Canadian Canoe Routes

Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?
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Author:  Prospector16 [ March 10th, 2018, 11:42 am ]
Post subject:  Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?

I did not want to sully the canoe posted earlier so opened a new thread on this.

I often see "completely restored" cedar canvas canoes which boast new canvas.

I've also seen cedar canvas canoes restored with fibreglass instead of canvas.

The latter is by my eye a MASSIVE improvement. It just looks way better because you can see the wood. It is probably lighter though I have not lifted both side-by-side. And I'm guessing probably more durable as well in fibreglass.

Is there any practical reason to restore a cedar canvas canoe with canvas? I know there is the romantic notion of having one like the old school canoes. And that can be a legitimate thing but it definitely would not be my thing.

I'd even go so far as to say it seems to me to be an incredible lost opportunity to restore one in canvas instead of fibreglass. But am open to be convinced otherwise :-)

Our Scout troop has a canvas canoe that we want to restore this summer with fibreglass. So there is a practical reason for me to ask.

Author:  kinguq [ March 10th, 2018, 2:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?

The conventional wisdom would say that allowing water entry from the inside of the canoe will lead to cyclical expansion and contraction of the wood, which will lead to delamination of the glass from the wood.

However, in the North it is common practice to glass the big freight canoes once the canvas goes, usually after just a few years. I don't recall seeing one delaminate.

I recently glassed an old Langford wood-canvas that was gifted to me. So far no problems, although it is kept in a garage and so not subject to repeated soakings.

Unlike you I don't like the look of clear glass over wood in these canoes. Often the wood planking is just...not that nice. Not like a stripper at any rate. I painted mine.

Of course using epoxy as opposed to polyester resin will give a much better and more long-lasting result.

Traditionalists look on this as a travesty, ruining an historical artifact. I might agree if these were rare and no longer in production, but neither thing is true. In my case the canoe would have been trashed otherwise.


Author:  RonB [ March 10th, 2018, 4:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?

Covering an old-style cedar canoe with polyester resin and glass is its death sentence in most cases. It leaves the wood exposed on the inside, still able to soak up water but with its ability to dry limited by the plastic stuck to the outside. Polyester resin doesn't stick well to wood anyway but when the wood is subject to wetting and drying, the wood does tend to either separate from the plastic in patches or split or both.
The plastic coating is usually heavier than filled canvas, but is too thin to add much strength. There is a bit of additional initial stiffness, but the strength of the canoe is still the strength of the wooden structure. The canoe is still vulnerable. It has been made unrepairable.
I have saved a couple of canoes that were treated this way perhaps ten years before I heard of them. In both cases, the glass simply fell off about half the planking and stuck hard to the rest to the point where I had to pull the planking off and replace it. It comes off the boat in splinters.
Sell the wood canoe. You'll almost certainly get enough money to buy a fiberglass beater and they can be repaired easily with auto body techniques.
Or repair the wood canoe properly. New canvas is surprisingly easy to install and fill these days.

Author:  lookinnorth [ March 11th, 2018, 10:57 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?

Good question, I've seen plenty restored or refurbished both ways and I would take either one. Fiberglass cloth perhaps because of its availability may be one advantage and it should take a little more abuse in regards to rocks etc. then a traditional canvas providing a little less maintenance.( but any responsible paddler takes care of their equipment anyway, right?)

What a person may want to consider is the resin used if glassing a hull. Epoxy resins have been around for along time ( they've improved over the years as well) and in regards to boat building would be the way to go as compared to the regular polyester fiberglass resin you see sold in the local hardware store. On the same note, improvements have also been made in fillers used for canvas as well.

Some glassed wood canoes are finished clear showing the planking but of course can be painted which, unless a person is right up to it, can't tell if its canvas or fiberglass.

When restoring a cedar canvas canoe its up to the owner how they want to finish the hull,,, keep it original or go with something else. Regardless, the inside of the hull should also be striped of any old varnish or finish, inspected, any repairs made and re-sealed either with a spar type varnish or epoxy sealer.

Just a few of my thoughts,

Author:  RonB [ March 11th, 2018, 1:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?

Prospector 16, if you do decide to plasticize your canoe, it would be a serious mistake to also plasticize the inside. Any gap or crack in that coating will allow water into the wood but not ever let it out again - and there will be gaps in the places you can't easily see. Varnish, of course. It will gap at interfaces between ribs and plank and breathe a bit. Epoxy won't leave enough opening. Epoxy does bond to wood far better than polyester resin, but you need a clean surface on the wood for a good bond and there isn't much wood in the planking of an old canoe. It's likely only just over 1/8" thick.
If you decide to canvas, please call on me. I am not a professional, but I have canvassed about a dozen canoes. I started a late 70's Chestnut last Friday.
One of my canoes is a 16' Chestnut Prospector I bought new in the early 70's. It has two or three thousand miles on it and it's still young - unlike me.

Author:  Prospector16 [ March 11th, 2018, 2:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?

RonB where are you located? I'm in Ottawa.

I'll consider canvas but cost is a major factor for us as well. The canoe was donated, and 2 of our Scout leaders have experience laying out sheets of fibreglass making their own wakeboards and similar things. So we can do the fibreglass ourselves relatively cheaply.

Author:  RonB [ March 11th, 2018, 2:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?

I live in Labrador. I do have a telephone and a computer that can handle skype. The canoe I'm repairing now will probably cost under $200 in materials, including paint and varnish. It's a 14' "Fox", but another couple of feet makes little difference. Part of the low cost of the repair is because I bought a 5 US gallon bucket of filler that will probably do three canoes. The bucket cost me $200. If you are only covering one, your unit cost will be higher than mine, like about $100 for filler, where I reckon on $70 or so.

Author:  Rolf Kraiker [ March 11th, 2018, 7:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?

If you want to paint it anyway... I'd suggest you put a barrier between the wood and the fiberglass - wax, oil or mould release compound will work - could even covering the hull with cellophane wrap. That lets the hull retain the natural flex it had covered in canvas and makes it easy to take off the fiberglass if you change your mind later. Bonding fiberglass to the wood makes the hull more rigid, if you hit something hard it can damage the hull in a circumstance that would only have damaged the canvas. On a side note to something mentioned elsewhere in this thread about removing fiberglass that's bonded to wood. You can use a heat gun, to soften the resin, it will then peel off without sticking to the hull.

Author:  Robin [ March 11th, 2018, 8:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?

Putting fiberglass rather than canvas on an original wood canvas canoe is not a good idea.

For one, should you have a mishap and break some plank and ribs there is no reasonable way to repair the damage without removing and replacing a large section of fiberglass first.
You will never be able to refinish the interior without introducing all sorts of junk stuck between the plank.
When water enters the canoe it will sit at the bottom under the plank and the plank will become brittle and black underneath. If you use a clear fiberglass skin the moldy plank will look awful.

Fiberglassing wood canvas canoes has been the death of many of these canoes. If I was a scout leader I would want to teach the scouts the correct way and not promote just another easy fix/throw away product, because that's what you will be doing.

There is a book out by a very good Canadian canoe restorer, "This Old Canoe" by Mike Elliot. He will be at the WCHA assembly at Trent University July 17-22nd (check his dates). His book explains in detail the errors of using fiberglass and he makes restoring a wood canvas canoe easy. Just his recipe for making your own canvas filler more than pays for the book. I would forget the fiberglass and do the canoe right and use canvas like it was designed for.

Author:  Rolf Kraiker [ March 12th, 2018, 6:14 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?

Mike Elliot is the "go to" guy for restoration information. He's very knowledgeable but he's also very nice - a genuine person. Besides his books, he also has a blog with all kinds of good information. See

Author:  Stencil [ March 12th, 2018, 10:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?

There are a few things you just don't do.
Such as fishing with dynamite and fibreglassing old W/C canoes.
Both generally end badly.

Author:  RHaslam [ March 12th, 2018, 11:39 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?

Wellllllllll, I know I'm stepping into a boiling pot, but........I had an old Tremblay wood/canvas with verolite on it. The verolite was kind of a weird rubberized canvas type thing that tremblay used for a while. It was less durable than canvas, but easier to repair on the spot. Anyway, I peeled that off, sanded the hull (that took some doing, Tremblay's weren't known for their fine workmanship). Then I took wide masking tape and taped the entire hull. I had tried a test piece of glass with epoxy on some tape, and it didn't stick at all. I then used a ten ounce sheet of glass and put it on with clear coat. Painted it red of course. Canoe is still holding up great. However, I don't use it a lot, and store it in a garage. Now if I had a chestnut, or some other classic w/c, I wouldn't have done this, but I figured it was worth a go for a 200 dollar hull.

As some one who has looked into this fairly extensively......refinishers who take fiberglass off to replace with canvas usually prefer when polyester resin has been used. The polyester doesn't bond to the wood like the epoxy. Anyone who thinks epoxy fiberglass will release easily from a canoe needs to try it. I used heat guns, torches, just about everything, but it would not come off without taking some wood with it. That's why it is preferred for strip building.

And on the thoughts of saving money....It will probably all most cost you the same to do canvas or fiberglass. The cost of resin these days is very high.

Author:  Rolf Kraiker [ March 12th, 2018, 12:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?

RHaslam... you pretty much nailed it. :-) I haven't tried to remove epoxy but polyester comes off fairly easily with heat. Masking tape the entire hull though... that was excessive. I put a fiber glass skin on an original Chestnut Bob Special but covered the hull with kitchen wrap (cellophane) as the barrier to keep the resin off the wood, it was quick, easy and didn't add any appreciable amount to the weight. Sun got the better of the polyester on the Bob eventually but taking it off was no harder than taking canvas off. And ya... the Tremblay ain't the same as a Chestnut.

Author:  RonB [ March 12th, 2018, 2:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?

Regarding Mike Elliot, I have found a great deal to agree with and to thank him for on his blog. Something he posted enabled me to identify a canoe that I had restored as a Bastien / Huron. I had always wondered a bit who the builder was. According to the story I got from the man who gave it to me over twenty years ago, it is probably about 80 or 90 years old now. It's out in the snow right now waiting for its place in the repair queue.

Author:  littleredcanoe [ March 12th, 2018, 3:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Restoring canvas canoes with fibreglass?

I watched Bill Miller take fiberglass off where the resin was polyester
It was fairly easy with a broad axe
I watched him take fiberglass off where epoxy was the resin
The canoe was good for one thing. The campfire as fuel

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