DIY kneeling thwart

-- Last Updated: Aug-24-09 3:20 PM EST --

How about DIY kneeling thwart. I want a better solo option for my Morningstar and was thinking about building and installing a kneeling thwart. Any ideas on species, width and thickness, angle of dangle, would be appreciated. It seems like a deceptively simple project, but I’ve never paid close attention to the few commercially available kneeling thwarts I’ve seen and don’t want to make mine too skimpy or too heavy…

Thanks guys!

kneeling thwart

– Last Updated: Aug-24-09 5:19 PM EST –

You want to use a thwart about 3 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick. Ash is the most common material. You want a spacer or hanger to position the seat below gunwale level with the front edge of the thwart angled downward about 20 degrees off the horizontal.

The back edge of the thwart should be at least a few inches below gunwale level depending on the depth of your canoe. You need to be able to easily get the heels of your feet under the lower front edge of the thwart.

For whitewater, I like to glue a hip block of 3" thick minicell foam to the top of the thwart at each side to limit the amount you can slide from side to side. A little sidewards leeway might be desirable, but it is good to have something to brace against when the boat is dramatically heeled over.

Bell Canoe sells a kneeling thwart with spacer hangers and hardware:

I find that a kneeling thwart actually works quite well. It can replace a standard thwart near the center of the boat. You want to position your thwart such that your navel winds up about at the centerline of the canoe when you are kneeling with your trunk upright. You are not quite as well "locked-in" as with a pedestal, but with some hip pads you really don't give up much and the simplicity and looks are appealing.

Don't forget to glue in some knee pads or buy a removable one. If you plan to do a lot of kneeling, ankle blocks are a godsend. Toe blocks or footpegs are optional.

A properly designed and positioned
minicell saddle will outperform any kneeling thwart. And I think that a .75" thick kneeling thwart is a bit thick and heavy.

budget is tight
It’s for my work canoe; its government work, so my budget is tight. I use a saddle bag in my personal tandem, but thought I’d gain a little more control with a kneeling thwart. I wasn’t sure about thickness… I was thinking about using thinner material and if I had to, reinforcing it with some aluminum angle stock.


I’ve got the Bell kneeling thwart in my Morningstar RX. I’ll try to get some pix & measurements tonight.

Thanks angstrom!!

Those bell kneeling thwarts are thy ash or walnut? I wonder if it matters… I’d guess the two species are similar in strength, maybe ash being a little stronger.

walnut, I think
I believe they are dark walnut.

Regarding thickness, most wooden canoe thwarts are 3/4 inch thick. You may be able to get away with less depending on body weight and intended usage.

If you plan to paddle any whitewater, I would be reluctant to go much thinner. Your body can put a lot of stress on that thwart going over drops.

Call Ed’s
They make a custom one for you for very little money. At least they did for me years ago. They had some stock around all ready and just cut it to length and sent it to me.

thanks pblanc
i didn’t think about the mincell near the gunnels…

my preference
My preference is for 3/4" x 4" (actually works out to 3/4 x 3 1/2) material. Ash, Walnut, or Cherry are traditional, but there is no reason you couldn’t use other hardwoods. I but the piece long enough that I can cut the drops from the same piece of wood. I use two long stainless machine screws on each end of the thwart.

I like to position the thwart a bit farther back than suggested above. I paddle Canadian-style when I’m soloing a tandem, so the boat will be heeled to one side with one knee in the bilge, the other leg extended forward with the upper leg just above the kneecap against the bottom of the portage yoke and the foot of the same leg forward of the yoke.

Good Info.
If you haven’t searched the archives you might try that also as we’ve discussed this here a few times. Its been several years since I came with much the same question.

The Bell made thwart in the garage is walnut and 3.5"x 3/4". I ended up making one for another boat and it was from sassafras and it is 4" x 3/4" it held my 215 lbs fine in a Bell Northwind for several years.

on that boat I used the Bell supplied drops. These are shaped nicely but a little hard to convey with demensions. Roughly they are of 3’ wide stock 9/16" thick the two bolt holes are 1.5 " apart on center the “length” of the drop at the holes is close to 1.5" and 1.75" at the rear and front holes respectively. I made some drops for a Mad River Explorer that were out of 2.5" wide stock 3/4" thick thes were 3.5" and 4" in lenth at the rear and front edges of the drops.

I’d use whatever decent hardwood that was available and of course paid much attention to getting straight grain and knot free wood. That is how I ended up with the sassafras. Here in Central Texas we don’t always get the pick of the hardwoods and lots of folks are looking for figure rather that clear straight grain.

Hope that helps some.

Good luck.


– Last Updated: Aug-26-09 11:16 AM EST –

I installed the Bell kneeling thwart in my Morningstar RX several years ago. Roughly 32 1/4 x 3 1/2 x 7/8", bevel on the top leading edge, all long edges radiused. Drops are roughly 1 7/8 at forward edge and and 1 3/8" at the back.

I used the stock rear thwart holes for the rear bolt in the drop. That does put my weight aft of trim, but I didn't want to move the center thwart/yoke. A bit of weight forward levels things out.

My take…
Here’s my opinion on kneeling thwarts: first their size and positioning depends on hull size. A wide and deep tandem might reuire a 1 inch thwart thickness and drop down and inch or two from the inwale. A solo hull such as a Wildfire or Flashfire can get by with a clear grain ¾ inch, with very little drop from the inwale. I prefer a 15 degree angle. I always use fender washers under the thwart on the supporting bolt and nut. Make sure it is in a place which results in level trim (pitch). A word of caution: always be able to get your feet quickly and easily past the thwart in case of a dump.

I never use a kneeling thwart in WW. The danger of a pin if brooching or a foot entrapment is too great. For all other water, a kneeling thwart offers much greater opportunity for superior body mechanics, especially the forward stroke and heeling. In quiet water I use a kneeling pad as well and bring my offside knee forward of the onside knee plus move my feet a bit to the offside. This should result in the paddler facing about 30 to 45 degrees to the onside. The resulting power and finesse for onside strokes is huge. It is also much easier to get the grip hand further out for that under the hull component during the forward stroke which decreases yaw and lessens the need for those momentum killing corrections. Heeling to the onside is also more stable and easier from this stationing. A word of caution however, the paddler must develop the ability to move smoothly back into the center station for offside strokes when needed and hold the hull at level trim (vis-à-vis “roll”) This is a very quick look at a long topic, but is food for thought.