Canadian Canoe Repair. A new lease of life for an old Boat.

Coleman Ram-X 15 Foot Canadian Canoe Repairs

This canoe is almost thirty years old and with a bit of work it now has many more miles to give.
It's latest owners realised that it wasn't getting the use it deserved.
It's been stores for years in the car park of some apartments in London.
The boat was very kindly given to me to patch up and use in the knowledge that the previous owners are going to be visiting and getting good use of it here where I live close to the river Wye. 

Below is a great picture from graffiti covered Hackney where the boat began it's journey to the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley.

Once it was back safely at the Handmade Matt yard a full inspection was carried out.
On the whole she was solid but was in poor shape.

Some worrying looking repairs had been made to both ends of the canoe. The fiberglass was delaminating and coming away from the hull and the repairs were failing at both ends.

Once I removed the old failing repairs I was pleased to find that the hull itself had no holes. The repairs had been made in time to stop any further wear. The hull material was worn so thin it was soft but at least still unbroken. You can see below the minor deformation at the thin spot after I had removed the old patches.

After doing some research I discovered that the Ram-X boats are made from Cross-linked polyethylene, commonly abbreviated PEX or XLPE. It's a strong and durable plastic but it is very hard to find resins and adhesives that will bond to it properly which is why these fiberglass repairs have eventually failed.

There are specialist adhesives and epoxy's that claim to be able to solve the problems of PEX repairs but people seem to have mixed results with them. It's also possible to weld/ melt the plastic together with new plastic but this can be fiddly. 

I manages to find a video on YouTube where a guy was melting strips of poly-woven tarpaulin into a PEX hull using a scraper or blade heated red hot with a blow torch. It was just normal cheap tarpaulin. After some experimentation I found this to be the best solution. I used about a square meter of tarpaulin for each end of the boat layering up the repair over and over, melting strip after strip resulting in a thick, solid covering which appears to be very robust.

The beauty of this repair method is that it can be replicated on the river bank in emergencies by carrying small sections of tarp and using a camping cooker or even a fire to heat a blade and weld any unexpected damage.

One of the end covers to the buoyancy foam under the end decks was missing. I managed to make a new one by cutting up a green plastic barrel and riveting it in place.

There was a good selection of paddles requiring only a small amount of maintenance.
The wooden ones are very heavy weighing in at 1600 grams. In comparison the aluminum ones are more like 750 grams and are still considered heavy by some. The wooden ones have become decorative items above the fireplace at home.

One of the aluminum paddles was kinked and had to have a steel tubular insert hammered down the shaft to push out the kink and re-enforce the paddle. I used a section of old curtain pole which fitted perfectly to the inside diameter. The other paddle had heavy white aluminum oxide deposits all over it which powdered off and marked hands and clothing. It was cleaned off with a wire brush and then sand paper. Both aluminum paddles then received a new black electrical insulation tape grip.

After a maiden test voyage and a few more day trips for practice I embarked on a five day one hundred mile paddle down the entire navigable length of the river Wye. 
The repairs held out the whole way and the boat performed perfectly.
 It was an unsupported solo journey. I carried everything on board that I needed to stay comfortable, fed and watered for the entire trip. 
An article about that trip will be coming soon. Stay up to date.

Horseshoe Trivet - Bushcraft fire Camp Cooker, Camping Stove, Iron Tripod

Handmade Horseshoe Trivet
Bushcraft fire Camp Cooker, Camping Stove, Iron Tripod

Summer must be coming because my trivets are back in stock!

Anyone who has cooked over an open fire will know the shame of a spilled dinner from a poorly balanced pot resting on some rocks or old bricks.
Enough was enough when the last kettle I will ever spill came tumbling from it's perch.

 I make trivets from scrap horseshoes
I enjoy this process so much that I decided to sell these items
They're a rare thing to see and always very popular

    To buy a Trivet click 
    Off Grid cooking, ideal for festivals and camping

    To buy a Trivet click 

    DIY Heat Recovery Ventilation. Heat Exchanger for our Yurt. How to resolve damp and mould in a Yurt.

    Cheap but effective Homemade Heat Exchange Ventilation system. 
    Around 50% efficient.
    (Wikipedia article

    Later in the article I will also touch on some other causes and solutions for damp in a yurt.

    The device here essentially recovers the heat from warm, humid air that is being exhausted to outside into the cold fresh air intake.

    Here is the finished product:
    It is slim and fits behind a wardrobe, out of sight and out of mind.
    It is totally silent, running with 12v low power computer fans.
    It cost me less than £15.

    The Principle is simple. A high surface area of exchange between the exhaust and intake routes.
    A matrix of alternately directed pathways means a huge surface area is created in a small space.
    These pictures show the concept clearly;

    The ideal material for the matrix would be a good conductor. Thin aluminium sheets are most common in commercial units, it won't corrode with damp and condensation and conducts heat very well.
    I used celular "corrugated" plastic sheeting. Plastic is an insulator not a conductor so it's far from ideal, the results are still impressive though. It's a material that I have had lying around, it was begging for some re-purposing. It's commonly found used in advertising boards and property "for sale" signs. It looks like this:

    I cut the sheets into squares and stacked them alternatively:

    The tightly packed the stack was placed inside the MDF casing made from some off cuts from a previous project. The matrix was sealed at its corners with silicone:

    12v computer fans power the device. They were salvaged from scrapped PSU's. They are silent in operation and provide a perfect gentle flow to allow sufficient time for the heat to exchange through the matrix. If they were blowing too hard I think it would reduce efficiency. I actually wired them in series so that they run extra slowly. They are powered by an old 12v transformer.

    Damp air coming in contact with a cold surface will most likely create condensation. For this reason the whole unit must be able to drain properly. The is why the matrix is up on it's end, so that all the cells in the material run down hill. As you can see, I simply made a "lined bucket" effect in the bottom of the unit with folded PVC sheeting. I fitted a sealed hose connector through the side to the red hose on the right. This will allow any collected water to drain to outside.

    I closed the unit up, filled the gaps, sanded the corners and edges and painted it black with some paint I had left over. Here it is being tested on the bench.

    I connected it to a timer to run 19 hours a day. It is off at the coldest, dampest time of night just before sunrise. Otherwise it runs every day and makes sure we have a constant supply of fresh air. I have carried out various tests and determined that the unit is about 50% efficient.
    Meaning, if it's twenty degrees inside the yurt and zero outside then the fresh air coming in is ten degrees. Not bad for a project that cost me under fifteen pounds.

    My thoughts for an upgrade... 
    Maybe it would be better not to exhaust the warm air but simply cycle it through the matrix and then back into the room? 
    This would mean that the 50% of the heat left in the air would not be wasted. The yurt would then be essentially pressurised so no other draughts would be coming in. Air would be forced out instead. Any comments on this?

    More thoughts on damp and mould in yurts:

    For many this is the bane of yurt life, damp and mould. 
    This is a big topic and I could talk for hours on the subject.
    We've had a five year journey of evolution on the matter and now have no damp issues at all.
    Essentially you want to tackle it from both ends.
    Firstly and most importantly minimise moisture in the air, cooking is a big problem. Drying clothes around a burner is also not a good idea. This is why we have separate kitchen cabin.
    Our lifestyles easily put litres and litres into the air everyday, you'd be amazed. This then condenses on to cold surfaces or when the air temperature drops.
    Houseplants don't help either, every litre of water you pour into the pot will end up in the air, fact. (Besides respiration this is our biggest issue, we have loads of plants.)

    The other end of the approach is in removing the unavoidable humidity in the air.
    Ventilation is the easiest. The heat exchanger above is a revolution in this front.

    We also have a permanent mushroom roof vent in our crown dome that I made from a glass washing machine door bowl. 
    It allows the warm air collected at the top to passively vent. It does also have a 12v low power computer fan as well that we switch on in the summer to keep things cool and occasionally on the odd nice day in the winter. Doors open and vent on for a few hours every week 

    Insulation of the yurt is also another important factor, the warmer the interior of the walls are the less condensation you'll experience on the canvas.

    A dehumidifier is a great tool too and almost a necessity for UK yurt living. We have a low wattage quiet "eco" model. It has a humidistat so it only comes on when the yurt is damp enough, it's also on a timer so it doesn't run at night when things are quieter and the gentle hum would disturb our sleep. This drains to outside and is basically maintenance free. It's important to get a desiccant dehumidifier as opposed to the more traditional condensing dehumidifiers because the latter require a room temperature of at least 18+ degrees, the desiccant machines work down to just a few degrees.

    The only problem with a dehumidifier is that it's going to use a minimum of a few hundred watts which is really taxing on off grid PV in the winter. You'd need quite an array, easily a kilowatt or more I would have thought and that would be for very light use of the dehumidifier.

    The wood burning stove is an asset as well as a nuisance. 
    Mould proliferates in warm damp spaces and on natural materials… Sound like a yurt? 
    The heat from the stove is only advantageous if it is evaporating damp into the air that is then being dehumidified or extracted, if the yurt is sealed and not ventilating then the heat will make the mould worse.

    I hope sharing our experiences is all of some help.
    Thanks for reading.

    Sailing Boat Restoration. 1960's Classic Sailor.

    Mystic 21 foot 1960's Sailing Boat Restoration
    I've really enjoyed giving this boat a new lease of life:

    This is now a truly beautiful example of a classic 
    1960's plywood sailing yacht
    Designed by a famous boat builder 
    Robert Tucker, constructed on the Isle of White

    Stock photo:

    Mystic 21
    Bilge Keel
    3 Birth
    Vire 7 Inboard Engine

    This boat was in a sorry state when I got her but a lot of hard work payed off. 
    She's now a real gem. Before and after photos are to follow. 
    Click on any of them to make them big.



     The interior of this boat was all original even down to the light fittings. A beautiful time capsule from the 1960's It was filthy though and full of junk. Days of sorting and cleaning resulted in this fantastic little cabin:





    The first job was to work on the deck. I could tell something beautiful lay underneath the crust but it wasn't until I began to "excavate" this lovely boat that I realised just how beautiful it was



    Weeks of scraping and sanding, with a little bit of filling later she was finally ready for the first of seven coats of varnish. There's not a lot I can say about the preparation here, there's no shortcut or magic trick other than using the right tools and putting in the hard work. An electric heat stripping gun made it possible.

    The hull was very solid but filthy with layers of caked mud from an estuary. Again, mechanical removal of all the barnacles and growth was a long and tricky task. When scraping or sanding old anit-foul paint it's very important to do it wet to minimise dust but still wear gloves, eye protection and a breathing mask. The coating is designed to be toxic to protect the hull against marine life wishing to colonise the boat. Again, for the same reason one must be very careful when applying the new anti-foul.


    Once the surface was prepared the boat received and entire hull coating of waterproof primer. On an old boat sometimes you won't know what coatings have been used in the past. This raises potential compatibility issues with new coatings. If a new coating reacts with an old coating you could find yourself doing a lot of work trying to mechanically remove it. For this reason, do test patches first and leave for a few days. Additionally, this primer was a top of the range product designed to barrier and make compatible non compatible coatings anway. Belt and braces.


     Finally the new black antifoul coating was applied.

    The most challenging part of this project was fixing a hole in the boat caused by rot. All the offending soft material had to be cut out. I then treated the whole area with an anti fungal solution and allowed it to dry out for a few weeks ensuring all traces of the problem had been removed.


    The inside of the hole was reconstructed in layers using fibreglass. The imperfections in this repair were then filled and sanded appropriately in a seemingly never ending cycle of sand, fill, sand, fill, sand, fill. A new timber section of bashing strip batten was then attached and sealed in place with numerous sunken and capped stainless steel screws.


    The result was a strong, smooth and invisible repair job that can be seen here in primer waiting for the final paint.


    This was the dry tent to carry out the work protected from the rain.
    It was a cheap solution, a party gazebo with it's legs extended and many extra straps to keep it secure.

    Demountable Camper Van. 4 x 4 Pick Up Truck.

    A demountable camper is simply one that can be removed from the vehicle. It's ideal to make use of the vehicle on it's own, or to put a little home from home down in any place you like.

    The following article will elaborate on the building technique.
    You can click on any picture to see a full size image.

    The vision for this project was to create a traditional looking timber removable camper unit with lots of modern comforts. She's fully insulated, has solar electricity with 12v outlets and an inverter for 240AC power. There's a full kitchen with running water, a fridge, twin hob, grill and a heater. It's all double glazed for both sound and heat insulation.
    The camper unit can be removed from the pick up truck in a little under twenty minuets. 


    At the end of the article are a host of pictures of the finished product including the interior.

    Camper unit weight 890kg

    You're welcome to contact me if you have any questions.

    The base vehicle for this project is a Mitsubishi L200 pick up truck. It has a powerful 2.5TD engine and four wheel drive transmission. The ideal "go anywhere" camper, towing vehicle and multi purpose rural machine. I spent a long time researching and browsing until I found this one. It's a 1999 model which I like because it's not as modern and computerised as todays vehicles, it's solid, tried and tested tech. It has only done 70,000 miles (nothing for a diesel like this) It has a full stamped service history from Mitsubishi and has good body work indicative of only light use.
    (Not being destroyed by a tree surgeon, farmer of off road enthusiast like so many are.)

    First I made some detailed measurements of the truck and drew up some plans just to show the dimensions. I created a quick sketch so that I at least had something on paper! HaHa, this was the only drawing of the whole project. The rest simply came from my creative flow in the moment (and some nights lying awake half dreaming about the possibilities.)

    I pretty much made it up as I went along, I was not working from any plans but a creative vision which I just let flow through me.

    My favourite and relevant building quote is: 
    "I just get the bullet out of the gun and then I run after it to get it to hit the right spot"
    Lloyd House - A builder featured in Lloyd Kahn's book - Builders of the Pacific Coast.
    (A series of books which I highly recommend and have been a massive influence and inspiration.)

    The jacking points for the legs (being demountable) needed to be of steel box section construction to receive the jacks. These were the first things I made. The 50mm box section will accept 50mm timber to extend into the frame. See below.

    This is their positioning within the frame having been primed and painted:

    Here is one fitted with the timber and bolted into place. You can see the hollow box section facing out from the vehicle. This will accept the jacking leg.

    You can see the steel jacking points on the overhanging corners of the floor pan of the camper unit here:

    Once the floor pan was completed in a shape to fit around the wheel arches of the loading bay of the truck I started constructing upwards to create the walls to support the roof. I always like to build a roof at the earliest convenience because it offers shelter from the elements for the remainder of the build.

    The roof is corrugated tin. I met a farmer who has a machine from the second world war that bends curves from flat sheets. It was used to make air rade shelters and huts. It's clearly still going strong today!

    Some examples of my joins using coach screws:

    The first insulation to go in is for the cavity under the bed (over the cab.) See below. I always use loose rock wool insulation in horizontal spaces because it's super cheap (subsidised by the government, thank you very much.) For vertical insulation I tend to choose solid, rigid insulation boards to save from it settling down in the cavity over time. Celotex is a brand name of a super high rated insulation that I would recommend (I used this in the roof.) Polystyrene board is also good and much cheaper. Neither are very ecological as a one off packaging, but I feel as insulation that will last many many years that it is more justifiable.

    I added some more triangulation into the frame and inserted the salvaged recycled timber window frames.

    I skinned the whole shell in recycled PVC plastic sheeting as a damp course. This will stop general moisture and rain from finding its way into the structure. A super cheap and very important step!

    This was when the first cladding went on. I used feather edge board that's been treated. It's very cheap and easy to work with. The cladding both inside and out offers huge strength to the frame, effectively triangulating every shape to stop any lateral movements.

    Here's a photograph of the 50mm of insulation being fitted into the cavities between the timber framing.

    Being a tin roof (good conductor) the insulation will prove to be very important to keep the camper cool in the sun and warm at night. First I skinned it with a foil lined air bubble sheeting which has a very high rating for it's size and weight. It's also a moisture barrier. I sealed all the edges with a foil ducting tape as well. The purpose for sealing it so well is to stop warm humid air inside the camper (breathing, cooking etc.) from finding it's way into the ceiling cavity and coming in contact with the cold metal tin roof at night. This would cause a lot of condensation which would drip down to the walls and cause damp and eventually rot. Again, things like this are very important to think about. Without proper construction like this a build could be condemned in as little as a couple of years.

    After the foil lining 50mm of Celotex was fitted into the roof cavity. You can also see the beginnings of the bamboo trim of the interior.

    Here is a 50mm underfloor insulation layer.

    Having built the door frame, I started construction on the door. Doors are rather complicated to build. They have to be strong and secure and they must fit within a few millimetres of precision.

    It's a stable door wich means the top can be openend separately which is nice for privacy and security. The door's fitted with a closable vent in the bottom and a domestic Yale lock. It's very solid and secure.

    The interior was lines with 3mm hardwood ply. It's lightweight and looks fantastic. 

    The beautiful grain in the ceiling is a joy to explore when I'm lying in bed.

    As for mounting the camper onto the truck I fabricated six of these steel brackets. They are lined with foam so as not to damage the mounting rails on the camper.

    There are 12mm steel coach bolts that are located through structural elements of the camper, they have metal spreading plates on the inside to make them as strong as possible. They line up with the side mounting rails of the truck and with the bulkhead behind the cab. They then do up with locking nuts to hold the camper on securely.

    Here is a photo of the unit being demounted.

    The beautiful trim on the front is waiting for some gypsy style art work.


    There's lots of technical bits and pieces that go into making a camper a home. Gas and water plumbing, electrical systems and ventilation.

    Here are two 85ah deep cycle batteries. These are going to be the auxiliary batteries for the camper unit. They are wired together in parallel to give 170ah total and remain at 12volts. This is a pretty decent power capacity for a portable system.

    On the roof are mounted two 100 watt solar panels. Being a curved roof they having slightly different aspects. The good thing about this is that it increases the chances of one facing south when parking randomly! 

    The power from the solar panels leads down to the silver box on the left. This is a charge controller. It monitors the PV (solar) power and the batteries status to deliver optimum charge characteristics and to avoid damaging over charge scenarios. It's an MPPT controller (maximum power point tracking) which basically means it optimises the PV output voltage and amperage to deliver the maximum watts (power.) They are more expensive but will give you maybe 10% or more juice from your system.

    The blue box on the right is the inverter. This creates 240volts AC from the 12volts DC for running domestic appliances.

    There's also an auxiliary charging circuit from the vehicles electric system. When the engine is running the auxiliary batteries in the camper unit are charged and the fridge is run. (The fridge uses a lot of electricity so when parked up camping it is run from the gas supply. Ironic, cooling from a flame... magic.) If the camper were to be in a guaranteed full summer sunny location the electric system could run the refrigeration but it would be quiet taxing.

    Here is a small PV computer that's mounted externally from the electric locker. This displays all sorts of valuable information about what the system is doing. The small black switch just to the right activates the inverter. This saves having to leave it on all the time (they have a small background current drain even when there's no load being used. It's not much but it's worth turning it off. Every little helps!)

    This is the utilities locker. 50litres of water, 170ah of 12volt battery storage and 7kg of butane gas all live in here. The white bucket is an emergency use sawdust compost toilet. This is only really an option in a weekend van where you have a base at home to process the waste. (Unless you want to be regularly digging large holes in the woods which is the only other ethical way to dispose of the sawdust/ waste mix. Simply dumping it is not good.) There's heaps (excuse the pun) of highly recommended information in Joeseph Jenkins book "Humanure - a guide to composting human manure."

    So, here she is completed. When driving the steps store inside and the rear veranda folds and locks upright forming the tailgate. It also offers even more security as it prevents the door from opening.

    The finished interior, complete with "warm white" LED tape lighting

    You're welcome to contact me if you have any questions