Alternative Woods

I’m rebuilding some gunwales on a free canoe and am coming up short on Ash at the local guy I usually get it from for the length I need. Yes, I know Mr. McCrea, I should go vinyal but I aint! Besides I need a canoeing project in the worst way!! :slight_smile:

Given this what other alternative woods would be a good replacement? What would you use for canoe gunwales/thwarts besides ash being that the canoe will get minimal use? Thanks for any input, greatly appreciated.


I’m no carpenter, but isn’t teak used on boats a lot?

other woods
fir is an alternative if you can find a close grained straight board. its prone to splitting so a layer or two of epoxy resin would be good before varnishing. spar quality fir has become pricey. my local lumber yard has clear fir, 3/4"x 1 1/2" ‘finished’ (planed and sanded) in the molding department.also i like yellow pine, if you can find clear straight boards. its a local wood here.its rot resistant and relatively my area theres a lot of good quality yellow pine thats treated so its green in color (it wont rot) and its actually cheaper than 'clear ’ yellow pine. mahogany is primo but hard to find in my area and not cheap.

Cherry is often used on Wood &
Canvas canoes. I suspect however that if long ash isn’t available cherry won’t be either.

Cedar or Mahogany
Cedar will work and it’s easy to work with but unless you keep after it with varnish it won’t last long. Mahogany is very good and has been used successfully in some production boats (Mike Gault)also Cherry and Walnut but very hard to find and expensive. Cedar would be cheapest way to go.

Put your chains on your car and drive to

They have ash gunwales but do not ship them. Too bad you and I didn’t think of this before winter set in. I wouldn’t thing that Trent valley in Ontario would be impossibly far from NH, in summer when there is open water to be visited along the way.

You can splice…
…shorter pieces of ash to get the length you need. I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on the subject of cedar/canvas canoe building and restoration as well as hanging out at the WCHA site a lot lately. The recommended length of such a splice (called a “scarf” in boat-speak) is generally from 8:1 to 12:1 (length of the diagonal scarf is 8 to 12 times the width of the rail). Epoxy seems to be the recommended glue these days – it’s virtually waterproof. Bare in mind that epoxy is thermoplastic, so it won’t hold up to steaming, but you won’t need to steam bend rails on a composite boat anyway, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

FWIW, the 1914 Carleton canoe I’m getting ready to restore had scarfed outwales and they appear to be original – Lord knows gunwales are an important structural member of a cedar/canvas canoe – much more structurally important than on a composite canoe. These scarfed outwales eventually failed… but so did the solid inwales during some catastrophic collision of some sort, but hey, that old boat was built in 1914 afterall…

If splicing/scarfing for length is not something you want to do there are other suitable woods. White oak is very tough stuff (though a bit heavy), mahogany is another traditional gunwale wood (there are many woods called mahogany…), cherry is not unheard of for rails (I have cherry rails on one of my canoes and it looks fantastic).

The rails don’t really have to be a hardwood. That old Carleton had spruce gunwales – inside and out. They worked fine for many, many years. I’ll probably use a hardwood on that boat when the time comes (at it’s age I want to “beef it up”), but obviously softwoods will work. As NT mentioned cedar would be an acceptable choice also, but would have to be maintained fairly often. White cedar (arborvitae) should be readily available in long lengths in your area at inexpensive prices.

BTW, air dried wood is always stronger that kiln dried – and bends better – as a bonus it’s cheaper as well.

Best of luck with your project. Randall

Yellow Pine
There is yellow pine available in a grade called “dense-grain structural” This is clear straight grained lumber used often in large, sometimes laminated, structural components that are exposed on the interior of a building. The stuff is wonderful and cheap. Last time in bought gunnel stock I got 2x10x18s for less than 30 dollars. That is a lot of gunnels. Since this type of wood is used in special build situations it is likely available outside the SE where it is produced.

The Red Pine of the northern states is in the yellow pine group. It is very strong and resinous. I don’t know if much building material is produced from it any more.

I would also suggest buying the straightest grain short boards that you can get and scarf them together.

Yeller pine molding
I always go cheap and light on my cedar strip gunnels: 1/4x1/2 screen moulding inside and out. For adequate stiffness, I use 3-4 cedar strips on the inwales protected by the pine moulding, and no cedar on the outwales. Light and strong enough. If boat is longer than 16", then splice or scarf together. Not that hard, cost

Good Info
Thanks for the responses. I’ll be calling my local guy and see what he has for yellow pine. I’m opting to get a piece long enough so I don’t have to scarf pieces together. I’m ok as a woodworker but this is one simple process where I usually make a mistake or two.