by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

Once the canoe has been canvassed, the filler has been applied and the keel and stem-bands have been installed, it is ready for paint.  Here are five secrets for a professional paint job:

Kolesnik 05

Tip #1 – Paint First, Then Assemble – Fifty years ago, the canoe builders in the factories were in production mode.  To save time and space, they installed the outwales before applying varnish and paint.  However, this caused two problems in the years to follow.  First, the canvas under the outwales is not protected with paint.  Second, the inside surface of the outwales is bare, unprotected wood.  Over years of use, water can become trapped under the outwales.  This moist environment can be ideal for growing the fungi that cause rot.

canvas rot

Two things can happen: a) the canvas can rot under the outwales causing the canvas to detach from the canoe and; b) the outwales can rot from the inside out.

outwale 11 DL

To avoid these problems, paint the canvas and varnish the outwales (being sure to seal all of the surfaces) before the outwales are installed.  Some builders go so far as to apply varnish along the cut edge of canvas before the outwales are installed.

lagging 14

Tip #2 – Sanding, Sanding and More Sanding – Generally speaking, the more you sand, the smoother the final finish.  Also, the more meticulous you are about sanding, the better the end results.  Before starting to paint the filled canvas, sand the filler with 120-grit sandpaper.  I use a random-orbital sander for this job.

raised tack

Any tacks in the canoe hull that are not flush to the hull will show up as you sand.  It is essential to stop sanding immediately and re-clinch the tack to avoid creating a nice, round, tack-sized hole in the canvas.

wet sanding 02

For all practical purposes, oil-based alkyd enamel paint is essentially heavily pigmented varnish.  Both are handled in exactly the same way except that while the surface of varnish is scratched with steel-wool between coats, the paint surface is scratched with wet sandpaper.  I use 120-grit wet sandpaper between the first and second coats of paint.  I then use 220-grit wet sandpaper between the second and third coats and, if I decide to apply four coats of paint, I use 320-grit wet sandpaper between the third and fourth coats.  As always, be sure to clean the surfaces well before applying the finish.  Remove sanding dust with a brush or vacuum.  Then, remove remaining dust with a tack cloth.

thinner

Tip #3 – A Little Thinner – Some articles about oil-based paints and varnishes would have you believe that avoiding streaks and bubbles in the final finish is one of life’s great challenges.  In fact, there is no great mystery to it.  Thin the paint (or varnish) about 12% with mineral spirits (paint thinner) before using it.  The thinned paint will self-level once it is applied.  The additional solvent also allows the paint to dry before sags and drips develop.  For a canoe, any alkyd enamel works well and provides a tough, flexible finish.  Recent changes to federal regulations in Canada make it difficult, if not impossible, to buy oil-based marine enamel.  Just go to your local hardware store and pick up a gallon of oil-based “rust paint”.  The label will say “For Metal Use Only”.  I’m sure they just forgot to include “Canvas-Covered Canoe” in the label.  I would gladly use a water-based paint for the canvas, but at this point, oil-based alkyd enamel is the only paint that works.

first coat

Tip #4 – Tip It, Then Leave It – As with any paint, you must maintain a “wet edge” while applying it to a large surface.  Therefore, it is important to work in small sections of the canoe.  Apply the paint quickly and vigorously to get complete coverage.  Don’t worry about streaks or bubbles.  Just make sure the paint covers the area without using too much.  I use a high-quality natural bristle brush to apply the first and second coats.

tipping

I use a disposable foam brush to apply the third (and, if you so choose, the fourth) coat of paint.  Once you have applied paint to a small section of the canoe, hold the brush at a 45° angle to the surface and lightly touch the brush to the wet surface.  Move the brush quickly over the surface to “tip” the finish.  Do this first vertically from top to bottom and then horizontally.  After the section is painted and tipped in two directions, move to the next section.  Continue in this way until you have done the entire canoe.  Check to make sure there is no excess paint dripping anywhere – especially at the ends.  Then, go away and leave it alone for 48 hours.

carnauba wax

Tip #5 – Protect Your Work – Are we done yet?  Well, that depends on whether or not you want to protect that beautiful new finish.  Once I have applied the final coat of paint and allowed it to dry for two days, I apply a coat of carnauba wax (pronounced car-NOO-bah) obtained at the local auto supply shop.

canvas 11 CP

Follow the directions and use lots of muscle (or a good buffing wheel).  If you’ve never tried it, waxing the canoe is worth it just for the experience of shooting effortlessly through the water.  It’s like waxing a surfboard – the results are amazing.  Also, the paint is protected from minor scuffs and scratches.  Any oil-based finish takes several months to cure completely, so the wax helps protect it in the early months of use.

mockup 02

All of this (and much more) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

If you have read the book, please post a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads and/or any other review site.

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by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

A little research into traditional wood finishing methods shows that, for over a hundred years, there were three basic steps to finishing the interior of the canoe – Oil, Shellac, Varnish.  That said, I get a lot of e-mails and comments asking me about this.  It appears that much of the knowledge about finishing wood for outdoor use has been lost over the years or clouded by conflicting information.

Note: Oil, Shellac and Varnish are applied to bare wood.  If you are not stripping the old finish and simply want to add a coat of varnish to the existing interior finish, start by cleaning the varnished surface with TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) mixed in water.  Rinse the interior with clean water and let it dry.  Then, use fine steel wool to scratch the surface of the old varnish and make sure that all dust and debris is removed.  With the varnished wood properly prepared, it is ready for the application of new varnish as described below.

MYTH #1: Applying linseed oil to bare wood will hamper the adhesion of other finishes. Traditionally, linseed oil was the foundation of all interior finishing in canoes.  I must add that I am referring to “double boiled” linseed oil.  The name is rather misleading since the oil is not boiled but rather contains a variety of drying agents (japan drier is often used).  Raw linseed oil takes years to dry.  This is useful when you want a compound to remain flexible for years (i.e. Marine Bedding Compound such as Dolfinite).

A mixture of boiled linseed oil and turpentine – usually in a ratio of two parts oil to one part turpentine – has been the mainstay of wood preparation for exterior use for centuries.  The mixture soaks into the wood and keeps it supple and strong for decades.  It also prevents water from soaking into the wood thereby helping to prevent rot.  I apply a coat of the oil/turpentine mix to the entire canoe and let the oil dry for a couple of weeks (again, if you are leaving original varnish on the interior of the canoe, apply the oil/turpentine mixture to the hull exterior only).  The wood in old canoes is very dry and brittle, so lots of oil is required.  I apply a single coat of oil and let it dry for at least a week.

MYTH #2: Varnish will not stick to Shellac.  Shellac is fundamental to hard finishes on wood.  It creates a superb base for varnish and seals the wood in order for the varnish to ‘build’ properly.  It is easy to apply, dries in an hour or two, and polishes quickly with extra-fine steel wool.  Back in the days when woodworkers made their own varnish, shellac (as well as other gums and resins) was added to heated linseed oil to create the varnish.

Shellac is made from resins exuded by the female Lac beetle in India.  The resin is refined and dried in the form of flakes that range in colour from almost clear, through various shades of amber to dark orange (almost brown).  The shellac flakes are sold typically in one-pound bags which are then dissolved in denatured alcohol (ethanol mixed with a little methanol to prevent people from drinking it.  Methanol — also known as methyl hydrate can also be used on its own to dissolve the shellac flakes).

The concentration of shellac in the alcohol is referred to as the ‘cut’.  I normally buy pre-mixed shellac at the hardware store which is typically a ‘four-pound cut’ – four pounds of shellac flakes dissolved in one gallon of alcohol.  This is a rather thick mix.  Most woodworkers prefer a two-pound cut.  I dilute the pre-mixed shellac with lacquer thinner (a cocktail of volatile organic solvents usually including acetone, toluene, xylene and methyl ethyl keytone) in a 1:1 ratio.  Normally, shellac dissolved in alcohol is anhydrous and turns cloudy white when it comes in contact with water – not a good thing for canoes.  The addition of lacquer thinner prevents that from happening and gives a nice two-pound cut to work with.  In fact, shellac dissolved in lacquer thinner (primarily acetone) is often called lacquer.  If you are mixing your own shellac from flakes, dissolve them in lacquer thinner alone in order to create a coating that will not become cloudy when it contacts water.

Apply shellac with a natural bristle brush.  This stuff dries almost immediately, so application is fast and indelicate.  Apply lots of shellac to a small area to ensure full coverage with one brush stroke.  Shellac is more slopped on than painted on.  Once applied, do not go over an area again — one sloppy brush stroke and move over to the next small area.  It is important to maintain a wet edge as you move down the length of the canoe, so speed is the key. Allow the shellac to dry for a couple of hours at room temperature.  Then use extra-fine steel wool to polish the surface and create small scratches in the shellac.  Vacuum the canoe toemove any dust and debris and you are ready to apply varnish.

Myth #3: Varnish is difficult to apply.  Traditionally, varnish is made by dissolving gums or resins (such as shellac, rosin, mastic, amber, copal and damar) in heated oil (such as linseed oil or cotton-seed oil) and thinned with turpentine (distilled pine sap).  These days, most commercially manufactured varnishes contain petroleum-based alkyd polymer resins in oil thinned with mineral spirits (petroleum-based solvent).  A side note here is that some commercial manufacturers of varnish use the label Varathane® for a mixture of resins dissolved in linseed oil.  Meanwhile, a mixture of resins dissolved in cottonseed oil is known as Urethane®.

If varnish is used straight from the can, the high concentration of solids (alkyd resins) makes it almost impossible to apply without ending up with sags, drips, streaks or bubbles in the finish.  Consequently, conventional wisdom states that it is very difficult, verging on impossible, to achieve a smooth, even coat of varnish.  However, there is a simple solution.  Just thin the varnish about 12% with mineral spirits (paint thinner).  Some top-quality varnishes come with a higher concentration of solids and therefore require a little more thinning.  In any case, once thinned, the solvent allows the varnish to flow more easily which means that it will self-level to create a smooth surface.  The solvent also allows the varnish to dry faster thereby eliminating sags in the finish.

Before applying varnish, prepare the surface of the shellac base-coat or previous coat of varnish by scratching the surface with fine steel wool.  Too much rubbing will remove the previous coat, so quick and light is the key.  The scratches give the varnish something to hold onto.  Otherwise, the varnish will dry and then peel off.

Vacuum the surface thoroughly to remove dust and debris.  Then, go over the surface quickly with a tack-cloth to remove any remaining dust.

The interior of a wood-canvas canoe is irregular with lots of gaps and uneven surfaces.  Use a natural bristle brush to get the varnish into all the little nooks and crannies.  I use a 2” (55mm) brush.  It is a relatively major investment (currently costing about $48USD) and well worth it when called into service on a regular basis.  I used one brush on more than 100 canoes over a period of about eight years.  I finally had to retire it because the bristles had worn down to less than half their original length.

Set up your canoe in a well-lit space with good ventilation, away from direct sunlight.  Pour about two inches (5 cm) of thinned varnish into a clean, empty one gallon (4 litre) paint can.  Load the brush with varnish and rap the brush against the sides of the can to shake off excess varnish.  Apply the varnish quickly and vigorously making sure that it gets into all of the corners.  Work on a short section of the canoe.  Then, look at the surface from an angle with work lights set up at an opposite angle to reveal any areas that were missed.  Apply enough varnish to achieve full coverage while at the same spreading it thin enough to avoid drips or small pools.  Don’t worry about streaks or bubbles.  If the varnish is thinned properly, it will spread evenly and bubbles will disappear in a few minutes.  Once you have full coverage, ‘tip’ the surface by touching it lightly and quickly with the brush bristle tips.  It is best to tip the surface first across the grain of the wood and then with the grain.  However, it is difficult to tip in both directions in the canoe interior, so I usually just tip in one direction following the grain of the ribs.  The varnish is both applied and tipped very quickly.  Then, move over to the next section of the canoe.  Always maintain a ‘wet edge’ as you apply varnish to the full length of the canoe.  Work in small sections to make sure that the varnish in that section is still wet when varnish is applied to the next section.  That way, the entire surface will be smooth.  Once done, go away and leave the canoe in a well-ventilated, dust-free space for 48 hours.  I normally apply two coats of shellac and three coats of varnish.

Clean your natural bristle brush in three stages.  First, clean it with mineral spirits or turpentine.  Then, clean it with lacquer thinner.  Finally, clean the brush with a heavy duty cleaner such as Lestoil®.

mockup 02

All of this (and much more) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

If you have read the book, please post a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads and/or any other review site.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

I started describing the process involved in rebuilding the end of a 1967 18′ Old Town OTCA canoe in part 1 of this blog. In it, I described how to replicate the deck.  Now, I will describe how to rebuild the stem-top and inwale-ends of this canoe.

Unless the stem-top repair is very short, it will require the use of a new piece of ash that is pre-bent to fit the curve of the original stem. Since you are not replicating the entire stem, the curved section can be created by bending the new ash onto any stem-form.  I used a stem-form built to make new stems for a 1905 J.H. Rushton Indian Girl canoe.  The 4/4 stock was soaked for four days , steamed for 60 minutes and bent over the form with a backing strip.  It was left to dry for a week before removing it from the form.

Hold the newly bent stock up to the OTCA stem and shift it around until you find a section that matches the portion to be repaired. Mark the new stock as well as the point on the inwales where the stem meets them.  Cut a scarf joint in the original stem and match the scarf joint in the new ash stock.  Use polyurethane glue and clamp the new section of stem into the original overnight.

Use an angle grinder fitted with a 24-grit sanding disk to shape the new section roughly to the dimensions of the original. Leave extra material until you are ready to carve the stem-top to its final dimensions near the end of the project.

Since the inwale-ends have to be pre-bent to match the original curve of the sheer-line, the first step is to build a bending form. Clamp a large piece of cardboard to the sheer-line of the canoe at one end.

Use a permanent ink pen to mark the curve of the sheer-line on the cardboard.

Remove the cardboard from the canoe and cut out the sheer-line profile. You now have a template to transfer onto the bending form stock.

The original curve was increased to compensate for spring-back. Here is the diagram of the bending form used for the OTCA gunwale-ends.

I used two pieces of 2×8 spruce held together with 2½” deck screws to create a 3×8 bending form.

The white oak stock is wide enough to create two bent inwales at the same time. Once the stock is bent, it will be sliced into two inwales on the table saw.  Soak the white oak stock for three days and steam it for about 60 minutes.  Then, you have about 30 seconds to bent it onto the form.  The bend is not large, so a backing strip is not required.  Allow the wood to dry in the form for about a week.

Use a flexible straight edge (I use a steel rule) and a permanent ink pen to mark the angle of the scarf joint on the original inwale at a location well into solid wood. Also, mark the point at which the underside of the inwale meets the new stem-top.

Use a saber saw or Japanese cross-cut saw to remove the rotted inwale-end along the scarf angle line.

Smooth the scarf angle with a random-orbital sander set up with 60-grit sandpaper.

Cut the newly bent inwale stock on the table saw to create the desired dimensions for both port and starboard inwales.

Hold the new inwale directly under the original inwale and shift it around until you match the bend. Use a permanent ink pen to mark the location of the scarf joint on the new inwale.  Check to make sure the new inwale-end meets the new stem-top in the same place as the original.  Use a band saw to cut the scarf angle (other saws can do this job, but the band saw is the safest option and gives the best control).

Dry-fit the new inwale-end and clamp it in place.

Use a flexible straight edge and a permanent ink pen to mark the taper in the inwale-end.

Cut the taper in the new inwale-end on the inside surface of the new stock. Be sure to leave extra material in order to allow for precise fitting later.  Then, dry-fit the tapered inwale-end.

Sand the inside surface of the new inwale-end until it is a precise fit. I use a belt sander turned upside down.

Create new inwale-ends for both the port and starboard sides. Use polyurethane glue, clamp them in place and allow them to cure overnight.

The next day, cut the new stem-top to length so it fits snugly under the new inwale-ends. I find it best to cut the stem a little long and sand it gradually (checking frequently) until it fits.  Then, sand the sides of the stem until it is flush with the outside surfaces of the new inwale-ends.  Again, work gradually and check often.

Dry-fit the new deck and make sure everything is lined up with the centre-line of the canoe. Mark the location of the deck and attach it with 1½” #8 flat-head bronze screws (counter-sunk into the inwales).

Use a random-orbital sander and 60-grit sandpaper to bring the deck flush with the top of the inwales.

Cut the inwale-ends flush with the outside surface of the stem. Then, sand the deck and inwales smooth.  Complete the project by staining the new wood to match the orginal.

mockup 02

The entire restoration process (including stem-top, inwale-end and deck repairs) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

If you have read the book, please post a review on Amazon, Goodreads and/or any other review site.

by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
email: artisan@canoeshop.ca

Water tends to collect in the ends of wood-canvas canoes when they are used on a regular basis. This moist environment creates perfect growing conditions for the fungi that cause wood rot.  I have described the process of rebuilding the rotted ends of a wood-canvas canoe in my book  ̶ This Old Canoe.  However, when the canoe is built with a stylish upward sweep in the sheer-line at both ends, the repair job is much more involved.  For this discussion, I rebuilt the rotted end of a 1967 Old Town OTCA sailing canoe with sponsons.

Often, the damage is not apparent until the end is taken apart. Only then can you see the rotted inwale-ends and stem-top.

In this canoe, the bow deck was also rotted in the end. There are many ways to approach this repair.  Sometimes, all that is required is the application of wood-hardener and two-part epoxy putty.  In other cases, a new tip of solid wood can be spliced into the original deck with a scarf joint.  However, the damage is most often so severe that an entirely new deck has to be made.  In many canoes with highly-curved ends, the solid wood decks (almost an inch thick) are bent to follow the curve in the sheer-line.

I have seen some people make a new deck by carving the curve into a piece of 8/4 (2″ or 5 cm thick) hardwood. Others laminate several thin slices of hardwood together on a form to create the curved deck.  In this example, I employed the same methodology used by the original builders  ̶  namely stem-bending the curve using a press.  The first step is to cut a new deck from a piece of 4/4 (1″ or 25 mm thick) hardwood (in this case I used white oak).

The set-up is comprised of the new deck steam-bent between two solid-wood bending forms. They are both fashioned from a number (in this case, four) of 2×8 pieces of spruce lumber sandwiched together into a 6×8 block (held together with 2½” deck screws).  The bottom block has the concave shape of the deck-bend cut into its top surface while the top block has the convex shape cut its bottom.

The curve required to achieve the correct bent in the replica deck is greater than the actual curve. This is due to the fact that a solid piece of wood will spring-back a little once the tension is removed in the press.  To save you the trial-and-error process involved in getting the proper curve, I present a diagram that will allow you to get it right the first time.

Pressure for bending the deck is generated with an automotive scissor-jack forcing the bending forms together in the middle of a press-frame constructed from 2×6 lumber. In this case, the inside dimensions of the press are 26½” (67.3 cm) high by 31″ (79.7 cm) wide.

The new deck is left in the press for a week to dry completely. When removed, the new deck has exactly the same bend as the original.  Once the deck is ready, new inwale-ends have to be spliced into the original inwales.  This will be discussed in part 2 of this blog.

mockup 02

The entire restoration process (including stem-top, inwale-end and deck repairs) is described in my book – This Old Canoe: How To Restore Your Wood Canvas Canoe.
If you live in Canada, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the USA, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
If you live in the UK, CLICK HERE to buy the book.
Si vous habitez en France, CLIQUEZ ICI acheter le livre.

If you have read the book, please post a review on Amazon, Goodreads and/or any other review site.