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Cedar and Spruce

One o the most frequently asked questions put forward by our readers is: what is the best way top recanvas a deck: At one point in time, nearly every marine could recanvas a deck. Unfortunately, this simple skill is quickly becoming a lost art. To make matters worse, many of the sources for materials used by boatwrights are drying up.

Like many boat building skills, there is more than one way to recanvas a deck. My favorite is outlined below:

Clear the Deck

Most canvases can be easily removed after taking off the gunwale, coamings, and deck hardware. In most cases, the old canvas was stretched and stapled under the gunwale moldings and coamings. In the unfortunate event the canvas was glued on, or the deck was fiberglassed, you have two options:
  1. call the previous owner and have them come over and remove the canvas; or,
  2. if the fiberglass is good, leave it and canvas over it.

Swab the Deck

The next step is to fill and fair the deck. Most original decks were made of cedar planks, and over the years they need to have screw holes, dents, and cracks filled (I recommend thickened epoxy). Don't bother with the seams; they're part of the charm. Soft spots should be removed and replaced. While western red cedar planking would be authentic, marine grade fir plywood does the job. Silicon bronze anchor nails are recommended to secure the decking.


I recommend using #6 canvas duck (note this is not 6 oz.) 60" wide by 19' long. It used to be that one could order this type of canvas from a marine supply house. I don't know of any that stock it today. As a result, I've had to search out local canvas tarp makers who will either stock it for me or special order it. Prices will vary; you can expect to pay between $35 and $90 for the canvas.

By now someone out there has realized that the 60" canvas isn't wide enough to reach across the beam of the boat. So here's the technique. Roll the canvas out on the deck, and starting at the bow, staple the canvas onto the boat around the gunwale. Staples should be about 1/2" below the deck edge radius. Stretch the canvas as you go, only enough to get all the wrinkles out. Once you get to the leading edge of the cockpit, split the canvas don the middle about 4/5ths the way down the cockpit. Now you can continue stretching the canvas over the deck, around the cockpit, stapling at both the gunwale and the coaming. Continue until the new canvas covers the entire deck and is firmly secured with staples. Oh, on thing, be sure to use stainless steel, brass, or bronze staples.

Here's the Dope

Here's where various techniques part. The canvas must be treated with some compound to render it waterproof, rot resistant, paintable, and taut. I recommend using butyrate airplane dope with taughtening. Three coats normally do the job.

Butyrate dope can be applied with a simple stiff bristle brush. The first coat should be mixed according to the manufacturer's instructions with a fungicide to prevent rot. The canvas will drink this first coat almost immediately, but wait 24 hours before applying a second coat.

If you have any of the fungicide mixture left over from the first coat, feel free to use it up on the second coat. Otherwise, use pure butyrate. This second coat should soak up quickly as well.

The third coat can be applied 24 hours later. By now, the canvas should be fairly saturated and the butyrate will pool. Brush out the pools to get an even saturation.

After the third coat cures, place a bright light near the bow and look at reflections on the deck. Apply additional dope at the dull, flat spots indicated by the light. You're going to use about a gallon of dope.

Trimming the Tree

Now that the canvas has been doped up, you can trim off the excess canvas around the gunwale and the coaming. Using a razor blade, leave about a 1/2" skirt under the staples, resulting in a total skirt width of about 1" below the deck gunwale radius.


Finally, it's time to paint the new canvas. Any good quality one part marine enamel will do. If you want to go with a historic color, try sea green, buff of off-white. Two coats of paint should do it.

Well, there it is. This process isn't very difficult or time consuming. In a crunch. I've done the job by myself in a weekend. For more tip, or help finding supplies, feel free to call or write me care of:

Sailboat Shop
1322 East Genesse Street
Skaneateles, NY 13152

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