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Do I need to re-varnish?

Discussion in 'Wood and Canvas' started by Dennis, Dec 3, 2021.

  1. Dennis

    Dennis Curious about Wooden Canoes

    I have a 1923 OTCA 16' CS grade that my wife and I have started to restore. Both ends have typical wood rot at the stem/gunwale/planking intersection. A couple of ribs needs new ends scarfed in.

    This is our first project. (email exchanges with Jerry Stelmok have been very helpful) IMO the interior varnish is in pretty good shape. My plan is to lightly sand and re-varnish yet most restoration threads plan to completely strip. Due to limited space and environmental concerns I cannot strip the varnish myself. I am aware of people using outside sources for this task. Opinions/Advice?

    Puget Sound Washington and Vermont

    Attached Files:

  2. MGC

    MGC Scrapmaker

    There are no firm rules for what you must do when you restore a canoe. Every canoe is a bit different and what they need varies.
    If the current varnish and wood look good (and they seem to) you can certainly get away with roughing it up to get some tooth and then varnishing over what's there.
    Before you do you might want to make sure that what is currently on the boat is spar varnish, not polyurethane.
    The reason most of us tend to strip the finish to bare wood is opportunistic. When you have the hull broken down for major repairs it is the absolute best time to tackle removing old finish and bring the wood back to its natural color. It is also much easier to color match new ribs and wood when the rest of the hull has been stripped, bleached and sanded.
  3. Gil Cramer

    Gil Cramer The wooden canoe Shop, Inc.

    98 year old varnish " ain't no good". If you can find a pro stripper willing to try it, go for it.
  4. Gil Cramer

    Gil Cramer The wooden canoe Shop, Inc.

    It is better to spend the extra money in the restoration and do it "RIGHT", than lament afterwards, I shoulda, coulda, woulda!!!!
  5. OP

    Dennis Curious about Wooden Canoes

    While the age of the current varnish is unknown, it's unlikely that this is 98 year old varnish. I did not mention in my post that the interior and exterior have been washed with a TSP mix.

    Thanks for the replies.
  6. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    I’m with Gil. This is your chance to do it right. Your last coat of varnish is only as good as what is under it.
    I do see what MGC sees when he says the varnish looks good (if it actually varnish and not polyurethane).
    However on closer inspection I see some light areas on the center/left of the photo. Looks like possible water damage to the finish. Blisters, delaminating finish…. Hard to tell exactly.
    I understand your reluctance to strip it yourself.
    I would suggest that you contact professional furniture strippers within a reasonable distance to see if they can do it for you. It can be expensive, but the folks that I’ve steered that way have all said that it’s the way to go and will never strip one themselves again.

    Attached Files:

  7. Dan Lindberg

    Dan Lindberg Ex Wood Hoarder

    Just get some stripper and do it yourself.
    It's terrible, time consuming job, and if I restored for a living, I'd also use a pro stripper,
    BUT I don't and time spent is not important to me.
    And stripping a canoe is one of my favorite tasks on a canoe, as that is when you can get a good look at the wood.
  8. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    It looks in good shape to me. Stripping it is a lot of unnecesary work and expense if it doesn't need to be done. Sand lightly with 220 grit and use good quality spar varnish.
  9. Craig Johnson

    Craig Johnson Lifetime member

    FA46B2B9-0ADE-480F-978E-299970D199CC.jpeg While everything said before is true, you will never be able to reproduce the patina of an old unstripped hull. Stripped,bleached,and revarnished is beautiful but different from the look of old spruced up varnish. It’s your canoe, do what you want. If it turns out to be a mistake what’s another year of your life doing it all again. The photo is of my 54 OT guide that I did not strip.
  10. Gil Cramer

    Gil Cramer The wooden canoe Shop, Inc.

    This thread shows the whole spectrum of refinishing varnished interiors. Craig said it best " Do what you want. It's your canoe," Having stripped painted interiors, I would never recommend it unless you are a duck hunter.
  11. Gil Cramer

    Gil Cramer The wooden canoe Shop, Inc.

    I have known people who have taken denatured alcohol and a fine Scotchbrite pad to rejuvenate the old varnish and retain the patina. It might be similar to Homer Formsby's technique. Patience has never been one of my virtues. I just threw some varnish on a White" boy scout "model canoe. It had several coats of paint ranging from duckboat brown to latex gray. Of course, it was flaking badly, and the adherence of new paint was questionable. The owner did not want it stripped, but I couldn't stand not doing something. I stripped much of the loose paint and varnished the interior, just in case somebody in the future wants to restore the interior to varnish. The interior will be painted flat grey, and the exterior red.( I am in Ohio). Obviously I am biased about how the interior should look.
  12. MGC

    MGC Scrapmaker

    Here's the thing. If (as is noted by Dave) the current varnish has any defects, then strip. But if it's in good shape, there is really no reason to remove it. I have an old Morris that I left the original finish in when I recanvased and re-railed it 30 years ago. I did not remove the old varnish. I sanded it and the varnished over it. That canoe is now north of a 100 years old and it's been used a lot and used hard. It's in fine shape. Again, there are no hard and fast rules in this hobby. You go as you chose based upon what is in front of you and what you choose to tackle.
    If you do decide to strip it, do it yourself and save the expense. It only takes a few days to do. That and depending upon where you live, there may not be a pro around to take it to.
    If you do strip it, there are several threads on this site that go into detail about how to get great results.

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