first coat of oil on gunnels question

I’m putting the first coat of oil on a set of gunnels (removed) that have been outside for quite some time. I think they are white oak.

I was going to begin the first coat of Watco but don’t know if I should thin it or not. What is the best thing to thin with? These gunnels are in good shape but are very dry and are just bare wood.

… Arkay you out there?

Related Comment
Hey! Timely subject for me. I just oiled all the screw holes on my guide-boat gunwales, as well as a few other screw holes too. I noticed something I didn’t expect, which you might want to pay attention to when re-installing your gunwales.

After noticing that a few of the screws didn’t go back in quite as easy as the others and didn’t bottom-out quite as suddenly when screwed all the way in, I discovered that even though I thought I was lining them up so the threads would follow the already-cut threads in the wood, that wasn’t always the case.

I figure that it’s best if the screw follows the old threads in the wood rather than cut new ones. Starting the screws with a screw driver by back-turning them until the screw “clunked” over the step and down into the thread opening didn’t always work perfectly, but by starting the screws with just my fingers, I found that usually if there was a bit of resistance at first, trying once or twice more to find proper alignment would get the screw to “find” its old threads more exactly so it would go in effortlessly. Still, there were a few that no matter how many times I tried, it felt like they were just a tad misaligned and I screwed them in that way anyhow.

Yup, half turpentine
half Watco on de first coat fer better penetration be wat ah’ always do. Straight Watco fer de next couple of coats after dat.


thanks guys
Mike and FatElmo, thanks for the terpentine suggestion. I could not remember what it was that you use. Going to pick some up. I don’t have any on hand.

guideboatboy, thanks for the reminder. I’ll be careful.

synthetic varnish?

I found this article interesting and have never used any synthetic varnishes yet. Several years ago I coated my canoe wood with marine spar varnish. It’s held up nice. If you like the flat look of oil you can steel wool the varnish to a dull sheen.

Finewoodworking once did an article on the water protection of various finishes. Epoxy rated best and oils were very poor. I would suggest you consider some type of finish recommended by boat builders.


Oils have advantages over varnish

– Last Updated: May-07-07 1:12 AM EST –

The main advantage is that oil is easy to maintain and re-apply. Varnish eventually starts to crack and check, and a huge amount of time and effort is needed to restore the finish. Synthetic varnish may last longer, but it still deteriorates eventually and must be stripped and re-applied. Oil lasts a year or so at best, but the time and effort it takes to re-apply oil every so often is pretty easy to deal with. Typically, a boat with varnished woodwork NEVER gets re-done except by people who just love doing that kind of work (I'm not one of them). Instead, the finish just looks worse and worse as the years go by, and provides less and less protection as well. This is particularly true of a boat that sees a lot of sunshine. There are plenty of really old boats with oil-finished gunwales that are in great shape. Just try to find an old varnished boat that still looks good (except for those lucky boats that get a total refurbishing every now and then). Remember, the average boat isn't out in the weather all the time, and is stored in a dry place, and in that case you don't need "the best" waterproofing for the wood. Even varnished wood that's seen some wear and tear takes on water. It might even be best to use a finish that's a bit "less waterproof" so the wood is better able to dry in between uses. I'm not saying oil is better than varnish, only that it is better for those of us that don't want upkeep to be a complicated issue. For a person who doesn't mind the extra work (or even enjoys it), varnish might be the better choice.

Coming in late to the conversation…

Yes, turpentine can be used to thin Watco. The process for using Watco is much the same as the mix I use, except Watco takes more coats to build up a good finish due to its thin nature. Watco works, it’s just slow to build a finish. Some disagree – okay by me.

I’ve posted my ‘hand-rubbed oil’ formula & process before, but here it comes again – for those interested.

I mix my own oil finishes using an ancient woodworker’s mix that’s been passed down for generations. I picked it up from an old coot – and somewhere along the way I became an old coot myself. I’ve been using this for decades and it works. I use: boiled linseed oil, turps and spar varnish (poly in a pinch). Watco is basically the same thing (but thinner) in a convenient ready-mix form. Your local hardware or paint store may or may not sell Watco – but they surely have the ingredients I listed. If not, bark at the manager for not carrying the most basic wood finishing supplies. Note: some like to add tung oil to the mix, but since it processes very little moisture resistance and is expensive I pass on that. I also add a few drops of Japan drier when I’m mixing up a quart of oil mix, but that’s not absolutely necessary – there is some drier in the store bought “boiled” linseed oil (it’s sold as “boiled” – you don’t need to boil it yourself) as well as in the varnish.

Application - The first coat is applied thin (more turps) and then later the full strength mix (equal parts). Flood on using a paper towel or disposable foam brush or whatever you like (not important how you get it on). Allow to set for a few minutes. I then use paper towels to buff off, buff off again, buff off again, etc, etc, until there’s nothing left to rub off. Buff it off like you made a big mistake and want to remove it – don’t just smear it around a little. You are rubbing the oil in and allowing only a very thin build up on the surface. If you don’t buff it off thoroughly you will have a sticky mess…

Go away & come back in a half hour or so and buff out any mix that’s crept back out from the grain. Burn the paper towels proto or put them in a bucket of water – don’t leave ‘em in a heap or in a trash can. You could burn your shop down! Oily rags can and DO spontaneously combust - believe it.

With warm weather conditions (or a heated shop in the wintertime) wait at least a couple of days for the mix to polymerize fully. Then rub out using a fine abrasive pad (like Scoth-Brite) or fine sandpaper if that’s what you have. Some use steel wool, I don’t. Steel wool can leave little bits lodged in the wood grain that can rust with exposure to water. After rubbing out re-apply the oil mix and buff out as before.

On raw wood 3 or 4 coats separated by a few days and rubbed out after each coat (except the last coat) yields a really deep penetrating finish that looks good and offers good protection against weathering. Re-apply at first signs of wearing out – frequency depends on use and exposure. Always store canoes under roof, out of direct sunlight and rain.

All of the above also applies to Watco the only difference is Watco isn’t as thick as the traditional mix and requires more coats to equal the luster and protection.

There ya go – hope that helped someone. ;^) - Randall

raw linseed oil
if it is really the first coat on bare wood, that is wood that has never been oiled before, I generously apply raw linseed oil and let it soak in for at least 24 ours in a as warm and dry a situation as possible. As long as the wood absorbs the oil, I add more oil. When the wood does not seem to absorb oil anymore, I leave it for at least a day or two. Then I use #0000 grade (polish) steel wool to create a smooth surface. After that, I wipe of all oil and debris from the surface and put on a light coat of a mix of boiled linseed oil and tung oil.

Thanks Arkay!
I haven’t started yet and am glad I didn’t. Now I’ve got the benefit of your advice. I’ll see if I can find the ingredients to finally make some of your Coot Mix.

I’m going to plant some search terms here so this thread should be easy to find in the archives.

arkaymix Arkay Mix Arkay’s Mix

…and don’t forget…
… “Coot Mix” ;^)

Dirk added raw linseed oil to the conversation – so while we’re generally discussing oil finishes let me throw in another two cents worth.

Raw linseed oil is just that: unadulterated linseed oil – which is actually flax seed. After a lifetime of wood-butchery I’ve never found a good use for raw linseed oil in the woodshop. I’ve heard old time farmers used to ‘dose’ there cattle periodically with raw linseed oil to “clean ‘em out”. But Lord knows why someone would want to give a laxative to a cow…

Boiled linseed oil: In the old days woodworkers used to actually heat up their linseed oil and that (apparently) made it set up quicker. In more modern times what is marketed as “Boiled” linseed oil is actually raw linseed oil which has a chemical drier added to it (Japan drier). The added drier makes it set up (polymerize) reasonably quickly, much quicker than raw linseed oil which takes a very, very long time to dry.

BTW, the drier in “boiled” linseed oil makes it inedible, so if your cow starts eye-ballin’ at your can of oil hide it quick. - Randall

My hardwarwe store used to have a tung oil that was for exterior use, which is what I’ve been using for my gunwales.

Now they just have tung oil (not one with a label that specifies exterior). Is there likely any real difference between tung oil and the exterior tung oil?


Tung oil
I had heard for years that tung oil was not very water repellent compared to other finishes (like linseed) and have always left it out of my mix. The question posed by ‘yarnellboat’ had me surfin’ for answers. While I don’t have a direct answer to the question there is interesting information at the following link.> Here’s a link to Wikipedia where someone has written an article on the tung oil:

I switched to tung
because linseed can mold and it made my wood too dark as it aged. I have been using tung oil for a few years now and I love it. It is water repellent. On new wood I do a 75% mineral spirits to 25% tung oil dilution for the first few coats and then do a 50/50. New wood gets at least 5 coats before I take it out. Then a few times a season, depending on how often it gets used.

for application:

1.use an old t-shirt and wipe oil on all the wood.

2. Wait. For the first coats on new wood I will wait 15 minutes. For mid season care when I am done applying I start wiping in the same order I applied.

3.Wipe of excess with a clean cloth.

For an initial application I would use
Minwax 209, and would pre-warm the wood segments so that, as they cool, they tend to draw the very thin 209 into the grain. For the more open-grain parts of the ash, it may take quite a few coats to fill in the grain. I believe Minwax to be fairly water and weather resistant, but if one were in doubt, one could switch to Watco exterior after much of the grain is filled.

I use Minwax 209 on my paddle handles, and to touch up scrapes on wooden paddle shafts in between yearly varnishing.

Never used it…
but looks interestin’. Gon’na give dat 209 a try. Thanks.


Please do not thin Watco!
Watco is already pretty heavy on the solvents (i.e. very thin), straight out of the can. The only thing thinning it would do is add more V.O.C.'s to the air.

Watco Teak Oil dripped on gelcoat
I was not careful and I have a few streaks of dried Watco Teak Oil on my gelcoat. Someone suggested carefully applying a bit of the oil to the streaks to soften them and then wipe clean. I have not tried it yet. Any comments or other suggestions?


Watco Teak is thin if the can is new

– Last Updated: May-21-07 7:16 AM EST –

I'm making some black walnut thwarts and grab handles to replace the aluminum ones on a friends brand new otherwise all wood trimmed Wenonah. I have a nice new can of teak oil and I use that for the first two coats. Then I got out the secret weapon, my old can of supper thick extra dark Watco oil. Sure it takes a long time to dry but when buffed out it makes a supper rich looking dark finish that I'm looking for.

I'm using the black cloth that Clarion gave me to apply oil and I can tell you it works very well on the finish coats but the first coat I like to sand in with something rougher.

Acetone will remove Watco (and just about anything else) from gelcoat but I wouldn't use it on the inside of the boat.

In the future, you might try
putting 2" wide painter’s masking tape immediately below and tight against the gunwales to minimize scratching with sandpaper and inadvertently oiling the hull. Take it off soon after your project to avoid leaving tape residue on the hull. Any home improvement or hardware store like Lowes, Home Depot, or Ace should have the stuff.


just this am
I have used boilded linseed oil, turps, watco and Danish oil finish for years and in different combos. applied about 3 times a year to 3 different wood gunnel boats all stored indoors. Finally decided to try a polyurethane with a UV block as an experiment, sanded the wood clean and applied it over the last 2 days. Never liked anything but oils on wood but decided to experiment out of frustration. The underside of the gunnels really get black, all my boats are ash trimmed. We’ll see. Still using the Danish oil finish on the other two boats, like that the best.