Aluminum Gunwales

Hi all … new to this forum, seems like the place to be! I have a question if anyone can help it would be great. I’m looking for a suppler of aluminum gunwales for handcrafted canoes. Any hints or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.



Google is your friend
here is one example

It seems that if you have a handcrafted
canoe you just dont throw any rail on it.

Aluminum rails have to be bent two ways.

At the very least you may need to make a jig to prebend them. If you horse them on they tend to narrow the gunwale width and flatten the hull.

Seems you need to work with a supplier to make rails specific for your boats.

I am not impressed with the link cited above as they didnt take the time to check the spelling of Bell Canoe Works.

Also shipping of gunwales gets very expensive and its best to be creative about that. Perhaps you get the gunwales with a bunch of other stuff.

Playing Devil’s Advocate here
I wonder if the two-piece aluminum gunwales (NW Canoe appears to offer what I believe are Bell-style ones) might be a bit more forgiving in installation than an extruded type made in one-piece? The inner portion would slip and form as needed, allowing the outwale to curve smoothly even without pre-bending. It would be possible to control the shape with temporary thwarts as needed.

At least, that is my hypothesis. Charlie Wilson, care to chime in?


thats going to bring back memories maybe not so fond of him wrestling with my Merlin II doing a gunwale replacement

Lets see how the story unfolds.

Not Convinced

– Last Updated: Mar-31-10 7:33 AM EST –

I remain unsure that Aluminum rails belong on "hand crafted" canoes. Most smaller companies choose to be cutting edge or end up on the bleeding edge, I think alu gunwales are the latter.

Aluminum, even Bells 2 piece system that I designed after Winter's 2 piece/ Swift set requires pre-bending to fit both shear and width. The two piece rails do eliminate the inner vertical wave that allows the hull to rattle. Even then, Alu rails are generally a Procrustean fit, even with spreader bars. They are also noisy, cold, show scratches and are generally joined with an ugly end cap. None of that seems commensurate with 'hand crafted" hulls.

Then there is the financial issue of a large minimum order which generally does for the small custom shop.
Wood is available in small lots from Ed's or Essex and one can even buy long boards and rip and router one's own. Mad River started with wood rails in 70s because they couldn't afford the minimum for aluminum as a start up Sure, if NWC is serving as an outlet for Bell's Alu, that is an option. For the sake of Pete, acquire tempered rivets and an air powered rivet gun.

Alu rails are a poor marketing choice as aluminum is a downgrade from wood which throws the new company in the middle, price pointed, market with much bigger and more efficient players.

I prefer Placid boat's / Swift's / Colden's infused carbon/kevlar over foam rails, but that requires several cutting edges be achieved at once.

If it’s true that most aluminum gunwales
need prebending before installation, then I see why Moore chose their unusual system of driving split lengths of aluminum tubing over pegs drilled through the gunwales.

Only problem is, I have the original lengths of split tubing, and Pat Moore sent me Nylon stock for the pegs (the original pegs were wood-dumb idea),but as I understand it, it required a team of three knowledgeable men to carry out the installation process.

Because my Moore has a natural trough where the flare turned vertical, I think some modification of the method for composite over foam gunwales may be my best bet. I just hate to depart from the original method, as it was elegant and functional.

I don’t think
that one can adequately hand resinate fabric over foam rails. It would require wet bagging at a minimum, and the development cost for a one-off, twenty five year old, MRC Peter Pond II would be hard to justify.

It’d be cheaper to get a new bat, and several good ones are available at 16.5’

Well then, I may glass over a thin strip
of wood. This should stiffen the sides equivalent to an aluminum gunwale system.

A Moore Voyageur is not something one just replaces. These boats and similar privateer clones were successful in early 70s racing, and our Moore has shown itself to be both a workable Chattooga 3 runner and a very competent heavy water lake boat.

I doubt that you would consider the Moore Voyageur to be a “classic.” But classic status depends on subjective opinion. Actually, while I could find many 18.5" canoes that are lighter or faster, I have not found a single one that handles heavy water as well as our boat, while retaining a good degree of speed.

Oh, a Voyageur!

– Last Updated: Mar-30-10 9:58 PM EST –

Wonderful boat - with both Howie LaBrant and Pat working on the plug as I remember. That's different! Venom and Viper were cool bottoms too!

First get your ceder/ spruce sticks scarfed up. Find Soller to get consumer quantities of braided tube sized to fit over your wood, obviously about 40 feet. I'd suggest glass because it's easier to tell when it's wet, and pretty heavy glass. You'll also need a whole pile of document clips - one per 6" length.

Sand the edges of your wood then work the braided tube over it, pulling the tube tight from both ends, lay the piec on a long section of waxed paper. Resinate one side, flip, resinate the other. With the hull on it's side, resinate a strip along the top 3/4 in of shear. Starting at the center, clamp the wood/tube in place, crossing bare tube in the stems and trimming off excess tube length. Keep re-resinating while wiping drips until it kicks. Then do the other side.

WHile ewe're a long way from the original Q, a Voyageur is worth heroic efforts.

Kick your resin Very slow, wetat

McCrae and I once put aluminum gunwales
on an MR Fantasy that originally came with wood. It was when MR was being transitioned from Vermont to NC and it was a real screw up and a SOB of an install. The boat sat around for a year while MR flumoxed until I finally begged them to just send me something that would work. They sent these oval aluminum gunwales and some vinyl end caps that were made to fit over square vinyl gunwales. We got it all to work. Not the prettiest installation you ever saw but I believe the boat is still being paddled by Yukon John’s son.

That’s kind of a wordy digression towards my suggestion, which is to look around at boats that have aluminum gunwales of similar dimension to what you want. Find a boat that’s close and order replacement gunwales from the manufacturer.

BTW, as I recall, the gunwales I got from MR were not pre-bent. I think it was straight, oval-tube stock. The oval was open with flanges on the underside. I still curse under my breath every time I think about how hard those were to install, and I bet McCrae does, too. The gunwales were longer than what was needed for the boat and I still have a few feet of it hanging around the shop.


Painful memories

– Last Updated: Mar-31-10 7:57 AM EST –

CEW is right about the air-powered rivit tool. Many years ago I re-railed a Blue Hole OCA (that I had wrapped on the Yough) with a manual gun. Of course, I was younger, stronger and more studley then. But my hands were crippled for a week afterward. Did wonders for my forearms though!

And so much for my hypothesis about twp-piece alu gunwales. I have never worked with them, so I was just guessing.


PS: Charlie, I was going to ask your thoughts about converting the ash rails on my 2005 Magic B/G to aluminum (inaccurately drilled holes in the outwale are causing splits to form at the ends). But your defense of wood has me thinking that I should pursue a different solution. Perhaps Marc O's endcap solution.

Thanks for your comments
Thanks all =) Cheers! Pete