how to seal the wood on canoe

Please tell me what product(s) to use to protect the wood on my canoe. All the protective coating is now gone.


depends what you have and what you want
There will probably be lots of responses on this, because people have lots of opinions. Any finish is better than no finish, so don’t let the variety of possibilities send you onto the river with unprotected wood.

If the previous finish is truly all gone, you can make your decision as if you have new wood. More likely, you have traces of the old finish left, in which case you need either to refinish with a compatible finish or strip off the traces and act as if it’s new wood.

If it’s new wood, I prefer an oil finish. An example is Watco Exterior, though there are many other possibilities. An oil finish has a nice feel, but it requires frequent maintenance (maybe twice a year if you use the boat twice a week for eight months). On the other hand, if you do the maintenance, which is pretty simple, you very rarely have to do a complete refinishing. To be completely deluxe, you can apply wax over the oil.

If it’s new wood and you don’t want to use oil, you can use polyurethane. An example (the only example I know) is Minwax Helmsman Spar Polyurethane, which is used on my canoe (from Placid Boatworks). It requires less frequent maintenance but more frequent complete refinishings than oil does. It has a shiny, plasticky feel, rather than oil’s silky feel.

Spar varnish will probably have some advocates here, but I know nothing about it.

If you still have traces of the old finish, the answer will depend on what kind of old finish. If it’s oil, you can probably just sand (trying to remove any dry, gray surface) and apply more oil till the wood is saturated. Otherwise, I’m out of my range of experience and will let more knowledgeable people answer.

So we need details! We always need details…

– Mark


– Last Updated: Apr-24-08 3:27 PM EST –

Just installed all new trim on my boat. White Ash coated with Watco's - Looks very sharp.

We'll see how it holds up. Was recommended by my local paddling shop.

"Welcome to ‘Canoe Shop’

– Last Updated: Apr-24-08 3:08 PM EST –

on PNET. On today's show we will be refinishing a canoe with wooden trip."

I assume that you are referring to gunwales, thwarts and maybe end caps?

If the original finish appears to be chipping or cracking, it is probably one of the flavors of varnish. To re-seal the wood it will be necessisary to remove all of the old finish, usually by sanding. It may be necessisary to remove the wood trim from the hull to so a good job.

Once sanded, your choices are either to varnish again or to oil. I find varnishing a PITA, so I use either Watco Exterior oil or an equal mix of spar varnish, boiled linseed oil and turpentine. One nice feature of an oil finish is that it is easy to touch up the dings and abrasions.

Personal Protective Equipment is needed. Dust masks for sanding, and rubber gloves for finishing plus good local ventiliation.

Stop in at a woodworking shop (Rockler, Woodcrafters) for supplies and consultation.


PS: Regarding steel wool, you may use Scotch Brite pads as an alternative.

Watco, PU, and other things
Watco makes a bunch of products, Exterior or Teak Oil being the two most commonly used. The Teak Oil tends to darken the wood, but generally lasts a bit longer before needing reapplication than Exterior does. However, the exterior preserves the woods natural color better.

Placid uses PU because they know that most ppl aren’t as on the ball with tending to oiled gunwales as they should be.

There is nothing wrong with using a PU, but when it does need to be redone, it’s going to be a measure harder to carry out than if it had been oiled.

Generally the Watco procedure is to sand to around 200 grit, and rub in the oil, wait 30 mins, wipe off excess, wait another 15, rub in some more, then wipe off the excess again. YMMV and you will probably after years wind up with your own special procedure.

I will say this. Don’t use steel wool, if you must use a ‘wool’ use bronze wool. Steel wool fragments get caught in the wood and may wind up marring your woodwork with unsightly stains from oxidation. Bronze wool, on the other hand, is made primarily made for the marine industry and it’s detritus will not rust.

Wow! You guys are fast. I’m going out now to buy some Watco. Well, maybe after I have a little paddle. I want to see if the green heron’s back yet.



ditto on the scotchbrite
pads…if you have particles of steel wool get trapped in your finish, they can rust, which is not very attractive. Small problem, but can be avoided by using the pads.