Help support the WCHA Forums by making a tax-deductible donation!

Staining your canoe

Discussion in 'Wood and Canvas' started by Howie, May 4, 2019.

  1. Howie

    Howie Wooden Canoe Maniac

    So... You've spent many hours stripping then re-stripping the inside of your canoe, then spent more time scraping & sanding to get rid of all traces of the previous finish. Then, if you're like me, you clean & bleach the wood to help even out the wood color make the wood as... clean? pure? as it can be.

    So before varnishing do you stain the wood?

    I never have myself - I find that old wood immediately turns a nice amber when varnished. But I'm certain almost all the canoes I've restored were stained at the factory - either stained then varnished, or varnished with some tinting in the mix.

    What do you folks do? And what were the staining/tinting practices used by other companies? I saw an unrestored Penn Yan Rainbow a while back that looked to have a gorgeous cherry-amber stain. OldTowns also seem to have have been stained.
  2. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    I have found very few stained canoes. I’ve had many darkened with age, but I suspect they were not stained at least at the factory. Bert Morris stained some of the canoes that he built. Kathy K has the formula for a stain that matches original Morris stain. As far as I recall those were the only ones that I’ve seen stained. I’ve never seen what I thought was a stained factory Old Town
    But, I digress, I have stained! A couple of times. Once was a customer request and another time it was to attempt to blend in remnants of red barn paint that was too stubborn for stripper. Worked out well.
  3. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I wonder if what you refer to as "stain" is actually shellac applied before varnishing.
  4. Fitz

    Fitz Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I believe I have seen reference to "Smith's Sealer" being used on Old Town Build Records. Based on stripping I have done, I think some filler stains may have been used on mahogany trim too.

    I stain new wood in old canoes and I also like shellac as a sealer before varnish.

  5. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    I have an Old Town Sailing canoe with centerboard in AA grade from 1927 with stained decks. My guess is that this may have been done at the factory to blend different shades of mahogany. It looks kind of muddy to me now so I would rather have it un-stained. The messages and pictures at have more details. New wood can be glaringly bright in an old canoe so stain will help tone down the contrast in some situations.

  6. OP

    Howie Wooden Canoe Maniac

    Here's a pic sent to me by a buddy recently showing his stripping progress on a Yankee (thank's Brian - hope you don't mind me using it).
    So you folks believe that the dark coloration is just aged varnish? I don't know... The coloration can't be from the sun, 'cause if it was it'd be lighter under the decks - I haven't found that to be the case. I suppose it could be caused simply by age and/or heat... Seems to me more likely that either the varnishes were darker then, or were made differently than todays' (like more tung oil in the mix?), or were otherwise tinted.

    As Benson points out, 'new' wood when varnished is quite bright. If what you're saying is true then we should be able to find a ton of color pics of canoes from the 40s, 50s, 60s, etc that show bright blond/amber wood. Anybody have family photos? or old color catalogues?
    Brian J Knudsen likes this.
  7. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    See for one from 1960.

  8. davelanthier

    davelanthier Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I recall an old Peterborough that appeared to have been factory stained. Of note I usually remove as much of the damaged planking and ribs as possible before stripping and prepping the interior. I then apply one coat of varnish to the interior BEFORE installing the new wood. By doing this the new wood can be easily stained to match the old wood. Thanks to the varnish coat any stain that gets on the old wood is easily wiped off
  9. Brian J Knudsen

    Brian J Knudsen Curious about Wooden Canoes

    On the topic of color variation- I am stripping a 1942 Yankee. I'm finding that some ribs are much darker than others after being stripped. Some are almost white and others are purplish brown. All the ribs are original. Does anyone know why this happens? Also, more importantly, will the ribs look different after it has been revarnished? I do plan to use Messmer's Part A & B after I finish stripping. I'm using 3M Safest Stripper and TSP to strip.

  10. MGC

    MGC Scrapmaker

    Some canoes were definitely stained but as part of the build but I'm not sure that was all that common. I currently have Veazie that has a very dark finish. It appears to be original. Given that Morris was known to stain woods, I would guess that the Veazie is as dark as it is because of that.
    I have a Carleton that has a reddish stain that I do not beleive is original. It looks like it was added over the top of the original finish. It appears as though someone wanted the cedar to match the color of the mahogany. I have seen one other boat with a similar finish..interestingly both canoes were located in Star Lake...perhaps the work of the Star Lake stainer. I plan to strip the finish as far down as I can when I get around to refinishing it.
    The centerboard Old Town that I once owned had a very dark (walnut) stain on it and in that case it appeared as though the stain had been applied to the bare wood, so possibly at the factory? It looks like Chris was able to get most of that dark coloration out of when he restored it... Interestingly, that canoe was also a Northern NY boat so maybe there was a "thing" about staining canoes.
    Those canoes aside,the dark varnish on all of the ones I have owned or worked on appear to be the result of aging. Even of boats I have owned since new or that I know have original finish the varnish has gotten darker over the seems to depend on the varnish though. The canoes from the 50's on seem to age to a dark golden color. The ones from the turn of the century seem to be very dark looking much like the one Howie posted. I am inclined to think that the varnish started out much darker.
    The canoes that were finished with varnish over shellac (Rushton) seem to age to a more golden color...
    Last edited: May 5, 2019
  11. Craig Johnson

    Craig Johnson LOVES Wooden Canoes

    The photo in #6 looks like a normal unstained boat to me. If the wood has been stained the stripper will remove the varnish but not the stain. If you then start sanding that will remove the stain and you will clearly see the difference between sanded and unsanded parts. That is my experience with the one stained boat I worked on and lots of furniture.
  12. Just1moredave

    Just1moredave Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    The steel tacks in my canoe plus tannins in the wood made a black stain, kind of like a bathtub ring. I think the original varnish was quite dark or darkened over time, but that's a guess based on planks way up by the decks in each end.

    I didn't stain for three reasons. I don't like the look. I was worried that stain would make sanding scratches obvious. I didn't think I'd get the stain right to match color variations. I replaced all the ribs between the stem ends so I didn't have new ribs bracketed by old ones.
  13. OP

    Howie Wooden Canoe Maniac

    Ok... so everyone believes the old canoes were not stained - at least most of them.

    How do you handle color matching new wood? I used to stain new ribs with Minwax Special Walnut, but I stopped because it turns a pale purple after it sees stripper and wood brightener! With the last canoe I used a shellac base on the new ribs then Special Walnut mixed with varnish. For cedar planking I use Special Walnut stain first, then others as needed.

    Fitz - do you shellac ribs for the 1st coat then varnish? or varnish first then use shellac as a first step to color correct the new wood?

    Anybody shellac the whole canoe for a 1st coat?
  14. monkitoucher

    monkitoucher Canoe Curious

    Strip and brighten the canoe before even trying to match the new wood.

    I've dabbled with using ironed vinegar to bring out the grain of the wood and age it a bit. Ive also tried Ammonia, that isn't as severe. I'll usually sand most of this off. But it binds with the extra tannins in the grain and darkens those and gives the ribs a little extra depth.

    When trying to do my color matching. I'll apply the stain to sacrificial end cuts. Then I'll wet the old ribs and the newly stained end cuts with mineral spirits to simulate how the color of the wood will shift once the finish is applied. My last boat I ended up settling with Early American Minwax. Results may very.
  15. Dan Miller

    Dan Miller cranky canoeist Staff Member

    No stains for me. I use dyes, specifically TransTint dyes.
  16. Jan Bloom

    Jan Bloom LOVES Wooden Canoes

    I have never not had stripper pull stain out of wood to some extent.
  17. Fitz

    Fitz Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Hi Howie:

    I strip the whole canoe, replace wood as needed, stain new wood usually with colonial maple or early American, then the whole canoe gets two coats of dewaxed shellac scuffing between coats. Follow with your favorite varnish routine.

    There are lots of flavors of shellac...yum!
  18. 1905Gerrish

    1905Gerrish LOVES Wooden Canoes

    I always color new wood after installing. Certainly more pleasing to the eye then white wood next to a patina-ed 100 year old piece of wood. Used both dye and stain over the years. Start light and work towards darkening as multiple coats can be applied. The dye seems harder to work with IMO leaving the wood blotchy at times. Normally a base of golden oak or golden pecan is a good start. I just mixed it with a new minwax color called gunstock recently and had great results. I have never used shellac. My though is that the more oil ( varnish base) I can get in the wood the more flexible/ water repellent it will be throughout its life. I don't mind a coat or 2 so sink in the corners.
  19. Just1moredave

    Just1moredave Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Get some sun exposure on new wood because that will change its color too. You can test with cutoffs and scrap to see what your actual pieces will do. A varnish with high UV resistance will slow this color change down but not stop it forever. You can see the outline of the Old Town decal on this deck even though I stripped it a couple of years ago:

    [​IMG]IMGC5344 by Dave, on Flickr
  20. ewitzel

    ewitzel Curious about Wooden Canoes

    I realize this is an older thread but I’m hoping someone will join back in. If I read correctly, it sounds like after striping the old finish, folks have used Minwax stain before applying Varnish. Has anyone used stain, then boiled linseed oil, and finally varnish on the interior? I’m thinking the BL oil will add some life back into the ribs and planks.

Share This Page