How to Fill and Paint Wooden Canoe Canvas
by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes

As with most things in this world, when it comes to getting a smooth 'showroom' finish on a wood-canvas canoe, if you start with quality you are more likely to end with quality. So before you stretch the canvas over the hull, make sure the hull is sanded 'fair' and smooth with 220 grit sandpaper.

Once the canvas is on and the nap of the canvas has been singed, the filler is applied. Now I'm sure there are lots of 'secret' formulae out there, but I am very happy with the filler recipe I obtained from the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association web site in the 'Tidbits' section. The following recipe makes just over a gallon of filler and is more than enough to fill the weave on #10 canvas duck over a 16' canoe:

Canoe Canvas Filler Formula
* 43 oz. double-boiled linseed oil
* 21 oz. mineral spirits
* 34 oz. enamel
* 2 oz. Japan drier
* 2 oz. spar varnish
* 6.25 lbs. powered silica (300-325 mesh)

I use a basic alkyd enamel available at the local hardware store as rust paint. This enamel is strong and flexible and works very well in this application. I use a white which acts as a good foundation for the finish color. Silica (powered glass) is available from a potter supply shop and is usually sold in a 325 mesh (a fine powder). Japan drier is a drying agent and helps the mixture dry quickly. Mind you, the filler takes a month to dry, but hey, it's better than two years. Make sure you get boiled linseed oil. It's not actually boiled but rather it contains drying agents. Raw linseed oil takes forever to dry.

When applying the filler, grind it vigorously into the weave of the canvas with a 4" brush that has had the bristles cut down to about 2" long. Next, use a thumbless canvas mitt (sewn from scraps of canvas) to rub in the filler and smooth it out. Let the filler dry for about six hours and then, using the canvas glove again, rub the filler smooth. If all goes well, you end up with a filled canvas that is as smooth as a baby's behind. Now store the canoe upside down for four weeks (or more) before you move on to apply the enamel finish.

For the finish enamel, I use a basic alkyd enamel (rust paint). Again, it is very tough, flexible and comes in a wide range of colors. To apply the enamel, use the technique described in the
Care and Maintenance article. Although manufacturers of enamel would cringe at this characterization, enamel is basically varnish with pigments added. The point is, enamel is applied using the same technique used for the application of varnish. Remember to wait two days between coats and rough up the surface with wet sandpaper (220 grit). I find it takes four coats to get a smooth finish and I sand with 320 grit wet sandpaper between the third and fourth coats. Finally, let the canoe sit for at least a month to allow the fresh enamel to cure and harden. Otherwise, you run the risk of scuffing or chipping that lovely enamel the first time you tie the canoe to the roof rack.

Are we done yet? . . . well, that depends. As with varnishing (refer to the
Stripping and Varnishing article), it only seems reasonable to protect the finish you worked so hard to achieve. As with varnish, I protect the enamel finish with a coat of carnauba wax (pronounced car-NOO-ba) obtained at the local auto supply shop. Follow the directions and use lots of muscle (or a good buffing wheel). If you've never tried it, waxing the canoe is worth it just for the experience of shooting effortlessly through the water.

Congratulations and happy paddling.


Kettle River Canoes, P.O. Box 2324, Grand Forks, BC V0H 1H0
Phone: (250) 442-0312 Email:

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