canvas. Much later, it was sick and naked, the planks were misshapen and cracked. Someone saved it from the burn pile and covered it with (gasp) fiberglass. He then varnished it. I'm the second owner since then. I would prefer paint on the outside of the hull, but I know it would show the humps in the planks. The varnish lets the wood grain camouflage the unevenness. It's also quite light, 50# at 15'. The biggest disadvantage of the thin FG is that a hard bang will damage it. I wouldn't use this boat in fast rocky water, but I'm surrounded by salt marshes and bays. If ever I launch it from a rocky beach I'll be extra cautious.
I'm sure that some here will recoil in horror at the following. Go back now if you're sensitive.
All clear? The boat in my avatar was built long ago as wood canvas. Much later, it was sick and naked, the planks were misshapen and cracked. Someone saved it from the burn pile and covered it with (gasp) fiberglass.

I don't think rib/plank covered in fiberglass would be as horrifying here as on some other forums more dedicated to canvas traditions. After all, we have a large majority of strip builders and composite owners on this site.

I've owned three rib/plank canoes, and my two Old Towns were factory covered in fiberglass. I actually like the clear wood look more than paint. It bothers me not at all that someone 50 years from now will have a supposedly harder time removing that fiberglass than removing painted canvas. While I also like the the traditional look of painted canvas, I've only owned one such canoe and I'd never use it on an actual wilderness trip.

Since I use all my paddlecraft, I also don't necessarily put seats and thwarts in "traditional" places. I want them customized for me, my paddling mechanics and my comfort. And with age, weight becomes a critical component. Cheeseandbeans has his own preferences, but it makes sense to me to have one wood canoe that is light in weight.

The biggest disadvantage of the thin FG is that a hard bang will damage it.

I suppose it depends on the weight of the fiberglass, but I've paddled and badly scratched up composite canoes in scores of whitewater rivers that I'd never take a canvas canoe down. It all depends on skill level and how willing one is to have beat up canoes instead of museum-pretty canoes.
Bob, I have some Dacron (ceconite) I will send you. Not enough to do the job but enough for you to practice with the iron for the shrinking process.
Jim- I received your package today. Thank you very much! I am looking forward to giving it a try.

Glad it made it, now Glenn just needs to get the check I sent the day before.
I meant to put a note in the package but it was closed up before I realized it. There is plank of length so you might try laying on a piece from gunnel to gunnel throw in some staples and shrink it to get the feel of the shrinking and how the planks and tacks may telegraph through.
Very timely thread. I have a 75th anniversary Peterborough "trapper" that I'm planning to restore some time this spring/summer. With exactly one stripper to my canoe expertise, and no experience restoring wood & canvas, I'm looking for a good place to start my learning. I'm confident I can handle any woodworking challenge that comes my way. The canvas work is a different story. Any suggestions on good resource books would be greatly appreciated.

I stumbled across "The Wood & Canvas Canoe" by Thurlow & Stelmok. Is this a good resource, or are there better?
I stumbled across "The Wood & Canvas Canoe" by Thurlow & Stelmok. Is this a good resource, or are there better?

That is usually considered the best source of information on this topic. This Old Canoe by MIke Elliott is another good reference. The forum at the link below is also a great resource. Most questions have been asked before so the search function can help. Good luck,


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