Refinishing Fun – Like Rolling in Flypaper

It’s a slow day today and I decided to go refinish one of our older Souris River Quetico 18.5’s.  It’s a canoe that I have refinished once before and is in otherwise nice shape other than the outside looking in need of a new shine plus I needed to sand off graphite and epoxy that ran when I did a sloppy skid plate repair 2 years ago to meet an overnight time constraint.

Canoe Refinishing
Canoe Refinishing

So, just like every other refinishing job for a Souris River, it’s pretty straightforward.  Sand the parts that are oxidized and all the parts that are shiny using 80 grit sand paper and a palm sander.  I also removed a few clear epoxy runs from my hasty work a few years ago by leaning on the corner on the bump with the sander.  You have to keep the sander moving somewhat in order for the sanded epoxy dust to fall away and allow the grit to make contact with the hard, non-moving surface.  So, I do little circles on the runs being sure to used other parts of the sand paper on my palm sander.  Also note – do not use any other type of sander other than an orbital design.  If you use a belt sander you are going to end up in a whole world of hurt VERY quickly.  To sand a whole canoe takes about 30-45 minutes depending on your desired end result.    Just get it reasonably smooth, take a  “sander corner” pass over the length of the scratches and that’s it.  I then found my favorite brush that served me for 20 years as an XC Ski wax brush, and swept off the canoe.  I usually watch to see the way the wind is blowing and make sure I’m upwind so I don’t breath in the cloud of cured epoxy dust.

At this point, I put on some disposable gloves, grabbed a charcoal-colored foam roller, mixed up 6 pumps of resin and hardener, stirred it up, waited one minute, and dumped some of  it on the canoe.  Then I drove my roller through the fresh epoxy and I spread it around the canoe.  Pretty basic and quick.  I  rolled right along the bottom edge of the gunwale (which was upside down) and
continued up and down the canoe.  Applying resin to a dusty gray canoe makes it go to a pleasant brown with black stripes – or a  typical Souris River Le Tigre Kevlar.  This improves the look of the canoe about 1000% and I would eestimate that about 90% of all lay canoe paddlers don’t even realize the canoe has even been refinished.  Now, that may sound like a high number, but given my experience of the last 40 years of customers, I’ve decided that they are mostly incapable of noticing much at all.  They don’t notice crooked woodwork, canoe straps flapping in the wind behind a car with a canoe on the roof turned sideways on to the road below,  dangerous waters, or where to park their car based upon all the other  “seed” cars in the extremely obvious and easy areas to park in the lot.

kevlar canoe refinishing
This is a 2012 Le Tigre Kevlar Souris River in 2015.   The grey parts are dust from hitting the ground.  I got them out after the picture was taken.

What they DO notice is only on a brand new, shiny, unscratched canoe.  They go home and take a magnifying glass to the finish to look for the tiniest of imperfections (over every square inch) that don’t mean the most insignificant hill of beans to the operation of the canoe.  They also notice the top handle of a canoe paddle as they over-analyze its feel and try to picture using it on the high seas while standing in the store.   They also do notice when THEY are even slightly uncomfortable or getting rained on.  They do notice hunger, sometimes thirst, and when someone else is annoying them but not the other way around.  And that’s about it for 90% of the population of the world.

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Kevlar Canoe Refinishing
And that’s a good thing.   The main reason being as I was refinishing this canoe (it’s going back into rentals), I had pretty much the whole thing coated with fresh epoxy when it slid off of my horses – in slow motion (Ooooooohhhhhh-Noooooooooooooo!)- and landed upright in the gravel, sawdust, leaves, pine needles, dog fur, old bits of dusty of kevlar, and dandelion fluff.  It was very special.   I said some bad words.  Actually, I repeated a choice four letter word loudly – and with relish. The whole event was like dropping freshly unrolled flypaper in sawdust.

So, upon the universal battle cry of refinishing gone wrong, plus the big booming noise a canoe makes when it hits the ground, Jackie came running out and helped me get it back on the horses whereupon I proceeded to ruin a t-shirt with an epoxy/dirt blend.   I then grabbed the roller, finished up the last few areas of that didn’t get covered pre-fall and I shot the pic’s of the finished canoe.  For the occasional bits of debris stuck to it, I’ll just knock those off after it cures.  I noticed that the digital pictures allowed me to see the dust that I missed when wiping off the canoe after the fall, so I went back and took care of that as well.  I couldn’t see it with the bespectacled or even naked eye.

So, my advice to canoe refinishers everywhere:  Don’t drop it in the gravel.

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Skid Plate Repair on a Souris River Canoe

Skid Plate Repair by Red Rock Wilderness Store

Many folks get all bent out of shape when they see that their skid plates have worn in the wear zone of their canoe or a canoe that they are about to buy used.  That’s almost always a small area on the bow and/or stern and it is unique to the specific hull of the canoe and how the canoe was slammed into shore during its indentured life in a canoe livery.  As a private owner, an easier way to avoid this type of repair would be to not plow your canoe into shore like a farmer sinking a plow blade into black dirt preparing for this season’s corn crop, but some folks never quite figure this out.  I’ve seen evidence of that at the canoe landings and particularly enjoy watching Brand X kevlars slamming into the gravel at Lake One, Moose Lake and Fall Lake.  They don’t hold up like Souris Rivers and in fact I saw a Brand X canoe that had a bow which looked like shark bite in an Oreo cookie.  Nontheless, this example is for those among us who need to solve this skidplate wear problem because we haven’t figured out that the massive grinding sound we hear is made by the bow when 240 lbs. of  “Bubba” slides up 30 inches onto shore at about 20 MPH.  The answer is not necessarily to install an entire new skid plate, however.  In most cases, you can simply add a little piece to the boo boo and go back to plowing Bubba into shore again.  In the example you’ll see below, I’m actually going to build a stronger reinforcement that matches the existing black skid plate of the canoe.  It’s a Souris River, Le Tigre kevlar,  Quetico 18.5 three-seater, and after a whole summer of “Bubba-Paddle-Harder x 3 – PLUS gear”, this front plate has finally shown a little wear.  The wear is indicative of making portages shorter the hard way.  I’ll also refinish the canoe with a coat of varnish so you can see how nicely a Souris River handles a beating and then recovers minus the patches you’d see on those Brand X canoes which simply can’t hack paddler brutality as well.

SR Quetico 18.5 with worn strip in the front skid plate. This is no where near the end of the world.
kevlar canoe repair - skidplates

 

This is what the wear zone looks like.  You can see the Le Tigre kevlar beneath the black plate. Most folks would now put a new skid plate right over the top, but the rest of the plate is fine.  They usually only wear in one spot, so why replace the whole thing?

kevlar canoe repair - skidplates

This is what kevlar felt looks like.  It is simply felt which is made of kevlar fibers. I just cut a little strip to start. BUT, the key is in the cutting.  You’ll need really sharp, good quality scissors.  Kevlar is unbelievably tough to cut and also comes from Texas Tea.

kevlar canoe repair - skidplates

Here I’m just placing the piece of felt with the ends trimmed to points.  The points make it lay down over the old skid plate better.  If you had a non-black skid plate and were doing this, you’d be skipping the next steps with the aluminum powder and graphite.
kevlar canoe repair - skidplates

Here’s where the felt will end up after you soak it in resin.
kevlar canoe repair - skidplates

Here’s what you need to start.  Epoxy resin, cup, stir stick, rubber gloves – for a regular skid plate canoe.  Add aluminum powder and graphite for a black skid plate canoe.   I use larger containers of 105/205 resin/hardener by West System.  You would not need to use these because they a cost a lot of dough and are WAY more resin than you’ll need.  I’m just trying to scare the tar out of you with this intimidating looking junk.  You can use a couple of West System repair packets which cost only about $16 for a 6 pack.  Two of those packets would work just fine. You DO need the disposable blue glove, a stir stick and the plastic cup.
west system marine epoxy

Mix the resin
Put the resin and hardener into the cup and mix well. I would use two packets of resin from the 6 pack (not pictured because I’m using the pumps)
stir epoxy resin

Now here’s where I get technical. Add a teaspoon of aluminum powder and mix it into the resin. It’s not super critical about the amount. This stuff makes the resin harder by adding microscopic (or at least really fine) aluminum dust to the resin.  When it cures, you can see little “sparklies” in the black epoxy which help reduce wear caused by the Bubba factor.
graphite and aluminum powder

Add a teaspoon of graphite powder.  This stuff is REALLY messy.  Don’t do it when it’s windy outside.  Stir it in as well.  This secret ingredient makes your skid plate slide more easily so that big honking rock has a harder time connecting with the resin.  The fresh rosemary adds that delicate hint of spring and and goes good with a white wine.
graphite and aluminum powder

Mix well and you’ll end up with black goo, Texas Tea, or at least this stuff is made out of Texas Tea – epoxy resin is a petro chemical.

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Kevlar Felt
This is what kevlar felt looks like.  It is simply felt which is made of kevlar fibers. I just cut a little strip to start. BUT, the key is in the cutting.  You’ll need really sharp, good quality scissors.  Kevlar is unbelievably tough to cut and also comes from Texas Tea like epoxy resin.  Without oil, we’d all be paddling birchbark canoes and trust me, the repairs are much more difficult in birchbark – let alone the crazies who’d be protesting and beating tom-toms at the canoe landing for your using a tree improperly. And then, there’s the stepping on helpless, baby protozoans in the parking lot as you carried your birchbark canoe to the water, issue.  How insensitive!!  We need more laws to stop this!!!
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Trim the Felt
Check the felt for size by laying it over the boo boo. I like to cut the ends of it into points to make it lay down more neatly and make a smoother bump.  There will be a little bump because the felt swells up with resin.  In fact, that is what we are trying to accomplish.  The felt allows us to make a thick layer of resin reinforced by a zillion kevlar fibers to prevent it from shattering on impact as a thick layer of resin minus the felt fibers will do.  It acts just like reinforcement rod in concrete.
kevlar canoe repair - skidplates

Put the strip in the black goo and stir it.  You goal is to get it completely soaked in resin.

 

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Looks like a synthetic blood sucker.
kevlar felt in resin

I like to squeeze out some of the excess goo so it’s not too drippy on the canoe to try to prevent it from running down the sides.  Note the gloves.  Since this is epoxy resin and since epoxy resin can be a skin sensitizer to some folks, you want to wear gloves and minimize your skin contact with the stuff lest ye develop an allergic reaction to it.  It can bother some people like a  bad bee sting reaction and we suspect that it bothers women more than men. Well, that would make sense given men’s superiority when compared to women – KIDDING!.  Actually, the folks at Souris River are who let us know about the allergic reactions of epoxy in men vs. women and found (anecdotally) that women appeared to be more sensitive to the epoxy resin (and a whole other bunch of issues that we won’t cover here – Kidding, again!)  Anyway – wear gloves no matter what your gender.
kevlar felt in resin

Simply set the gooey strip onto the boo boo area.
kevlar felt in resin

Not hard to do at all, in fact I’m doing this in one of my very best, slightly wrinkled T-shirts.
skid plate repair kevlar canoe

 

Making it Smooth and Shiny
Next you cover it up with Saran (or other) plastic wrap and use some tape to stretch it smooth.  Kind of like stretching a high-tec beaver hide.  Squeeze out the air bubbles under the plastic with your now ungloved thumb.  Work the air bubbles to the edge of the resin under the plastic.  Try not to squeeze the black goo down the sides of the canoe.  After you are done with the air bubbles, flip the and rightside up and not on the new resin and allow it to cure for about 5 hours.  After 5 hours, flip it back over and peel off the plastic.  Take a sharp knife and you can carefully slice off the excess resin which may have run.
skid plate repair - canoes

Skid plate is done – on to varnish.
repair completed

Applying Varnish
You can now sand down the canoe with 120 grit sand paper to somewhat smooth out the scratches. An orbital sander works best. You should wear a dust mask for this because it gets dusty.  Then wipe down the canoe with a brushing thinner and follow it immediately with a good quality UV blocking,  marine varnish by either wiping it on with a rag or with a foam roller.   The rag will initially do a nicer job.  Wear disposable rubber gloves and  clean up will be a snap.  Allow it to dry two or more days then sand down with 200 grit sand paper, wipe down with thinner and recoat the canoe either with a foam roller or rag.  I prefer the foam roller here because it’s a bit easier to control a uniform coat.  If you do use a foam roller, once the canoe is coated in varnish, grab the roll to prevent it’s rolling and drag it uniformly over the canoe (called tipping) to knock out the little air bubbles that the roller leaves.  Allow canoe to cure for two days and then paddle with abandon or even a friend or family member!
finished canoe repair

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Extreme Canoe Refinishing by Joe

By Red Rock Wilderness Store

Here’s a canoe that has been neglected. This 2001 Souris River Quetico 16 served Red Rock as a reliable rental solo canoe. During the summer of 2001, it found it’s way around the famous Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness taking care of it’s paddler and coming home again, time after time. Then, when winter approached, we set it on top of a relatively obscure canoe trailor for lack of a better storage place on the 4th rung where, for inexplicable reasons, it stayed for all the rest of the years until the present day. It was cruel and I am ashamed…

A customer came along looking for a solo and Curt remembered the Q-16 on the rack. They pulled it down and noted that after spending over 2600 days, exposed to the elements, uncared for, neglected, and frying in the sun for 6 hours per day, the inside of the canoe was in pretty nice shape. The outside was a different story. I’m going to show that story to you, the reader, now.

This is a story of happiness, followed by neglect, then desperation, then joy. OK – no desperation – it’s still only a canoe. This is the tale of a user-friendly, epoxy resin, kevlar solo canoe made by Souris River resting in oblivion, as Mother Nature picked at it unrelentingly. According to all the internet afficionados from the various canoeing bulletinboards, (those self-proclaimed experts of all things “canoe”), this epoxy/kevlar canoe should now…be…dead. After all, epoxy resin degrades in sunlight. It breaks down. It falls apart. (Read this next sentence like Shatner would) It…is…susceptible to the elements, the beast called…the outdoors.

To all the experts, I say once again, BULL. To the masters of misinformation, the worriers of all things canoe, the panickers of performance, I ask once again, “Why don’t you just ALL shut up?” Again, you are talking out of turn and making good people worry with much ado about nothing.

In fact, for those of you who hold out among the last bastion of thinking humans, the following story in pictures will be interesting and helpful. To those blind followers of the vinylester/kevlar walkway, you will be sputtering that this simply cannot be possible because you’ve heard epoxy falls apart with extreme exposure to the elements.

Sorry to crunch your canoe…

Let’s begin:

Here it is. 7 years of Momma Nature hammering this poor, innocent hunk of kevlar.

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And, the view from the other side. Note that it is the color of the gravel behind.
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This is NOT gravel. It’s the scene of black dirt forming with micro plant life on the hull. Possibly the early throws of life as it begins the evolutionary process along the path to becoming dinosaurs… or asparagus.

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Here’s a closer shot of the absolute sign that this canoe should be dead by any other canoe expert standards: lichens! When you can feed your reindeer herd with the plants growing on your canoe, that must mean the bulletin-board afficionados are right about epoxy resin canoes, eh?

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Here I sand off the lichens and I’m using (gasp, shock, sputter!) 80 grit sandpaper. YES! 80 grit even if you think – no, believe – it’s too harsh, that is not the case with a used Souris River Canoe! Go ahead, second-guess my technique all day long…you’ll still be wrong.

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Oh, my stars and garters! If you look close at this sanded region, you will note that unlike anything Brand X canoes ever made in kevlar canoes, Souris River uses a thin layer of fiberglass on the outside. Guess what? Fiberglass, unlike kevlar, can be sanded safely. You know what it means when you see the fiberglass cross hatches on a SR Canoe? Nothing.

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Moved canoe inside after sanding. Way less fiberglass dust inside as a result. Always wear a mask when sanding glass. Makes sharp, itchy dust. Before bringing inside, I hosed down the sanded canoe with a garden hose to take off the dust and let it dry for a day before coating with epoxy resin. Please, ignore messy shop.

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Now, I could have just given this canoe two coats of varnish and called it even, but since the fiberglass was fairly exposed on the outside, I applied West System epoxy resin. Epoxy is harder than varnish and really strong. It took about 13 pumps of resin coat this entire canoe. I could varnish this canoe after the epoxy cures for added UV protection although it’s not the end of the world if I don’t.

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I used the canoe as my personal paint tray. Just dump and roll.

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Here you see more of the rolling process. I used a foam roller because it was the only thing I could find. Fortunately, that’s what I prefer although a low-knapped fuzzy roller would have worked, too.

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Here you can see the wet epoxy resin on the left half and yet another clearer view of the fiberglass layer after being sanded with (OMG!) 80 grit sandpaper and washed with a garden hose!!!!

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Ta-da!
Here is the finished product. Whew, that was tough and extremely technical as you have just seen. Sand, hose, paint. I need a degree in engineering to figure that out. Note the color came back, too! 7+ years of frying, freezing and frickaseeing and this lichen loving canoe is in A1 operating condition.

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Interestingly enough, 7+ years of withstanding 100+ degree F temps in the sun down to -45 degrees below (real temp, not that phony windchill stuff) and 24 inches of snow, this Souris River Quetico 16 (epoxy resin and kevlar cloth) is unharmed. Now, I gotta ask what you think would have happened to a vinylester resin/kevlar canoe if it spent 7 years on the top bars of a lonely, forgotten, canoe trailer in northern Minnesota?  I know what would happen, but do the canoe afficionados know it too?