Pa's Guide Project


Wooden Canoes are in the Blood
In Memoriam
Since there is so much interest in Guides and Stripping, I thought I would post a couple of progress photos. I'm "rejuvenating" my Dad's 18 ft. 1943 Guide. It has lots of war time steel. At just about 70, his only comments were, "make it lighter".:D

I've finished stripping the old varnish out and now I've given the hull a good sanding. The hull came out nice and now I'll pull the canvas off, replace a section of plank in the bilge and get the varnish can out.

Due date is Father's Day....:eek:

Here are some before and after photos.


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Very Nice Job

It looks great! I'm sure your dad will be very happy.

What stripping product did you use? I have a 60-year old W&C rowboat that will get the "treatment" this summer.


The product is the methylene chloride based gel - probably Strip-EZ (one brand name). I do one quarter or third of the canoe at a time and it usually takes three passes. I think I used 3 gallons on that canoe. I find it is best to allow enough time to do each pass consecutively so that the finish stays wet with the goop. Finish up gently with a fine paint stripping brillo like pad. Then I sanded the whole canoe with 100 grit. I'll go over it with 220 before varnish.
If you weigh the canvas after you strip it, you will get an idea of where a lot of the weight of your canoe is. My 18ft chestnut slimmed down 49 lbs with dacron fabric instead of the old canvas cover that had rotted after 20 years; the canvas taliban and their imams will no doubt take exception to this notion. The canvas routine is probably cheaper, more people are familiar with it, it is more traditional, but heavier and less durable.

The canvas on the boat now is 63 years old. That ain't bad for durability.

I haven't used dacron, so I can't really comment. I just worry about getting a "run" somewhere on the Allagash. :D

All kidding aside, I'll probably try it someday.


When you used the dacron, what filler did you use?

I plan to use it on several project upcoming, and am just finishing some test panels to try different configurations.

My main concern is how to be sure that the fabric/filler doesn't adhere to the planking. Any comments/observations from your project?

Also, based on some prices I see in the Aircraft supply catalog, the dacron maybe less expensive then the canvas.

I have tried several routines depending on how the canoe is used. I have used as many as 6 layers of 2.7 ounce heat shrinking fabric or only one layer on a "lake & dock only" 'for the sunset' canoe.
1. Optional; The routine of adhering one layer to the wood with polybush keeps the sand and gravel from sifting through for the big canoes that are being surf launched (shaking the sand and gravel off your feet is not an option when launching into surf)
2. use saran wrap as a cover to provide a barrier to adherance, (a tip from the aircraft guys), then apply the heat shrinking dacron layer, then paint with polybrush. (as per Stits aircraft manual)
3. apply another layer dacron (polytacked along edges) then squeegee on epoxy as a paint layer
.....this may be enough for a low abuse canoe, but for a high abuse bottom I have done additional layers of dacron on those areas affected by repeated grounding. The margins of overlap can be concealed with effort and the final fabric layer leaving the sides with a thinner cover than the bottom.
4. I believe that a layer of epoxy with graphite helps abrasion resistance and as a paint, it also functions also as a filler. Because the weave is finer you use much less filler.
5. I use a primer coat (interlux) and use it as a sanding coat often with a second coat
6. the colour coat(s)
The poly brush has incompatibly problems with most paints, but once the epoxy layer is on then.. no worries mate
despite the multiple steps I have found it saves 30-40% in weight over the commercial canvas product, and not much different in effort once you get used to ironing the fabric.
Now the taliban will be after me....


I hadn't even considered multiple layers, don't know why, that's how I build strippers. I may try a partial layer on the bottom.

Saran wrap the whole does it look between the planking, and does/can it hold water? Have you had any experience putting it on over just oiled wood?

I may try the epoxy, I was going to try that on the canvas anyway.

When you refer to "polybrush" is that the dope the aircraft folks uses to "fill" the dacron or something else, and if so, which mix is it? (The early, can't remember what it's called, works well but has enviro problems, or late, which has performance limitations but is safer.)

I was going to follow the instructions that I got in a aircraft repair "book", which said to brush 1 layer of the early dope to seal the fabric, and 2 or more layers of the later dope to fill and make the surface smooth.

"Durability" is a rather broad term, but stating that Dacron is more durable than cotton canvas isn't true in many aspects. Cotton has higher abrasion resistance, higher U.V. resistance and much higher resistance to explosive tearing (one yarn breaks and they all break). There is certainly nothing wrong with using Dacron on a canoe to save weight, but claiming it to be tougher than cotton just isn't that simple and in many cases, isn't true.
The saran wrap is not visible, although if you look carefully you can see a shine through the planking at first, within a very short time dust/dirt/varnish conceals even that. It is not meant to be a waterproof layer.
The polybrush is a 'Stits" aircraft product and is a vinylizing paint-on coat that is waterproof.
the rapid deterioration of cotton fibre in relation to moisture and time (independant of UV exposure) is well known as are rates of UV deterioration, extensibility, breaking stength and when canvas sails start making a comeback.........
And if Dacron (which is simply DuPont's tradename for polyester) ever becomes the perfect fabric for anything, leisure suits should come back into style....
Don't get me wrong, Dacron is great stuff. I've been making a living using it for about 25 years on boats and on aircraft before that, but not knowing and respecting it's specific limitations is foolish, the same as it is with cotton, nylon, polypropylene or any other fabric - and such foolishness is often rewarded by failure.

The canoe industry has been using aircraft Dacron as an optional covering on wooden canoes for more than 35 years. It's earned a small chunk of the market in that time, which has stayed small primarily due to the nature of the material and it's earned reputation for limited durability. That's why the manufacturers who offer it as an option do so with a warning about keeping it away from anything sharp. For it's thickness and weight it's pretty darned tough stuff, but it's not going to boot cotton canvas out of the canoe market anytime soon, and rightfully so.
Shellac under Varnish

Okay - you fellas debating the merits of various skins - START YOUR OWN THREAD:p .:D

Back on topic here. Pa's war time canoe build record suggests that Old Town used amber shellac under the varnish, presumably as a cheap war time sealer (?). I'm thinking I'm going to try this just to see how it turns out.

Anybody have any experience to share?
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Shellac as a base coat for varnish is an old antique refinisher's trick for getting new wood to match old wood when doing repairs. I used it when I had to recane the seats on my Guide. Once I got the old cane out I decided to strip and sand some discoloration and a little bit of that black ash fungus stuff out of the wooden frames. Once that was done, they looked like new - which presented a bit of a problem on a 1972 boat with original varnish. So I put on a couple coats of shellac before revarnishing them and it matched the old finish pretty well.

Unlike trying to use stain, which soaks into and accentuates the grain in a sometimes obvious manner, the shellac works more like a colored glaze that just darkens and yellows the finish. The amount that it modifies the color depends upon how many coats you apply. It does dry quickly and you want even coverage for even color, so brush quickly, but carefully. Shellac has been an acceptable marine sealer coat for a long time, so it holds up pretty well, but when compared to regular diluted varnish as a base coat, I'm not sure you gain anything other than the golden color with it.
35 years ago my dad had stopped using the 16 ft chestnut prospector because he felt they were becoming too heavy for him, particularly after a few days of wet weather. Not knowing another way at that point in time, I bought him a ultra-light weight aluminum canoe (such heresy), which he used for another 15 years until he felt that his balance wasn't what it was. That was the part of the thread I meant to reply to.
Shellac is truly Ma Nature's miracle bug poop. It is compatible with nearly every other type of finish, and can be used as an intermediate between two otherwise incompatible finishes. An added bonus, it is approved by the FDA.

If you go beyond the can, and get your shellac as flakes, you can get a variety of colors from blonde to dark amber that will assist in matching up your tones in the way Todd describes. Fresh shellac works better too. Use a 1 or 1-1/2 pound cut to help avoid brush marks. I think the canned shellac is a 3 pound cut.

From a historical perspective, Rushton also used shellac as an undercoat before varnishing.
I am a great fan of shellac. It has a lot of wonderful properties not the least of which is that almost any other finish will adhere to it. When finishing furniture I usually use water soluble stain followed by a sealer coat of shellac followed by a wood filler or gel stain to tone. Finish coat can then be more shellac or any good varnish or laquer.

On canoes I believe most folks start with a thinned coat of varnish as a sealer. I've used shellac as a sealer and depending upon the color of shellac used, it usually deepens the color of the wood. The shellac dries quickly and would be a time saver as opposed to thinned varnish.

If the build record shows that this is what Old Town did, I wouldn't hesitate to follow suit. I've never had a problem using shellac under varnish. The only word of caution is to be sure to use FRESH shellac. The dummies who market the stuff don't put an exp. date on the label. Your best bet is to either buy the flakes and mix it yourself or buy from some place with a high turnover. Shellac that is over the hill is really nasty stuff. It never hardens properly and stays gummy.

Be sure to post some progress pics!
More Skin

Well, I stripped the old canvas off Pa's Guide tonight. Didn't she ever scream!!!:D The weight of the No. 8 filled and painted skin off the hoof is a approximately 24 lbs.

There really was very little rot, a few very small places along the rails otherwise in pretty decent shape for 64 years old.
A word about Steel Tacks

"My canoe has steel tacks. Will it fall apart?" This is a common question for folks with wartime built canoes with steel tacks, so I thought I would share my experience.


This is a 1943 Old Town. The majority of the tacks are steel, although I did find some brass tacks in the cant ribs in the ends of the canoe. There is some rust on the heads of the tacks and red oxidation stains the planking near the tack heads (see photo). The brass tacks are the ones at the end of the canoe in the photo with no red staining.

I had to pull some planking on this canoe and I found the tack pulling was much, much more difficult than typical brass tacks. None of the heads pulled off, and the tacks didn't break. I also risked pulling big chunks of rib out if I was not careful.

I don't have any concerns about the tacks on this canoe - solid as a wartime battleship. I doubt the canoe ever saw salt water though. It grew up on the Belgrade Lakes in western Maine as far as I know.


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Bug Poop

Hey, I like this bug poop!

Pictures at 11.

Interesting about the shellac. I amber shellacked the bottom of a prospector and love it that way. I recall reading R. M. Patterson's Dangerous River that he took shellac along although its purpose was never decribed. I wonder if he used it to seal or waterproof canvas tears. I recall no mention of ambroid glue, for example. How does it do under paint? I have a canvas tear I'm dealing with and I'm wondering if shellack over the tear, after its glued, and then painting over the shellac will work.

Uses of shellac would make a good FAQ, by the way.