Working With Epoxy

Part lll – Working with Epoxy

Early on I had decided that the process of rebuilding the gunwales would not include screws, bolts, or other mechanical fasteners. The main reason for this was that the original ribs had decayed in numerous places. In fact, in places, the ribs no longer extended up high enough to reach the sheer line. In other places, the wood was quite tired. It seemed unlikely that the ribs would be able to support the force of a screw fastened to hold the new wood in place.

A friendly hand makes all the difference, here my son is making use of the "3rd hand" claw, a homemade clamp of sorts that help to just hold something in place, but allowing the wood freedom of movement, just like a hand wood.
A friendly hand makes all the difference, here my son is making use of the “3rd hand” claw, a homemade clamp of sorts that help to just hold something in place, but allowing the wood freedom of movement, just like a hand would.

I did decide that there would be 3 parts of the gunwale, an outside rub rail, an inside sheer “plank” and a top toe cap that would unify the structure. I wanted the new gunwale to add stability to the canoe’s aging frame, to reinforce any areas that were in need of additional support, and of course to act as an anchor to the seats and amidships support – all of which are necessary to keep the canoe from literally springing apart.

I did collect a good number of the old brass bolts and screws that I had previously used, 30 years ago. I went into my garage, looked around, and spotted a nearly full gallon of epoxy resin, with several partially used quarts of hardeners, one for cool weather and two for warmer weather.

 

New Gunwales For My Old Town Guide Canoe - you don't want to wear your Sunday clothes when working with epoxy.  Here I am getting the final fit in before mixing up the epoxy mixture.  Working against the clock and the sun, are in addition to getting a good fit during assembly
New Gunwales For My Old Town Guide Canoe – you don’t want to wear your Sunday clothes when working with epoxy. Here I am making the final adjustments to the clamps after we applied the epoxy mixture to the hull and new wood wood. In addition to working against the clock and the sun, you have to force the wood against its “will” – especially in the compound curve areas up at the ends of the canoe.

Before “gluing up” the first strip of pine, I lightly sanded the outside area where the new wood would be in contact with the old fiberglass cloth. The outside skin of the canoe was in remarkably good condition. The fiberglass job that I had done 30 years ago had held up very well. When I had taken possession of the old canoe back then, I had decided that a nice thin layer of cloth over the old wooden frame would take care of the issue of some cracked ribs, as well as the burned out planking which was the result of a fire. Thirty years ago, the canoe was in worse shape than simply needing new gunwales.

New Gunwales For My Old Town Guide Canoe - see the sanding that was done on the hull before the new wood was epoxied on.
New Gunwales For My Old Town Guide Canoe – see the sanding that was done on the hull before the new wood was epoxied on.  In several places, the old wood was missing, the new pine cleaned up the sheer line and reinforced the hull.

Working with epoxy, and working alone can be tricky in terms of time and fastening. The last thing I wanted was to have a quick set. Once the epoxy starts to “go” that’s the end. If the wood is not clamped in place before the epoxy starts to set, the result will be a big mess! For that reason, I decided to do only eight to ten feet at a time, at least until I felt comfortable with the process. Before mixing any epoxy, I made a trial setting, with all of the clamps in place, and the scarf joints cut on both pieces. Since the canoe is almost 18 feet along the sheer, buying my pine in ten foot lengths worked out well. I used a 45-degree bevel cut that sliced across the two boards, overlapping them about six inches.

Once everything looked good, I removed the clamps, set down the wood, and mixed the epoxy. I found that six ounces of epoxy with one ounce of hardener was about all that was needed, I mixed in some micro balloons to get a nice pasty mixture, I mixed in some that were designed for fasteners, with others that were designed for feathering. I didn’t want the epoxy to go running down the side of the canoe. I used a thin piece of wood and a wide putty knife to apply the epoxy mixture to the side of the hull and to the new wood. I made sure to place the mixture wherever there was a rib, and often in between as well.

New Gunwales For My Old Town Guide Canoe - the inside and outside pieces have been epoxied into place, I have a big smile knowing the clamps are on and just a few adjustments will be needed, including placing another clamp on the outside scarf joint.
New Gunwales For My Old Town Guide Canoe – the inside and outside pieces have been epoxied into place, I have a big smile knowing the clamps are on and just a few adjustments will be needed, Whenever there was a need to distribute the load from the pipe and wood clamps, a small piece of scrap wood was placed between the clamp and the new wood.  Here you can also see the white epoxy mixture that was used to reinforce the ribs along the sheer line.  The same mixture was used to “glue” the new wood to the original ribs on the inside, and to the fiberglass skin on the outside.

It’s Worse Than It Looks!

Part ll – Assessment

Yikes, while pulling the canoe along on top of the lawn, I began to see the damage in the bright sunlight.  The gunwales were both pretty well gone. Initially, I thought that at least one side could be repaired while the other side would have to be completely replaced. The dry rot was extensive, but fortunately it did not extend to the planking or ribs of the canoe, the rot was limited to the oak gunwales that I had put on some 3 decades ago.  In some sections, those nasty carpenter ants had taken up residence – ha but not for much longer.

What Wood To Use?
At first I thought that I could find some long lengths of wood in my garage, enough to get the job done.  That was before I had made an accurate assessment of the rot in existing gunwales.  I realized that I was going to have to spend some money.  I thought about using oak again, and then I decided to go to the local lumber store and just see what was available.  In the end I settled on pine strips that were ten feet long, 3/8 inch thick, and 1 and 1/4″ wide.  The ten foot length would mean only 1 scarf joint for each required length.  Each piece was about $9, and a total of 12 pieces were needed.  The wood was nice and clear without any knots.  I felt comfortable in thinking that I would be able to bend the wood, and enforce my “will” over it when making the compound curves.  I also decided that the wood be epoxied in place, and that there would not be any mechanical fasteners used.  I already had an “extra” gallon of epoxy and several quarts of hardener, both the fast setting for colder temperatures, and the slower setting hardener for warmer temperatures.   Below is a photo that shows the preliminary set up – I needed to see what I was up against in terms of  reconstructing the graceful sheer line that once existed.

Clamping the wood into place to get a first look at the repair.
Clamping the wood into place to get a first look at the repair. Here I placed two strips of pine over each other, to let them get “acclimated” to the bend that would take place the following day.

After positioning the canoe on top of the three benches, and bracing it amidships to keep the canoe steady, I began the process or removing the old gunwales, at least what was left of it. Using a cordless screw driver and a pair of vice grips, I held the brass nut firmly while backing out the screw that went from the outside through the ribs and to the other side of the interior gunwale oak strip. In many cases, the entire piece simply fell apart, the brass screws that held the top of the gunwale fell away as the I pulled apart the gunwale.

 

The seat itself was intact, but the fasteners no longer held the seat to the hull.
The seat itself was intact, but the fasteners no longer held the seat to the hull. This was allowing the hull to “spring”, definitely not a good thing! Part of the old gunwale is still in place on the top and inside.

I noticed that one of the seats and the oak athwartship brace had separated from their supports and the canoe was beginning to spring. Oh, boy, this canoe was in serious condition.  If I had waited another year, I think the hull would have just broke apart. That would have made me quite sad. In any case, the seats themselves were in excellent condition, and so too was the athwartship brace. I decided to keep these in place and use them as a guide to return the hull back to its original shape.

When Old Meets New – Rebuilding My Old Town Canoe

Where To Begin?

In the middle of the winter of 2014, my 88 year old canoe rested comfortably on the same saw horses that have held her up for the last 30 years or so.  Well, maybe one pair had been replaced, but I think it was my cousin Bob who made a pair for me way back around 1976 – to help support my 54′ wooden mast. Taken care of, the age of a saw horse can go on for many years.

Later, during the same winter 0f 2014, the snow really piled up, the saw horses let go, and the canoe came to rest on her side, up against my neighbor’s fence.  The fence posts were rotted, and three of the posts took a hard knock and the fence itself leaned over precariously.

As spring time rolled around, I began to think “What should I do with this great dame?  I had rebuilt the canoe once, rescuing her after a fire had damaged the hull, and several ribs had been broken, and the hull itself was badly in need of repair.  That was 30 years ago, did I feel like fixing her up again?  I mean in 30 years, I had only gone for a canoe ride twice, so it wasn’t like I was aiming to go canoeing again anytime soon.

The Old Town Covered With Snow
Overturned For The Winter

Would You Buy This Boat?

Below is the photo that I sent to several curious individuals who responded to my ad to sell the boat.  I had decided that Craig’s List seemed the perfect place to hopefully land a potential buyer.  Price would not be an issue, but I did want someone who was handy with fixing boats.  The boat is over 17 feet long, and one end, well both ends, were literally coming apart at the seams.  The gunwales were almost gone on one side, and badly rotted on the other side.  After a pretty good rainstorm, I saw that the hull actually held water, and I began to think differently about selling the boat – especially since no one was running over to buy her!  Well, first I had to bail out the boat, and then I dragged her over the lawn to some benches that we had built – for taking team photos, but now the teams were gone, and what better use than making a nice elevated platform for the canoe?  Up next, part I of the rebuilding process…

The rotted gunwales are clearly shown in this picture.
The rotted gunwales are clearly shown in this picture.