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Shellacking your Bottom

Discussion in 'Wood and Canvas' started by Fitz, Mar 8, 2005.

  1. Fitz

    Fitz Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I'm starting to think about finishing the Prospector project. I was going to go with a painted finish, but experimenting with a shellac bottom keeps dancing around the foggy noggin.

    Any experience out there with the comparative durability and maintenance of shellac vs paint on the bottom of a canoe?

    This will be a tripping canoe, so it will see it's fair share of shallow water, beaver dams etc. How will shellac hold up on a trip? What are the maintenance issues? Can I paint over it, if I change my mind? How is shellac applied - sanding between coats? How many coats are needed?

    I did just find this article:
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2005
  2. Charlie Franks

    Charlie Franks Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Hi Fitz,

    I've paddled canoes with shellac on the bottom on trips, and they seem to hold up well. The claim is that the shellac is somewhat softer than paint, and tends to hide any minor scratches you may get. They did seem to be quite durable on the trips I used them on. There's also a claim that the shellac may slip through the water better than paint, but I never noticed any difference there. I think the shellac does require more frequent maintenance than the paint, though.

    There are some people who swear by shellac for tripping canoes. I know the Conovers shellac the bottoms of all their tripping canoes. Garrett's mentioned that each spring he lightly sands the shellac and applies a new coat.

    For a tripping canoe, shellac seems like a good choice to me.

  3. MikeCav

    MikeCav Restorer/Videographer

    An advantage of shellac is that maintanence is easy, but must be done more frequently than paint. The primary benefit is that shellac will chemically bond with the previous layer, unlike paint that goes on in layers and only has a physical bond created by sanding. That makes touchup easy. Lightly sand the old shellac to get rid of crud and smooth scratches, then apply the new shellac. The new shellac will "melt" into the old.

    Another advantage is coat times. Shellac, being alcohol based, dries very quickly. You can apply 2-3 coats/day.
  4. Giiwedin

    Giiwedin Gouvernail

    I re-shellac every year, depending on usage. My procedure is based on input from Jerry Stelmok about ten years ago. I've found that if the surface is warm (not hot) it aids in application and drying. Two coats per day is no problem, if it's warm.

    Use BULLSEYE 3lb. AMBER SHELLAC (available at most hardware stores) with a good quality paint brush (china bristle)

    1. Dry boat.

    2. Sand old shellac with 180 grit dry sandpaper - be easy on it, so you don't sand down the filler.

    3. Patch or ambroid where necessary.

    3. Apply first coat. Shellac is funny to apply, very sticky. Work in patches down the hull, overlapping at the edges. It will vary where brush strokes end, a little darker there because of overlapping strokes - but will sort of even out in a week or so.

    4. Let dry completely (1 hr in sun)

    5. Very light sand

    6. Apply second coat. And that's it.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2005
  5. dpurcell

    dpurcell the 2 dog tripper

    What if you had a keel? Would you use shellac or varnish on it?
  6. Dave Wermuth

    Dave Wermuth Who hid my paddle?

    Anther Shellac Q.

    Does the shellac go on over the filler? Or over primer? Or over Paint? I never considered it before-------until now.
    regards, Dave.
  7. Giiwedin

    Giiwedin Gouvernail

    Shellac is a bottom treatment for guide canoes used in rocky shallow water because it's somewhat "slippery". It also evaporates over the course of a year, so can be regularly renewed without excessive build-up. Keels are counter-productive in rocky shallow water, so you don't ordinarily find them on shellaced hulls. My gut reaction would be that if you had a keel you'd be painting, not shellacing, your hull. Better to get the opinion of an expert like Rollin Thurlow or Jerry Stelmok, however.

    The shellac is applied over the filled, unpainted canvas.
  8. ken mueller

    ken mueller Canton, Ohio

    Any thoughts on shellac vs varnish on the inside of the hull?
  9. Giiwedin

    Giiwedin Gouvernail

    Probably not a good idea. It doesn't last long; it colors; and, compared to a good varnish, it looks bad.
  10. Dan Miller

    Dan Miller cranky canoeist Staff Member

    Shellac will

    -turn white when it gets wet
    -not hold up nearly as well as varnish - it doesn't get as hard
    -will dissolve when you spill your sippin' whiskey in the bottom of the canoe.

    Shellac is good for sealing up unfinished parts that are going to be bedded with bedding compound, for instance the edges of decks.

  11. anthony

    anthony Arrowslinger

    I'm not at canvass stage yet but the paint VS shellac question is nagging me as well.Perhaps someone could post a pic. of a shellac job??? T.M.
  12. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I'm a big fan of shellac bottom for a canoe that's going to get its bottom scraped. I'll try to post a picture of mine--a prospector I redid a ways back. Basically what you're going to get is a medium, say, mahogony brown. Close up, it appears mottled and sort of blotchy, but not extremely so. I think color match is an issue. I chose medium to dark green--Interlux Malachy Green--and I think it works well with the shellac.
  13. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I tried to attach a pix. Not sure it worked.

    Attached Files:

  14. Giiwedin

    Giiwedin Gouvernail

    Here's a E.M. White Guide with a shellac bottom, at camp in the Quetico. If you look closely, you'll see that the color is splotchy - which can't be avoided, but doesn't look bad overall. The shellac doesn't show the scratches, which is nice. The marine enamel is Interlux Malachy, but here it looks more blue than actual (a function of my slide scanner - which doesn't like dark green).

    Attached Files:

  15. anthony

    anthony Arrowslinger

    Yow...that looks nice! How did you handle the transition area between shellac and paint? Does a "re-shellac" job end at the paint/waterline? whee... T.M.
  16. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Line between shellac and paint is handled with pinstripe tape. I got white boat tape from West Marine, about a quarter inch wide I think. Automotive pin stripe tape would do.

    Process of getting a level waterline is described in Stelmok and Thurlow. Involves a level and having a level floor. I basically did a good guestimate cause I ain’t got a good level or a big enough floor. I picked about 7-8 inches below the gunnel at center, did an estimate of rise from center to the tip and marked it. (7 inches plus the rise.) Then tape a string at the center and bring it out to my mark at the curve of the stems. Remember you’re putting a straight line on a curved surface, so it’s only a hypothetical straight line anyway. About the only time anyone would notice the line might not be 100% true is when its sitting in calm water loaded perfectly balanced.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Apr 7, 2005
  17. Mike Harmon

    Mike Harmon New Member

    Has anyone tried attaching a scribe/pencil to an extension mounted to a rolling cart? Would seem you could then roll the cart around the canoe and get a level line (assuming a level floor surface.)
  18. Mark Reuten

    Mark Reuten Wood Butcher

    A nice touch is a waterline with a little rise from end to end. It keeps the line from looking droopy. A simple way to do this is by taking two sheets of say 1/4 or 3/8 plywood and blocking the ends up just an inch or two. cleat them together at the middle to maintain a fair line and block your canoe canoe on top and scribe your line. If your canoe has much hollow to the ends you may want to give it a little more swoop just at the ends.
    I've used the automotive tape and it works well. Specify "high performance" tape when you buy it. Attached is a job I did where I hade a decal made up to match the tape.

    Attached Files:

  19. Giiwedin

    Giiwedin Gouvernail

    Looking good!

    If in doubt about the good looks of shellac, here's my son in the E.M. White, for an after-dinner solo on Sandy Lake (Bowron Lakes, B.C.).

    Attached Files:

  20. Rollin Thurlow

    Rollin Thurlow member since 1980

    I don't think anyone has mentioned it yet, but the suface of the shellac will oxidize over time. The oxidization will be like a fine dust on the surface which you can wipe off. So even if you don't use the canoe the bottom sheallac will need and extra coat or two every year or so just because it oxidizes off.

    Also for a easy to do waterline, just set the canoe on a level floor, level the canoe from side to side by putting a level on the center thwart; for a water line 6" above the bottom just take a 6" block of wood, hold a pencil on the top of the block and just drag the block of wood on the floor around the canoe, tracing off the line on the canoe. I use to have to take the canoes into my living room to have a level floor before I built my "new" shop.

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