Did Bell Canoe ever varnish gunwales ?

Did Bell canoe works ever use varnish on gunwales or just Watco? Have recently bought a used 1998 or 1999 Bell canoe works canoe. The gunnels are original. They do not look like my other wood gunwale canoe that I have used Watco on. The gunnels look shinny.

Don’t believe so
though CEW will have the definitive response. Watco can sometimes appear shiny if over applied and many many coats built up

had to be previous owner…

– Last Updated: Jul-05-14 11:09 AM EST –

..Just my $.01 guess. Happy bug-free Fourth!..everyone.;-)

Similar Q

– Last Updated: Jul-04-14 10:39 PM EST –

I recently purchased a Galyan's Woodsman III——which was made by Bell using the same hull as their Royalex Northwind. I also happen to have a Bell Yellowstone Solo. The thwarts on the YS are definitely oiled. The thwarts and yoke on the Galyans boat look shiny. I had wondered if Bell used varnish for a canoe intended for a sporting goods chain because varnish might appear to be low maintenance.

Factory conditions

– Last Updated: Jul-05-14 8:18 AM EST –

It takes a dust free room to varnish rails. Bell never had that, so during my tenure, 93-99 we did not varnish rails, with the exception of a couple sitka spruce railed boats.

God only knows about the last few years in Princeton, but dust free and additional time to finish boats? I doubt it.

Question for Mr. Wilson re Epiphanes
Dear Mr. Wilson,

Didn’t I see a post somewhere in this forum in which you mentioned that Bell coated ash gunwale surfaces with Epiphanes, a high-grade varnish? Please correct me if I’m mistaken. I’m interested in your response: I need to replace the gunwales and decks on a 2003 Bell kevlar Northwind. Thanks!

Placid boatworks switched to Epiphanes from Min Wax Spar, but Mike McCrea’s research indicates the Min Wax product is superior, so I presume Joe switched back. The ability for customers to walk into any hardware store on the planet and match products is another advantage.

To my knowledge, Bell only varnished a few sitka spruce rail sets.

Bell Gunwale Question
So…rather than varnish, would you recommend that I treat all the new wood surfaces with a penetrating oil (like WATCO) before installing the replacement ash inwales & outwales on my Bell kevlar canoe?

use whatever you want
I believe that the reason many manufacturers have used penetrating oil on gunwales is that it is much quicker and more forgiving of technique.

Applying a decent finish using polyurethane or varnish requires some time and care but can be much more durable. On the other hand, for boats that see rather heavy use like whitewater or extended tripping, a bright finish can get nicked up pretty quickly and badly, and for those an oil finish might make more sense.

This webpage briefly discusses the relative merits of either finish:


The Green Valley notes also mention the possibility of using varnish over epoxy, which I have begun to do, using a low viscosity epoxy such as System Three Clear Coat. Even if you intend to oil your gunwales, you might consider treating the hidden faces against the hull with epoxy before installing the rails.

Oil finishes require periodic reapplication to protect the wood. The frequency will depend on how often and how the boat is used, and how it is stored and can range to once a year or so to every 6 weeks or so. A bright finish requires more effort to apply and refresh but might last for years.

That’s helpful information, much appreciated.

Oil doesn’t penetrate far
and it needs reapplication more than once a year in my experience.

OTOH, Varnish can last for years. However I apply five coats of varnish… not one… That takes a bit of time. Its been some five years since the gunwales were touched and they really don’t need it yet.

Flatwater boat.

It was some other furniture oil

– Last Updated: Jul-08-14 11:18 PM EST –

As the OP to this thread would like to say tried Watco and the rails adsorbed it. So all I can figure is the previous owner used a different oil that maybe had a higher varnish content than Watco.

nickplakias if you use oil on rails take your time oiling them before mounting. It will be a long time if ever before the back side (side that is hidden against the canoe) can be oiled again. Tend to take over a week putting on multiple coats of oil till the wood will absorb no more. Why to use oil over varnish or varnish over oil is a whole other thread that will most likely start a flame war. But have to say personally the looks, feel, and being able to just wipe some more oil on when rails are scratched is such a great advantage to me it is worth putting the oil on a few times a year.

Thank you all for your replies.

oil finishes
Some wipe on oil finishes contain small amounts of resin or varnish that can result in a glossy finish. A well-rubbed Tung Oil finish can also look pretty glossy.

Many users of Watco oils prefer the Watco Teak Oil to the regular Watco Danish penetrating oil. For me, it seems to give a little nicer finish and is a little more durable.

Here is an interesting short article describing various oil and “varnish” finishes:


The nicest cosmetic results I have obtained with a penetrating oil were with Deks Olje d1:


Although like most penetrating oils this is based on linseed oil, Deks Olje seems to have more effective dispersing and drying agents than Watco, and other oils I have used. This allows many coats of Deks to be applied the same day until the wood will simply not accept any more. I find that with Watco oils, if one tries to apply more than 2 coats in the same day, subsequent applications do not penetrate and simply become gummy. It is possible to apply more than 2 coats of Watco but it might be necessary to wait a day or more between subsequent coats, so the oiling process takes longer to achieve the same depth of finish. Deks also seems to be more durable than Watco.

Deks d2 is a high-gloss oil varnish formulated to work well over Deks d2, but it is not necessary to use Deks d2 unless one wants a gloss finish:


Funny Story
I was on vacation last week, part of which was a staycation. I was cleaning out the lawn shed and ran across a plastic tub with indeterminate contents so I popped the lid, and there I beheld a bottle of 303. Before I knew what happened I had sanded and re-oiled (way overdue hence the sanding) the wood on the Explorer and 303d the hull. I decided to try the teak oil this time and found that I prefer it to the Danish.

It looks so pretty now I hate to get it out for a while and Mrs. Deuce is even impressed. That’s a rarity.