Alternative Coverings

Lazy Jack

LOVES Wooden Canoes
I am a new member on this forum and I'm considering construction of a WC canoe.

I'm flip-flopping about when it comes to deciding on a non-adherant covering (ie not glass/epoxy)

I'm attempting to skate around the weight and rot problems associated with traditional canvas with the non white lead fillers available today.

I considered sealing with several coats of polyurethane varnish and finishing off with latex house paint like we did with the old EM White Expedition canoes but they tended to gain considerable weight and the canvas would ultimately rot.

I then considered aircraft technology with heat shrink dacron/polyfiber etc. which would be lots lighter but rather spendy. Not sure about durability

My Sunbrella boat cover (years old and going strong) caught my eye and their website features a 6.5oz white 'canvas' which seems it ought to be a good mildew-resistent, rot proof stand-in for the traditional canvas. They have also several dyed fabrics that are 8oz.

Has anyone tried Sunbrella? Is it too stretch resistent to conform around a canoe hull without wrinkles? Does anything stick to it?

I'm not after a bottle smooth glossy finish - I want a somewhat flat, even lightly textured finish which would absorb the nudges scrapes and bumps a little more gracefully.
Sunbrella is great stuff for what it's designed for, but it has lousy abrasion resistance compared to other natural or synthetic canvas products. It is also heavily treated with a fluorocarbon water/soil/stain repellent that's likely to greatly inhibit the bond of any filler or coating that you try to apply over it.

You seem to be dead-set on reinventing the wheel on two different forums before even building a boat, but the new-fangled solutions you are suggesting seem to create more potential problems than the ones you are trying to avoid or cure in the first place. Wouldn't it maybe be better to get a couple of builds under your belt using the traditional techniques that have worked pretty darned well for over a century before deciding to start making changes and/or "improvements" to the process? There isn't a single canoe-building material on the planet that is perfect. Never was, never will be. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses and any canoe is just a long, skinny pile of compromises, both in its design and its construction. It's something we learn to live with, because it's quite unlikely that anybody will ever change it.
Rollin's company, Northwoods Canoe, sells #10 mildew treated canvas. I have been using it for years now, and have never had any problems with it. Northwoods is a great place to do business, and I give them a big thumbs up!

As far as weight savings goes, it is only on the order of a couple of pounds. I'm with Todd, why reinvent the wheel? I have used dacron on 2 boats, One of them was a restoration where the original covering was dacron, and the other because I simply could not get canvas to wrap around the hull. Dacron is nice, but it is a PITA all of it's own.
Not sure how I projected being dead-set on anything except a preliminary consideration of alternatives and informed advice. I have recanvassed several canoes in the past using #10 canvas and glovit but that was late '80s early 90's. It appears the same ol' technology is still the favored one amung this crowd.

I didn't mean to ruffle feathers - Todd, I'm happy to smooth yours back down by saying that you certainly know your stuff and your advice is the quality of informed advice I find the most useful. I'll pardon your erroneous assumption that I don't have any canoe builds under my belt.

The canoe mold I've used in the past are far far away, so I'm interested in building an Atkinson Traveller as published in Rollin's book using a one-off mold as described in WB magazine a few issues back. I know of the Northwoods Canoe Shop so that solves a lot of problems - just didn't know about treated canvas!! I'm excited to hear that it works well.
Last edited:
I think what it boils down to is that when somebody asks the question "What new materials do a better job of recovering a rib and plank canoe than traditional canvas and filler?" and you carefully look at all the possible angles and issues, the answer still tends to come back as "none". And it isn't just a matter of being traditional or sticking with "natural" materials. When you look at long-term durability, repairability, restore-ability and cosmetics as well as the aesthetics, the stuff is damned hard to beat for most canoes. There are certainly uses for some of the more specialized treatments (polyester, fiberglass, etc.) but they each bring a different set of limitations into the picture.

I would think that there might be possibilities for something along the lines of an untreated version of a heavy polyester canvas (maybe like North Oceanus or Clipper Canvas) and some sort of epoxy-based filler that didn't penetrate all the way to the wood, but I haven't seen anybody do one and sing its praises yet. In the mean time, good old cotton canvas and traditional filler still seem to occupy the throne.
It appears to me, given the abundance of wisdom that the thread has evoked, that this canoe will be built successfully using whatever method Lazy Jack (clearly not lazy in the traditional sense) employs.

More importantly, it has given birth to the quote that I would second as the Quote of the Year:

any canoe is just a long, skinny pile of compromises, both in its design and its construction.

If you seek brevity, shave off the last bit and you still have the Quote of the Year:

...any canoe is just a long, skinny pile of compromises.

Gotta love this!