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YAER (Yet Another Explorer Rebuild)

Aug 29, 2017
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Gaithersburg, MD
At the request of Mr. McCrea I'm going to start what will surely be a multi-part thread about the Royalex Explorer I am slowly rebuilding. The plan is to refit this canoe for solo paddling, primarily for use in whitewater up to Class III.

For you builders/restorers, this is going to be old hat. I have no novel techniques or superior woodworking skills. I have built a cedar stripper from scratch. This should be a little easier.

I acquired the hull in July from a neighbor for $100. Here it is when I acquired it.


There's a dent visible in the photo on the left, just past center. That's the only damage. Very light scratches on the outside. It's in remarkably good condition other than the fact that the gunnels were totally gone. But the owner did have the old tandem seats (not useful to me because I want to position the solo seat closer to center) and yoke and a bag of stainless steel screws nuts, bolts and washers.

I'm not a gram weenie like some but I decided to weigh the bare Royalex hull so I'd have before and after weights. Spot on at 50 lbs.


First up I needed some gunnels. I have a lot of leftover walnut from a project that never got built, so walnut it is. I jointed and planed and ripped the boards down to 3/4" by 3/4". The boards are all about 8/9 feet long so they needed to be scarfed to get me at least 16' for this Explorer. Luckily, I still have a scarfing jig I made back when I was building my cedar stripper. The jig couldn't be simpler. A hardwood runner dimensioned to fit in my table saw's miter slot, a piece of plywood screwed on top of the runner, and a hardwood fence set at an angle to achieve an 8:1 taper on 3/4" thick stock. Here's a old photo of the jig resting in the miter slot of my trusty Shopsmith (world's greatest canoe building machine) getting ready to scarf a 3/4" x 3/4" gunnel with a couple of cut offs from prior scarfs. Full disclaimer: this is a photo from building my cedar stripper and shows sapele, rather than walnut. I didn't get any pictures of the scarfing operation this time around.

Also not photographed was gluing the scarfed sections together. It's not rocket science: mix up some epoxy, add microfibers until you've got a non-sagging mix (builders often say it should be the consistency of peanut butter, but do they mean natural, smooth or chunky???), apply to the scarf and clamp lightly.

After scarfing, I finish all 4 edges of both gunnels with epoxy. I'm never sure which edge will be against the hull and I want to be sure it is water tight. I end up completely sanding off the top edge during installation, but whatever. Here I am lazily using gravity to give the gunnels a rough pre-bend to conform to the hull.

Just the weight of the unsupported gunnels and clamps on the end were doing a great job bending them to rough shape.

I left the gunnels like this when I went away for a month. A couple of days after I left, my wife noticed my gunnels were "warping" and helpfully decided to put them on the floor to prevent further "damage." When I got back and noticed that my gunnels were on the floor, she was so proud of having "helped" save my project that I didn't have the heart to tell her she had just effed up my month long gravity bend. Oh well.

Gunnels going on the canoe! Some builders (read more talented builders) taper the inwale all the way to the end. I just cut the inwale short to accept an inset deck (more on that later). Cheap Harbor Freight c-clamps and an extra set of hands are helpful for this job.

Zoom in on the above photo Mike -- there's your free Explorer yoke if you want it.
You may notice some vertical blue painter tape strips on the hull. The story there is I wanted to use the old gunnel screw holes. So before attaching the gunnels, I ran strip of painters tape below the holes and then drew a plumb line through the center. After the gunnels are clamped, I use a little jig that is just two pieces of scrap wood glued into an L. The long arm of the L rests across the gunnels. The short end of the L hangs down toward the floor. A hole is predrilled the same distance down from the hull as Mad River originally drilled the gunnels. A sight line on the jig lines up with the plumb line draw on the painter's tape and voila, you drill through the gunnel, into the old holes in the hull. I'd say I was about 75% successful. About 1 of 4 holes came back with green Royalex shards, meaning I missed. Oh well. I don't think this is really necessary but if in theory if you were to regunnel the hull enough times and drilled all new holes each time, you might eventually and up with a perforated tear line. Oh, I drill from the outside in. Other builders go the other way, I'm told. On my stripper I plugged the holes with contrasting wood plugs. It looks great but I'm not bothering with it this time. The screws will be visible. The horror!!

Next up I milled the decks. I decided to go with a little trick I read in Canoe Craft. Mill up some strips of contrasting wood, glue them into a rectangle. Then cut along the diagonal. Here's the deck blank about to be cut on the diagonal on my Shopsmith using an Incra5000 miter sled. That's a very accurate piece of equipment.


And another angle of the setup.
Once they are cut you have two right triangles. Flip one over and glue the two hypotenuses together. Because clamping a triangle is a pain in the butt, glue/clamp both decks at the same time. Here they are wating for the thickened peanut butter (epoxy) to dry.


Now comes the fitting. This would be a good time to mention that when you make the deck blanks, make certain that they are going to be long enough and wide enough to fit the space! You can do this by tracing a template on cardboard. I dispensed with the template and just used some trigonometry that I had to relearn when my youngest kid was in school. (If you aren't doing a fancy deck, just take the masurements; but if you are making this type of deck you'll need a little trig to figure out how the long the blank needs to be for when it is cut and turned into this triangle/pie wedge shape). Whichever way you go, I do not advise tansferring the template to the deck when it comes time for fitting.

To fit the decks, I run a piece of surveyers' line from bow to stern to get the center. The deck is then placed on top of the gunnels, centered, and temporarily clamped. Then run a pencil from below along the end of the inwale, along the hull and to the other inwale. A word of warning, the pencil has thickness and the line it draws under your deck blank will be too narrow unless you make sure to tip the pencil so the angle of the pencil tip is always flush to the hull.

Now just cut out the line you've traced, right? Wrong! The hull is coming in at a V. Band saw proud of the line you've traced. Now get the angle from the gunnels to the hull. I think this was about 4 degrees. To the beltsander! tilt the table to the right angle and start sanding to your line. Many trips back to the hull to make sure you don't go too far!!!

Here it is progress. I've got more gap than I'd like where it meets the inwales, but a little walnut wood dust mixed in with the thickened epoxy will take care of that and the clamping pressure will help close up that joint a little too. Did I mention that I cut a decorative semi-circle at the bottom edge of the deck? Used a 12" sanding disc to trace the arc and bandsawed. If's a good idea to have a curve here. Prevents things from getting jammed and stuck between the deck and the gunnel. Things like gear, arms, legs, whatever.


The hull is a little uneven towards the bow and stern both at the rounded point and just uneven thickness wise. Get as close as you can. And then when you go to glue it in with thickened epoxy, add a little wood dust and only you will know.

I like to prefinish/waterpoof the bottom of the the deck with epoxy before installation. When the drips come over to the other side, I decided just to do both sides to get a sense for what the deck will look like. The epoxy makes the deck pop, huh?

After screwing in both decks, I take a random orbit sander to the gunnels to smooth them down exactly level to the hull and to blend the decks into the gunnels.

Not a bad job. A little roughness on the right will get filled with a little more thickened epoxy/wood dust.

Oh, what about the yoke installed and holding the square up against the surveyer's line? More photos of that later. Long story short, I used a pattern from Gilpatrick's book on strip building. Same pattern used for my cedar stripper. It is a bit more heavy duty than the Explorer yoke (it's all yours Mike).

Well, that's enough for now.
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You may have the prettiest RX Explorer in town.

About the new gunwales, while I like the look of plugged gunwale screw holes they are a PITA if the canoe ever needs re-regunwaling. Not as much of a PITA as making a thousand trips from the canoe in the sun porch to the Shopsmith in the basement. I get tired just walking from the shop bench to the far side of the canoe (bless the wheeled shop cart).

A 75% success rate at hitting the original gunwale screw holes is pretty good. The Explorer in my shop had been regunwaled once before I got it. What a mess along the sheerline; figure 70-ish screws, times two, none of them rescrewed through the original hole locations but some awfully close or overlapped.

When I installed the new vinyl gunwales I marked/aimed to redrill for pop rivets between the holes, but the sheerline was such Swiss cheese that I laid 2” glass tape along the sheerline on both inside edges.

Of course 30 years ago I used auto store E-glass tape and auto store poly epoxy. No peel ply, no sanding the rough selvage edge. Fugly then, fuglier now, that will need some attention when I get to refurbishing the inside.
Looks real nice, and I learned a thing or two. You make for a fine explanation of the process which should prove helpful to others who want to tackle the rotted gunnels on their old canoes.

I have never worried about drilling new holes for new gunnels, but your method seemed to work well, 75% is pretty good. I lay my gunnels on a flat surface like my driveway or concrete shop floor when gluing, which helps keep the joint flush on all sides.

Nice post, good pictures, Thanks for sharing.
algs, Hope you don't mind but I'm stealing that deck design for a rebuild on a boat I'm working on and most likely future boats. I do like the looks of the walnut gunwales, very beautiful wood. I've never worked with it but do like how it looks on the boat. Thanks for the write up!

algs, Hope you don't mind but I'm stealing that deck design for a rebuild on a boat I'm working on and most likely future boats. I do like the looks of the walnut gunwales, very beautiful wood. I've never worked with it but do like how it looks on the boat. Thanks for the write up!

Thanks, Doug. You aren't stealing. It is not an original idea to me. I got the idea of the contrasting wood strips coming to a point from CanoeCraft. The shape of the deck going around the inwales is from Gilpatrick's from Building a Cedar Strip Canoe. And the semi circle cutout is something lots of canoes have.

When you are fitting the deck, take it real slow, start well outside the lines you traced under and gradually work the bevel on both edges a little at a time. A stationary belt-sander with a tilting table is a great too for the job. Work a side toward the "point" go right around the point and down the other side. You are just putting a slight taper on the sides. The deck will initially sit proud but will slowly drop down close to flush if you do it right. Then finish it off flush with a random orbit to blend it into the inwale.

If the inwale is canted (leaning in) where it meets the deck, as many inwales are, it can get tricky getting a good joint there. Again, sanding dust and thickened epoxy are your friend. You can also fill any gap by taking whatever gunnel cut-offs you have and putting in a little wedge between the inwale and the deck. You can also grind a little hollow out of the deck to meet it using a RO sander and heavy grit. That's how I did the deck on my cedar stripper in this photo.

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Thanks algs, I done 2 inlaid decks with moderate success the boat I am working on has a sweep up so will be leaving the deck, only one, thicker then the gunwales and sand down to meet them. Slow is the key word.
To reuse the existing holes in the hull for new gunwales, could you clamp just the outer gunwale, drill from the inside through the existing holes and outer gunwale, then clamp in the inner gunwale and drill from the outside, through the hole in the outer gunwale, into the inner gunwale?

I guess because I always see gunwales that are rounded, I never considered using square stock for gunwales. On the single hull on which I installed wood gunwales, I spent a lot of time with plane and sander to round the gunwales. If I ever did it again, I’d install the gunwales square and then run a router around the boat to round the gunwale edges. During installation, that would make clamping easier, and I wouldn’t be concerned with clamp imprints on the gunwales, knowing I was going to remove an outer layer of wood after the installation.

However, I don’t expect to ever install wood gunwales, so will probably never use these procedures. I enjoy paddling canoes more than working on canoes, so I got rid of the wood gunwaled boats I owned. My vinyl and aluminum gunwales will never be as pretty as wood, but don’t rot and require very little maintenance. Time not spent sanding and oiling can be spent on the water.
Thanks algs, I done 2 inlaid decks with moderate success the boat I am working on has a sweep up so will be leaving the deck, only one, thicker then the gunwales and sand down to meet them. Slow is the key word.
Yup, if the there's a lot of sweep using thicker stock works. That's what I did on my cedar stripper.
To reuse the existing holes in the hull for new gunwales, could you clamp just the outer gunwale, drill from the inside through the existing holes and outer gunwale, then clamp in the inner gunwale and drill from the outside, through the hole in the outer gunwale, into the inner gunwale?
Sounds like it would work.
I guess because I always see gunwales that are rounded, I never considered using square stock for gunwales. On the single hull on which I installed wood gunwales, I spent a lot of time with plane and sander to round the gunwales. If I ever did it again, I’d install the gunwales square and then run a router around the boat to round the gunwale edges.
I just smooth over the edge with sandpaper to break the sharp edge.
Your project looks great. I really like the scarfing jig.
Thanks. Here's a couple of additional pictures of it on the Shopsmith and in action. The pencil line in the third photo tells me where the scarf will start. Otherwise pretty self-explanatory.E7AC474E-A9DA-4C85-B6C5-EC06CAE561F7_1_105_c.jpeg of it.

I had to take a few days off from the Explorer restoration project because I was on deadline to finish an enormous end-grain cutting board "requested" by SWMBO for Xmas. Dimensions are 25" x 18" x 1.375".
I just barely got it done in time to get it under the tree.

But now it's back to canoe work. The original Explorer had a yoke but no thwarts. But since I will be using this in whitewater, I thought a couple of quarter thwarts would help stiffen the hull. I didn't have a pattern for these quarter thwarts so I made my own out of 1/4" thick ply. I didn't take a lot of photos of the process but will try to describe it here. The ply is ripped to the same final width as you want the thwarts to be -- here 1.5" inches. While you are at it, rip the stock for the thwarts at the same time so it is exactly the same width as the pattern. The pattern length is determined by taking a measurement across the canoe where it will be installed. Cross cut the pattern and the thwart stock to the exact same length. Give yourself an extra inch or two of length to permit final fitting.

Now just draw a fair curve along one edge of the pattern. There are a lot of ways to do this. Here's one. I want the quarter thwarts to be full width at the center and also full width and straight for the last 2 inches at each end. So I begin by drawing a line across the width of the patter at dead center and I also mark off the two inches from both ends of the pattern. Now divide the areas between center and the 2 inch marks in half. Now you've got the area between the end marks divided into quarters. Then it's just a question of how far "in" you want the bottom of the curve to come. Here I think I used 3/8" of an inch. Make a mark 3/8"in (or whatever you choose) from the edge at the one quarter and three quarter lines you previously made. Sounds complicated but look at the pattern below and it should be self evident what I did (you will even see some tick marks near the straight side of the pattern where I experimented with various curves). Now drive in brads at the at all those tick marks that define the start and end of the curve.

Now get a flexible batten - a thin strip of wood works. In this case I used a long thin metal Fiskers bow saw blade (a busted band saw blade would work, too) -- and snake it around the brads to get a fair curve. You may need to drive an extra brad at the "bottom" of the curve to "sandwich" the batten in place so it won't move. Now trace your fair curve as defined by the batten onto the pattern. Cut out your patten on the band saw and smooth out any imperfections either by hand-sanding it or with a drum sander. It should look something like this.
Note that the pattern is the full width of the eventual thwart but the curve is only cut on one edge. Line up the pattern on the thwart stock (which you've already cut to the same width and length as the pattern), trace it, flip it, and trace it again on the other edge. Repeat for the second quarter thwart.

Now rough band saw out your two quarter thwarts. I then use heavy-duty, pressure sensitive double stick tape to stick both thwarts together so I can drum sand them simultaneously so they at least end up identical even if not perfect. Once you have the curve smooth, you can knock off the sharp edge -- hand sand or round over slightly with a router. In the photo below you can see the quarter thwarts sitting in the foreground after being wiped down and waiting to have finish applied.
It probably took as long to write up the process as to do it. Must remember to take more progress photos.

Also in the above photo is the yoke, which has just had a coat of epoxy applied to it. For the yoke pattern I "cheated" and used a paper pattern in the book Building a Cedar Strip Canoe by Gilpatrick. I actually cut out the pattern, taped it to the yoke stock, traced it, rough cut it out at the band saw and used a drum sander to get the final shape. Again, you can soften the edges by hand with sandpaper or use a round over bit in a router. Here, to soften the yoke just a bit more around the neck cut out, I ran that part of the yoke at an steep angle over the the top roller on my stationary belt sander. I've left the yoke pretty flat elsewhere because I have plans to add some yoke pads.

That's all for now.
ALSG, I know I have a retiree’s time and you are still a working man, but for me taking the time to write up process and progress and photograph is a help when doing a many-step rebuild. Taking photos especially; I notice things I had missed while taking the photos, even more so when viewing the photos. A different eye and different perspective on something I had worked beside unnoticed.

I’m sure you’ve read this before, maybe recently, but writing up the step by step helps slows my roll. If the best sequence work is A, B, C, D, E, and I do A, B, D, E going back to do C can be more difficult. I almost did that minutes ago; got on a roll dry fitting parts and pieces, ABCDE, and started taking parts and piece out before I got to E.

Dry fit everything needed to be sequentially installed in place, so I got to reinstall a couple pieces I had just taken back out.

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Smarter, or at least able to remember a simple ABCDE sequence would be better, but I settle for slow.

Back to what I call work. My twenty minute days have falled by the wayside, replaced with five spells a day of twenty minute work. That’s almost 2 hours a day. Rewards were already deserved.
Fitted and installed the quarter thwarts and the grab handles (just leftover gunnel). These will all come off to get varnished.

Next up: putting the webbing on my seat frame -- a first for me since I've caned the three previous seats I made.
The webbing job on the seat is done. My wife works in a fabric store and has taken upholstery classes and owns a sweet little Senco air stapler and a very nice upholstery webbing stretcher.

Here's the webbing stretcher in question a C.S. Osborne tool that I remember buying for her on-line.
And here's how I used it. In the photo below, the end where the webbing stretcher is has already been stapled and I'm using the webbing stretcher to pull the webbing taut and low over the far side so I can staple it there. Start the webbing stretcher with the teeth pointing up (doesn't need to be straight up), hook webbing over the teeth and then rotate webbing stretcher so the teeth are horizontal. Staple the far end and then cut to final length. The holes caused by the points of the webbing stretcher are minuscule and I doubt they will compromise the webbing any more than they do on furniture upholstery jobs, which is to say not at all.
The goal wasn't to make it tight as a drum; just taut.

And here's the finished seat.

That was a lot easier than caning but also a lot less fun/satisfying and less visually satisfying. I also expect it to be less comfortable. But I do expect it to be bomb proof. Incidentally, this is a big seat. The webbed section will nearly span side to side once installed, making it more pleasant to use when heeling the canoe over.

Now I am working on a concept to make the seat adjustable, with no tools, from dead flat (for lake paddling) to angled downward (for kneeling) with several hard and secure stops at every 3/4". If the concept works, you'll see it written up. If not, I'll have to install it the usual way.
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