Wood Canvas Canoe Field Repair

Photo: Flooding a piece of cotton T-shirt with Ambroid glue and smearing it around with a dirty sock.

Below are three stories about fixing canvas boats in the field. The moral of the stories is that you should know how to repair the craft you use. The more remote the trip, the better you should be at repairing your gear in the field.

Story One.
A few years back I was snubbing down Chase Rapids on the Allagash in my 20′ wood canvas canoe. I had slowed to a stop and was holding in the fast water when an out of control canoe smashed into me from behind, sending me into a rock. The impact put a 2″ tear in the canvas of my boat, which began leaking right away. I pulled off the river, got out my repair kit, and after allowing the hull to dry for a few minutes, covered the gash with duct tape knowing a more substantial fix was in store. After paddling through Umsaskis and Long Lakes, we camped at Long Lake Dam and I got my boat out of the water and pulled the duct tape off.

When the canvas was dry, I pulled out some Ambroid glue and cut a section out of the cotton T-shirt I was wearing to cover the gash. First, I put some Ambroid on the hull around the gash, smearing it around with a sock. Then I stuck the T-shirt patch onto this. Lastly, I saturated the patch with more Ambroid glue. After a few hours, I put another coat of Ambroid on the patch. The result was watertight, and is still on my canoe six years later.

Story Two.
Around the year 2000 I was on a St. John river trip with Raymond Reitze when someone hit a rock and sliced a hole in one of his wood canvas boats. We spent an afternoon gathering fir pitch and spruce pitch, melting it down and mixing them together, then applying the mix to the canoe hull. It held the rest of the trip, about 80 miles over 5 days. It took more time than than the glue, but everything was gathered in the forest.

Story Three.
A few years ago I was on a tv show where I had to travel in a coracle; a simple round boat covered in canvas. After a while the canvas had some holes, and I was able to patch them with pitch gathered from a pine tree.

About Ambroid Glue
Ambroid glue was used for field repairs of wood canvas boats for generations, and there is some great history associated with it. (Check out this link to ottertooth.com for a great write-up). They no longer make Ambroid glue, although I’ve got a few tubes remaining in my repair kit. I’ve been told that Duco Cement is good alternative.

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