Indian Girl

fred capenos

Canoe Pilot
Indian Girl # 4385 is now ready for the water. We hope to launch her at the Mini-assembly at Gifford Pinchot State Park on October 8th. Fred


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Wow--- simply amazing, Fred. Needs to show up at the Big Assembly next July too, as an example of Rushton's work (and of your ability to make a canoe glorious again).

An amazing transformation.
I'd like to pose a question I have been wondering about. What is the correct varnish finish to properly match the finish that we see on un-restored Rushton's? If you look at the photo posted by Robert Ross in the link that Kathy attached, or the one that I posted for Fred in a different thread you will notice that the varnish on these IG's has a yellowish/beige low gloss appearance. I am a real fan of Epiphanes but I am afraid that I will dramatically change the original appearance of these canoes if I use it. Much like Dennis invented a mix to match the Morris interior, has anyone done the same for Rushtons? I am reminded of a Rushton skiff that was offered at the Clayton boat auction a few years back. The finish looked great and had a nice high gloss appearance, but it did not look right for the boat.


Nice job, I bet Oct. 8 won't get here soon enough. Was your choice of green hidden under coats of blue paint? If so, how close were you able to match what you found to the paint you used? What did you use? The color is very close to what we have uncovered on our IG.

We're inspired, thank you,
Dave & Peggy
Look at:

The finish is Epiphanes woodfinish matte-you use it for the last coat or two.


I used the matte Epiphanes on my Morris. I agree that this is a good matte finish.
What I am referring to is the color of the varnish. If you look at the IG that Robert posted or the decks of the one that I posted you will clearly see that the color of the wood and varnish is totally different than the typical finish that we now use. There is a dull yellowish color that may be a patina or simply the color that results when the Rushton varnish fails from old age. It almost looks like violin rosin. Whatever it is, it is unique and distinctive. I have never seen the same coloration on any other older canoes.
I am sure that Robert knows exactly what I mean. He sees lot's of these un-restored.
Most of us finish the wood on a Rushton with a varnish that shows too much clear wood color.
It's a bit off topic I suppose but I thought that someone familiar with this might have found a magic formula that replicates the finish of these old canoes.

#4385 had been re-canvased before we got it. No green paint was found. The new canvas was first painted yellow then blue as seen when we started. In his books, Rushton offered three shades of green, so I picked a shade that satisfied my taste and went with it. It's Kirby's # 13 "Blind green". It's high gloss. Thank you and everyone else for the kind words. Fred
Newbie here... What do you call that metal piece you have on the bow where the outer stem is? Attached to the deck then bent over the bow stem and down?I want to put some of that on mine but am not sure of what the material or piece is called?
Well done sir.

I must say, it is awesome. I am inspired. Unfortunately other projects keep stepping to the front of the line. I hung my 15' IG up in the rafters out of the way until I can get to it. I did get it stripped down first. I did find some long cherry not far from me for a buck a bd ft.
different oils add color as well. Linseed being more orange, Tung or Soy more yellow. Poppy can be quite clear. And tree resins vary widely in color too. Add to that several decades of sunlight on the wood and you get a kind of depth that can't be replicated out of a can. I wonder if any of the makers might have used a shellac sealer coat under the varnish, I suspect that when I see alligatoring on an old finish.

As an aside, none of us knows what these boats looked like when new. A lot of people were horrified when they saw the results of cleaning Renaissance paintings. The muted and warm colors became vivid and nearly garish -- exactly how they looked when first painted, but our idea of them was created by looking at centuries old colors covered by layers of soot, dirt, and darkening varnish.

A big problem with oil painters is the darkening of the Linseed oil, hence the desire for Poppy oil.

In Wm. Crowley's, "Rushton's Rowboats and Canoes, The 1903 Catalog in Perspective", it mentions on pg.6 the use, at times, of two coats of shellac instead of the 1st coat of varnish to save time. I believe our IG may have it's original finish. We removed the seats for cleaning and found shellac was used between the cleat and front seat. Another indication was that the finish blistered from the planks and ribs in direct hot sunlight, typical of shellac I'm told. Shellac may have been more widely used then mentioned in the catalog. Pics are before and after cleaning.


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Somewhere in my Rushton literature I read that shellac was used before the first coat of varnish went on his canvas covered canoes. In "Rushton Canvas-Covered Canoes" he puts shellac on his paddles. He makes no mention of using shellac on canoes in that same book
I will attach before and after stripping shots of the inside of our canoe. I'm not sure of the age of the finish when we got the canoe, but if it was not original, it was very very old. If you look closely at the before shots you can see an orange tint under the varnish that has lifted. After the first stripping the varnish was all gone but the orange shellac remained. It remained after the second and third stripping. It was very blotchy and streaked. I remembered Fitz made mention about this condition. (I think it was Fitz).
To correct this condition, I bought some amber shellac and mixed it with clear shellac until it matched the canoe. I only have 5 restorations to my credit, and every one of them has started out with a coat of shellac. That is how I started based on Mike Elliott of Kettle River Canoes "Refinishing a Wooden Canoe".


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Supposedly this one original but it seems very unlikely to me.
It's interesting to learn that most of these have a shellac base. That really could account for the colors. That said, these are all 95 plus years old at this point. It's not likely that we can ever be sure of the original finish.


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Rushton typically finished his boats and canoes with linseed oil, then shellac, then varnish. Just about every Rushton canvas canoe and every wooden canoe and boat that we have worked on had shellac under the varnish. The shellac has ranged in color from clear no tint at all to yellow to orange to even a red/burgundy color like the current pulling boat we’re doing.

Usually paint stripper won’t remove shellac entirely. Some strippers won’t even put a dent in it. Denatured alcohol or lacquer thinner will soften shellac and remove it efficiently.
There are different grades of shellac with blond (bleached white) being the palest. Then Orange or amber as it is now called. Then Garnet, which is usually described as having a dark brown color, you may be seeing the remains of Garnet Lac in your Rushton. Shellac is a natural material that comes from the Lac beetle. Raw shellac is called stick lac and is very dark and waxy. Shellac wax was at one time one of the main ingrediants of shoe polish. You can still purchase different grades of Shellac in dry flake form from a number of suppliers such as Woodcraft. Mixing your own shellac will give you a higher grade of shellac because of its freshness. Premixed shellac in a can usually has a shelf life. It ability to form a hard film is reduced and it can become gummy. When using a shellac as a sealer under a varnish or lacquer it is usually cut or thinned. Shellac mixes are reffered to as a "pound cut". 5 pounds of flake to 1 gallon of alcohol is a 5 lb cut. To use that as a sealer it may be cut (or thinned) in half or by a third, 1 part shellac to 1 part alcohol or 1 part alcohol to 2 parts shellac.
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