Refinishing old canoe


I am new here and am looking for some advice. I just received a nice little 12’ canoe that I plan on using as much as possible this season. It is in rough shape, has a few patches and lots and lots of old paint. I am in the process of stripping it down to refinish it.

My plan is to sand off all the old paint and patches, repatch where needed and then seal the entire canoe. My problem is that gel coating is very expensive and I was hoping to keep this project on a budget. I have seen many people talk of using epoxy for this purpose, but everything I find seems to be on repairing intact gel coat as opposed to doing an entire canoe.

I am still in the process of stripping the canoe, so I am unsure of how bad the existing gel coat actually is. From what I have seen, it will most likely be in rough shape. Any thought or ideas are appreciated. Thanks!

restoring gel coat

– Last Updated: Apr-10-12 7:44 PM EST –

I have had good luck using citrus stripper to take paint off of gel coated canoes.

If the exterior of the boat has patches, the gel coat will be missing from those areas of the boat, obviously.

The remaining gel coat may be in better shape than you imagine. Small scratches and oxidation can be removed completely or partially by wet sanding the hull. If the majority of the gel coat is intact, you may be able to buff that up, and simply paint over any patches, after feathering and fairing them as necessary.

After stripping the paint, I would start sanding the hull with 180 or 220 grit waterproof paper. Keep the hull wet by using a garden hose or spray bottle as you go. I use a disposable foam sanding block made by 3M and simply wrap the paper around it as this will follow the contour of the hull.

Proceed with successively finer grits of waterproof paper, eg, 400, 600, 800 and all the way to 1500 or 2000 if you like. You can also use a polishing compound like those used on automobiles. An electric, low speed orbital automotive buffer is very convenient for buffing this if you can come by one.

If there are poorly done patches that protrude from the hull surface a great deal you can probably sand them down and feather the edges. If you have low spots in the hull, these can be built up using a "fairing compound". Bondo will actually work but I would use epoxy with a filler mixed in, for example West Systems 105 resin and 206 hardener with 410 Microlight fairing filler. This produces a relatively thick compound that is resistant to sagging and running when applied which is easily sanded when cured.

You mentioned "sealing" the hull. If the gel coat is largely intact I see no need to do this. You will probably paint over any patches anyway.

You could re gel coat the hull or have it done professionally. I have no experience in doing it myself. To redo the whole hull may involve more expense than the boat is worth. You might be able to get a reasonable color match using an automotive paint or a marine polyurethane paint. Trying to re gel coat limited areas will not produce a color match anyway.

Photo chronology

– Last Updated: Apr-10-12 9:16 AM EST –

Citrus stripper first, then sanding...

Patching and priming



First paddle


repainting the whole hull
Repainting the hull is an option, obviously. If you want an exactly uniform hull color it is the only way to get it short of re gel coating the whole boat.

Personally, I would do this only if the gel coat is in really bad shape with little chips missing and/or cracks in the gel coat involving significant areas of the hull. Unless you sand off all of the existing gel coat (a big job) either re gel coating or painting will add weight to the canoe. Paint is also prone to scratching off and I have had some paints peel with age and exposure. If you want a nice result, you will still have to fair the hull first anyway.

If you do have extensively cracked and chipped gel coat I would fair the hull by filling in all the little depressions with thickened epoxy.

If you don’t have to do any extensive patching, you might be able to accomplish that with a fairly small amount of epoxy. About the smallest amount of West System 105 resin and 206 hardener you can get will cost a little over $50 and you have to buy some mini-pumps to use it conveniently which costs another 14-15 bucks. But you can buy 4oz of G Flex resin with 4 oz of hardener for about $20 and you can mix it by eye in small volumes. Two ounces of West 410 microlight filler costs about $15 (2 ounces is a lot).

There are other filling agents and lots of different fairing compounds you can use but if you are going to paint over them some will require the use of a primer.

If you use epoxy and filler, mix the epoxy in small batches and stir the filler into the mixed epoxy until you have something the thickness of mayonnaise to creamy peanut butter. Work on the hull in sections to you can keep the area you are attending to as close to horizontal as practical. Apply the fairing compound with a plastic squeege and wet sand it smooth after it cures.

If you paint the hull I would use a color that approximates the existing gel coat. That way any scratches through the paint won’t show as badly. I would use a 1 part marine polyurethane like Interlux Brightside which gives a nice “sprayed on” appearance. You apply it with a foam roller and tip it out with a disposable foam brush. You will need 2-3 coats.

Check my facebook page
I’m currently in the home stretch of refurbishing a Bell Wildfire (Kevlar) that was badly damaged when a tree fell on it. It was a casualty of Hurricane Gustav a year or two ago. I bought the hull essentially for it’s salvage value.

I’ve been posting a chronicle of the repairs including hull repairs, new gunwales, seat etc. on my facebook page (Dogpaddle Canoe Works). If the weather permits, I’ll get paint on it (working outside) next week. I’ll be using Interlux Brightside and don’t want to deal with the fumes etc. in the shop.

In addition to the tree damage the gel coat on this boat was in poor condition and had been painted over. I ground off all of the paint and most of the gel coat. Since I planned on painting the entire hull, leaving all the old gel coat on would only add to the weight.

In addition to removing the gel coat, I milled lighter gunwales, tapering them toward the stems and cutting scuppers in the mid sections. I thinned the thwarts by about 30%. I removed the original walnut decks and will be replacing them with carbon fiber end caps. Finally, my friend Paul Conklin, made me a lightweight seat (a variant of those he makes for Hemlock Canoes).

The boat weighted 39 lbs. when I received it and that did not include a seat. I weighted a seat similar to the original at 2 lbs. bringing the total to 41 lbs. Today I weighed the boat. It is complete except for the carbon caps and the paint. It currently weighs 34 lbs. The caps will add 1 oz. total. Paint will likely add about a pound bringing the total to 35 lbs.±.

Marc Ornstein

Dogpaddle Canoe Works

Custom Canoe Paddles and Woodstrip Canoes

I took a look at your photos. Did the Wildfire suffer any structural damage to the hull?

Hey Marc did you get that from John S.?
If so, I think it’s my old white one I sold him many moons ago.

All kinds of answers here, but you never
said what material the canoe was made out of.

I have completely refinished, (including using fiberglass patches) two different kevlar canoes with West Systems epoxy, and it is not a hard job.

It will probably cost you close to a hundred dollars by the time you get the pumps and the resin and the hardener.

Keep in mind, if you use gelcoat, you don’t have to worry about keeping the boat out of continuous sun like with plain epoxy. I have covers for my clear coat canoes

Jack L

Crushing damage

A tree fell on the canoe, cracking the gunwales on the left side, between the front thwart and the bow. There were a series of longitudinal cracks, about 24" long between the bilge and the shoulder on the left side. There were some lesser longitudinal cracks opposite, on the right side.

This is great. Now I have a “new” boat that previously belonged to two of my friends. I hope you get to see it this summer. The work is almost done. I’m just waiting for warmer weather so that I can paint. I vacuum formed the new carbon “decks” today. The seat is in as are the thwarts. Paint or not, I may take it for a test paddle in the next day or two. She looks great and is at least 6 lbs. lighter than when she left the Bell factory, years ago.

Did you patch the hull?
And if so, how did you choose to do it?