Refinishing just the gunwales

Hungry Jack

Curious about Wooden Canoes
I need some expert advice for a non-expert woodworker. Really a non-woodworker, period. I just bought a 1933 Old Town HW ("AA"). The canoe is in good shape and in my opinion the interior planks and ribs do not need refinishing at all. However, the gunwales are pretty banged up and the varnish is missing in many places. It has mahogany rails (at least that's what the build record says and they are pretty clearly original).

Can someone tell me what to do? Do I need to sand the entire gunwale down all the way to bare wood? Or can I sand just the spots that need attention?

When it's time to revarnish, what do I use? Normally I would assume that you do not stain these rails at all, but the wood that is exposed is grey like an old dock and doesn't match the parts that are still varnished. I wouldn't want to varnish over them if they aren't going to match, but maybe when I sand everything down the new wood will be the right color.

I'm sure you can tell I'm a rookie, so any help is appreciated. Speak slowly!
I would strip the wood with a stripper from lowes called stripeze. I would cover up the canoe so you do not get any stripper inside or on the exterior paint. I use the kind of brushes that you can throw away, steel wool and rags for the stripper. You would only need about 1 quart. When you are done stripping it. Use paint thinner to wipe the boards down, using white rags.

B Derose
NO STEEL WOOL!!!! NO STEEL WOOL!!!!! It leaves little bits of the steel which will rust. Use either brass or bronze wool or something similar to Scotchbrite. You can now get that product in various grades from fine to coarse.
To strip or sand...

I think Brian's idea is okay with Dennis' admonishment. It sounds like you need maintenance and not restoration; and if you are not used to stripping and if you want your outwales to look like your inwales, then I would sand and varnish and leave the stripping until the canoe needs canvas and and total refinishing. Old Town often stained the mahogany to achieve a constant color for decks, seats, thwarts and rails on the AA grade canoes and if you strip the rails you're going to have to stain them to get them to match the rest of the mahogany.

If you just sand the rails with 220 grit (taping off the painted canvas so as not to scratch it) then you'll get rid of the gray and the peeling varnish. The finish won't be perfect but this is maintenance not restoration.

You should also sand the inwales and decks so that the all these areas will have the same sheen after varnishing. This isn't hard, bearing down sanding; just surface sanding to allow the new varnish to get a bite.

Use a spar varnish - no polyurathane, and follow the directions on the can. There are many marine varnishes and other forum members have their favorites, I have had good luck with Interlux Schooner and Epifanes.

Hungry Jack, how did this maintenance project go for you? I am about to do the exact same thing on my 1923 OTCA 16' and I am curious if there were any lessons learned.

Great feedback from the group!