At Stewart River we repair a variety of wooden boats, specializing in wood and canvas construction. Over the last 40 odd years I have repaired hundreds of old wood and canvas canoes, quite a few wood and canvas motor boats, several duck boats, wood and canvas freighter canoes, and a few War canoes, up to 28 feet in length. I have also worked on lapstake and carvel built boats, plywood hulls and do a fair amount of wood work on fiberglass hulls.
I’m familiar with most of the common heirloom canoes. We have worked on countless Old Town canoes, some from the early 1900s, and some built as recently as 1980. We also get in quite a few Chestnuts, the famed Canadian brand of canoes. J. H. Rushton, Kennebec, E. M. White, B. N. Morris, Carlton, Peterborough, and the Canadian Canoe Company canoes have all been repaired in our shop, and of course, Thompson Brothers and Shell Lake canoes, both from Wisconsin are common visitors. More locally, I have had numerous opportunities to repair canoes built by Lloyd Rehbein who built for many years at his home just outside of Duluth, and I have also been honored to work on many of the over 600 canoes built by Joe Seliga of Ely, Minnesota. I’ve repaired some strip canoes built by Peterborough Canoe Company and the strip canoes built by Joe Lucius of the Brule River in Wisconsin.
One of the many wonderful qualities of the wood and canvas canoe is that everything about them is repairable. Most models are made such that any and all parts can be removed and replaced. No glue was traditionally used in these canoes so things can often be “unscrewed” and removed. When replacing new wood, especially ribs, I will go to great lengths to try to match them to the old wood. I will “antique” them by putting in scratches similar to the others, and stain them to match as best possible.
While all wood and canvas canoes and boats are repairable, some, quite frankly, may be too far gone to make it worthwhile. I find, though, that many people are not always able to judge the condition of the boat. Some boats arrive with tattered canvas, blackened varnish and maybe a hole in the planking and a broken rib or two and the customer thinks the boat may be beyond repair. Not so! These things are easily repaired, but others arrive revealing a boat that was used hard over the years and left outside for several. The varnish is eaten by ultraviolet rays and the wood is rotting and all dried out. The planking may have shrunk so there are 1/4″ gaps between planks and virtually all the ribs are cracked or broken. This is a boat probably not worth saving unless it is a very rare breed with great sentimental attachments!
I do repair work on a time and materials basis. The current shop fee is $60 per hour. I will give estimates over the phone based on what you tell me you think the boat needs, and I’ll look at photos, though they are not telling enough to give an adequate estimate.