Hardest finish for hull?

I finished my shearwater all varnish, deck and hull. It was real pretty on day 1.

It is getting a lot of use, scratched everytime out one way or another. This does not bother me much (I thought it would!). I am enjoying paddling this kayak too much to stress out over scratches and gouges.

I predict by the end of the summer, it will be looking pretty bad (or well used) and will/may need a tune up over the winter.

What is the hardest finish for the hull? Is it varnish or is the paint harder? If paint, one part or 2 part any different from one another as far as hardness for the finished product?


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RE: Hardest finish for hull?

I don't know if paint is any harder.  I think any glossy finish is going to show scratches. 

I painted the hull of my Skerry using Kirby's low luster and it's really easy to touch up.  I scratch the bottom of my boat all year by landing on rocky shores and whenever the whim strikes me I will touch up the paint.  Sometimes I do most of the bottom, but often I just hit areas that look worn, first with the ROS and 220, then with a fresh coat.  If any scratches are deep I feel them with marine polyester filler first.  Usually even the deep scratches are not going through the epoxy and fiberglass, so I figure that any filling I am doing is just cosmetic and the polyester putty sets hard enough to sand in minutes.

When I paint just a patch instead of the whole hull, you can see that fresh patch as being different from the rest of the hull, but it's a subtle difference  (again due to the low gloss paint) and it looks fine to me.  It looks like a boat that is used but cared for.  It probably doesn't take me more than an hour total including clean up, and I would rather keep it simple.

I finished the inside bright, and I don't bother to touch up varnish without doing the whole thing at once, so that's more like a once a year thing.   

When I build a kayak I plan on using the same approach.

RE: Hardest finish for hull?

Dang, I meant "fill" them with marine polyester filler first

RE: Hardest finish for hull?

Right, paint won't show scratches & dings as much as varnish.  However, when I spend months building and finishing a wooden boat, I have a hard time with the thought of hiding all that work under paint.  A light sanding with 220 grit using a good random orbit sander and a coat of varnish will bring most topsides up to new-like finish.  A buff-out with an electric buffer is sometimes all that's needed.  I sand and varnish the hull, too, and don't get too excited about surface scratches on the bottom....those are just a fact of life with all boats. 

RE: Hardest finish for hull?

It may be too late now, but a lot of people have tried adding graphite powder and some other addatives to the mix to get a more durable hull.  I think it's usually done during the varnish/paint stage.  Perhaps you can do that, add the graphite and also paint with a dark color so you get added durability and it doesn't show even when scratched.



RE: Hardest finish for hull?

Polyurethane is much harder than varnish. Problem is, its adhesion to varnish is poor unless the surface is well scuffed dull, and even then it will peel. Best to use it from the start. Some folks don't like polyurethane due to its total membrane properties similar to latex but it is hard and resists scratching as well as anything on the market - similar to powder coating.

Personally, I'm old fashoned and like varnish and the patina. So, a light scuff and a thinned coat of fresh varnish every couple of years. 


Bill C. 

RE: Hardest finish for hull?

I chose graphite as a bottom finish when I built my kayak last winter, and have been happy with it. I was certain I'd acquire scratches over time, but hated the idea of anyone seeing a grown man cry in public. As it turned out I'm not as sensitive as I thought I might be, and over the last year when the hull has scraped across anything, the graphite just looks scuffed rather than scratched. It seems to be a harder surface and the matte finish hides better.

I couldn't find too much info on-line but I think it was 1:10 ratio of powered graphite to epoxy. It takes at least two thin coats to cover well, so you might add 6-8 ounces to your hull weight.  I like the flat black look, and it was easy to just do the two bottom panels on each side, which ends up just below my waterline.

RE: Hardest finish for hull?

See "Varnish" below.  The MINWAX Helmsman Spar Urethane Gloss is not only the easiest to use and cheapest, it is also the hardest finish I have come across.  I just completed my cedar Strip Sea Wolf (Newfound Wood Works) and gave it six coats.  It looks like a $million$.

RE: Hardest finish for hull?

I like the idea of a graphite finish on the hull bottom. I addition to not distracting the other paddlers by my screams when I scrape the bottom, this also evokes Homer's image of the "black-hulled ships" of the Achaeans.

RE: Hardest hull? Graphite & buff the scuffs


I vote for graphite(West Marine), which I've added up to 33%, a teaspoon to 1/2 ounce of resin and hardener--you can experiment with how much--the more you use, the less likely you'll have to add a second coat with its attendant weight.   I applied to my hull bottom and enough to just come up a bit above the chine.   I also painted a thin strip along the keel at both stern and bow.  The next kayak may get a strip along the sheer as well.  I have graphite on both a white painted hull of one kayak and a bright finished hull of another kayak--both look good.    My daughter dropped the stern end of one kayak on asphalt, no big deal.

You can also apply graphite to the part of the deck where your paddle occasionally strikes, though you may want to do it artistically so that it seems like a part of the graphic.  I have attached a buffing wheel to my drill and had some success polishing up the paddle blade scuffs. 

RE: Hardest finish for hull?

If you are happy with the bright finish and want to keep it take a cloe look at System 3 clear water based linear polyurethane although you do not get the great amber color of Varnish its surface is extremely tough and it has very high UV resistance It takes a little practice to apply so make sure you follow manufacturor specs and run some test panels first, this stuff is about as durable as the Imron paint they put on Semi Trucks and will hold up well


C Fox Wood Boat School


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