Varnishing cane seats?


Curious about Wooden Canoes
I finished re-furbishing the 1936 Old Town Yankee that had been fiberglassed, it turned out to be quite a job. There was a lot of bad fiberglasss on the boat that had to come off, and I wound up sanding my re-glass for two weeks straight to get it smooth enough to paint. Anyway, it came out looking pretty, I used some marine topside paint from Lowes to paint it, color dark green, looked like gel-coat when I got done. The only pictures I have are on a web page where I'm offering it for sale, so don't know if it would be kosher to post it here...

My reason for posting today is to ask if you are supposed to varnish cane seats. I put a brand new stern seat in the Old Town from Piragis, and it looks unfinished. I was thinking of putting a coat or two of Minwax Spar Urethane on it and the original seat, or should I use real marine spar varnish? Or, leave it alone?

I am in the same boat with my latest canoe re-furbishing project, a 1970's vintage Jensen 18' 6" fiberglass racing canoe with cane seats. I have one good original cane seat (stern), front seat was missing, I got a new cane seat from Piragis for this boat as well.



I'll chime in because I have been making some replacement seats for projects lately. If you are trying to get the seats to match you should probably build a matching replacement seat but otherwise, I would strip the old finish off the old seat, strip the new finish off the new seat, stain the new seat to match the old seat, varnish both seats with maybe four coats of marine spar varnish each, sanding between coats. Ya follow?

I would keep the varnish off the cane itself. I use to put thinned varnish on the cane, but I think it makes the cane somewhat brittle, so I have stopped varnishing the cane.


As to getting the seats to match, i'm with fitz.

As to varnishing cane, I asked a local builder what he did, He said to only varnish the top. I can't remember his reasons, but his canoes looked pretty.
Canoeguy said:
My reason for posting today is to ask if you are supposed to varnish cane seats.

This question usually gets a more heated response in this forum. Old Town traditionally did not varnish their cane seats for the reasons that Fitz cited. Some people always varnish their cane seats but usually on the top side only as zutefisk described. The explanation is usually that the varnish protects the top while allowing the cane to remain flexible by allowing moisture to soak in from the bottom. I prefer my cane seats without varnish. Your mileage may vary...

I usually varnish the cane on mine because I think it tends to stay cleaner that way and I kind of get the feeling that it may sag a little bit less on long trips. Plus, that way if I start thinking the seat frame is looking like it needs a fresh coat of varnish down the line, I can't use the fact that I don't want to get varnish on the cane as an excuse to not do it. To get new seats or new cane to match older ones that have darkened, I use a coat of orange shellac or two as a base under new varnish. I like that better than stain because it doesn't soak into the wood and accentuate the grain the way stain does. To my eye, it looks more like older varnish on plain wood than it does like stained wood.

The Jensen 18'6" USCA cruisers from the '70s are fun boats to paddle. They are very sensitive, however, to fore and aft trim if you want it to go fast. I don't think I've ever seen one that didn't have a sliding bow seat for trim adjustment. It's somewhat more work to install a seat this way, and I don't know how fancy you want to get, but it's probably worth doing. Here is one very classy way to do it that you might want to look at.