New canoe seats.

Just got my new unfinished canoe seats. Ash and cane. Should I varnish or oil? What do I do to the cane portion? Any recommendations on a book for canoe resoration/repair. I have a fiberglass project right now but I am going to look at a wood and canvas this evening so I need to study up on a variety of topics.


Arrgh! The varnish vs. oil debate!
Either one works. The oil will protect the wood from moisture if it is applied often enough, but it won’t protect the wood from abrasion. Oil is easier and less messey to install, but has to be replaced more often. The varnish gives more protection against abrasion, but starts to flake off or discolor if you get deep scratches and don’t tend to them right away. I have canoes in each camp and like them both. I even have one canoe with varnish on the thwarts, yoke and seat frame, and oil on the two part gunnels. It’s harder to keep a good varnish line on a two part gunnel because the wood flexes. Recently I’ve heard of at least one experienced canoeist using epoxy on his wood work. Epoxy is more expensive and harder to install but lasts a lot longer than either varnish or oil.

neither – use cetol
This stuff is rapidly replacing spar varnish in the sailboating community.

It’s an oil that dries to provide varnish-like finish, but remains flexible and outlasts varnish.

Call it the best of both worlds.

Cetol - not quite as pretty
But boy does it last. It is not as clear and as varnish but it lasts up to 10 times longer. The cetol on my sailboat still looks great after years of service! Varnish requires redoing every year.


– Last Updated: Jun-13-06 4:32 PM EST –

someone looking at a real canoe. ;-) For the wood and canvas canoe, the Bible of Building and Restoration is Stelmok and Thurlow, "The Wood and Canvas Canoe, A Complete Guide to Its History, Construction, Restoration, and Maintenance".

What make/model are you considering purchasing???

I swear by a coat of thinned varnish on the top of the cane and a dab of periodic oil underneath.

Thanks for the book tip.
Ended up not buying that particular canoe. Was supposed to be a 1930’s vintage Old town. Without most of the structure left it was hard to tell what is was. It looked to be ready for a ceremonial burning. Not much canvas left and the only wood that wasn’t dry rotted was weet and rotten. Make someone a good pattern if the guy didn’t want $800. I am amazed by what some people try to pull off. I am sure he will find someone on an online auction site to give him money.



– Last Updated: Jun-14-06 7:56 AM EST –

Hey, I see you are relatively local (MA). There are lots of wood canoe nuts hereabouts.

If you find a boat, need advice etc. give a holler, there are quite a few builders and restorers around.

Here is a great source of information too:


somewhat true, but …
Just because Cetoled teak trim on a white fiberglass boat can look rather atrocious does not mean that Cetol – when properly used – isn’t pretty.

As they say the proof is in the finish so check out this pix of my Cetol-finished wood canoe –