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My first project- time to strip out the old varnish?

Discussion in 'Tips and Tricks' started by Feathers, Jul 1, 2014.

  1. Feathers

    Feathers LOVES Wooden Canoes

    I am enjoying working on my first project canoe. I have it just about ready to strip out the old varnish. I could take it to have it done commercially but for two reasons I'm thinking I will just do it myself. One, there is so little varnish left on the thing I don't think it's going to be particularly difficult, and two- I just want to do it myself. I have very much enjoyed the hours I've spent on the canoe so far and I'm not at all concerned about the hours of time I'll spend working on it stripping.

    I've done some searches and there are so many opinions on how to best accomplish this that I'm confused. Here are my questions. First, the canoe has a lot of just plain dirt in it. I've used a shop vac, then an air compressor and toothbrush along with a dental pick between the planks just picking off dried mud. I would like to use water to clean it before even attempting the stripping but I'm afraid the old wood with just soak up water and that perhaps this would be a bad idea?

    I'll probably just head to Home Depot to look for some kind of product to strip it with. I've seen a lot of suggestions on the forum but much of it needs to be special ordered. Anybody have something that worked well for them that can be purchased from someplace like Home Depot?

    So my plan is to put down some plastic on the driveway, apply the stripper in small sections, after it has accomplished the job scrape it off with some type of plastic scraper and finish with a scrub pad (water mixed with TSP? Acetone?). Should I use water to try to clean it beforehand? Can I just use water to rinse it out afterwards?

    Do I need a whole new plan? Thanks for any advice or help. DSC_0194.jpg DSC_0195.jpg
  2. OP

    Feathers LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Update. I've gone ahead and am doing my own experiments. Lesson number one: don't try applying even the slow-working stripper with a foam brush. That lasted about 5 minutes...
  3. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    Follow the directions on whatever you buy. I suspect the plastic down on the driveway will suffer the same fate as the foam brush.

    Since there's so little varnish left, try one of the safer strippers. They work well enough one single-layer finishes, though if there are multiple layers of paint, and who knows what else, you're better of using the nasty stuff.
  4. OP

    Feathers LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Thanks, I already got pretty far. I bought two small cans of stripper. The safer stuff and the full strength. The safer stuff worked but it took a long while so I quickly opted for the stronger. I learned it has to go on pretty thick or the old wood just seems to absorb it. It seems like it will take two applications over the entire canoe and then a third for the stubborn areas. I will go back and purchase a bigger container of the stronger.

    It's slow and tedious work but I don't mind it so much.
  5. 1905Gerrish

    1905Gerrish Loves Old Maine canoes


    Yes, buy the best stripper you can. It saves time in the long run. I use a putty knife to scrape out the majority first them use scotch brite pads to scrub the corners and get the rest out. I actually dip the pads in the stripper and scrub away. Water will de-active the stripper but I'm sure you figured that out. Use a teak cleaner on the canoe after you have completely stripped the canoe. It will clean the rest of the varnish out and do a very good job cleaning the canoe up. The canoe does not have to be perfect before the teak cleaner is applied. It is an acid and will eat up any small amout of nasty residue in corners of between the planking. The teak cleaner can be appied at a later date and not 10 minutes after stripping. Just sparay the canoe down with water before putting the teak cleaner on the canoe.

  6. OP

    Feathers LOVES Wooden Canoes


    Thanks for the help. I picked up a big pack of the scotch brite pads at Home Depot and have completed the rather difficult task of stripping out the old varnish. I underestimated how much stuff there was to remove and how long it would take. But it is done and I appreciate your help.
  7. 1905Gerrish

    1905Gerrish Loves Old Maine canoes


    Glad you had fun, thats the worse of it. Only gets better from here!

  8. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    Told ya so...!
  9. Jimcorliss

    Jimcorliss Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Would just sandpaper work if there was like one original layer of varnish and weathered cedar where the varnish has flaked off? I know the planks would be across the grain ... Maybee just the scotch brite pads and some kind of cleaner or turpentine? I don't seem to think a paint remover is necessary as there is so little varnish left... Mine is a 1910 ... Maybee I should leave the interior alone for character.
  10. OP

    Feathers LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Thanks for the thought. This is an old thread though and thankfully all of my questions and work paid off in a canoe I'm quite happy with. It took a good deal of work to get the old varnish out even though there seemed to be so little left- so I don't think sandpaper alone would have been a good option.

    It was fun to see this old thread brought back up though, especially as I'm just a few weeks away from tackling the stripping on another project- a 1940 Yankee that I won at the raffle at the Assembly last year. If you're interested, I put a series of photos I took of that first restoration project online here.
  11. Jimcorliss

    Jimcorliss Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Newbie here ... Lots to learn from your experiences
  12. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    The pictures of your canoe in your other thread ( ) show a canoe that would best benefit from stripping. Leaving the interior alone for character should not be an option if the canoe is to be used (unless you want to create more "character"). A scotchbrite pad and paint thinner might work, and would not cause any harm to try, but . . .

    There is probably more varnish there than it might seem. You might be able to readily scrape the flat top surfaces of the ribs to some good effect and with some ease, but sanding the sides of the ribs and the planking between ribs is not easy, and sanding where the ribs meet the planking is very difficult without damaging the wood of the planking and/or ribs. And what might be more-or-less easy in the wide middle of the canoe becomes harder and harder, -- and harder and harder -- as you approach the confined areas of the bow and stern. Further, while some of the varnish may be flaky and come off easily, some (a lot) of it will likely still be tight to the wood. Unvarnished cedar is very soft, and will sand away faster than varnish that is holding tight, leaving you with a dodgy surface when you finally get down to all bare wood. Sanding to get a clean, smooth and even surface is almost never either quick or easy.

    The current varnish of your canoe would provide little protection against either water or wear and tear were you to use the canoe.

    Cedar soaks up water -- unvarnished cedar, or cedar with varnish like that in your canoe, will soak up water quite rapidly -- and it’s amazing how much weight a canoe can gain from water soaked into its wood.

    Further, a sound varnish coating (more than one or two coats) protects the soft cedar from damage from shoes, paddles, coolers, beverage bottles and cans, dogs, and the other impedimentia of canoeing.

    Stripping with chemicals just ain’t fun -- unless you are a true masochist, and needing two or three passes is not uncommon. But it is what the near future should hold for your canoe if you are going to use it. The easy way to strip is to get a pro tro do it. If you do it yourself, get the heavy-duty stuff -- methylene chloride, and use good ventilation.

    Restoring a canoe is at best a break-even proposition financially -- the cost of the restored canoe will rarely be significantly more than the cost of the canoe plus the cost of materials for restoration -- and if you figure any dollar value for your time, it is virtually certain to be a losing proposition financially.

    In spite of being time-consuming, money-consuming, and sometimes hard work, restoring a canoe can be a rewarding pastime, if you like doing most of the various tasks involved. But the task of stripping varnish is done because it is necessary, not because it is easy, fun, or cheap.
    Patrick Strz likes this.
  13. Kathryn Klos

    Kathryn Klos squirrel whisperer

    Your canoe is AA grade-- trimmed in mahogany. Will look beautiful restored!
  14. Splinter

    Splinter Wood Girl #1186

    Anyone know if that place in Appleton is still in business that would strip a canoe in a half day for very little money? I think it was called A&J Stripping or something like that.
  15. Kathryn Klos

    Kathryn Klos squirrel whisperer

    Yes, as far as I know it's still there! What are you working on, Splinter?
  16. Splinter

    Splinter Wood Girl #1186

    Staggering around my very hollow, very empty house. Paul died just two weeks ago. I have not found my way yet. The past 3 years have taken a toll on me. My son reminded me that I should log back in to the Forums after 3 years absent and see what's happening. At a loss for what to do with myself now, physically shot from the wear and tear of caring for someone 6'2", emotionally bankrupt and financially ruined. And sad that he isn't here. It sucks. So, I'm not working on anything.
  17. dtdcanoes

    dtdcanoes LOVES Wooden Canoes

    JIM.........Your canoe is a significant find and too important to " learn on ". I suggest you find a like-minded canoe lover who is a conservator at heart and experienced in the tedious and challenging stripping adventure. You can realize extraordinary results from the careful and patient work needed here. be amazed by what might be brought forth from the ugly carcass before you. But an experienced buddy and/or pro beside you will be a godsend , believe me ! The challenge of getting the most benefit from the stripping endeavor is as much an art craft as anything else and not learned quickly. As has been said....First, do no harm, right ? Good luck, Dave
  18. Dan Lindberg

    Dan Lindberg Ex Wood Hoarder


    Sorry to hear of your loss, keep getting up and moving forward.

    But, I haven't had them strip a canoe, in part because the costs I heard were high IMO, at least for me. But then I like, yes like stripping a canoe. Is it a mess, yes, does it stink, yes, but it is when the wood 1st gets uncovered and you see what you are working on.


    You have an OT, the most common canoe found, and an open rail HW at that, the most common OT model, nothing wrong with learning on that canoe.
    And if you do nothing irreversible, it won't matter, the next guy can remove your work and do his.
    And if you do something not reversible, like give it a bath in epoxy, well, it's just an OT, not much of a loss.

  19. Kathryn Klos

    Kathryn Klos squirrel whisperer


    I'd been wondering how things were with you and have missed you here in the Forums and at social gatherings such as Jag Lake. So sorry about your loss. It's been nearly four years since I lost Denis, and I do know that this community-- with all that it involves (which includes the people, the canoes, and the connections with the natural world) can be a healing comfort.

    Andy Hutyera likes this.
  20. alick burt

    alick burt LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Teak Cleaner questions

    Hello Folks

    I am in the process of stripping the inside of this lovely old possibly Strickland Canoe.

    [​IMG][/IMG] In this picture..left end is done but still wet, middle is in process and right has not been stripped yet.

    I have stripped the majority of the varnish off with Nitromors stripper and still seem to have some residue.Right hand half has been done and dried here.

    Is this the sort of surface that will be improved by teak cleaner or should I go over the whole again with stripper and a Scotchbrite pad to get more off?

    Also what sort of teak cleaner is best? I notice there seem to be two kinds as some are two pack whilst others are single pack and some are cleaners whilst others are renovators.Which is best for this type of work after all my boat is not teak!
    Many Thanks


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