Monday, October 1, 2012

Redemption and a brand old canoe

Zeno "buddy " King is a man in my life who has a post here.  He is an interesting person who has  introduced me to the joy of wooden boats.  I grew up in canoes and have been looking for one that matched up with the money that I had on hand.

A pastor friend named Richard Gillet had been looking for a canoe for me and got this one for nearly no money, was of good quality at its birth, and provided wood working challenge.   I am drawn to old stuff.  It is a part of my personality to find redemption in a form that I can paddle around.  This canoe has promise.
The boat had been upside down in a back yard for a number of years.  I still haven't found anything about its history.  Anyone know  about Perma Craft of Pleasantville New Jersey? I am guessing it was built in  the 1960's.  I know that Perma Craft moved to Florida in the late '70's and they made these boats for the summer camp trade.  The fiberglass hull is solid, with a few repairs, and the wooden gunnels and decks were trash.  The seats and struts are mahogony and re-usable.

The first job:
draw a detailed chart of the hardware, tear out all of the rotted wood, salvage what I can and  clean up.  I sprayed bleach on the mold and lichen and then used comet and orange degreaser to clean the heavily oxidized gelcoat. The inside had been painted with house paint and was the tough to get out. I scrubbed it with a wire brush for several hours.

The mahogony and all of the brass screws and bolts were re-used!  This saved a lot of money and kept the integrity of the boat's original design. .

 Next, I bought two 1x4 cedar boards to mill out the 2 piece gunnels.  I had to look hard to find anything clear enough to take the bending and molding that this would require.  I am still pretty new to the table saw but Richard got me started and it all came together after some experimentation.

I started fitting the gunnells in the middle of the boat and worked toward the end. The wood for the last 2 feet or so is added to the gunnels and planed even with the hull for the decks.  The inner piece was screwed to the outer strip with brass #8 wood screws.

I made a "Depth Gauge' on my cordless drill with a piece of duct tape.  My old electric drill has a counter sink bit and each screw went in with a little Tite-Bond II glue.  I still didn't get the screws lined up perfectly but they are solid and catch both pieces of wood and the fiberglass hull between.

I couldn't figure out how to get the vertical holes drilled without messing up the gunnels.  The holes had to be perfect and straight up.  I took a piece of scrap and drilled the hole in the proper place, then used the piece as a jig to hold the drill straight.  This put the bolts for the seats and strut in the right place.  I made the wood pieces a little thicker too.  They still bent well and added a little stiffness.  The original wood was probably ash or oak.  The cedar could use a little more heft.

The gelcoat on the outside was scarred but in better shape that I would have thought.  I sanded the gel to the cloth, added 6 oz cloth and resin in the worst spots and filled in the smaller spots with resin and covered with poly-wrap to help it cure smoothly.  Only one spot had broken the original cloth.  After paint, you won't be able to find my patches. I am going to mask the old stickers and paint around them.  They add a little character.

 The decks on either end were chiseled in like they were in the original design.  This part of the boat was on the ground the everything was rotten which made it hard to figure.  The cross piece actually had termites in it.  This one is made with a piece of decking scrap left over from a wheelchair ramp.  The boat is not symetrical and cutting the decks was a bear.  I got them close and then trimmed them until they looked ok.  I am still not happy with them but could not find anything 4mm that was water proof.

Check out the little brass plaque on the cross piece.  This is original and reads: "Perma Craft, Pleasantville New Jersey, official Boy Scout, Girl Scout, & YMCA Canoe".

Yours truly driving the last screw 
 The Final Analysis:    All that is left is to paint the hull and put two coats of spar varnish on the wood.  I still don't like the decks.  I want to re-do them in some hardwood marine plywood or something that matches the mahogony.  I am going to leave  the wood bright-no stain or paint.

I did some things right.  drawing a details pictures of where the wood pieces fit together, screw placement and other details.  Without this crude drawing I would have been lost after removing the rot.

The End Result-Ready for a shake-down trip
Everything has three generous coats of deck sealer-before installation and another coat afterword.  I used Gorilla wood glue on one of my "oops" and was very pleased with its strength.  The store was out of Titebond II or I wouldn't have bought it! This is the wood glue and not the foamy stuff.  It set quickly and took a bend in an awkward spot.  I used Zinser brand oil based white primer for the inside with good results.  I will probably paint over it but the stuff is tough and covered a  weird surface well.  The deck sealer needs to dry for a week before I varnish.

There are lots of little mistakes, usually because of impatience.  I work at odd hours and usually until I am interrupted. This is not the kind of project to rush.  Nothing is measured, it is fitted in place.  I am blessed to have a Buddy King's boat builder's strong-back with a center string.  This helped but it is not perfectly centered.  I did not leave much undone BUT, I did not pull off the keel.  It is pandora's box and might have created more of a problem and solution.  I sealed the edges with Dap and saturated it with deck sealer.  Time will tell whether that was the right decision.

I have two 2x8' portable benches that create work spaces
I spent about $75 total and probably 40-45 hours over 6 week's time and feel that this will be a first class paddle. I used my son-in-law's table saw and a box full of normal hand tools. My Stanley "Sure Form" shaper and 1/4 sheet sander got quite a work out too.  Having two drills saved many hours.  Last year I build two benches that match the saw which allow me to rip long pieces of lumber-they were a God-send. They are a part of my boat building in the future too.  My plan is to use Krylon for plastic for the outside but I haven't decided yet.  It needs a name too.

I finally got it into the water on a cool Friday in November 2012.  Lots of creaking until the pieces all settled in, one loose bolt-it needs a larger washer- but it paddled beautifully.  Paddling single,  it was much better sitting on the floor instead of the seats.  It wasn't as stiff as my old ABS plastic one but half the weight and elegent in its way.  Even in the wind it was quick and tracked perfectly straight.

 I am glad to have refitted this old soldier rather than buy a new one.  It was an excellent design to start with and It is mine-heart and soul. I turned every screw by hand and learned a lot for my next boat.  I did not make this a better boat but the boat made me a better person.  That is redemption after all, isn't it.



  1. Absolutely fabulous. I would never have believed that old canoe would look so good. First class job and Zeno would approve. Richard Gillet

  2. Great article. I just finished taking my 44 year old Perma Craft down the Smith River in Montana. Back in the early 70's I ran it in rivers all over the Pine Barrens and down the Delaware. I keep saying I will replace it with a nice new canoe when it breaks, but it always seems to do the job. The aluminum keel protection strip is a weak point in the design, but can be replaced with a 4 inch wide kevlar felt strip epoxied on the bottom to handle all the rocks you hit in a river. I always wondered what happened to that company. Thanks again

  3. I just purchased 2 of these site un seen for my sons. They have (with my guidance) 2 years to restore them and learn to canoe. Then we are off to the Boundary Waters. I had doubts about the restoration and quality of the boats until I saw your post. Thank you So Much for sharing! You have inspired us.

  4. I feel like I just acquired one of very few perma craft canoes left and it looks like the sister of yours when you acquired her! Thanks for this blog! I have some work to do ��