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Cane seat protection

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous' started by gporter, Apr 2, 2005.

  1. gporter

    gporter New Member

    I just had the seats recaned for my 16' 191X OT HW. The veteran caner tentavively suggested brushing on a coat of "poly" for protection. What do the old hands say? Don't coat? Traditional varnish? Polyurethane? How many coats? Top and bottom?
    Gene Porter
  2. martin ferwerda

    martin ferwerda W/C Canoes

    This has been discussed a lot, with different opinions. Some people advocate varnishing the cane, others use oil, such as tung oil, some leave it natural. Some people protect both the upper and bottom sides of the cane, others protect only the top side of the cane, leaving the bottom of the cane to absorb moisture which helps keep the cane flexible. A spar varnish would be better than a poly, as it will have some flexibility, as the cane will need to flex. I personally have gone the tung oil route, just a couple of coats at the end of the season, seems to work fine.
  3. Douglas Ingram

    Douglas Ingram Red River Canoe & Paddle

    H.H. Perkins, the cane supplier, recommends varnishing the cane, both sides. Still, its open to debate...
  4. Paul Scheuer

    Paul Scheuer LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Try this.

    Ask the caner to show you how to weave the cane, or get the booklet from a craft store.

    Flip a coin to decide which treatment to use. Do it and use the boat. If it wears out or doesn't last, re-do the cane yourself. It's not as difficult to do a really good jobe as you might think.

    You might even get some matrerial and practice/learn before you need it.
  5. OP

    gporter New Member

    Thanks for the prompt, if diverse, responses. It givwa some flexibility!!
    Gene Porter :)
  6. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    This is a perennial topic here that tends to be a bit of a religious discussion as others have indicated. The Old Town Canoe Company traditionally did not varnish the cane on their seats. It appears that humidity levels and storage techniques may have a greater impact on the longevity of your cane seats.

    Last edited: Sep 3, 2006
  7. Jim Wilson

    Jim Wilson WCHA Member

    I just came across something today that hadn't occured to me before. I had to replace pre-woven cane on a couple of busted out seats, and the cane had been varnished. The spline came out with the usual amount of work, but the cane next to the spline was varnished to the seat frame. I ended up removing it with a chisel. This has never been an issue with oiled cane or just natural.

    I can't really comment on the protection factor of the varnish vs. oil or natural, but I can testify to the increase in work when the cane needs to be replaced!
  8. Kathryn Klos

    Kathryn Klos squirrel whisperer

    I used to work in a furniture restoration shop, where I was "the expert" on chair-seat reweaving. This included both types of caning (hand-woven and sheet-cane) rush (natural cattail and kraft paper) reed (which is the same matierial used in hand caning) and splint (natural wood and kraft paper).

    Granted, the cane seat of a chair is subjected to stresses which differ greatly from the seats of canoes. Really big people rarely plunk themselves down on canoe seats, and if kids jump up and down on them, they maybe learn a lesson when they end up in the water. And dining room furniture never spends the winter in a shed or is left lying in the grass. But I will comment on what I know, and what I believe.

    It was always my feeling that cane essentially comes with a nice finish on the top, and adding a varnish-type coat just gummed things up. Sometimes a chair was dip-stripped to remove paint, and the cane seat was intact, but the shiny surface area had been lost... or a new seat was placed on a chair with an intact cane back and the new cane had to be stained to match. In those cases, I'd use varnish-- can't recall what type, but probably urethane. (I'm speaking of something that went on so long ago it seems another lifetime).

    I removed many-a-sheetcane-seat that was cemented with varnish to the wood of the chair--- I agree, it's a pain! Replacing this sort of seat can be more difficult than weaving a hand-caned one, and it can be hard to predict the difficulty involved in removing old spline until you get into it. There are glues that seem to make the spline become part of the chair.

    I believe, when it came to the use cane, back in "the olden days", the surface was probably left alone. People simply had the seats replaced when they went bad-- it was probably easy to find someone to do the job cheaply, if no one in the family could do it. To me, it seems most practical to replace seats with an eye to making it easy to replace them again, as needed... and figuring on doing it yourself.

    There's an interesting seat on page 34 of Stelmok and Thurlow's "The Wood and Canvas Canoe". It appears to be a rush seat--- rush is "wide binder cane"-- the same material used in the final finishing step of the traditional hand caning process (which is sometimes left off of canoe seats). This rush seat (which is on an early Gerrish in the picture) would be very sturdy and comfortable-- there would essentially be two layers of seating material, with space between them equal to the size of the seat frame (nice cushiony air-space). Rush seats have plenty of "give". Seems to me this would be a nice seat to put into a canoe, if I were building one from scratch. Perhaps this seat never caught on because it was easier to replace caning... and then the cane seats became "the look" for canoes.
  9. Ric Altfather

    Ric Altfather WCHA #4035

    When I replaced some pre-woven cane on a couple of seats, I first checked with a local cane shop (not many around) but they wanted way too much money. I went to the local woodworking shop for the materials and inquired about the proceedure and they agreed along with the cane shop that when you clean the channel, pour in some yellow glue, seat the woven cane into the channel with a wedge and then tap in the spline. That may be confused with varnish if the seat was varnished. Lesson learned, if you use a chisel use the one specifically made for cleaning out the channel...I used chisels which I had on hand and ended up enlarging the channel, couldn't find larger spline, bottom line, made new seats. I now own the proper chisel and like anything else, the right tool makes the job easier.

  10. Dan Miller

    Dan Miller cranky canoeist Staff Member

    Some random thoughts on cane topics:

    On finishing cane: I've never had a good answer either, so i typically do what is easiest. If caning a new seat or recaning an old seat, I varnish first, then cane, and leave the cane unfinished. If refinishing an old seat with good cane, I'll varnish the cane top and bottom (it's not really possible to get a good finish on the frame without doing the cane). Regardless, stay away from polyurethane varnishes - they have problems of their own, especially when it comes time to refinish... Of course, you can avoid this question entirely by using plastic cane, but it looks exactly like how it sounds.

    On removing glued on cane: I find judicious use of a good sharp chisel, followed by a good sharp cabinet (card) scraper works well. I've got one of those spline removal chisels that Ric mentions, but I usually reach for a 1/16" morticing chisel as my tool of choice. These can usually be found pretty cheap at the fleas.

    On Gerrish seats: Attached are photos of one original Gerrish seat. The seat is cane, not rush, and the underside is not quite what you might expect. It's a neat seat style. The stiles are much thinner than the rails; in fact if memory serves they were metal rod in the seats in this canoe.

    Attached Files:

  11. Kathryn Klos

    Kathryn Klos squirrel whisperer

    Very interesting pictures of the Gerrish seat. I made an error in my post when I called it a rush seat--- it's a reed seat, and wide binder cane is used to weave a reed seat. Rush is made from tightly-twisting cattail leaves. If the Gerrish seat were on a dining room chair, the underside might look similar to the topside-- if you have a chance to tip over someone's dining room chair with a herringbone-pattern reed seat, you'll see that the pattern is essentially the same-- perhaps not as tight, in the sense that the caner may go over and under four strands on the top and eight on the bottom... but some real perfectionists may make the underside just as tight as the top. I think there's always been artistic license involved in chair seat weaving... And maybe there's a difference between what is done for a seat on a canoe versus a dining room chair because it was expected that the canoe's seat would need replacing oftener, so the caner didn't waste time and materials making the underside as pretty.

    It occurs to me that a natural rush seat might be rather cool on a canoe-- I don't know why it wouldn't work. The seat frame would have rounded rails and styles (no holes needed), and the seating materials could be harvested from your favorite pond, giving a scratch-built boat an even more personal touch! But the weaving process-- and getting the knack of twisting the cattails while weaving the seat-- is maybe a bit trickier to learn than the traditional cane seat... which adds to the reasons why we ended up with cane as the standard.

    I once had to cane a chair using plastic cane, because that's what the customer wanted. It had a stretchy quality that I thought would lead to sagging over time.
  12. Fitz

    Fitz Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Seat with no holes.

    While on the subject of seats, here is a seat with no holes. I've posted it before. It's from a Brodbeck. I could be wrong, but I think it was done with common cane.

    I like one thinned (50/50) coat of varnish on top. This was recommended to me by a pro caner for canoe seats.

    Attached Files:

  13. Todd Bradshaw

    Todd Bradshaw Sailmaker

    I've always varnished my cane. I think it helps keep it from getting dirty looking and from sagging on those days when you wind up paddling all day in a drizzle. Yes, it is a pain to remove if you need to re-cane. Last time I had to do one I spent about fifteen minutes messing with chisels and knife blades and finally decided it was a waste of time. The next fifteen minutes were spent making a plywood router template and about five minutes later the groove was all cleaned out except the very corners. A few minutes with a chisel took care of that. The short sections of strands and ridges where the varnish had stuck to the frame inside the spline came off pretty quickly with some sanding. You can also sand the finish off the frames if needed and give them a coat of orange shellac before you revarnish to help blend them in with the aged varnish color of older parts of the boat.

    I bought a bottle of vintage amber tint for working on guitars last year. I've mixed a few drops in with varnish on a couple miscelaneous boat parts to match old varnish and it seems to work pretty well too, as long as you apply it evenly (I sprayed it).
  14. Kathryn Klos

    Kathryn Klos squirrel whisperer

    Reed seats

    Just a comment on the interesting seat Fitz posted. It's a reed seat-- the same type as on the Gerrish, only a different pattern. Reed IS cane-- it's "wide binder cane", if you need to order some from H.H. Perkins.

    Reed patterns in chairs are at the discretion of the weaver and it would be easy to come up with your own design.

    In re-thinking why the Gerrish seat had a patterned top and was mostly left open on the bottom (unlike what is done with dining room chairs), I think it was designed that way so the seat could dry out easily if it got wet. And in re-thinking seats made of cattail rush, it would have to be kept fairly light or would hold water if the boat overturned and the seat was soaked.

    Cane (or reed) seems both a beautiful and practical choice for canoe seats.
  15. WeeHooker

    WeeHooker Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Has anybody tried Thompsons Water Seal?
    A friend used it on a modern canoe ( OT stillwater) seat a few years back. It now repels watr well but hasn't really added a "finish". Not advocating this mind you, just asking the experts on their thoughts.
  16. Kathryn Klos

    Kathryn Klos squirrel whisperer

    There isn't necessarily a "right or wrong" when it comes to treating the cane-- it's "whatever works"--- these forums offer the opportunity to share experiences and learn from each other. Sounds like the Thompson's did the job of making the cane water-repellant without creating any problems-- thanks for the tip!
  17. woodfyr

    woodfyr Restorer

    Caning Finish

    Tung Oil. Twice a year(spring and fall).

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