Wood Canoe Identification Guide

Please bear with me as I migrate the old Wood Canoe Identification Guide to the new format. If you want to see something in the meantime, click this link: old Wood Canoe ID Guide.

The first things most new owners of a wood & canvas canoe want to know is “who made my canoe?” and “how old is it?” In the best of worlds, there will still be a decal, brass plate, or other means of identifying the maker present on one of the canoe’s decks. However, this is the real world, and often a canoe is acquired in some state of disrepair or deterioration, or the maker’s mark was obliterated by time or previous refinishing.

An experienced eye can usually pick out the manufacturer of most canoes at a glance, using a combination of distinctive features and the general “gestalt” of the canoe. To the novice, it may simply appear as a bunch of wood that looks like a canoe.

The purpose of these pages is to provide an assemblage of characteristics, backed up with photos of real canoes, that will provide a starting point for identifying the canoe. It won’t be exhaustive; that would be impossible. However, we will try to hit on all the key features that should make it possible to identify your canoe. Keep in mind that it may not be ultimately possible to identify the canoe – there were many small operations building wood canoes over the last hundred years, and many of their names have faded with time. The good news is the majority of canoes were built by major manufacturers, and these we can usually figure out.

The window to the left is a listing of manufacturers known to have built wood canoes. The page associated with that builder describes features unique to that builder, a brief history of the company, and other useful information, such as how to date the canoe.

The following clues may help you get started with your indentification:

  • Serial Number: Many canoe companies stamped a serial number on the canoe. Usually, but not always, the number is stamped on the inboard upper face of the stem. Serial number records survive for some companies
  • Screws: Presence of square-drive (Robertson) screws usually indicate a canoe of Canadian origin.
  • Bolts: Diamond head bolts attaching seats and thwarts are usually indicative of Old Town or Carleton canoes built after ca. 1920.
  • Stem: Most canoes have stems about 7/8″ square. If the canoe has “splayed” stems that approach 3″ wide at their inboard end, it is probably a Morris, though there is a chance it is a Rhinelander.
  • Planking: If the planking appears to run parallel to the keelline when the canoe is viewed from the side, it is probably a Thompson, or Shell Lake. If the planking is full length and tapered, it is probably a Richardson.