Basic Maintenance Questions


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Hello all,

I am so happy to have access to this amazing forum. Please forgive my kindergarten level questions here on how to best maintain my newly picked up Island Falls Wilderness Guide 16. Apparently this boat has seen little use since it was constructed in 1992, but does show some wear and tear on the gunwales and decks (scuff marks, slight dents and superficial bangs, as well as colored paint rubbed off from other objects). There is also some fading of the varnish in the interior of the hull that I know can be easily remedied. I know some say "just sand and varnish", but I need more detailed instruction than that, please. I have never done any of this before and want to do it right the first time.

I would like to basically just spruce up and beautify the gunwales and the interior of the hull...

There is definitely varnish still intact and ok, but looking tired. So, in order to make it everything look nice again, do I start by sanding the gunwales all the way to the wood? or just very lightly? Do I use an ROS or sand by hand? 180? 220 grit? After sanding, do I then wash it with water and a rag and let it dry out completely before applying varnish? Do I sand again after one layer of varnish has dried and then do another layer of varnish? If I am applying more than one layer of varnish, how long to wait between subsequent layers? And am I supposed to "thin" out the varnish as I have read in some posts? How to do that? Is that really necessary?

Regarding the interior of the hull, same questions apply. There is no damage or scuff marks really, but wondering if I need to be meticulous about sanding (and then do I wash and let dry before varnishing?), and how many coats of varnish... As of now, the wood grain is a bit palpable but there is no damage at all...

Finally, if I want a more satin finish, do I varnish with gloss, then sand, then varnish again with satin as the final layer? From the photos I have seen, I really like how Captain's Satin and Epifanes Satin look on many interior wood hulls and gunwales...

Those are my main concerns for the time being...

However as shown in the attached photos (my apologies for some of them being upside down...don't know how to rectify that), there is some slight "puffiness" as well as a "caving in" in areas of the exterior hull near the bow and stern, but the canvas is water tight, and the paddling experience is wonderful. There is one small area less than half an inch where there is a mild gouge in the bottom (where the shellac coating is)...should I put epoxy over this? There is also some angling of the brass stem bands. These things are cosmetic it seems (for the time being at least), but if anyone has ideas on how to rectify these issues it would be much appreciated...

Thank you so much for your help.

Very grateful,


You will get lots of different opinions.
Mine is leave well enough alone. That canoe has been babied. The small number of dings and scrapes are not enough to bother with, if you plan to use it. You can guarantee that you will ding it up again next time you take it out. Until the varnish starts to fail, or it's really in need, hold off on doing anything. I would just rub a bit of Restor a Finish on the rail and call it a day.
When you do varnish it, since it is so pristine, hand sand lightly enough to give the varnish some tooth and then use the best quality spar varnish you have available...Epifanes is my favorite but I think Jerry may also use Captains. One coat might do it if you are skilled with the brush but two are more likely. I use satin Epifanes as a finish coat on old canoes but on these newer ones, I love the finish that Jerry and Rollin send out of their shops.
The outside of the hull looks like it has shellac over the filler. It gets dinged up as a matter of course. I simply sand lightly and apply more shellac. Yours looks like it might have varnish over the shellac? You should call Jerry and talk to him about how he finished it.
That stem band screw may be pulling out. If it's not leaking, leave well enough alone. That kink will be hard to get rid of. The screws holding it are tiny and pulling it back will probably just strip the screw head or even snap the stem. You could pull the screws out and see how long they are and possibly go to the next longer screw size as long as the head and diameter are the same.
Nice canoe!
Your varnish generally looks to be in a good sound condition

As to the gunwales - A light scuff sanding by hand Should be sufficient to create a " toothed" surface to which the new vanish can better bond - I would use 150 or 220 paper

For the hull interior, I would say pretty much the same thing as above, unless there are some areas of serious wear Not visible in the photos, in which case you might want to send to the Bare wood in those areas, and then apply one or two coats of gloss good marine varnish such as Captain's or
Epiphanes over the wear, followed by a coat or two over the entire interior.

A power sander is unnecessary - and indeed may be dangerous because of the curves in the thin wood of a canoe it is far too easy to sand away too much into the wood. if your canoe's varnish is as good as it seems there should be no need to get to the wood,

The general good practice is to put on as many coats of gloss varnish as you think fit, followed by one last coat of a matte-type Finish. Multiple coats of mad finishes tend to produce a cloudy result. A good marine varnish with high UV protection is worth the extra money you will pay. on your canoe, just one coat overall might be sufficient, but I would think that no more than two would be needed

as to the puffiness, it looks like a bang plate and one end has come loose, perhaps because it was hit or hit something, and the canvas underneath it and Airpoint has become loose. This is something that does need attention. It probably cost for removing the brass band played and re-fastening the canvas seam underneath the bang plate After drawing the canvas taut and then putting the bang played back on, if it is sound. The kind of band shown in the picture might not be susceptible to straightening, and the band played might need replacement. I am sure some other folks here will have further comments on that problem. The small gouge probably only needs a coat or two of new shellac or, and the wood underneath is somewhat dented, may never completely disappear from sight, but unless really serious damage has been done to the wood underneath, which doesn't seem to be the case, there's not much else that is worth doing. I would not put Apoxsee or anything other than shellac in that area, because there will come a time when you want to re- shellac that part of the hull, an easy job, but any epoxy there will not look good

Just my two cents. I'm sure others will have suggestions

I see that Mike has put in a reply while I was drafting mine, and we are thinking much the same. I too have a shellac bottomed canal built by Jerry Stelmok, His model 1889. He has advised me that he uses Zinsser Amber shallac straight from the can. in fact, I am sending this from the WCHA assembly, where I will be doing a"demonstration" of re-shellacing The bottom of our canoe.
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You already have 2 good responses and direction.

The only thing I would add is to check those bang strips for tightness,
IF they are still TIGHT, I might add a bit more bedding compound to act as a waterproofer.
If they are LOOSE, I would remove them and refit them, being very careful at the kinks, or just replace them.

Here is something that may help.
Recently I switched ends with stem bands because of a couple broken screws. Fortunately the holes from one end to the other were off a little and I was able to fill the old holes and reattach the stem band fasteners into new wood.
Don’t forget bedding compound. Also pre- form the screw hole with a steel screw before going in with brass. #4 brass screws will break off in a heartbeat.