Hello, Paddler!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

Wood gunnel care?

With the new canoe having all wood gunnels ect. what is a good oil to use in the care of it? more importantly what is the best choice to get frome lowes tru value or home improvment stores.


  • penetrating oil or varnish
    Some prefer a bright finish (polyurethane or varnish) on wood gunwales and it does have more staying power than penetrating oil, but it tends to get scratched.

    I have used Watco regular penetrating oil, Watco exterior penetrating oil, Watco teak oil, Deks Olje (a Danish oil that is hard to find these days), Gunwale Guard, and Formby's Tung Oil finish. They all work pretty well but I wouldn't suggest Gunwale Guard as it tends to get gummy.

    Unless your boat is going to stay outside all the time exposed to sunlight you don't need to get the exterior formulation of Watco oil. The regular works just fine.

    Some folks use plain boiled linseed oil, but I have found that straight boiled linseed oil tends to mildew. Some people swear by a "home brew" that usually is a concoction of boiled linseed oil with vinegar and some type of organic solvent like turpentine or even kerosene mixed in but I haven't used them. Some folks also mix a little varnish in with their Watco oil. If you want to darken the wood a little, you can mix a small amount of walnut or cherry stain into your oil.

    The Watco Teak oil seems to have a little better staying power than the regular and it tends to darken light colored ash a bit more than regular Watco oil which you may or may not like. It is also more expensive than regular Watco oil.

    People claim that Formby's Tung Oil finish has little actual tung oil in it. I really don't care as it gives a nice sheen and is fairly easy to apply.

    Most hardware or box stores will have Watco oil and probably Watco Teak oil and Formby's as well.

    I usually apply the Watco products with a paint brush and then wipe off the excess after it soaks in. The Formby's is applied with a cloth and rubbed in sort of like a liquid wax.

    I think a nice sheen is largely a product of repeated application and hand rubbing as hand warmth tends to allow the oil to penetrate better.
  • We use tung oil on ours
    But if you slide your canoe on your vehicle racks, you'll have to use it yearly.
    I think it gives a beautiful low lustre finish, plush sheds the water

  • It's all about maintenance.
    Just about anything will work if you reapply it when necessary.

    Most use whatever's easily obtained, like Watco. Maintenance intervals depend on usage, handling, and storage environment.
  • I wish it had worked out that way for me
    -- Last Updated: Nov-03-12 9:12 AM EST --

    "The Watco Teak oil seems to have a little better staying power than the regular and it tends to darken light colored ash a bit more than regular Watco oil..."

    I recently oiled a new cane seat with Watco Teak Oil expecting and hoping it would darken the ash wood somewhat. No dice. It looks just like it did before the oil, but with a little sheen. I'm going to have to sand it down again and stain it, then re-oil.

    BTW, Watco Teak oil is not just oil, it contains some varnish. I think some people call it a "wipe-on varnish".

  • wood
    I use watco oil on my MR explorer. I even unscrew the gunnels and get behind it with rags or some narrow applicator
  • Wood trim
    -- Last Updated: Nov-03-12 11:17 AM EST --

    I use Watco Teak Oil & have for several years. Typically 2 coats of it(as needed).
    I let it dry between coat # 1 & #2.
    Works for me; no mixing, easy to apply, and have never had a problem.

    Be sure to wipe off any drips on the hull.


  • I have found that
    repeated applications of Watco Teak oil tend to darken light colored ash a bit over time, at least relative to regular Watco oil. Might be the varnish in the Watco teak oil ambering a bit with aging.

    If you want significantly darker rails, I would suggest applying stain before oiling, or mixing a little stain in with the penetrating oil. Ash seems to take up the Minwax cherry stain very nicely, especially if you first use the Minwax stain prep.
  • As noted in another thread, oil finishes
    in general contain a varnish component. The thinnest oil I've used, Minwax 209 clear, contains a varnish component.

    But that varnish component is not as effective a sealer and surface hardener as quality spar or polyurethane varnish.

    Others have pointed out that even thin oils like Minwax 209 leave only a very thin layer of penetration.

    And I'll just say again that increasing moisture content will weaken wood somewhat. Epoxy and varnish minimize moisture infiltration. Oiling? I don't think so.
  • Watco comes in many stains
    If you are trying to change the color of light wood when using Watco, keep in mind that you can get Watco Teak (my favorite) with many different stains mixed in. I'm currently using medium walnut.

    Watco is a mixture of linseed oil, varnish and drying chemicals.

    "Oiling" with Watco is something you will have to do at least twice a season to keep them in shiny shape. Five coats of a good polyurethane or spar varnish can last many years in my experience.

    Alternatively, you can do a good varnish job the first time and then touch up occasionally with a wipe-on varnish, especially where the paddle rubs the gunwales. That's what I do with my wooden paddle blades.
  • OK I'll be the odd ball...
    I use a mixture of 50% turpentine and 50% linseed oil.


  • Pleasant aroma.
    There's nothing oddball about the traditional homebrew.

    Add a little varnish, a metallic siccative, and some fungicide, then switch mineral spirits for the turpentine and you've basically got outdoor Watco.
  • Watko
    -- Last Updated: Nov-06-12 8:56 AM EST --

    But I use my canoes a lot and have to slide them onto racks. I find that I sand and apply at least every 2-3 months, unless it's a boat that sits in the barn unused. The minimum I would apply, Mike, would be twice a year.

    An old friend told me to try Olive oil once, and as I recall it worked? But haven't tried that in a long time. Seems like I had to put several coats on, but had a nice sheen and "Felt" smooth. Been almost a decade ago, but must have not been "Perfect" since I went back to Watko.

  • fungicide
    I think that is why some folks add vinegar to the mixture.
  • Watco yes - Deks Olje yes yes
    -- Last Updated: Nov-06-12 2:31 PM EST --

    I've used Watco Teak (Marine) for years and like it a lot, but I've had better results with Deks Olje. In 1985 I applied 4 or 5 coats of step 1, then 2 coats of step 2 to the rails on my Proem 85. I've never needed to do any other maintenance and have used this boat extensively. The wood looks about the same as it did in 1985.

    Here are pictures taken of that canoe within the past year.








  • I agree
    The nicest looking finish I ever got was with Deks Olje but it has sort of disappeared from stores in the US.

    I know there are sources available on-line. Have you bought any lately? If so, where did you get it?
  • About a month ago
    I bought Deks 1 and 2 from here:


    They seemed to have about the lowest price. I want to use it on one of my Reverie 2s.
  • Wow!
    My compliments. I've been using Watco on my Explorer's ash gunwales, and while I like the way it makes them look I might have to pony up for some of that if it will get me those kinds of results. Much longer lasting too.
  • Deks Olje ingredients ...
    ... are essentially the same as Watco -- linseed oil, varnish and solvents/driers -- though in different proportions, according to the material safety data sheets.

    As to Mike's Proem -- reportedly stored between uses in the Smithsonian preservation vault -- I would ask what kind of wood that is. Red oak?
  • Ingredients may be similar
    but the results are different.

    Part of this might be the difference in the application process.
  • I'm really surprised to hear
    -- Last Updated: Nov-06-12 9:36 PM EST --

    they are essentially the same. You're a believable source in my book Glenn, but I remember that the odor of Deks was distinctively different from Watco. That is very unscientific, I know, but the results have been obvious to me. I've used Watco marine on all other canoes I've owned, stored them in the same vault in the Smithsonian, and I still have to re-Watco those about every year.

    The wood on the Proem is mahogany. ... and really while I've always stored all my canoes indoors, I've had this canoe out hundreds of times and on many, many trips. Yes I treat my canoes well, but I think probably most of us do.


  • Watco and Deks behave quite differently
    -- Last Updated: Nov-07-12 3:00 AM EST --

    For those who are unfamiliar with Deks Olje, Deks D1 is the basic penetrating oil. Deks D2 is applied after application of D1 if you desire a satin or high gloss finish.

    To get the best results, the Deks must be applied according to instructions. D1 is applied to the wood in repeated coats, about every 15 minutes or so, until the wood will not take any more. This will typically be 5-6 coats. If D2 is not applied after D1 the finish will be matte (but quite pleasant).

    If you want a satin finish you can apply a couple of coats of a 50:50 mixture of D1 and D2. If you want a high gloss finish, multiple coats of D2 are applied.

    The main difference between the handling of Watco and Deks is how the oil penetrates the wood. Deks seems to penetrate better. Of course, you can try to emulate the Deks D1 application process with Watco, but after about the 3rd coat, Watco just sits on the surface of the wood and turns gummy, unlike the Deks.

    So the Deks application process is more time consuming and Deks is considerably more expensive. But in my experience it produces a much nicer luster and is way more durable than Watco oils.

    I have known people who have gotten cosmetic results with Watco oils nearly equal to that of Deks, but they applied Watco oil after every trip out. So maybe if you are willing to apply it dozens of times a year, Watco will eventually penetrate wood to the same extent Deks does.

  • Penetratingly ambiguous stuff
    I have no position on which of these "oils" produce better results for different users on different woods.

    I do know that neither Watco nor Deks Olje is an oil per se, but both rather are mixtures of linseed oil and different combinations of different forms of petroleum naphtha. I don't see how the oil of either could "penetrate" more than the other, since the oil in both cases is linseed oil.

    More generally, I don't really understand why why any of these oil mixtures are different from varnishes, broadly defined, and indeed Deks 2 is marketed as a "high gloss oil varnish". Perhaps the primary difference is the amount of linseed oil in the formulation and the cure speeds of the drier and solvent chemicals.

    I suspect the finish of each of these products is determined simply by how many multiple layers are ultimately built up on top of each other, and how hard they dry, so as to enhance protection, gloss and lasting ability -- the same way that is done with products labeled simply as varnishes.

    I note that the Deks technical data specify that the product has been formulated for "thick, dense, oily and hard to impregnate woods" such as teak, mahogany, oak, and a bunch of tropical exotics I have never heard of. From all this, it seems reasonable that Deks, if applied properly, would be a very good finish for mahogany woodwork on a canoe.

    I don't know if ash, pine and spruce, which are common gunnel materials on flat water canoes, fall into Deks' target of thick, dense, oily and hard to impregnate woods. However, spar varnish has worked well for me on these wood gunnels, giving many years of lasting gloss. Watco also does a very nice job, especially if rubbed properly to gloss, but it has to be applied much more frequently than spar varnish and probably Deks varnish.
  • Deks versus Watco versus varnish
    -- Last Updated: Nov-07-12 12:57 PM EST --

    Deks D1 is a penetrating oil that results in a finish similar (but better) than Watco oil. Both are very different from the finish obtained with a good quality varnish, however. The difference in the finish is very readily apparent. Although Deks is more durable than Watco, it doesn't have the staying power of polyurethane or spar varnish, but it doesn't scratch up the same either.

    Watco makes a Satin Wax product that can be applied over their regular penetrating oil that does produce a fair satin finish but not as nice as using the Deks D1:D2 mixture. To my knowledge, Watco doesn't make a product that produces a finish equivalent to the high gloss finish obtained by applying undiluted D2 over D1. I haven't tried applying varnish over Watco. I don't know how that would work out.

    When I bought my first wood gunwaled (an MRC Explorer) back in the 1970s, I bought a quart of D1 and D2 from a local supplier in Minneapolis and used it every couple of years until I moved. After that, I couldn't find Deks locally and switched to Watco oil and have used several varieties. It is pretty easy to apply a quick coat of Watco, but I find that it doesn't stay nearly as well. After car-topping my boats and paddling them there are often bare looking areas along the midships gunwales and where the racks contact the rails after even one weekend trip. And I have never gotten as nice an appearance with Watco as with Deks, although Watco is not bad.

    I think if you would use the product the difference in qualities between Deks and Watco would be immediately apparent.

    White ash varies somewhat in density but is generally considered a denser wood, not as dense as some teaks, but comparable to maple and most mahoganies with some varieties approaching the density of hickory. It is generally considerably denser than spruce and most pines.

  • I think "penetrating oil" is ...
    ... largely a marketing term. The oil in all these mixtures and in all varnishes -- which often is linseed -- surely penetrates somewhat. But how much penetration is going on?

    Deks 1 recommends a minimum of 2 coats or more until you are satisfied with the finish. On top of that, Deks 2 -- marketed as a "varnish" -- recommends 6 coats as optimum. Clearly, all this goop in 8-12 layers is not penetrating the wood; it is simply building up in layers on top of itself.

    These heavy oil mixtures may not dry as hard as a spar varnish, which actually is fairly flexible itself. Polyurethane dries even harder and should be more waterproof than spar varnish.

    I did get a can of Deks Olje when I bought my Dagger Encore. Dagger gave it away with the canoe. It was only one can, so maybe it was Deks 1. I applied it and didn't notice any difference from Watco. It looked gone and the gunwales looked dry within a year. But I don't think I've applied anything in the 20 years since, with the canoe stored outside all that time, so maybe it's still doing something protective.

    Speaking just for myself, whether or not I get a nice protective and aesthetic finish on my canoe woodwork and paddles is overwhelmingly a function of how diligent I am in refinishing the wood when it starts to look bad -- no matter what finish I began with. That's why some of my boats rot and others look good.

    Mike McCrea has test panels of six or eight different finishes. I wonder how they are faring. Too bad he does't post here.
  • I agree, Glenn.
    -- Last Updated: Nov-07-12 2:11 PM EST --

    The CW on oil finishes is that any difference in surface penetration depends as much or more on the species to which they are applied as anything and that traditional varnish application achieves comparable depth of "penetration" on long grain. Really, we're talking about dimensions measured in microns here.

    Scrape the tip of a sharp nail across a gunnel and tell me how deep the finish has penetrated and hardened in the wood. Safe bet it's about as deep as a sheet of newsprint is thick.

    The differences between the various oil/solvent/varnish finishes are minor variations on formulas that joiners, carpenters, and shipbuilders have been using for generations. There are modern resins and refined solvents that may be tougher or cheaper and the proportions may vary a bit, but it's mostly marketing that attempts to differentiate most of these products.

    I always thought "penetrating oil" was stuff you put on rusted nuts and bolts to loosen them.

  • That is exactly why I now use CPES
    I find the epoxy penetrating sealer outlasts anything else I have tried. I use marine varnish over it just to enhance aesthetics, and the varnish can be easily touched up. Not inexpensive, but the longevity more than pays for itself.
  • That looks like it's got potential.

    Wish I'd known about that before I replaced wood on and repainted my shed.
  • Epoxy - what about sun damage?
    As I recall, epoxy can't protect itself or what's underneath from UV damage. I vividly recall Mike McCrea's epoxy-only test panel.

    Unless the CPES formula has UV inhibitors, it would seem wise to use UV protectant varnish over it.

  • The varnish provides UV protection.
    Yes, epoxy under varnish works well and looks nice. I built two wooden sea kayaks. The decks were 'glassed with epoxy and then varnished. No problem with UV degradation of the epoxy. And epoxy does work wonderfully well as a wood sealer.
  • Well, I agree in part
    -- Last Updated: Nov-07-12 4:41 PM EST --

    I don't think that oil finishes penetrate the wood to any significant extent and yes, the finished part of the wood is easily scratched off, perhaps more easily than a varnish or polyurethane finish.

    I do find, however, that while sharing similarities, different oil products handle quite differently and produce significantly different results.

    I think polyurethane or varnish is a terrific finish for wood that is not subject to much abrasion but is subject to long periods of continuous UV exposure, such as the deck of a wooden motorboat. Oil finishes on wood that is left outdoors sometimes attracts dust and dirt and greys. Most canoes are not left outside for very long periods of time, however.

    There are a lot of folks who prefer using oil finishes on the gunwales of their canoes, if not on all the wood trim. Are we all dupes of a marketing ploy?

    I think those who prefer an oil finish accept that the finish will need to be renewed more frequently than a varnish or polyurethane finish but choose oil because of the ease of application. Oil finishes, unlike varnish, are rather indifferent to the method of application. Varnish needs to be applied carefully to avoid sags and runs and for best results should be wet-sanded between coats. The wet varnish seems to attract every gnat and bug in the neighborhood while it is drying. And it is difficult, if not impossible to apply more than one coat per day.

    Even for an oil finish with a rather involved application process like Deks D1, it is possible to apply 6 coats to a canoe's gunwales in an
    afternoon. Applying 6 coats of varnish is a week long task. Once the initial application of the oil finish is done, touch up is also much quicker and easier than for a bright finish.

    Another reason some prefer oil finished gunwales is simply the way they look, which is very significantly different from a bright finish.

    It seems that this topic has about been beaten to death, but if anyone really wants additional opinions regarding oil finishes vs bright finishes, go on over to the wooden boat forum. Wooden boat owners tend to be pretty fussy about their wood. Here is a thread regarding Deks and other oil finishes: http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthread.php?4587-Oil-finishes-Deks-Olje&highlight=Deks+Olje

    Not everyone there is a fan of oil finishes but this post pretty much mirrors my experience with Deks Olje:

    " Deks #1 is a true matte, rich-looking oil finish. I don't know what's in it in terms of UV absorbers, but as long as it's maintained it doesn't seem to look much different as time goes by. I'm not sure I'd leave a boat in the water or out in the weather with only Deks #1 as a protector, but for dinghies or small boats that get covered storage, it holds up quite well, as will a lot of other coatings.

    The ease of application, fast initial application and drying times compared to many other oil products (it's not still sticky two weeks after application, unlike some oils) easy touch-ups and that nice looking subtle finish are what I have always liked about it. The key to getting lasting results seems to be learning to apply a fresh coat before it starts looking like it needs it. That way you don't need to go in and sand any areas that have dirt ground into them.

    Since I tend to approach re-varnishing as an unwanted chore, the fact that Deks is easy and quick to re-apply tends to simplify the process to the point where I don't put it off until the last possible moment. I've also used #1 as a base layer for varnish a couple times, instead of priming with diluted varnish. I don't know what the chemistry involved is or whether it's a good idea or not, but it seemed to hold up pretty well.

    They used to run an ad in WB for Deks Olje showing one of Jay Benford's boats (named Sunrise?? and 34' sticks in my mind, but may not be accurate) that was finished bright with Deks #1 and #2. It was lovely and lived in the Pacific Northwest, so the stuff must work OK out on a mooring as long as it's maintained. I don't think it will ever put the varnish makers out of business and am not claiming that it holds up better, or even as well as a good varnish job, but for classy-looking, easy to maintain small boats I really like the stuff. "

  • Duped re "oil"
    Yes, I think most of us have been duped about the so-called penetration and polymerization of oil mixtures.

    But I don't think this is the primary reason why OM's are widely used on gunwales and thwarts. I think the overwhelming primary reason is ease and speed of application -- and reapplication. I just use cotton rags; no brush.

    I think canoe builders use OM's for the very same reason. Why would they want to spend a week applying, drying, sanding, and reapplying six coats of a quality spar varnish, when they can spend 15 minutes wiping on three coats of an OM? Much less do they want to do all this varnishing of the wood, including the ends, before they attach it to the hull. Time is money. Then they rationalize their decision to us.

    We continue using the OM for the same lazybones reasons: ease and speed of application.

    Switching gears: I have noticed Watco staying very sticky for long periods of time when I apply it too thickly and don't wipe the excess off. This may be because Watco uses raw linseed oil, which I just noticed in reading the MSDS. I wonder if Deks Olje uses boiled linseed, which dries in a matter of hours rather than days.
  • Watco oil
    I don't know if the difference is in the type of oil used or the solvent, or some other ingredient, but Watco and Deks D1 behave very differently.

    Deks D1 can (and should) be applied wet-on-wet in multiple coats until the wood just doesn't accept anymore. Try that with Watco and you will wind up with a gummy mess, as well as a whole lot of gummy rags.

    Where does the D1 go? Perhaps it is just drying out layer open layer on the surface of the wood, and maybe that is why it tends to have significantly more depth to the luster and why it seems to last longer. And D1 is pretty much completely dry within 24 hrs or so.

    Watco even when it seems dry may continue to attract dirt for more than a week after application. I find this most noticeable after car topping my boats within a week or so of oiling the gunwales. Invariably the vinyl covered rails of my Thule rack will leave dark smudges where they contact the wood. This isn't just on the surface, it is down in the oil and you have to sand the wood to get rid of it.

    It may well be that if one applied 6 coats of Watco oil each a week apart that one would get a similar depth of finish to Deks D1 but I have never tried it.

    If you have only used Deks by applying one or two coats as you might with Watco oil, I don't think you can judge the results that can be obtained with it when applied according to directions.
  • Sure, all of that makes some sense.
    While most of these wipe-on oil/varnish products are essentially similar, I'm sure that some perform better than others. Most of us are not after fine furniture finishes on our canoe trim, however, and are just happy to have easy to apply and effective protection afforded by the stuff they sell at the corner hardware. There are others still that swear by traditional spar varnish and they would be completely correct, too... for themselves.

    As I mentioned above, almost anything will work if it's reapplied when necessary. I know a guy who works as a landscaper/gardener and loves old-fashion wood-handled tools. I once commented on the beautiful patina his collection had developed and asked what he treated them with. He laughed and pulled from his truck a gallon can of gloppy greasy goo from the vet's used to help prevent and treat saddle sores on horses. At work, he dunks his hands in it before he puts on leather gloves. He said it helps prevent blisters, keeps his gloves supple, and treats his tool handles all at the same time. I think if you rubbed the stuff on canoe rails every other day, they'd look better than mine do with multiple coats of Watco and probably be as well protected.

    And you're right, too, that this subject is well beyond saddle sores, but those mahogany rails! Aren't they something to see? Where are the fasteners?

  • Another thought
    I have limited experience oiling gunnels and use Watco twice a year-I like the smell. I do have a lot of experince with finishes on reproduction muzzeloading rifles. The needs are similar-weather resistance,durability,beauty ect. There are literally hundreds of different formulas and products for gunstock finishes. The one I find clearly best is called "Permalyn gun stock finish". It penetrates and can produce any look fron hand rubbed to glossy. There is a sealer that is used before the finish coat.Its big defference from others is that it is practally impervious to water or solvents and very durible. It would make the perfect gunnel finish and probibly last the life of the boat and can be spot retouched if gouged. The problem is that is is REAL expensive.It doesn't smell as good a Watco,but not bad.
Sign In or Register to comment.
Message Boards Close

Hello, Paddler!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!