Any tips on shining up an aluminum canoe?

I have a 1949 Grumman 17foot that was my Dad’s graduation gift from his dad in '49. I grew up in it and I’ve had it since the early 70’s. I’m looking to shine it up a bit and I have a friend making me some graphics. Not looking to make it like a mirror… I just want to make it silver again. I’m sure it’s going to take some elbow grease… just hoping to save time and effort if possible.

Fine ScotchBrite is what I’d start with. If you don’t like the swirls that it leaves you could polish with something finer after that.

Finishing anything involves going from rough to fine. Start only as rough as necessary and progress through increasingly fine in small increments until you’re happy.

A power buffer with a variety of wheels and compounds might give better results, but this might be more than you’re looking for.

Polishing aluminum is going down a deep rabbit hole. You can acid wash it to remove the oxidation easily with spray on products like Alumabrite and many others. They can be sprayed on a section at a time, and left on for a minute or two and sprayed off with a hose. You can touch them up with some of the product on a rag to even it out. It will leave the aluminum in a white clean looking condition.

I would avoid abrasives. It is possible to use 600, 800, up to 1200 grit to clean up the surface. It is slow going and takes a lot of time. Avoid this unless you have a rough surface.

Polishing the clean white metal to make it shiny is a long tedious process. It takes many hours of buffing with abrasive wheels and power tools. I would not attempt it. It is really slow. It is hard to get the surface to look even.

1 Like

Thanks for the replies!

I read that a mixture of white vinegar & water can be sprayed on. Does this have any validity?

I would not consider that a good idea at all. Vinegar is very corrosive to aluminum. I had a good sized Sigg aluminum cookpot that was my snowmelting container for winter backpacking and did not realize that a stray applesauce single serve cup had leaked juice into it while it was stored in my pantry. The apple juice fermented to vinegar and ate holes all the way through the pot bottom — looked like mottled silver Swiss cheese!

We have neighbors that polish their pontoon boat with pontoon polish. It goes quickly if you use a buffer wheel.
Be advised though that aluminum oxides forms when aluminum gets wet, and the layer of oxide protects it from further oxidation. To prevent this the polish forms a waterproof layer which only lasts so long. I think they polish it several times a summer, essentially removing a microscopic layer of aluminum every time.

On boats I use Starbright products. They have cleaners and polishers.

The problem is you have to keep polishing. …polishing…polishing. Aluminium naturally forms that dull finish that protects the aluminum. To make it “permanite” you have to cover it with a clear coat automotive finish.

I suspect the budget will prevent that. Just use a zip wash car wash and water.

Just make sure that ants haven’t ruined the foam in the bow and stern float chambers, chase the spiders out and go paddling.

I wouldn’t waste any time polishing.

I polished up my Grumman a few times back when I was young and didn’t know better. I don’t know the products mentioned so far but there used to be (and still may be) a product called Navel Jelly. It was acidic and was brushed on - about the consistency of zip-strip. You’d do a few square feet at a time, let it sit, hose it off. It took off the oxides but the result was a bit uneven. So then you needed to rub it down with a chore boy type sponge or, I suppose, the newer plastic steel wool substitutes would work. DO NOT use steel wool. It will blacken. It was a fairly tedious process.

But the end result doesn’t please me anymore - polished aluminum is just too darned bright. Looks very unnatural on the water.
I’ve come to think of the grey of aluminum with some oxidation as like the elfin grey of Tolkien’s trilogy. It reflects just enough to take on a bit of the color of autumn leaves, forest green, or blue waters depending on its setting. With a bit of distance it looks like a weathered log when sitting by a portage trail. It has just a touch of camouflage about it. It looks right on the water. A canoe shouldn’t be visible from sky lab.


I think styrofoam had yet to be invented when this boat first hit the water… It has air chambers for floatation.

every one I have opened had Styrofoam. It still doesn’t matter tho. Just need to swamp the canoe in waist deep water, it should float with the water just even with the gunnels amidship. All that needs to be done it test for floating. If it floats it doesn’t matter what is or isn’t in the chambers.

I just did a quick search and found that styrofoam was invented in 1941. It was used for coast guard .

1 Like

We had a 1959 row boat with styrofoam in the seats for floatation.