How To Restore Your Wood-Canvas Canoe

A review of Mike Elliott’s new book, 'This Old Canoe'

It's been over five years since a Craigslist post advertising a well-used wood-canvas canoe grabbed my attention and started an addiction I cannot seem to shake. I spent the winter working on that first restoration, gaining an appreciation for the infinite reparability of wood-canvas canoes and a better sense of my own handyman skills. The next year, I found another project. Soon, people were giving me rotten treasures, and friends lined up with canoes pulled out of garage rafters, in all stages of disrepair.

In part, I blame Mike Elliott for my obsession. From the beginning, Elliott's Canoe Guy blog has been my greatest source of information and inspiration. Elliott, a craftsman from Grand Forks, British Columbia, began his own love affair with wood-canvas canoes in 1995. Hobby morphed into a business in 2003, when Elliott founded Kettle River Canoes with his wife, Christy Luke.

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Like many other wooden canoe enthusiasts, I appreciated the level of detail and you-can-do-it tone of Elliott's blog. If I was confused by the text, his photos always illustrated the answer to my question. There was only one catch: I was constantly running from my workshop to my computer desk, tracking cedar shavings through the house.

Elliott has long hinted at a forthcoming instructional book on his blog, and the project finally came to fruition this month. This Old Canoe ($24.95, available online), Elliott's guide to restoring wood-canvas canoes, has all the attributes of the Canoe Guy blog, organized in a logical manner that traces the restoration process from evaluation to planning, to replacing ribs and canvas, and applying the final coat of paint. Best of all, the softcover format is far more appropriate for shop use than a laptop or tablet.

Elliott's writing is clear and easy to understand for all levels of woodworkers. I've always been inspired by his photographs, which illustrate the fact that canoe restoration requires common sense and creativity—not an arsenal of high-priced power tools. What's more, he makes the procedure of finishing—that is, achieving glossy and durable paint and varnish of a beautiful final product—far less intimidating. It's clear that Elliott speaks from experience, which is This Old Canoe's greatest attribute.

Canoe connoisseurs will also appreciate Elliott's review and detailed specification charts for common wood-canvas canoes, including models produced by Canada's venerable Chestnut Canoe Company. Elliott's research is invaluable in identifying old canoes, as well as assisting in narrowing your search for a garage sale dreamboat. It's hard to pick out any omissions or shortcomings to Elliott's new book. Perhaps its only downside is that This Old Canoe is a gateway to a powerful obsession.

—This Old Canoe can be ordered through Mike Elliott's Kettle River Canoes website

—Follow Kettle River Canoes on Facebook

—Read Conor Mihell's "To Save a Wooden Canoe" series on CanoeKayak.com: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

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