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Sand or Strip?

Discussion in 'Wood and Canvas' started by mmmalmberg, Nov 16, 2019.

  1. mmmalmberg

    mmmalmberg Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    New member here, don't even have the canoe yet:)

    I'm in the process of acquiring my grandfather's 1940-ish 17' Old Town OTCA sailing canoe. I've not seen this boat since I was a teenager, and don't know it's actual condition; it's currently in transport to someone I've not yet identified to do the work. Don't ask me how that works; we're improvising in real-time... The boat's on a truck driving down the west coast headed to L.A. then headed back up the west coast and across the northern states. I'm in Petaluma CA, north of San Francisco. My understanding is it will need new canvas but the woodwork is in pretty fair shape. From a picture of the outside only, the gunwales are showing fairly deep grain.

    Regarding the interior... Searching here and elsewhere on the web, there seems to be a lot more of stripping, bleaching and bringing the wood back to new-ish appearance, vs refinishing in such a manner as to intentionally maintain more of the patina of age of these older canoes. Is it because it is easier to fully strip, or because the new-ish appearance is preferred? Or is it that the varnish usually gets so bad with the years that it needs to be removed? And is bleaching then required?

    I need to formulate a plan quickly and am gathering as much information as I can. My instinct is to want to preserve the sense of the history of this boat including the darkening and aging of the wood and even some of the alligatoring of varnish etc., but I'm also open to reason:) I've spoken with one gentleman in L.A. who won't touch it unless it's a full strip and bleach, and another in Minnesota who might not want it if it includes stripping and refinishing the interior (schedule). Maybe there's someone/something in between...

    Picture is me (front) and my brother in the 50's with this canoe. Thanks for any and all opinions & thoughts!
    Mark M.
    [​IMG]
     
    Dave Wermuth likes this.
  2. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    Mark,
    Remember that your last coat of varnish is only as good as what is underneath it.
    Case in point.... I sanded and revarnished a canoe with some pretty cool patina. The original varnish looked like it was well adhered, no chipping or peeling. All was fine until it sat in the sun for a short time. It started blistering...big time.

    I would say it you have alligator, your varnish is compromised. You could revarnish if you were just going to hang it as a decorator. If you are going to use it, strip it and start over with good quality marine varnish.
    Bleaching is not necessary. It will remove some of the patina that is left from stripping.

    stripping is a necessary evil, and does leave a vintage patina with stains, dents, etc. Stripping does not leave you with a factory, new wood look. You will find a “boatload” of info about it on this forum if you use the search.
    I’m lucky enough to have a commercial furniture stripper within about 3 hours of me and I take 4-5 canoes at a time to him, but before finding him, I did it by hand like everybody else. You could check with commercial strippers in your area.

    You haven’t seen the canoe yet. You were told that the wood is in good shape. I would suggest that you reserve judgment on that until you can assess it. I cannot tell you How Many Times that I’ve been told that “it just needs canvas”, when in reality there was a lot of repair work to do first. All repairs must be done befor canvassing. You need to prepare it to last another 60 years before canvassing.
    Good luck, we are here for you.
    Dave
     
  3. David Satter

    David Satter LOVES Wooden Canoes

    I agree ,I get the call all the time "all it needs is new canvas" NOT. If it looks good and sands well You'll probably be able to varnish over it. Wash and clean the interior well before you sand. Also like myself, If I have to strip out the old varnish it can add a lot to the price. Great that you have that photo. Good luck.
     
    mmmalmberg likes this.
  4. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    Keep in mind that varnish is not simply cosmetic -- it provides substantial protection for the underlying wood -- protection against abrasion and perhaps more important, against degradation of the wood by ultraviolet light. Almost anything exposed to the elements that is painted or varnished needs a new coat from time to time -- paint and varnish do not last forever. And when the existing coat has failed to the point of peeling or, as in your case, alligatoring, the best course of action is to remove it before applying a new coat.

    Sanding the interior of a canoe to remove old varnish is rarely done -- just too much work and too time consuming. Sanding the interior is usually done only when applying new varnish over a sound older coat, when a light scuff sanding is done to facilitate adhesion of the new varnish to the older.

    Bleaching is most commonly used after stripping when new wood has replaced old broken wood, as a way of matching the new wood to the old to get a uniform appearance. If no wood is replaced, bleaching is probably not called for -- and some folks don't bleach in any case, not minding the difference in color between old and new wood.

    Preserving an old, failing finish might be called for on a museum piece that will not see water again -- but is not appropriate on a canoe that will be used. Paint, varnish, and canvas on a canoe are like tires and brakes on a car -- wear items that a meant to be replaced from time to time.

    I'm guessing that the existing paint is not the original paint, in any case -- and at a minimum, you may want to strip the paint from the exterior stems -- most folks prefer to have them finished bright.
    ssm 100_5284.JPG ssm 100_5574.JPG ssm cr 100_5591.jpg ssm cr 100_5818.JPG
     
    mmmalmberg likes this.
  5. Ron Bedard

    Ron Bedard Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Hello Mark,

    That's a beauty! great that you've been able to keep your hands on it.
    I consider there to be an alternative to stripping when the varnish is a bit too far gone for plain sanding and re-coat. I've used a Homer Formby product (refinisher) that essentially reactivates the old varnish so that it re-hardens when you've reached the appearance desired. You rub with steel (or bronze) wool soaked in the product until the old varnish has been reactivated and leveled out. When you stop, you can sand and add coats of varnish. I rejuvenated an OT from 1944 and the patina is outstanding. This takes considerable elbow grease, but IMO its much easier than stripping. Much less messy too.
    I've used the product for years for refinishing furniture, and when I considered restoring the first canoe, this method promised to be a good fit.
    You could pick up an old bureau or rocking chair at a yard sale and do a small experiment perhaps. Or you could try it out on a foot or two of the actual canoe. If you don't care for the method, there's no harm done. The section you've worked won't appear any different if you end up stripping the whole thing.
    The stuff is on the shelf at the home centers and costs about $12 a quart. Heavy gloves and a well ventilated working space are all you need. I managed the 18" canoe in two Saturday afternoons under the shade trees in my back yard.
    Get in touch if I can answer any questions, and good luck!

    P.S. I'll bet that paddling it will be more rewarding later if you do this yourself.
     
  6. OP
    OP
    mmmalmberg

    mmmalmberg Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Thanks for your reply, Dave!

    I did, btw, search and read just about all the posts with the word "varnish":) But found not much instructive about at what point stripping is considered necessary, nor regarding aesthetic and/or functional preference of full-on "new look" vs preserving the "aged" look.

    Convenient to have a commercial facility nearby to do finish removal for you! My first job, in h.s., was in the back of an antique shop standing in front of a vat of stripper taking old varnish off chairs. I doubt my brain cells ever fully recovered:) And I hear you about work hidden beneath the surface. Same is true with houses - you think you're just going to replace this one board and then one thing leads to another before you know it a whole wall is being rebuilt.

    Thanks much for your thoughts!
    -Mark

    "Mark,
    Remember that your last coat of varnish is only as good as what is underneath it.
    Case in point.... I sanded and revarnished a canoe with some pretty cool patina. The original varnish looked like it was well adhered, no chipping or peeling. All was fine until it sat in the sun for a short time. It started blistering...big time.

    I would say it you have alligator, your varnish is compromised. You could revarnish if you were just going to hang it as a decorator. If you are going to use it, strip it and start over with good quality marine varnish.
    Bleaching is not necessary. It will remove some of the patina that is left from stripping.

    stripping is a necessary evil, and does leave a vintage patina with stains, dents, etc. Stripping does not leave you with a factory, new wood look. You will find a “boatload” of info about it on this forum if you use the search.
    I’m lucky enough to have a commercial furniture stripper within about 3 hours of me and I take 4-5 canoes at a time to him, but before finding him, I did it by hand like everybody else. You could check with commercial strippers in your area.

    You haven’t seen the canoe yet. You were told that the wood is in good shape. I would suggest that you reserve judgment on that until you can assess it. I cannot tell you How Many Times that I’ve been told that “it just needs canvas”, when in reality there was a lot of repair work to do first. All repairs must be done befor canvassing. You need to prepare it to last another 60 years before canvassing.
    Good luck, we are here for you.
    Dave"
     
  7. OP
    OP
    mmmalmberg

    mmmalmberg Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    The existing paint is far from original, you can see lots of patching etc. and the Indian heads that once adorned it are long gone. I've not seen this canoe since probably the late 60's, but I have some pics from the shipper that I'll post. Actually I'm probably allowed to post a link by now so I'll do that. Thanks for your reply - I understand a lot about the mechanics and practical aspects of paint and varnish in areas other than boats and it's really helpful to get a sense of how it goes with canoes in particular - thanks again:)

     
  8. OP
    OP
    mmmalmberg

    mmmalmberg Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Oh yes I'd read a post or two, presumably yours, about this. It sounds interesting. If I end up doing the varnish work myself I'll probably test that. I've used something similar with furniture, I think not Formby's but similar idea. Thanks!

     
  9. OP
    OP
    mmmalmberg

    mmmalmberg Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    www.markmalmberg.com/canoe
    Includes the only pics I have so far of the canoe in its current condition. These are all I've seen of this boat since I was a teenager; I wish I knew more...
     
  10. MGC

    MGC Paddlephile

    I've done canoes several different ways...I've sanded them. If you are refreshing a good surface it's a fine way to go. It preserves the finish if it's worth saving. As long as you are 100% sure that the previous varnish was not a urethane product and as long as the varnish has not given way and allowed the wood to become stained it's a great way to avoid having to strip. On a newer canoe you should be doing this every few years.
    I have also stripped, tsp'd and varnished some hulls. It does a fair job but the results can be inconsistent. Some wood will darken more than you want and some will not. It's a bit of a crap shoot from my experience. I no longer do this since I find that the additional step of bleaching removes a tremendous amount of dirt and grime that the TSP does not remove, especially from the tight corners between the ribs, the rounded ends of half ribs and the wood in general. Bleaching what looks like a ready to varnish hull will blow your mind. The amount of embedded varnish and stripper gunk that this additional step (done with brushes) pulls up is astonishing.
    At this point, if I take the time to strip a hull, I will always take the additional time to Teak-Nu it...always. The reason I do that is to achieve a more consistent finish. I find that the hull is more likely to darken and change colors if I don't bleach. There is plenty of character left in the wood...even if you bleach and sand it will still show old scuffs and marks and character from it';s years of service. On old hulls I finish with a final coat of Epifanes Matt varnish so that hull doesn't look like it was detailed by Joey Bag o Donuts... a gleaming 100 plus year old hull looks strange to my eye.
    I have never tried to use the Formby product on a hull although I have used it on furniture. I don't think that I will ever find a reason to. If a hull is so significant that the original finish is worth saving then I will simply clean it and leave it as is.
     
    mmmalmberg and Dan Lindberg like this.
  11. OP
    OP
    mmmalmberg

    mmmalmberg Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Thanks MGC.

    I took delivery of the boat at my shop today, I've posted a bunch more pictures here http://www.markmalmberg.com/canoe/ and it will take a while to load, sorry:) I tried to capture the good and the bad. It looks to me like it may never had any additional coats of varnish on the inside, and I'm sure it's original canvas. The tips are coming apart a bit, some splits in a few ribs but no broken bones other than a couple of crunches that look very fresh indeed to me.
     
  12. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Can you post a picture of the serial numbers from both ends and confirm the overall extreme length in a straight line? This doesn't look like anything described in the build records for the 1544x8 or 1644x8 ranges. Thanks,

    Benson
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2019
  13. OP
    OP
    mmmalmberg

    mmmalmberg Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Sure, I'll be back at the shop tomorrow. So there's two serial number locations? One is in the pics so I'll recheck, thanks:)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 19, 2019
  14. Canoeal

    Canoeal Canoe/kayak builder/resto

    100_0801.jpg
    Strip, no bleach, light sanding is my favorite way to go... if it needs the new ribs blended stain to match before putting them in. Strip and sand gunnels and decks light stain if necessary.
     
    mmmalmberg likes this.
  15. OP
    OP
    mmmalmberg

    mmmalmberg Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Beautiful! I don't think I'll need any new ribs (fingers & toes crossed), there are some splits but no cross-grain damage. One plank has some damage. Cross that bridge when I come to it... Varnish on the decks is pretty intact so I'm inclined to light sand and put a light coat, preserving the original OT decal. Time will tell... see how well I do on repairs to the decks. One has a split from the middle of the coaming up toward the decal. The other has a small chunk missing up at the tip. I'll be asking for help on some of these forthwith as I get to them!

    Inspired by your photograph - thanks:)
     
  16. OP
    OP
    mmmalmberg

    mmmalmberg Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Just for continuity in this thread, since there was another thread about the serial number, the second serial number was stamped xxxx33 vs xxxx88 apparently mis-stamped on the other end. 88 was an 18' red boat, 33 is mine, 17' green OTCA.
     

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