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Thread: Canvas Canoe Filler

  1. #1
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    Default Canvas Canoe Filler

    I'm new here, but not new to covering canoes with canvas.

    I came here a week or so ago to see what I could learn about making my own canvas filler. Most references to canoe canvas here turned out to be references to the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association website recipe page.

    Let me describe the experience I do have. I own two wooden canoes, one a Chestnut "Fort" Prospector which I bought new in the early 1970's and the other an unknown make I was given about 15 years ago. Its condition at that time might be reasonably described as "compost". It might be very old.

    The canvas on the Chestnut lasted for more than 20 years and thousands (really) of miles with a high proportion of very rough wildernesss travel.

    I replaced it, which was easy enough, and in my ignorance manufactured a filler similar to one of the WCHA recipes using window putty, turpentine and japan dryer. It was brittle, didn't adhere well, cracked at every opportunity and never did stop leaking. I put up with it for almost five years, even through another wildeness trip.

    Then I got the other canoe, rebuilt it, canvassed it and filled the cloth with a material I bought through a local boat shop. This time, I had the Stelmok/Thurlow book in my hands and I thought I could expect a respectable lifespan. Following the instructions in the book, I got quite good results. In five years, the cloth was rotten.

    Since then, I have covered both canoes again, filling the cloth with a substance recommended to me by somebody who should know a thing or two. I used a bit more than a litre of latex primer paint with added lightweight fairing filler (microballoons) to make it stiff enough to trowel on. Both times, as Jerry Stelmok advises, I first brushed the hull with half-and-half wood preservative and linseed oil. I then brushed the stretched cloth with preservative.

    On the old canoe, the cloth lasted two years. I covered the chestnut two years ago and it's still OK, but I don't have high hopes.

    The latex filler is completely superficial, so the cloth soaks up water endlessly and holds it so that the planking can take up some too. The canoe gains weight every time it goes in the water. Jerry Stelmok warns against this possibility in his book, by the way.

    So I've just finished covering the older canoe for the third time. I'd rather be paddling it than fixing it, especially fixing the same thing over and over again. I want it to last this time, so I decided to try to reproduce the older fillers no longer available because of the ban on lead. I believe the lead made all the difference to the lifespan of the canvas.

    And here's my formula:

    1 US qt turpentine
    1 US qt boiled linseed oil
    4 fl oz japan dryebr /> 7 lb 400 mesh ground silica
    3.75 fl oz lead carbonate in oil suspension.

    The first three ingredients are available at any decent paint store, the next at a potters supplier and the last among the oil paints at an art supply store, where it is known as "cremnitz white".

    I mixed it with a drill-powered paint mixer. The texture was similar to high quality paint.

    Other than that, follow Jerry's instructions. He says to cut down an old paint brush to use to apply the first coat of filler. Wash that brush to get the loose hair off before using it on your canoe.

    I hope this lasts for a few years.

    Anybody with a notion to give me a hard time about the lead on environmental grounds might think about the resources that might be saved if this application lasts. Think of the cotton alone. I think about a third of the world's pesticide use is devoted to cotton crops. OK, I know that's weak, but I am really tired of covering those canoes.

    Kinu

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    What part does the lead play in the filler?
    Ed Maurer
    Skinny Hull sailing magazinewww.skinnyhull.com
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    I am guessing poison.... and maybe some softening.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    I believe that it's poisonous nature acted as a preservative.
    The original fillers used white lead paste, still available here:http://www.tradboats.com/conseamfillers.html
    Don't know about States side though.
    It really is quite difficult to build an ugly wooden boat.

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  5. #5
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    Kinu - I think you have answered your own questions, but here are my 2 cents:

    Yes the lead served as a fungicide. Bill Clements used to sell the leaded filler here in the US until very recently when the price of the lead component quadrupled. He makes unleaded too with a different fungicide. The only difference I noticed is that I think that I could get a smoother finish with his leaded. The unleaded filler works very well too. I have used Thurlow's unleaded filler too and had no problems

    Kinu, your last recipe sounds on target - is it missing some paint? I haven't mixed my own, but seem to recall most include some paint as a base. Some treated canvas is available too, and I hear mildecide is available at most paint shops.

    If you are using paint in your fillers, I would avoid any latex. Use marine enamel.

    I prime with a high build primer and paint with marine enamel and haven't had major issues.

    Some folks have been using Zinsser masonry paint as a filler with some good results.

    Was your 1970's Fort covered in Verolite? I have the same canoe and I think it was covered with the stuff.
    "Wherever there is a channel for water, there is a road for the canoe. " - Thoreau

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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    The information over at the WCHA website is pretty good. The white lead in the filler serves two major purposes. First, it is toxic and winds up being a good anti-microbial material. (A well kept leaded canvas can last 25 years or more!) Second it helps to maintain the flexibility of the canvas. I'm also told that it helps the abrasion resistance of the canoe.

    I was talking with Jerry Stelmok at the Maine Boatbuider's show and we were speaking about the availablity of white lead - it is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult to find due to environmental restrictions. He has been looking into alternative materials for the filler. I think that in the near future, the availability of white lead and leaded fillers will be almost nil.

    Kinu - you mention that your canvas hasn't been surviving for very long - on the order of 5 years or so. How are you storing your canoes? If you can put them indoors for strorage, you should see a longer life span. Canvas covered canoes stored outside in the weather don't have as long a life span.
    "The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails."
    -William A. Ward



  7. #7
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    You can buy the filler from Rollin Thurlow from his website, here is the materials page: http://www.wooden-canoes.com/material.htm
    I worked there for a while before moving here, and that is what we used in the shop. It should not give you any trouble.

    I agree that storage is key in the life of a wood/canvas canoe. I would add that how you treat the inside and the naked exterior before canvasing are also key in extending the life of the canvas.

    Are you filling the canvas enough? Are you repainting/shellacing the bottom when needed?

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    Gentlemen,

    I believe that the lead is the factor that makes the whole difference between canvas that lasts twenty years and canvas that lasts five. I'll know more in a few years. I have read that it also contributed to keeping the canvas flexible.

    I remember the original canvas cover of the Chestnut, which would have included white lead. When I removed it, it was very rubbery, not at all brittle.

    All of the canoe covers that I have taken off have rotted first at the gunwhales, despite the fact that I have washed some of them with copper napthenate before filling.

    My canoes have never been stored indoors. I do my best with them in the winter, keeping them well off the ground and wrapped up, but indoors is not possible.

    Fitz, I have never heard of verolite. What is it? Do you use the Prospector much? I use mine very rarely now. My other canoe is also a 16, but much lower so it catches a lot less wind. It also has much softer bilges so it is not as stiff with a light load making it more comfortable. It's also a good deal faster than the Chestnut.

    Chainyank, finding commercial filler is easy. Nearly all the builders of wooden canoes will also sell filler. I wanted the lead. That's what's hard to find in Canada.

    Thanks,
    Kinu

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    Quote Originally Posted by kinu View Post
    My canoes have never been stored indoors.
    Bingo.
    My canvas guys get indoor treatment no matter what. Never thought to do it otherwise.
    The only time I've had quick canvas failure was the 2 years I didn't make an indoor place for my Old Town skiff.
    The canoe now sits on a rack under the pier tucked up under the boat house on the pier. Even then I wonder about the potential for rot but that seems like it works good. No drip and some decent air flow.
    Study Peace

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    Kinu:

    I really like my Prospector. It is my favorite river tripping canoe.



    Verolite is a plastic impregnated canvas. There is a description here:

    http://www.wcha.org/catalogs/tremblay/index.html

    Your description of the rubbery original canvas on your Prospector made me wonder if it wasn't in fact covered with verolite.
    "Wherever there is a channel for water, there is a road for the canoe. " - Thoreau

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    The storage is key as Chris and others have said above.

    Let me tell you a little story about two canoes...

    We restored a 17' Old Town Otca back in 1992 and when we canvased the boat, we used the unleaded filler from Old Town. The boat has always been stored inside and has had a normal amount of use. The canvas, with the exception of some touched-up paint, is as good as the day it was completed.

    About a year later, we found a nice Chestnut in need of a restoration. We finished that boat off and canvased it in the same way with the same materials. Because of space limitations, this canoe was stored outside on saw horses with a tarp to keep most of the weather off. It gets about the same use as the Old Town.

    Step ahead about 5 years. The canvas on the Chestnut was sagging up near the gunnels at the stem ends. After removing the outwales and peeling back the canvas, the mildew and rot had taken that canvas. We removed and replaced the canvas - again with the same materials. We did, however make sure to put it under covered storage. The same canvas that we put on in 1998 is still on the boat and in great shape.
    "The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails."
    -William A. Ward



  12. #12
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    Fitz,

    OK I have seen verolite. A friend of mine had a Tremblay and a cousin had another. My Chestnut had canvas, though.

    I agree with you that there is no better canoe anywhere for tripping with a load aboard. Six or seven hundred pounds in that canoe improve its manners remarkably. Most of my canoe use these days is light, though. I might be alone or sometimes with my wife and a bit of lunch. Less than 350 pounds. The smaller canoe is better by far for travelling light.

    Travelling alone in the Chestnut means that I have to make an effort to leave all the plastic kayaks behind. In the smaller canoe, I can do it without breaking a sweat.

    Canoez,

    I know you are right. I just can't do it.

    Kinu

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    You might want to caulk the joint between the canvas and the gunnel,so that it sheds water when it is stored.
    R
    Sleep with one eye open.

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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    The caulking helps a bit. Most people have a little varnish there which seals the underside of the gunnel to the painted canvas.

    One of the big problems is covering a canoe with a tarp and trapping moisture (or trapped moisture without a tarp...) Then, when the sun comes out, the tarp acts like a greenhouse and the warm, damp environment is perfect for mold and mildew to develop. Even without the tarp, a dark-hulled boat gets warm enough to encourage the growth of mold and mildew.

    If you have to store the canoe outside, strive for cool, dry conditions.
    "The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails."
    -William A. Ward



  15. #15
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    If you are fixed on using canvas then rot and weight are your partners. I would not use canvas again as I have converted to heat shrinking dacron fabric. It is alot easier to apply, saves as much as 30% in weight, and does not rot. I does cost a little more for the coating, it shows up flaws in the construction more (probably why it was not favoured by commercial producers), does not require extended cures, And its use seems to agitate some who think canvas is the bees knees.
    I have an 18 ft chestnut canoe that now weighs 49 lbs with a dacron fabric cover. I was trying to match the verolite I had on a trembley canoe but could not locate a supplier, and ended up with a better result. The canoes I use for beaching in surf have more layers on the bottoms but are still alot lighter (30%+) and more durable in my experience, than the commercially made canvas canoes. The routine was posted on the WHCA forum as well as the agitated responses.
    peter

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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    Peter,

    Too much out of context for my canoes, but I do have a set of plans for a Monfort canoe which I hope to build next winter.

    What degree of outrage do you provoke with your dacron covered canoe? Is it like talking about fiberglassing the old wreck to make it useful again?

    kinu

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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    dacron (polyester fibre) is just a different type of non adherent fabric covering, so it is just a change in fibre type in the covering from cotton to inorganic. The characteristics of the canoe are unchanged (other than the weight).
    peter

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    Peter,

    The thought of adding dacron does not bother me. I won't be racing out there to strip you of your rank in the Real Canoe Owner's Club. (Somebody with a birchbark canoe would be along in a minute to strip me of mine. Nails, indeed!)

    I'll find that discussion you referred to. I would like to know how you deal with the cloth at the stems.

    My canoes are old and pretty lumpy. They don't need anything to show up more flaws.

    kinu

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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    http://www.canoeshop.ca/
    and go to DIY paint in the menu
    and good luck!

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    .
    As others have said, storage is the key factor. My kayak Kareela has always been stored under cover, either up under a carport roof (about twenty years,) on blocks under a tarp (twelve years,) or inside a garage (seventeen years.)

    She was built in 1960, and the canvas has never been replaced. Nor was the canvas filled with white lead or any other material whatever prior to painting.

    The interior was painted with oil-based house paint thinned about half-and-half with turps, an then the exterior painted with several coats of full-strength marine enamel. The exterior has been recoated with the same paint at odd intervals over the years. This picture was taken about four years ago -- ie when she was forty-five years old --


    While it's fair to say she's now showing some signs of age, I think at the half-century mark that's perfectly justified. And although I haven't used her since that photo was taken I'd have no hesitation in taking her out into the ocean again now.

    Mike
    Visit us to see how we help people complete classic boats authentically.

  21. #21
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    Kinu, How has did the lead filler last?

  22. #22
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Burt View Post
    Kinu, How has did the lead filler last?
    I have not looked at this website in quite some time. This evening, I was searching again for a source of canvas filler for a friend's canoe and this discussion popped up.

    The leaded filler I made did not prove to be one bit better than unleaded. I replaced that canvas again in 2015, I think, so, five years?

    That canvas I filled with one of the pva/limestone lagging compounds. I bought mine from Orca Boats in Vancouver. I don't think it lasted three years before I could tear the cloth with a fingernail. The next year, I covered my other canoe and filled the cloth with a similar lagging compound. Three years. (The other canoe is a Huron, by the way. I learned that from the Kettle River Canoe website. Mike Elliot is quite amazing.)

    Outdoor storage simply does not give the canoes a chance, no matter how I try. Indoor storage is not an option.

    The canoe I'm going to re-cover now will be stored indoors.

    I'm going to try to re-cover one of mine with dacron. And then hope for the best.

    Not a Chestnut.jpg

  23. #23
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    Somebody can attempt to "strip me of my rank in the Real Canoe Owner's Club" any time they want, but in the mean time, my 50-year-old Old Town Guide wearing a WEST epoxy and six-ounce fiberglass skin is still doing just fine without any signs of rot on either the wood or the covering. As a matter of fact, my fur trade canoe is also doing fine, though it has ten-ounce cloth and is a couple of years younger than the Old Town. If either one is likely to self destruct, I wish somebody would tell me soon, so that I can plan for it. I can certainly appreciate the wood and canvas construction, but I find that most of the people who consider fiberglass coverings to be garbage seriously lack enough experience with it to form a truly valid opinion. It is possible to cover a wooden canoe properly or improperly with a variety of different materials. None will be perfect, and each will likely have certain limitations.

    pu-paint.jpg

  24. #24
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    Linseed oil rots canvas, that is why doing canvas decks the material was wetted down and the first layer of paint applied to dampish canvas to prevent the fibers from being impregnated with linseed oil.

    i do not know if the various methods described have this in their instructions?

    I have personally worked on canvas yacht decks that were in perfect shape at 50 years old in continuous service.

  25. #25
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    Rolln Thurlow's filler is long lasting and lead free.
    Ben Fuller
    Ran Tan, Liten Kuhling, Tipsy, Tippy, Josef W., Merry Mouth, Imp, Macavity, Look Far, Flash and a quiver of other 'yaks.
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  26. #26
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    One other option i have heard of is to use LePage PL Premium Construction Adhesive thinned with mineral spirits ( paint thinner ) so you can spatula/brush it on smooth . Never used it myself but some have used as a base coat for skin on frame boats and then paint over it with very good results . Probably the least expensive way to go for good protection.

    But I'd follow Todd's method if possible , you can't argue with a 50 year old skin .

  27. #27
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    I think the glass/epoxy skin is actually only maybe 30-35 years old. I special ordered the canoe keelless in 1972 and canvas-covered. It was the first thing I ever bought with rock and roll money. Unfortunately, about nine months later a crack in the canvas about 4" long opened up below one gunwale and near the stern seat. Under it was a glued-on Dacron patch because the bastards had torn the canvas during installation and tried to hide it and just send it out as a first quality canoe. Also unfortunately, they didn't know enough about Dacron to understand that the glue (probably Ambroid Cement, the traditional canoe patch glue) did not stick well to Dacron. Old Town was not a very friendly company to deal with back then, and the only way they would fix it was if I was willing to pay the truck freight from Illinois back to Maine and then the return trip. That was not going to happen.

    Little did they know that I had also acquired the area Old Town dealership for the next 20 years or so and I was quite happy when the management changed at Old Town. Anyway, I was not experienced stretching canoe canvas and at that time information was hard to come by, but I had actually gone to college as a sculpture major, working mostly with polyester and epoxy resins. So, it got a fiberglass skin instead. It pretty much eliminates the ability to replace individual ribs or planks, but it is not like I'm going to be running that boat through rock gardens so that really is not an issue these days.

    I never really thought that I would own a yellow canoe. It was originally dark green, but then I noticed that the pale yellow really brings out the rosy colors of the cedar.

    guide-013a.jpg

    khtf-009a.jpg

  28. #28
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    If you ever get tired of that canoe, I would be glad to make the 11 hour plus trip up to get it at no charge to you.

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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    Interestingly, when I do decide to sell it, I stand to either take a substantial hit on the price or have a limited number of potential buyers due to the fact that the canvas was replaced with epoxy/fiberglass. There have absolutely been a lot of truly horrible home-fiberglass conversions done to wood/canvas canoes over the past fifty years, some of which were so bad that they doomed the boats to being beyond repair or restoration. The purists will for the most part automatically decide that my canoe is just another one of them, often without even looking at it and very often without knowing enough about composite technology themselves to understand the differences. That's their prerogative, and while they're worrying about how long their wooden canoe will go before the wood weathers out under the canvas, or mold starts eating the wet cotton fibers that are continually up against it, my wooden hull will remain just as dry and well-sealed as it was the day the glass was applied. It also wears the original 1972 varnish on the inside and has only had a light Scotchbrite rub down and one extra coat added about 20 years ago.

    Like I said, any construction brings with it certain limitations. In my case it is mainly to avoid impacts which might crack ribs or planks, as they would be tricky repairs. For the typical usage that I have for that canoe, that's not much of a problem.

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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    You did well with that covering job. As you point out there have been a lot of canoe-killing fiberglass coverings stuck on perfectly good boats. The canoe in the picture I posted above was one of those.
    I picked it out of somebody's garbage pile 27 years ago. It was covered in lumpy polyester resin and glass and weighed nearly 100 pounds. The original planking was quite wide and a lot of it, as a result of being glued immoveably to a hard surface, had split and cracked very badly. In places where the resin adhered less well, the planking had warped away from the glass surface in bubbles and then split. I replaced more than half the planking, a bunch of ribs and the entire topside.
    These days, I wouldn't think of it as worth all that effort to save it.

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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    Great thread, thanks for bringing it back to life.
    I recently acquired an former wood canvas canoe that has been glassed. I would love to paint it pale yellow, but the guy who glassed it didn't fair it, and the planks aren't all smooth. I think the paint would show all these flaws. The clear epoxy and varnish it wears now will stay. I think it was probably a free boat when it was glassed, it shows old damage and shrinkage. Now it's light, tight and pretty. I respect those who restore these boats as original, but I love mine the way it is.

  32. #32
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    One option that is not mentioned here is to cover the canoe in canvas and use thickened epoxy as the filler. Talc is normally used as the thickening agent so that it is sandable. Because of the outdoor storage, you may still have trouble, but at least the epoxy filled canvas is reversible - you can remove/replace it easily unlike 'glass.
    "Wherever there is a channel for water, there is a road for the canoe. " - Thoreau

  33. #33
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    Default Re: Canvas Canoe Filler

    George Kirby offers canoe filler.
    https://kirbypaint.com/products/canv...-wooden-canoes

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