Canvas before varnish?


You can search on the site and possibly find this discussed.
My habit is to varnish before I canvas... but there really are no firm rules. If you were keeping the canvas, you would varnish without giving it a second thought.
If filler somehow splashes onto bare wood it is much harder to clean up and remove than it is from a varnished surface. That's been my rational.
There has been discussion about whether applying varnish to the canoe after the canvas has been installed can result in bleed through that affects the filler.

Jeff block

Curious about Wooden Canoes
That makes sense to me but got confused since two books I have show them canvassing first. Also, do you canvas with the canoe upright or upside down on tall saw horses?

Gil Cramer

The wooden canoe Shop, Inc.
Varnish the interior before canvassing. Varnishing after canvassing runs the risk of solvents interfering with the filler drying properly. Been there! Done that!

Dave Osborn

Here is what can happen if you varnish after canvassing. These bits of varnish can show up as little bumps under the canvas.
My preference is to canvas upside down. In over 20 years of playing with canvas canoes, I’ve never done it any other way.


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Dan Miller

cranky canoeist
Staff member
I'm not Dave, but I also canvas upside down. Here are some photos of my current set up. The end clamps are essentially tongue-and-groove, so the canvas doesn't slip. Each has a halter to adjust the angle of pull. One end has a come-along to a ring in the wall, the other a chain to a ring. Nothin' fancy.


Dave Osborn

My set up is much like Daniel’s.
You don’t necessarily need a shop space to stretch canvas. I’ve done it between trees, vehicles, pavilion posts, parking blocks, and picnic tables.
Or stretch by hand with no mechanical devices like Gil Cramer and Dave Wermuth.


Dans shop is decadent! Look at the beams...
I am not in a league with Gil and Dan, but for 50 plus years, I have done it the other way. Full disclosure, I have never tried the upside-down method.
I also use dovetailed clamps and I use a come along to tug on the canvas. I can fit up to a 17 foot canoe in my garage on a diagonal. I'll need to use a big tree and my truck this spring to canvas a 20.

Benson Gray

Canoe History Enthusiast
Staff member
The Old Town Canoe Company always did it right side up as shown in the two dioramas below with four foot models which were displayed in the factory store.



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Dave Wermuth

Who hid my paddle?
Hey DaveyO. Don't you mean that here's what happens if you varnish before canvassing? I always varnish first and always get those bumps that have to be dealt with before canvas.

David Satter

Wooden Canoe Maniac
I've been canvasing rightside up for 25 years. I like to see where my tack is going. If I need to move it or it hits a nail. I varnish after I canvas. Never had a problem. Sometimes I might put a coat or two on first but mostly after canvas. I guess it's all how you learned. I learned from Jerry Stelmok at Wooden Boat school 25 years ago. Came home and thought I could make money at it. Still trying


Rollin has been busy the past week. He's got two new builds underway . The one on the middle was just canvased. The one in the back will probably get a canvas this week or next. Doesn't look like there's any varnish on these yet. He's built over a thousand canoes in 40 plus years....