REFINISHING AN ALUMINUM CANOE
If you’re anything like me, when someone says cottage at the lake, the first things that come to mind are wood finishes, Muskoka chairs, loons and a classic red canoe. We were excited that the purchase price of our cottage included the latter, even though it was in need of a touch-up. While I’m no expert (more of a self-proclaimed DIYer), as long as the canoe floated, and it did, I was up to the challenge of refinishing it.
Aluminum canoes are lightweight and durable, with corrosion-resistant bodies. If cared for properly, they can last a long time. And a great way to extend their longevity is to paint them. While there are several steps involved, overall this is a low-cost, high-reward project.
First I cleaned the canoe, which I raised on a pair of sawhorses to a comfortable working height. Your workspace should be well-ventilated, dry and protected from any debris. You don’t want anything sticking to the newly applied paint.
Though it’s a relatively low-risk project, having the right safety equipment is important. While stripping and sanding, it’s a good idea to wear eye protection and gloves to shield against wayward metal fillings. (The gloves are also good to wear while painting so you don't end up with red hands to match your newly painted red canoe).
A former boss often said “Proper preparation makes perfect presentation”. Those words stuck with me and were fitting for this project. If I hadn’t prepared the canoe for painting by removing all of the tape, glue, gunk and anything else stuck on it first, the end result wouldn’t have been as polished. I even removed a pool noodle with about 10 layers of tape over it (a remnant of a DIY cushion). This was a tedious but necessary task. If your canoe was previously painted, you may need to use a paint stripper on it.
After the canoe was clean, it was time to sand it. I used a combination of 40- and 80-grit sandpaper to remove the last of the residue and rough up the body to prepare it for painting. After doing so, the canoe should have a shiny, slightly textured appearance.
I then power rinsed the canoe using a hose with a spray nozzle attached to it. I also gave it a once over using a soapy rag and soft brush. I washed it twice to ensure I removed all of the metal filings and dust. After all that sanding and cleaning, I took a break while letting the canoe dry.
It was finally time to start painting. After hours of preparation work, applying that first shiny red coat was very rewarding. I used a high-gloss alkyd enamel marine paint to ensure water resistance and durability.
I painted the bottom side first, but it could be argued that you should start on the top. While researching, I read articles that suggested either way was fine.
By using a combination of a small paint roller and a brush, I made quick work of my task. After applying the first coat in the hot sun, I waited about four hours for it to dry. As you can imagine, from that point it was a matter of paint, dry, repeat, paint, dry, repeat. Two coats on the bottom, two coats on the top and any touch ups required as I went.
Once the painting was done, I let the canoe dry for the week before taking it out for the first ride around the lake. Technically, only 48 hours is needed for it to cure, but I wanted to make sure it was good and set.
What’s next? I have an old rowboat that needs some love but it’s taking in water quickly, so I’m debating whether to fix it or work with the leaks by adding a few more holes and converting it to a distinctive waterfront planter. Either way, I’ll take my learnings from the canoe project and apply them to the rowboat when I refinish it.
Text and photos by Shane Butner