Restoring a Chestnut Bob's canoe

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Jun 12, 2012
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What with the heavy snow we received yesterday, work on my friend's Old Town OCTA was put on hold down the road at Schuyler's shop, so I fired up the wood stove and went to work on a long waiting project.

This canoe is an old 15' wood canvas Chestnut Bob's. The plank on this canoe is 4 & 3/4". I have a 1970 Chestnut Bob's and it has 4" plank. I'm not sure when Chestnut stopped using 4 3/4" plank, but I have been told it indicates an older Chestnut.

The canoe has the classic rotted in-wales at the decks and my first thought was to splice in repairs. After replacing the in-wales in the Old Town OTCA under Schuyler's guidance, I feel confident I can do the same to this canoe. These are the previous owners attempt at splicing, which wasn't bad, but the canoes decks are in need of replacement also, so it proved to be a tough job for anyone. So, new decks and inwales first, after stripping the varnish.



First I need to remove the old varnish, which is what I started yesterday. I removed the seats, which luckily are in excellent condition. I finally got the shop warmed up and started stripping.




The canoe had a nice patina, but that's coming off with the stripper. The stripper was cold and really wasn't as effective as it is in the summer, but it I kept at it and made some progress.




First coat of stripper 1/3 done



Just when the shop was staring to get nice and warm, I finished the first coat of stripper. Looks like my green Chum could use some new paint....
 
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It just keeps getting better here at canoe tripping! My Nova Craft Bob's special is a fun boat to paddle, I can't imagine paddling the real thing. Thanks Robbin for letting us into your shop. I almost can feel the heat and smell the wood smoke smell.
 
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I agree. Thanks for taking us along this restoration too. Your shop looks cozy with the wood stove warming it all up. From now on this will be the image in my mind when I hear the Christmas lyrics ... "Chestnuts roasting by an open fire"
 
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... Your shop looks cozy with the wood stove warming it all up. From now on this will be the image in my mind when I hear the Christmas lyrics ... "Chestnuts roasting by an open fire"
Ha! That's a good one Murat. I was thinking tender thoughts on this Valentine's Day. How fitting a place to be, in a cozy shop with a wood/canvas project on the go. (Or maybe my sense of romance is a bit weird.) Stripping off old layers of varnish is a job I've always hated, but the end result is always rewarding. Those ribs look in fine shape.
It's a great place to hide out on a snow day. Thanks for opening your shop and sharing the project.
 
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Hey Robin...

I assume you are using a chemical stripper or perhaps the lame water based stuff? I am curious since you have a lovely fire going in the corner and the chemical stripper is flammable isn't it? We don't yet have a heat source figured out for the shop but are thinking radiant natural gas, or, if we win the lottery, in floor heating. Neither would present any combustion danger when working with paints/varnish/stripper.
 
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I asked Schuyler about stripping inside with his wood stove going, he just shrugged and went back to work. Good enough for me.
 
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I asked Schuyler about stripping inside with his wood stove going, he just shrugged and went back to work. Good enough for me.

That made me laugh...there's a lot of good quotes coming out of this site, not always intentional but funny still. Could probably write an annual e-book each year full of them.
 
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Hey Mihun09,
I guess the stripper is water based, I re read the cautions and it has no mention of fire warnings. Cleans up with water.

That's why I got the shrug with my dumb question, he probably was saying "read the label dummy"

I don't like stripping canoes inside, this is a first.
 
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Southeast Wisconsin
Robin,
I wish we had met at one of the WCPP Gatherings--I would have enjoyed "talking shop" with you. The last time I refurbished a wood/canvas canoe was in high school (late 70's). As with all wooden boats, there is a story that goes with the acquisition. The long version is the better story, but I'll use the short version. As a sophomore, I was already remodeling homes with my father during the summers. He took me along to go look at a job on the North Shore of Lake Superior just south of Two Harbors, MN. On that trip I discovered two things: a taste for Ginger Ale and a dilapidated wood canoe laying out against two trees. I must have been quite enthusiastic about the possibilities of the craft which led to my asking if he would sell it. I think he saw in me someone who would cherish, care for, and had the skills to restore the boat. I think he also knew that the canoe would only be a valuable as the sacrifice made to have it. Although it only cost me $75, I had to convince my younger brother to chip in some cash. I spent all summer stripping the canvas, repairing the broken and rotted strips and replacing the inwales. I was able to use the original deck plates. I used stain to blend in the new wood with the old and then sanded and varnished the inside. That canoe was my pride and joy for over a decade before it met its demise--a corn seeder took it and a corner of the shed before the operator regained consciousness.

I look forward to more on your restoration. I also own a Nova Craft Bob-Special. It is my second.
 
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Hi Jazzman, net story, I bet we will met someday in WCPP.

So today it was sunny and 50F, so I ran down to Lows and bought a bunch of stuff I needed for this canoe's restoration. BTW, Lows gives Veterans a 10% discount so I give them the business. A shameless plug, but I think they deserve the recognition for something they don't really have to do.

So I bought some stronger stuff than I have been using to strip the canoe, but the label had some warnings...not to worry, it was so warm I did the stripping outside and the fumes where blown away, no fire danger. I gave it 2 coats and really knocked back the varnish, rinsed it with water and a scrub brush, it's sitting outside on horses tonight airing out.

BTW, I asked about the age of this Chestnut over at the WCHA website and found out that it's about a 1920-1930 Bob's, which is pretty nice. I be lovin' my Chestnuts and this one will be a keeper.

Pictures tomorrow.
 
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Robin: Sounds like your experience with water based strippers has matched mine. They do work, but take much longer and requires more product and since it generally costs more for being environmentally friendly, it requires more in both ways. The chemical stripper is much faster, for me, usual would be a gallon and a full day to get to bare wood, but I need to work on being more efficient. After stripping I use the pressure washer, carefully, to get most of the residue out of the tough spots.
 
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I think most water based products are inferior to the old standards. I tried some water based marine varnish (ya, sounds upside down) on a couple of canoes, it was crap.
 
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It is getting difficult to find paints/varnishes that are not water based, especially in the big box stores. My supplier for Epifanes Varnish charges $46 a litre, but you get what you pay for. I will be using some of the polyurethanes under the Epifanes in the future, since they are less than half the cost and with putting 4-5 coats of varnish to finish the average cedar canvas canoe, it can get pricey fast.
 
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I finished the stripping today, taking advantage of 50f plus temps. The power washer got the little stuff out after scrapping the big stuff out with a plastic scrapper.
Some of the wood is still wet, but it's varnish free.

Next is the inwales, they need to be replaced. I have some 16' ash and hope to enlist the aid of my friend Bob to rip the inwales and gunnels.

We put the 4th coat of filler on Bob's Old Town OCTA's canvas today, 9 am and the shop was busy, 5 guys working on canoes. They will be soaking his mahogany gunnels this week, so I'll be working on the Chestnut in the mean time.

With the varnish gone, a good inspection of the hull reveled 7 ribs need replacing. I didn't think it needed so many, but it's hard to see with varnish filling the cracks. The plank is in good shape, just a few small repairs needed.

Mihun, I always use cheaper stuff the first few coats of varnish. I'm not into thick glossy coats of varnish anyway, so maybe one or two coats of Epifanes afterwards.
 
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Do I see an "X" on the rib just under the end of the stem at this end of the photo? That will be tricky to do. We have one like that but likely will do a from behind repair on it, provided the crack doesn't go all the way through.

Managed to get the shop up to 50f this weekend so did more work on the shop itself, but now I'm going out to try some stripper on the varnish> I'm thinking it might work better in the cooler temperature, usually I do the varnish removal in the summer and the heat dries out the stripper quickly.

You are lucky to have found an old Chestnut, I need some of that luck.
 
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Good eye Mihun, the rib is cracked clear thru and the plank has a bulge there, so it's got to come out,I'll put in 3 new ribs there and hope for the best.

50 degress is good, working on the shop is good too.

Yea, I'm lucky to find a an old Chestnut.
 
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I moved the canoe back into the shop after it dried and the paint remover fumes had dissapted yesterday afternoon.

To replace the inwales, I needed to remove the top layer of plank for access to the ring nails that are driven threw the rib tips and into the ash inwale.

I carefully removed the old brass tacks that held the 4 & 3/4 inch wide plank to the ribs (4 tacks at each rib) and also each rib tip had an old steel tack that the previous restorer used to hold the canvas on. The steel tacks where rusted and needed care removing them as they broke easily, yet the brass tacks installed somewhere around the 1920's could be used again if needed.
I layed each removed plank on top of each other for easy to figure out order of replacement. The plank needs a little cleaning with paint remover, but most of the plank will be covered buy the new inwales so that will be an easy job.Tuesday I hope to start cutting the inwales. My table saw and I are not up to cutting 1" rough sawn ash, especially a 16' by 8" board so I'm getting a nice new blade on my skill saw and by using another straight board as a guide, I will rip the new inwales with the proper angle on the side that faces in on the canoe. A belt sander will finish the top side later when the gunnels are attached.
 
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Back out in the shop today and started replacing the inwales. I cut the inwales off a 16' piece of 1" x 10" ash rough sawn with my skill saw, I could have brought it over to Skyulers shop and have it easily cut and formed on his machines for a few bucks, but I enjoy working on the canoe and material, so I did it by hand. I still need to knock some wood off the inwales, but it's all going to be good in the end. I removed one side, looks pretty flimsy with the end stems somewhat rottted, cut back and missing



So I used my clamps and hammered in 2 ring nails to each rib and ended up with a good start to the inwales, then I started removing the other side...




At the end of the day, I had the second inwale clamped in.
 
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