View Full Version : Canoe Seat Cane

Doug Canada
02-05-2005, 09:31 AM

I just ordered 3.25mm (common chair) cane from W.H. Kilby in Toronto.
I was recommended to use a natural cane as opposed to a synthetic cane.

What is the best way to preserve the natural cane?
- (tung) Oil?
- I was told not to varnish it, because it would become dry & brittle.


Todd Bradshaw
02-05-2005, 10:48 AM
I varnished the top sides of the cane on the seats of my Old Town Guide in 1972 when I bought it and the bow seat still looks fine. The varnish has darkened a bit as varnish will do, but it matches that on the seat frames, thwarts, etc. The stern seat was also doing fine until a couple years ago. I was loading the boat on our van and accidentally set the seat on a Yakima gunwale bracket in the process, which punched a hole in the cane. I re-caned it, gave it a couple coats of orange shellac to make it match color-wise and then varnished it, too. When exactly are they supposed to get brittle, cause I'm getting tired of waiting for them to fail?

The thing I like about varnishing them is that it helps keep them clean. Raw cane and oiled cane tend to get dirt ground into them over the years and there doesn't seem to be a good way to get it out.

02-05-2005, 01:03 PM
What Todd said.

I dunno if it makes any difference or not, but I will also occasionally wipe some thinned boiled linseed oil on the unvarnished underside. A pro-caner suggested to me once to put a thin coat of varnish on the top side of canoe seats too.

Bill Bliss
02-22-2005, 09:52 PM
Last year, I finished my natural cane seats with spar varish. I used a sprayer to avoid drips on the underside. I coated the cane and the thwarts at the same time. Time will tell if it holds up (although if I was really serious about durability, I would have used synthetic cane). I debated how (or whether) to finish the cane for quite awhile. In the end, they came out looking great.

Before applying varnish, I took a propane torch and very carefully applied a lick of flame to the top of the cane -- this burns off the fuzz that will become sharp needles if varnished.

I did not find a lot of information about natural cane work for boats -- I was pretty much winging it. The thing about torching the cane, I actually learned from Martha Stewart.

I did not apply any varnish to the underside -- although you could probaby argue that one either way -- sealing versus 'breathing' and all that..

That's my two cents.


Paul Scheuer
02-23-2005, 10:08 AM
Whatever you put on, or don't put on, the cane, make sure it's thin. You dont want to "glue" the crosses. The whole concept is that cane needs to be free to move, however slightly.

You should also know that there is somewhat of a debate on cane patterns.

The jury's still out on the final finish for these.


I believe that this was the original 1910 Morris weave pattern. The one improvement I might consider on the next project would be to create a rabbet on the underside of the frame to recess the knots.

02-23-2005, 10:22 AM
If you want to save some time and money, use binder twine in place of cane and then varnish it.

Todd Bradshaw
02-23-2005, 11:43 AM
I'm sure the spar varnish I used on mine "glued the crosses" - at least to some extent and at 33 years and counting it hasn't been a problem. When they get wet from something like a day of paddling in the rain the cane will sag and stretch a bit, but it dries back to shape. There seems to be an awful lot of theoretical information on seat cane and the merits of this method vs. that method floating around. My experience would tend to indicate that as long as you treat it with reasonable care and keep it protected from storage conditions where it would weather badly, it's pretty durable stuff - both varnished or when left natural.

I've never really understood using plastic cane in a wooden boat when real cane can last for decades. I just don't care to paddle my wooden canoe from a plastic seat. I also wonder about the U.V. lifespan of plastic cane, since that's what will most likely eventually destroy it.

02-23-2005, 01:24 PM
I don't understand not using plastic cane. It matches the epoxy on my strippers.

If I do need to recane the seats on my wifes wood and canvas canoe (Kennebec), I will use the real thing.

Doug Canada
02-23-2005, 04:13 PM
FYI, this is the seat, I've made;
(for the Osprey solo canoe, also at Green Valley)

Got the (natural) cane the other day.
Will probably finish it with a tung oil?
I was told by the "cane people" that varnish only one side.
And that varnish may possibly dry out the cane and cause it to become brittle.


Todd Bradshaw
02-23-2005, 04:42 PM
Yeah, it might (in 40 or 50 years) but ten years from now it will probably look a lot cleaner, even though the varnish will darken some. Oil finishes aren't known for repelling dirt that gets worked into them, which is why I was never too keen on oiled cane. I wonder if anybody has actually tested cane with a moisture meter to see how fast it dries out after the initial soaking and weaving. I'd think that within a few months at best it's back at normal moisture content.

When I used to fly balloons and worked for a balloon inspector there were similar rumors about the wicker balloon baskets. Some people claimed that you needed to hose them down periodically to keep the wicker from drying out. Others never did anything to them. Some baskets were oiled, some varnished, some left raw. We inspected a lot of old baskets and occasionally had to do some re-weaving of broken strands. Bark rattan seemed to last better than the extruded stuff with the bark stripped off, but the ones which had been soaked didn't seem to last any longer or to be any more supple than those that had been kept dry. They did, however, usually have more ugly gray waterstained strands than the others.

Doug Canada
02-23-2005, 08:12 PM
"I'd think that within a few months at best it's back at normal moisture content."

Is this not what you want?

I don't realy mind a dirty (canoe) seat.

I really want it to last a few years.
Plastic (cane) seems hot & strethcy.