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.

The Clamming Kayak

Nick Murgo 2/26/02

    Dom and I have been itching to build a kayak for the past ten years or so.   We mulled over the plans and decided on a hybrid design of our own.  We call the design the “clamming kayak.”  We came up with this name – not because of any original or creative design per se, but simply because we want tobe able to cross the channel to where the clams are, dig a couple of pails and throw in a few hot dogs and get eating!
Fig. 1a: Two different frame stations shown – plywood top and spruce below.


The only requirement that I had was that the boat must belight enough for one man and strong enough, and able enough to hold about 400lbs. – even if for a relatively short distance.  The cost should be under$300 and the materials should be local enough not to require any exotic fibersor epoxies.  Could we make it out of wood and canvas?

Figure 1 above shows Nick with one of the frames cut out and ready forfinishing.

Dom suggested that the kayak also be fitted with a small rudderto make handling the boat easier in a small chop, and to make up for any of mypaddling deficiencies.  I liked the idea, thinking that with one of myshirts stretched out over my head in a following breeze, the boat could make wayon its own.  Dom set to work putting his design on graph paper while Istarted collecting some of the lumber that we would need.  By the time Ilocated a couple of finished 2 x 10″ spruce planks and had it ripped into 2x 3/8″ strips, Dom had the plans lofted out.  He also made a keel jig to holdthe frames in place.

Figure 2 above shows Nick checking the alignment of one of the frames.

    In figure 1, I have one of the frames cut outand resting on the jig that would be used to eventually hold all the frames inplace while we fastened the stringers.  The sheer and the chime stringershave been fastened in place in figure 2 above.  This was very slow going -taking nearly 8 hours.  As we found out, it is one thing to have frameslofted and cut out, and another to have them put in place properly.  Atthis stage, we are drilling into the 3/8″ ply frames, countersinking theoutside stringers, and then gluing and screwing them together.  We used ahalf dozen or so clamps, C-clamps, wood clamps, pipe clamps, and homemade woodenjaw clamps to hold things together.  Each of the ply frames had to beplaned at the proper angle to allow the stringer to seat properly.  Severalframes were too high, while others were a bit too low.  This was remedied by sanding or planning the wood frames as needed – within reason.  In some instances, we made small gussets that we fastened to our frames and then to the stringers.  These took care of the “impossible” frames.  It is amazing how much a 1/2″ or even a 1/4″ will change the shape of the sheer line or the chine.  A lot of eye-balling goes into making a boatpleasing to look at so that frames are square to the keel, parallel to each other, and everything fits snugly.  At this point, if time and care arenot taken – the rest of the boat will look “homemade”.  Everysmall error here will only compound the situation later. Take the time to do itright here, even if it means not getting anywhere.  Then the rest will come much easier and the kayak will be a small vessel of beauty.

To Be Continued

Part II

Fig. 3: Dom is checking the alignment of the frames with abatten.

Fig. 4 The first string set on the bow stem, the black”claws” are from
a homemade wood lobster clamp that works quickly and easily.

Fig. 5:  The chime stringer set in place with clamps.  The clamp onthe left
is used to hold a “straightener” plank in place to hold the keel inplace.

Fig. 6:  Again, the chime stringer is held in place at frame #10, the
wood stringer on the left is actually the keel.  A knot is visible in thekeel, and
the plywood frame is clearly shown.

Fig. 7: Dom using an air driven nail gun to fasten the
chime stringer to a bottom stringer that will reinforce the middle of the hull.

Fig. 8: The reverse counter of the stern is shown here.
The boat hull is upside down.

Fig. 9: A family discussion about the progress of the project.

Fig. 10: Showing the entire kayak’s hull from the bow, the lines have beenfaired
and the side stringers are all in place along with four of the bottom stringers.

Fig. 11: The clamming kayak is taking form – looking forward over the
stern counter, every stringer was glued and screwed.  Be sure todrill
a pilot hole and counter for the screw head or the 3/8 ply will likely crack
along with the 3/8″ spruce stringer.