Varnish Stripping


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Once again I need to turn to the wisdom of wcha forums (does flattery work?). I've taken my 1930's era Canadian Sponson Canoe down to the wood, and have started stripping the old varnish from the interior.

Stelmok & Thurlow say that the stripping process should take about 4 hours. Well, I'm projecting about 20 hours of work! I've been slopping on Circa 19__ paint and varnish stripper and scraping off the residue. It is coming off... slowly. However, I've found lots of stripper/varnish gunk gets caught between the old planks. I've done my best with a garden hose after stripping it, but I wonder if this will cause me grief in the future.

I guess I'm wondering if anyone has any advise that might make this part of the restoration easier. Please?

Thanks, as always, for your time.
Last edited:
Hey, That's were all the fun is.

If you only do a few canoes, you have the only option.

Or send it out to strip.

I set up a flow system that keeps stripper flowing through a brush that works great, I also have to suspend the canoe over some tilted tables that drain back into the stripper vat. It takes me about 30 minutes to strip a canoe no matter what was in it.

OH well, keep on stripping. You can always get some friends or neighbors to help. Kind of like Huck Finn.

Good Luck,

Here's my $.02

It is a chore. I find that you have to strip scrap, rinse slather scrub scrape rinse, etc until you just can't go any further. You will know when you get to as far as you care to go. Then do it one more time. It does take time but as a hobby the journey is just as fun, even at a slower speed.
Regards, Dave.
Bix works for me

I've used Bix brand stripper and had good results. It's thin enough to come off well with water. When you strip, let he stripper work up the old paint - varnish and don't be in a hurry to remove the bubbling up mix from the surface you're working on. The mix of stripper and varnish will help to hold the stripper on and slow it from evaporating and drying out. I used #0 steel wool and it worked well. Coarse but not enough to damage the wood. Strip, scrub, rinse, repeat. :)
I used #0 steel wool and it worked well.

Watch out using steel wool - it can leave little bits behind that will rust and leave black spots on your canoe... Better to use the equivalent bronze wool or "Scotchbrite" pad.
Thanks guys.

I guess I'm on the right track. I have used bronze scouring pads to scrub the residue--they fill with gunk fast, but oh well. I'll keep it up.

The one thing I do that seems to help is crank old-school Johnny Cash. He understands.

Thanks Dan! Good advice about the bronze wool. As far it plugging up I don't think there's much you can do about that other than wet the pad before you start scrubbing. It still gets plugged but it will release the stripped varnish easier when you rinse the pad.

Dan, I've got the new canvas, filler and outwhales on the Shorty. It looks nice! How do they paddle?
What I want to know is if I can bring my next project over to Paul Miller's house for stripping!

My favorite stripping formula is an equal mixture of alcohol and lacquer thinner. You can throw in a little stipper as well to help it out. Get a cheap paint brush and cut the bristles a little shorter than half length. The brush replaces the steel wool or bronze scrubber and doesn't load up. This super solvent will actually disolve varnish and the brush gets into all the cracks and crevices. The thin liquid washes off the varnish. Obviouosly it must be used outdoors or with good ventilation or you'll end up with quite a buzz from the lacquer thinner.
Thanks Andy,

That sounds worth a try. It might solve the problem of crusty varnish/stripper mixture between the planks as well.
Using the gelled Meth Chloride stripper holds it in place and allows it to 'work'. Since I had multiple layers of stain varnish...two from us and several more from the camp that was the original owner...It came up in layers that bonded w/ the jell making 'skins' that can be swept up. I spent a whole summer's weekends, except for holidays & family functions I couldn't get out of stripping my interior.

Stainless steel 'Kurley Kate' sponges work OK. I used a dull Swiss Army knife too. The stripped residue dries in the sun and can be swept along the ribs & out. I worked in sections & swept up regularly.

Once I got to the original wood, I worked on the remaining spots working from the back [my view when paddling] towards the front. I even used a single edge razor blade to snag little black bits. You'll know when you use the last can of stripper & it's good enough...
Hi folks new to the site. I was directed here by the folks at the Bear Mountain boats site.

where I posted the following question.

"I need to sand down the insides and gunnels of a couple of cedar canvas canoes.

Does any one have any tips on the best way to sand the ribs and the in between sections of the planks.

Also should I epoxy the gunnels and varnish over the top for durability?

These canoes were recovered about 5 years ago with a vinyl product instead of canvas. Does anyone know what maintenance these coverings need if any? "​

I am not recovering the canoe so I dont think I can use stripper but was wondering if there were any manual tips/techniques that would help me out.

Thanks in advance. BTW this site looks great.

The usual way to sand the interior of the canoe is with small, folded squares of sandpaper (protect your fingertips!). If you use 220 grit paper, you can sand the planking across the grain. Some of us use 220 grit sanding stars chucked in an electric drill. They are available from Woodcraft.

Epoxy has no place as a coating anywhere on a wood canvas canoe. Use good quality marine spar varnish.

Thanks I looked at the sanding stars online. I will try to get some.

Thanks for the tip and BTW I have been to your site before.

Some cool info there.

THx :)
I had a boat that was apinted with 2-part epoxy paint in BLACK. After multiple coats with hardware store strippers, I stopped at an automotive refinishing shop. The guy there recommended Aircraft Stripper. Worked like a charm, but be careful - the stuff is about the vilest stuff I have ever worked with - ventilation is an absolute must. Even working outdoors - I used a fan pointed at me to blow the vapors away from me.