View Full Version : Need advice concerning an old canvas kayak

07-11-2014, 07:03 PM
Hello again

Since 10 years I have some muscular trouble in my back which I am trying to sort out through some rather intense training. Most likely I must continue training for the rest of my life to not get ill again. My physioterapist told me that kayaking would be a good form of excercise...... so I might have many decades of kayaking ahead.....

This summer I am allowed to use a friend's plastic kayak but thinking ahead I migh need one of my own. As I am on a tight budget my thoughts wandered towards the old kayak in my uncle's barn. I suppose that I am a part owner in it and the other part owners are willing to give it to me for free.

My grandfather and grand uncle built the kayak sometimes around 1918 or 1919. It has a framework of spruce battens covered with painted cotton canvas. In the 1950-ies it was left outside for a couple of years until the summer of -58 when my uncle shifted out a number of rotten stringers and put on new canvas on it. The repair was intended to be temporary. Then my uncle and later my father used the kayak until the mid 1970-ies when my parents married and the kayak was put away in the cattle barn attic and there it has been ever since safe and dry.

In I few weeks I will go there to take a look at it and see if it is worth the effort to repair.
What kind of damage should I expect and look for?
Is shifting out the canvas a lot of work?
How bad is too bad?
Would a rebuild be worth the effort or should I just leave it in the barn attic for the future and get a newer kayak?

I am a professional joiner and carpenter and have good tools......but limited time and even more limited funds.

Wooden Boat Fittings
07-11-2014, 07:45 PM
You'll be able to check the canvas pretty easily once you remove the kayak from the barn and clean it up. If it was in good condition when she was put away I'd expect it to be still okay.

What would be more concerning would be the possibility of rot. I'm not sure why there would have been rot earlier on unless she was stored in an unventilated place while still wet inside. But since it happened once it could have happened again. There'll be no way of testing all the framework for rot without removing the deck canvas. If she was built in any fashion like my own canvas kayak, then doing this would involve firstly ungluing and peeling back part of the stem and stern covering canvas, then removing the cockpit coaming and the rubbing strakes from the outside of the gunwales, and then finally drawing dozens of copper tacks from the gunwales and cockpit. At this point the deck canvas should come away in one piece to expose the entire frame.

My kayak is only 54 years old, but has suffered no rot in the frame. These photos give an idea of how she was made --

http://www.woodenboatfittings.com.au/boats/kareela/bow.jpg http://www.woodenboatfittings.com.au/boats/kareela/kareela2-s.jpg

This picture (different boat, but same designer) shows hows the frame looks before hull or deck canvas goes on --


Edited to add -- Of course, this is a post-war design, and makes use of marine ply. Your frame won't look quite the same but I imagine it won't be very different in concept.

07-11-2014, 07:48 PM
In I few weeks I will go there to take a look at it and see if it is worth the effort to repair.
What kind of damage should I expect and look for?
Is shifting out the canvas a lot of work?
How bad is too bad?
Would a rebuild be worth the effort or should I just leave it in the barn attic for the future and get a newer kayak?

Likely the fabric is toast, but if the frame isn't rotted or deteriorated, then re-skinning should be no problem, and also inexpensive.

Removing the skin is easy. A rebuild, even of the frame, is likely worth it, yes. Skinboats are typically much lighter than plastic ones of the same size, and certainly have more cachet.

Feel free to pm me when you get more information - I'm happy to give you my two cents worth.


07-12-2014, 08:19 AM
I love old boats and this one obviously has family history which is a big deal. But one thing to keep in mind, from what I have seen, most older canvas covered designs will be bigger boats. Very stable but slow. That may not be issue for your intended use.

If it is needs a lot of work a newer design would 'probably' give you a better boat in that it would be easier to paddle and you could cover more water. Of course your goals and desires will come into play. I just prefer a smaller, easier to paddle boat so that I can cover more distance. Of course there is a lot of history there and I would want to save it if it was part of my family history.

07-12-2014, 09:44 AM

......so according to you my main worry should be if there is any pre-1958 rot damage still left in the frame. The kayak had been left outside unprotected for a few years in the 50-ies and as the repair was intended as temporary so there is a risk that there might be some rot that wasn't properly repaired.

The thing is that an oldfashioned beamy kayak would be perfect for my needs. Exercise (rehabilitation) is the primary primary porpose of this so I want a a stable and seaworthy kayak with room enough for my very long legs and big feet. From an ergonomic point of wiew a stable hull would allow my back muscles to relax between the paddle strokes. Balancing a tender boat isn't relaxing. Speed isn't important as I am only competing agains my illness.

Wooden Boat Fittings
07-12-2014, 07:35 PM
If it were me, I'd take her down, clean her up, and then check out the state of the canvas. If she was properly painted originally and over the years then it might still be in quite good condition. Then prod around inside her as best you can and see if you can see any signs of rot. If when she was stored outside she was upside-down (the only reasonable possibility, otherwise she would have been just a garden bath for a couple of years), then there might be rot externally in the keel if its paint had been abraded through beaching and not replaced, or internally along the gunwales, tops of frames, and cockpit coaming.

If the canvas seems okay and if you find little or no rot, then pick up an end and bounce her round a bit. If she flexes a bit then springs back, or if she doesn't flex at all, then I'd give the hull another coat or two of paint, launch her, and see how you go. (Maybe stay in shallow water just at first. :) ) If the hull is sound then it should support some weakness in the framing if it exists, and you might get several years of use from her, even with some rot present. (In saying this, I'm assuming you intend using her in calm water, not in the surf or in white-water rivers.)

On the other hand, if you're not at all confident of her condition but otherwise like the design, your skills should allow you to remove the canvas and build a new boat using the existing structure as a model.

Regarding stability, the blue kayak in Post #2 is 13' long and has a 27" beam (4 meters x 68 cm) and is very stable. You will need a paddle at least 8' long, and probably 9' (2.75m) or even more. There are 'rules' for determining paddle length, but all the ones I've seen are only based on the paddler's height and don't take freeboard or side-deck width into account, so only give a rough approximation at best. So experimentation with a 3m length of dowelling might be a good place to start. (Also, having a rigid joint at the centre of the shaft that allows the paddle to be broken in half while also setting the feathering angle correctly when assembled is a most useful feature as well.)

What size is your kayak? Do you have any photos you could post?


07-13-2014, 06:19 AM

I will go and take a look at the kayak maybe next week. It is 100km away from where I live. Last time I had a closer look at it was several years ago.

The waters I will be paddling is two slow running muddy river arms and the river mouth with it's surrounding fenland and the archipelago off the coast where there is no surf nor sea swells but a crisscrossing wave pattern of short choppy waves. No white water rapids and no need to go out in bad weather nor very far from the nearest land.

I will take some photos and try to go through it to find out as much as possible about it's condition and then post again in this thread.

07-14-2014, 07:36 AM
Canvas covered kayaks are simple fun little things. A good number of years ago I salvaged this broken pile of sticks.

http://im1.shutterfly.com/media/47b8df10b3127cc98c3a627c28de00000010O02Bbs3DVuzZA9 u3Gg/cC/f%3D0/ls%3D00200375837020080201030221825.JPG/ps%3D50/r%3D0/rx%3D550/ry%3D400/?tn=1174916907
and turned it back into this
http://im1.shutterfly.com/media/47b8df10b3127cc98c3a6233a9a100000010O02Bbs3DVuzZA9 u3Gg/cC/f%3D0/ls%3D00200375837020080201030224005.JPG/ps%3D50/r%3D0/rx%3D550/ry%3D400/?tn=-1701690654
As for how long the cotton canvas may last, ...... My dad and I built the kayak on the rignt back in 1974, it still has the original canvas. I have given it only one coat of paint since building it.

http://im1.shutterfly.com/media/47b8df10b3127cc98c3a6228288a00000010O02Bbs3DVuzZA9 u3Gg/cC/f%3D0/ls%3D00200375837020080201030226327.JPG/ps%3D50/r%3D0/rx%3D550/ry%3D400/?tn=-468017410

Here is another salvage, this one was probably built in the 1930's - 40's.

http://im1.shutterfly.com/media/47b9dd09b3127cc98c3a62dd62d000000010O02Bbs3DVuzZA9 u3Gg/cC/f%3D0/ls%3D00200375837020090328125525368.JPG/ps%3D50/r%3D0/rx%3D550/ry%3D400/?tn=611624520

And after.
http://im1.shutterfly.com/media/47b9dd09b3127cc98c3a62a162ac00000010O02Bbs3DVuzZA9 u3Gg/cC/f%3D0/ls%3D00200375837020090328125526706.JPG/ps%3D50/r%3D0/rx%3D550/ry%3D400/?tn=-163864567

Attaching the canvas is quick and easy with a staple gun and Stainless Steel staples. I find it helpful to draw a pencil line down the centerline of the canvas for reference (along the keel), then put a couple of staples at each end, pulling the canvas fairly taught fore & aft. Then start in the middle of the boat and alternate a few inches side to side, pulling taught as you go (keeping an eye on that pencil line to see that it is not drifting too far off center). Three to four hours about does it for re-canvasing hull and decks. Then two to three coats of oil based paint.

07-18-2014, 10:42 AM
Wow...... if you could make such a fine boat out of that wreck I should not worry too much....... Suddenly a rebuild started feeling a good bit easier.

Thanks for your advice. I had never heard of stainless staples before.

My trip to look at the old kayak got a bit delayed but sooner or later I will get there.

07-27-2014, 10:16 AM
Today I have checked out the old kayak toghether with my 75 years old uncle who rebuilt it in 1958 and has built several wooden boats later in his life. I did also take some photos. Unfortuanately I am not a member on any photo hosting site so posting them here is difficult.

Anyway..... I think I know a bit more about it than I did before.....
-The kayak was stored safe and dry in the barn attic and had not lost it's shape nor been close to any moisture.
-The canvas from 1958 is actually no real canvas but a much thinner quality which was sold at the local general store at the time for use as bed sheets. It is very brittle and the paint is flaking opening voids where water would get in if it was launched. New canvas is absolutely necsessary.
-The ribs are made from oak which is said to be recykled from old barrel staves from an imported barrel. One rib was replaced with spruce in 1958. Another rib is broken in three places and must be replaced and a third one looks a bit suspect.
-The rest of the ribs look all right as far as I could see through the cockpit.
-The inner gunwales (pine) are iron sick and so full of rusty tacks that they must be replaced before recanvassing.
-The rest of the stringers (pine) look all right. Most are original but one or two were replaced in 1958.
-The cockpit side coamings are a crude replacements from 1958 and they must be removed when installing new canvas. The aft coaming was crudely altered into some kind of a hinged hatch to provide room for my granduncle's girlfriend back in the early 20-ies.
-The outer gunwales and outer stems and outer keel and skeg are all replacements from 1958. They are sound and well made but they have to come off for recanvassing and I doubt they would come off without breaking as they are stuck in many thick layers of paint.
-The inner keel (pine) looks a bit suspect. I guess it is ironsick.

The main problem is that the kayak has a very nice shape. Inside it barely has enough room to sit comfortably with my long legs and big feet. Very few kayaks are that roomy....so I am pretty undecided right now.....