Strip, sand or just cover

Captain Video

New Member
I have this 1974 merrimack canoe that is in very good condition. I have sanded the gunwales and applied teak oil which looks great.

I would like suggestions on what to do to get the wood inside the canoe to look good. As the pictures show there are areas on the sides where the varnish (or whatever was used) had worn off and the wood is darker from exposure. It was suggested by the good folks at Merrimack to clean it with acetone. I did this, and then tried a little bleach solution to eliminate the dark spots, without success.

What would you do to make this look good? Should I strip, sand and then apply teak oil? I am not sure of the type of wood used, but I like the redish color and would like to retain this look. Is it possible to mend the areas exposed?

Also, I would like to eliminate the milky color on the floor of the canoe. It is in very good condition so I don't want to strip it. When it is wet it looks great. What would you suggest for this?

I am willing to do the work now knowing I will maintain it.

Thanks for your help,


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I'm pretty sure that back in those days, the ribs were made from mahogany. Once the varnish deteriorates and you start getting those grey patches in mahogany, they are usually deep and not easy to remove. Step one is probably to check out the wood on the floor. Do not try to strip or sand the bottom wood (rib bottoms and half-ribs) as they are covered with fiberglass. If the patchy areas of the bottom go away when wet, a good cleaning followed by scuffing with a Scotchbrite pad will get the floor ready to varnish - and once varnished, it will look just about like it does when wet.

I believe the sections of the ribs at the sides were just varnished (no fiberglass covering). You could possibly try some sort of teak cleaner after removing the varnish, but I suspect you will have to sand the grey weathered stuff off to get them clean. Some strippers are safe to use on and around fiberglass boats, others not so much as they will soften it, so test first, or just sand instead to get rid of the old varnish and down to clean wood. Once the floor and exposed fiberglass areas on the sides are cleaned and scuffed and the rib tops are sanded down to clean wood, you can give the interior a few coats of a good spar varnish and it will probably look about as good as it ever will. Just keep in mind that those ribs are about 50% structural and about 50% decoration and they're not very thick. If you end up digging deeply into them with a sander to remove every last bit of weather staining, it may do more harm than good. You might be better off to live with some staining and preserve the structural strength.
A different solution

Active Foam Products of Chicago 800 729 4567, sells furniture touch up lacquer, It comes in furniture colors like oak, cherry etc. they have three mahogany colors, true Mah, brown mah and red mah the red Mahobany is what you want. I have used it to repair furniture and it gives a fantastic finish.Their web site is under construction so I suggest you just use the 800number and talk to the sales person. It comes only in spray cans about $4 each, 4 or 5 cans should paint the inside of your canoe to a beautiful finish.
My vote is for varnish

I'm with Todd on this one. Sand it and give it a couple coats of varnish. Oil the gunwales if you want but varnish the inside. I would rebuild or replace the seats and cane them. Those rawhide seats make my butt hurt just looking at them.

Good luck with your new boat,

Jim C.
With rawhide the lacing usually ends up somewhere near the middle of the frame, due to the lacing pattern and the way it shrinks as it initially dries. You can tell the up-side from the down-side by looking at the lace itself. The up-side (hair side of the skin) will be smoother and the edges of the strands will tend to curl slightly away from user. Otherwise, they're awfully abrasive. Before re-varnishing, it's a good idea to run your hands over the lace on the top side and feel for sharp edges. You can round them off somewhat with fine sandpaper and then re-varnish. I don't like oiled finishes on rawhide seats because they don't seal as well. Oil picks up dirt and doesn't keep out water nearly as well as varnish will, which can lead to big-time sagging. I just clean them, smooth the edges if needed and varnish the whole seat, wood and lacing, with a few coats of spar varnish. If you paddle for a while wearing a swimsuit, you'll have some very interesting patterns on your butt for a while after you're done.:D

Whatever is done anywhere on this boat's hull, I would be certain that your varnish is marine-quality with a good UV absorber and I would maintain it very carefully. This is not one of those boats where you just pop old nasty wooden parts off and replace them. They are glued (or glassed) into the hull and as I mentioned before, you don't have an awful lot of wood thickness to allow for repeated refinishing attempts. This method of construction carries a pretty serious maintenance liability in order to work some woodgrain into the cosmetics of the hull - far more than on a typical stripper or other sealed, cored construction. This is one of the primary reasons that this method of constructing a canoe never really caught on with the vast majority of manufacturers.
The end result

Thanks again to all who responded to my original post. I took the advice received and this is the end result.

It looks great, but most importantly, it floats! The picture of my daughter and I on the lake in it are proof. It was used a lot last summer, which is what it is all about.




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I know this is an old post, but Gary, are you available to answer a couple of questions? I have a similar boat in similar condition and could really benefit from your advice.
Looks like you used Nylon Snow Shoe cord, as a replacement, for the raw hide.
Varnished ? It should out last you !
Looks great !