Home >> Repairs and Maintenance
Wood gunwales need regular maintenance. And if you’ve never had a canoe with them before, you’re likely to find they need considerably more upkeep than you expected. This isn’t unique to our wood gunwales; it applies to those on a canoe from any builder. Water and sun together are very tough on wood. Protective finishes are required, but the effectiveness of the various types differs, and the life of any of them can be short, depending on how you use and store your canoe. To preserve wood gunwales, store your canoe indoors. If that’s not possible, at least keep it away from moisture and sunlight. If stored unwisely, wood gunwales can weather just as fast in storage as they would have in use.
Preserving new wood gunwales:
When we build a canoe with wood gunwales, we apply three coats of finishing oil at the factory. This is enough to make them look nice, but it is not intended to be the final finish! The other parts of our wood-trim package, such as wood thwarts and seats, are varnished, which is how we receive them, and they need no further attention when new. Wood gunwales are different. We make our own, and we apply only enough oil to protect them in transit. Our intent is to leave you the freedom either to apply more oil to complete the finish, or to use another finish if desired. An oiled finish is attractive but not very durable. If oil is your choice, however, apply three or more coats to new gunwales. Furniture oils work but need very frequent touch-up. Try to find an oil that at least claims to be for exterior use. Lightly rough the gunwales with medium-fine steel wool or sandpaper between coats. Use a tack cloth to remove the debris. In the future, you’ll need to apply at least one coat of oil each year, but you’ll probably need to apply more, depending on the conditions. Watch the gunwales closely for weathering. Pay special attention to the underside of the gunwales on the outside of the hull. This area gets the most exposure to moisture, and it is difficult to penetrate with sufficient oil. Before applying oil, and between coats of it, rough-up the gunwales as described earlier. Varnish or urethane are more durable but harder to apply, and many people dislike their appearance. Not only are these longer-lasting, they seal openings that oil would not. If this is your choice, apply three or more coats of exterior-grade Spar Varnish or Spar Urethane. Because varnish and urethane are much thicker than oil, more-aggressive sanding is needed between coats. Try to keep the coats very thin and even. Irregularities will still develop, however, and to get a smooth finish you must sand down the high spots down. The use of a tack cloth is especially important here because extensive, goopy deposits will collect when sanding varnish or urethane. You might get a few years from these finishes, especially from urethane. Or you might not get that much life, depending. Watch the gunwales closely, especially the troublesome area.
Restoring old wood gunwales:
If your wood gunwales ever need a full restoring, you face quite a task. It’s not difficult but is very tedious, even with power tools. Sand the gunwales down to bare wood. You won’t be able to do this very well under the gunwales inside the canoe, but that’s alright, because this area isn’t prone to weathering. The crucial spot, as always, is under the gunwales on the outside. Use a vibrating detail sander there, and put masking tape on the hull to protect it from the sandpaper. When you’re done, apply the finish of your choice. For the greatest durability – albeit with the greatest effort – we suggest five or six coats of oil, followed by as much urethane. Even this finish, however, will need periodic attention. A final note: It’s much wiser to lavish effort on preserving wood gunwales than it is to let them deteriorate and then to restore them.
A warning about wood gunwales on Royalex® canoes:
Wood gunwales do not expand and contract with temperature changes, but a Royalex canoe does. Unless special care is taken, this can cause the hull to crack during storage in cold climates, and this type of damage is usually unrepairable. For un-heated winter storage, loosen the screws holding wood gunwales to a Royalex canoe near its ends so that it can contract without being restricted.
Several things can diminish the “new” look of your canoe without truly harming it. Which of these may occur depends on how you use and store the canoe. After cosmetic deterioration has happened, it can often be improved, but only within limits, so it is better to prevent problems than to try to reverse them later. Exposure to sunlight: Sunlight will affect your canoe differently, depending upon its type of finish. If you have a colored (“gel-coat”) finish, sunlight tends to fade it. Darker colors may fade quite a bit, governed by the amount of exposure, while lighter colors may fade hardly at all. If you have a natural Kevlar® (“skin-coat”) finish, sunlight tends to darken it. While this surprises some owners, it is perfectly natural. Although fading or darkening aren’t truly harmful, you may wish to forestall them. And storing your canoe indoors – or, at least, out of strong sunlight – is the best thing you can do. The periodic use of a good cleaner/wax is valuable, too. There are some products made specifically for use on gel-coat, but standard automotive cleaner/waxes will also help to protect the finish on your canoe. How often you apply wax is, we think, more important than which wax you use. Wax your canoe at least once a year, but probably more. And always clean it thoroughly – including waxing the canoe – after any lengthy trip. If the finish of your canoe has faded, you can restore it somewhat by polishing using the procedure explained later under “abrasion.”
Dirt, grit and grime:
Frequent waxing will go far to keep your canoe looking new, but wax won’t remove certain types of dirt, and the process of waxing itself can cause scratches if the hull is gritty. Rinse the canoe inside and out periodically, and especially after you’ve been on salt water or taken a long trip, or if you intend to wax it. Unfortunately, rinsing won’t clean oily goop, such as pine sap. Nor will waxing remove it, but will spread it around into a bigger mess. Try using household spray cleaners, especially the ones meant for bathroom use. Some of these have a citric acid component which is, we suspect, what seems to make them work better for a gel-coat finish and the types of gunk that collect on a canoe.
Small scratches from abrasion:
By abrasion we don’t mean deep scratches but the minor wear that may happen if, for example, you repeatedly run the canoe hard onto a sandy beach. Firstly, you can avoid doing that, but not all abrasion can be avoided, so you may wish to polish out the wear later. Because the gel-coat color layer on a canoe isn’t thick, you don’t want to make matters worse by polishing through it. After a thorough cleaning, first try polishing by hand using the mildest automotive finish restoring product – usually called “buffing compound.” If this isn’t strong enough, you can escalate to a powered buffing machine and/or to the use of a more aggressive product such as “polishing compound.” Actual “rubbing compound,” is even more aggressive, so only use it with care. If you have used a more-aggressive product during the process, finish up with buffing compound, and then apply a good coat of wax.
Because Royalex canoes don’t have a glossy finish, preserving their new appearance is fairly easy, but there are a few things to do. Rinse the canoe periodically, and always after you’ve been on salt water or taken a long trip. Clean pine sap and other scummy deposits using household cleaners or alcohol. Royalex canoes don’t fade quickly, but it is wise to store them out of strong sun, and to use protective products. Standard automotive cleaner/waxes will help, but a product that contains more UV inhibitors will provide better protection from sunlight. Concerning scratches: The color of a Royalex canoe is not impregnated throughout the material but is a surface layer. Therefore, scratches will reveal a different color. Minor scratches might be polished out with automotive products such as “polishing compound” or ”buffing compound.” Because these are mild abrasives, be careful to avoid polishing through the entire color layer. Another way to repair scratches is using paint. We offer spray paint to match our Royalex colors. First sand the surface with very fine sandpaper, paint it, and allow the paint to cure overnight, then apply a protective product if desired. If you have scratches deep enough that you wish to fill them, sand the area with fine paper, fill the scratch with an epoxy putty, then sand and paint as described above. Because Royalex canoes are quite flexible, the fasteners that secure various parts may loosen. Check and tighten them periodically.
Composite canoes Our composite canoes are painstakingly made using superior materials and methods. They are tough hulls that aren’t easily damaged. Should the unexpected happen, however, a big advantage of a composite canoe over any other type is that it can be repaired quite easily, by ordinary people, using basic techniques. We’ll give a brief description of some types of repairs here, but we have also produced a special videotape on this topic that you may want to see before starting any significant repair.
How to repair a gel-coat finish:
Gel-coat is thickened, colored polyester resin that is sprayed into the mold before a composite canoe is made in it. The gel-coat is not a structural part of the hull; its only purpose is to impart the canoe’s color and smooth finish. A gel-coat finish can acquire scratches, cracks, or blisters. Scratches come, of course, from scraping sharp objects. Surface cracks can happen if the hull is bent or twisted. Blisters are caused by moisture or dirt trapped under the gel-coat during manufacturing. Blisters, however, normally won’t appear until after a canoe is used. So if they are present, we aren’t aware of it when a new canoe leaves our shop. None of these problems are structural. They can be left alone, but if you wish to repair them, the materials are available from us. The shelf-life of our Gel-coat Repair Kits is limited, so order one only when needed, and specify the precise color of your canoe, since we have offered differing shades at times.
The repair procedure is as follows:
1) Remove loose gel and deepen scratches with a utility knife. Sand the area using #600 wet-and-dry sandpaper until the shine is removed. Clean the area with acetone or lacquer thinner. (Acetone is highly flammable and must be used with care.)
2) Place a little more than enough gel to fill the area on a piece of cardboard. Add hardener at four to five drops per teaspoon of gel. Mix thoroughly for about a minute using a paddle. (The hardener is a toxic irritant – avoid all contact with your eyes, and excess contact with your skin.)
3) Using the paddle, apply the gel mixture immediately and spread it into the repair. Remove any excess with a knife or with acetone. Dry the repair for two to four hours to allow full shrinkage. (To impart a smoother finish, cover the area with wax paper or cellophane while drying.)
4) Using a sanding block, and while applying water liberally, sand with #320 or #400 wet-and-dry sandpaper until the repair is almost level with the surrounding area. Finish wet-sanding with #600 sandpaper.
5) Polish the repair with a mild automotive finish restoring product such as “polishing compound” or “buffing compound.” Use a powered polishing machine if desired. Finally, apply automotive cleaner/wax.
6) With colors other than white, a few weeks of aging are needed for the repair to reach its proper color. If your canoe has faded, some difference may remain between the color of the repair and the canoe, but you may be able to match the colors more closely by polishing the entire canoe.
7) If you need to recolor a large area, gel-coat can be sprayed from an automotive gun. Explaining how to make such a large repair is beyond the scope of this book, so contact your dealer, or contact us directly.
How to repair structural damage:
A composite canoe is usually damaged in one of two ways. Compression cracks can occur if the canoe is high-centered on a log or rock, or if something heavy lands on it while upturned in storage or transit. Holes are uncommon and are usually caused by serious mishaps. Holes must be repaired, of course, but a crack may not if it doesn’t leak. Use judgement, but it’s wise to be safe and to repair a crack. For a composite canoe with structural damage, it’s usually better to strengthen the hull on the inside rather than the outside. Very rarely will a structural repair be needed on both sides. Typically you can patch the inside, and touch up the gel-coat only if you prefer. All the needed materials including cloth, roving, resin, catalyst, gel-coat, interior color, gunwales, and ribs are available from us.
1) Remove the gunwale(s) if needed. To remove aluminum gunwales, drill out the rivets using a 3/16″ bit. To reinstall them, use a rivet gun. If new gunwales are being used, drill new holes in the hull for them. Place the gunwale on the hull, and drill through the flange and the hull together. Space the holes about 9″ apart. Wood gunwales are a tricker problem. On standard-weight canoes, the gunwales are only screwed on. Removing them isn’t difficult, but replacing them is. On ultralight canoes, wood gunwales are screwed and glued in place. You must chisel them off, which will destroy them. With either type of wood gunwales, the most practical approach is to remove the wood gunwales and rivet on new aluminum ones.
2) Remove any loose pieces from the damaged area. Rough the inside of the hull with a disc sander or by hand sanding. It is unnecessary to remove all the interior color coating, but roughing the surface will improve the adhesion of the repair.
3) Apply a quality masking tape (such as 3M, cheap tape leaves adhesive residue) to the outside of the hull covering the area of the repair. The tape prevents resin from leaking to the outside. If the hull is misshapen due to the accident, you may be able to reform it by hand, and use tape to hold it in position until the repair dries.
4) Cut several pieces of cloth an inch or so larger all around than the damage. (A Kevlar canoe need not be repaired using Kevlar cloth, unless weight is important) The number of pieces needed depends on the type and/or location of the damage. To repair a crack, three pieces are typically sufficient for adequate strength. To repair a hole, you need as many pieces of cloth as the number of layers used to build the hull in that area. All our composite canoes are made from varying numbers of layers, totaling up to seven in the areas of highest stress. So to repair such an area, you need that many pieces.
5) Mix resin and catalyst in the ratio of 1 /2 pint resin to 1 /2 teaspoon catalyst. The precise ratio isn’t critical to the strength of the repair, but it will change the drying time, perhaps causing the resin to dry before you are done, or causing the repair to dry very slowly, especially in low temperatures. If you are not concerned with slow drying, use slightly less catalyst.
6) Using a small (1/2″ to 1″) paint brush, coat the damaged area entirely with resin. Then apply one layer of cloth, pushing it into the resin to become saturated. Apply more resin and cloth alternately until you are done. (If you wish to match the appearance of a hull who’s inner layer is woven roving, apply roving at the end.)
7) Dry the entire lamination simultaneously. This should happen in a few hours at room temperature, but the time can vary greatly at temperatures below 60°F or above 80°F. To be safe, leave the repair at least overnight before disturbing it.
8) If you have a Cross-rib or Center-rib hull, broken ribs can be repaired or replaced, but it’s not often necessary. The rib adds no strength; the cloth laminated around it does. Thus a rib can be repaired simply by patching over the crack. In severe case, the rib could be ground out and replaced. Please contact your dealer or us directly before making this type of repair.
9) Outside structural repairs are rarely necessary and are difficult to finish with gelcoat. But should an outside repair be needed, start it after the inside repair is done. Please contact your dealer or us directly before making this type of repair.
10) To finish the repair on the inside, sand it smooth, mix inside color coating with catalyst, and brush it over the repair.
11) The exterior can be touched up as noted earlier in the section on repairing gel-coat.
Royalex canoes are very difficult to damage, and they seldom need substantial repair. This is fortunate because, unlike with a composite canoe, making any large-scale repair to a Royalex canoe is necessarily makeshift. Dents are fairly uncommon because, being quite flexible, Royalex will usually absorb an impact and spring back. If a dent remains, however, you can often repair it easily by heating and pushing the dent out. (Sometimes a dent will pop back on its own when heated.) You can try a hair dryer if you like, but it probably won’t be powerful enough. Ask at a hardware store about renting an industrial-type heat gun. Use it very sparingly. A few other things do happen to Royalex canoes with some degree of frequency. The most common is damage or wear on the very end of the bow. You can install a Kevlar Skid Plate beforehand to protect against this, or you can install one afterward as a repair. To match its appearance to the canoe, you can paint it using spray cans available from us. Royalex canoes can also be cut by sharp objects. This rarely happens near the center of the canoe where it is quite flexible, but it may happen near the ends which are quite stiff. Small cuts or punctures can be repaired by filling with adhesive products meant to repair shoes. The one that we use is called “Shoe Goo,” although there probably are other brand names. This can be sanded after drying, but not very well, so try to be neat when you apply it. Use a paint scraper, popsicle stick, or something similar to apply the adhesive and clean the excess away quickly before it has had time to dry. If you wish, you can paint over the repair after it has dried overnight. A large gouge might be patched with shoe adhesive, but if it is substantial enough to weaken the structure, it is best to repair the gouge as if it were cut entirely through. Large cuts or holes (both of which are very rare) can’t be fixed with shoe adhesive, nor with any sort of Royalex-like material. This is the point at which fixing a Royalex canoe becomes makeshift, because you must repair it as you would a composite canoe, by adding layers of composite fabric bonded with resin to the inside and/or the outside of the canoe. Unfortunately, the composite repair will not adhere to the Royalex canoe as strongly as it would to a composite canoe. Moreover, the differing expansion/contraction rates for the repair compared to the canoe will constantly be taxing the adhesion of the repair. To achieve success, you must use epoxy resin. Other types won’t stick well to a Royalex canoe. Also, you must thoroughly sand the area, because the adhesion will be purely mechanical (not chemical), and it needs all the “grip” it can get. Finally, make the repair no larger than absolutely necessary in order to minimize the variances in expansion/contraction caused by temperature changes. A gouge can be repaired on one side only, but repair cuts or holes both inside and out using basically the same procedure as described to repair a composite canoe. Use epoxy resin and about three layers of fabric (both on the inside and outside for cuts and holes.) Then sand and paint if you wish. Gunwales can be replaced by drilling out the rivets and pop-riveting new ones on as described for composite canoes. End caps are also available from us and can be easily replaced by drilling out the rivets.
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