Saturday, June 9, 2012

(re-)Webbing Old Canoe Seats

My canoe is 19 years old. The original caned seats broke last summer. I am surprised they lasted that long. I dithered over spending about $80-$100 to replace them with webbed ones. Caned or re-caned ones are much more expensive. I decided instead to web them myself, inspired by this video that I found. I also need an excuse to fill up this space, occupy my generally scatterbrained, overactive and idle mind, and entertain my one reader, Chris. A little shot of self-satisfaction doesn't hurt, either.

I didn't have to watch the video for more than a few seconds to get the idea. I mainly wanted to see how he fastened the webbing. I could see that he used a Stanley stapler, so I was assured that I had the stuff to do this. All I needed to do was find the material.

I got it at JoAnn Fabrics, locally. I asked for webbing at several other stores that sold fabric, but I qualified the request with, "you know, like they use to repair lawn chairs..." and that may have confused some people who shook their head and said they did not have that. Webbing is also called strapping, belting, whatnot. It's used to create bag handles, belts, a lot of other things. The other stores (Michaels, Hobby Lobby) may have had it.

All the ingredients and tools I needed:
  • staple gun
  • 3/8" staples (shorter ones may have worked better, but longer ones proved problematic)
  • razor
  • hammer
  • 14 yards of 1" nylon webbing
  • a ruler
  • a pencil
  • a square
  • 2.5 hours of time (including picture taking, getting coffee, showing my wife the results)
  • A Black & Decker Workmate table is useful
  • A propane torch (whaaaaa???)
Here we go.

The bow (forward) seat is already done. The stern (rearward) seat shows the damaged caning. UV, water, and my variably-sized ass over the years brought it to ruin. Ratty muppine* backdrop courtesy of my grandmother & great-grandmother.

I cut the old caning out with the razor. I did not remove the piping or a lot of the glue that was there - I don't need that much perfection, I just need a place to sit my ass in the canoe. I cleaned it up enough to look decent and not give anyone a splinter.

To place the short straps I found the center of the seat. The hole was 10" x 7". If I have one inch webbing, that means I can put ten straps one way and seven straps the other, right? Well, maybe not. Things would be very tight when weaving, so I went with one less course each way than there were inches in the seat dimensions. That's 9 by 6 straps.

Nine means that one strap straddles the center line (instead of with ten, where the center line would be between two strips).

Starting the first one, I staple the end or bight to the bottom (which is facing the camera), and I pull the strap across the top of the seat and to the other side. I have not cut the webbing yet. It would be a waste of time if I cut each piece to the size I needed before working - perhaps even a waste of material. I used 3/8" staples because they sink almost completely into the oak frame; 1/2" staples leave a lot of leg standing. I use the hammer to drive the staples in a tad more, or to at least flatten them so they don't catch anything and secure the webbing even further. If I did this again I would have got 1/4 staples because the staples I used did not always  go in so deep.

Now I have flipped the seat frame over. We're looking at the top of the seat. The stapled, bight-end of the webbing is stapled to the bottom of the seat, which is facing away from the end of the camera at the bottom of the frame.

I pull the webbing tight with one hand, and the seat is jammed against the black and orange stops in the workbench. Now I can staple this first strap and cut it off.

Like this:

Once I have done those 9 straps, I turn the seat 90 degrees and work on the other courses. This time I have to remember to weave the straps over and under the others. This seems easy, but it is also easy to make a mistake. For my minimal aesthetic desires, I wanted at least the weaving to look good. It also improves the strength of the seat.

All weaving done. Notice the remnant. I estimated I used 13-15 yards of the stuff.

The last thing I did was cure the ends of the webbing with a blow torch. This prevents the frayed ends from loosening up and unraveling. You can't do this cotton webbing - you'd need to use fray check or sew the ends up.

Lesson learned: I can do more than I think I can, and a lot faster than I think. Maybe you can, too. Oh, and I saved a few dollars.

Now I am ready for my semi-annual canoe/camp trip with my son.

*A muppine is a dish cloth made from a flour sack, at least in my family; described by some as any rag you use in the kitchen as you cook - to wipe your hands or clean small spills.