top of page
  • Alick Burt

Felix's Canoe, At last Varnishing begins

Hello Folks

I know this stage has been a long time coming and of all the stages this is the one that should not be rushed. When I was being taught how to make furniture it was drummed into me that a mistake at the finishing stage can be the most costly of all. Think of it this way. You have just spent a long time making something or in this case stripping off the old finish and if it goes wrong you could end up having to do it all again.

With this in mind I come to another point about wood finishing. There are many different methods to achieve a good finish and many different materials that can be used. Although I have been using varnish for many years it does no harm to read someone else's take on the process and maybe learn something new. A few years ago I read about combining oil and varnish finishes in one of the Fine Woodworking series of books.The idea is that you use an undercoat of an oil at the beginning of the varnishing as a pre coat.

Recently as I knew I was going to be varnishing a traditional boat I got myself a copy of Rebecca Wittman's book Brightwork and after a thorough read found that a coat of tung oil can be rubbed in as a precoat using 400 grit abrasive paper.

I had al ready applied my boat soup but I figured it would do no harm to feed the wood further so decided to begin by testing the process on the Thwarts.

I took some 400 grit paper and a spongy sanding block and rubbed in some tung oil with a circular motion.Then after leaving for 20 minutes I rubbed it with a rag to clean off the excess.

The wood came to life in an instant but rather than continue with the rest of the boat I decided to leave it to dry overnight and do the first coat of varnish on it.That way if there were any issues or I need to leave more drying time I would have just the thwart to deal with and not the whole boat.

When I oiled the Thwart I did both of them, that way I can use them to support the hull when coating it inside and out in one go.

Next day I varnished both thwarts and again left them to dry.

The following day I found my varnish had dried bone hard so was happy to oil the rest of the boat. Before I began I decided to de nib the thwarts so I could give them a second coat of varnish too.

Then I proceeded to apply tongue oil to the inside of the hull rubbing well in with 400 grit paper and cleaning off the excess every twenty minutes or so as I went along.

Here you can see coated and un-coated areas

Another little job I still had to do was to clean up the coamings. They had been dosed with stripper but still needed sanding as did the back seat and its supports.

One coaming also needed a repair to one end.

I cut away the damage and glued a piece of mahogany in place.

Then once it was set I could trim it closer to size.

Finally I gave it a little stain. Not a bad colour match. Don't be fooled by the names on these cans of stain you will see I am using “Tudor Black Oak” on mahogany to match it to older mahogany!

With that done and a coat of tung oil rubbed onto the inside of the hull I gave the thwarts a coat of varnish and left it all to dry overnight.

Next day I had other work to do but was at least able to get a coat of oil rubbed into the outside of the hull.

With 70 mile an hour winds forecast, this Saturday was definitely not a day to go paddling so I decided to start the process I have been waiting a long time for. At last I can begin varnishing!

I started with the inside then coated the gunwales just up to the thwarts from each end before turning the hull over and doing the outside.Here are three pictures One just isn't enough :-)

Finally before I put my brushes away (I leave them in raw linseed between coats to save on cleaning) I gave the decks and back seat a coat too.

That's the first coat done and I am not sure how many I am going to apply.Rebecca Wittman

says as many as ten can be applied but she wasn't talking about canoes just wooden boats in general. I am mindful that every coat of varnish can add a pound or more of weight!



bottom of page