Gunwale Oil

I’ve been looking for Watcom Outdoor Oil Finish (recommended by Bell) for oiling my wood gunwales. All I can find is Watcom Teak Oil Finish and Watcom Danish Oil Finish. The Watcom Teak can says it is suitable for marine woodwork.

Do you think the Watcom Teak finish would be OK?


Watco oil is available on the Internet if you can’t find it locally. I use Watco Exterior Wood Finish on my wood gunwales on my Bell canoe.

Watco Teak Oil is fine
Hi Doc

The teak oil is what NT uses and I’ve followed his lead. It will darken the wood color slightly but still very pleasing to the eye. As for protection, it’s sold at our local boat shop which also specializes in sail boats. It’s worked fine for me over three years or so.

I have two local sources for the Watco Teak Oil.

Thanks Wes.


Watco Exterior Wood Finish
Not that I am sure that it matters which product you use… but last year when I bought Watco oil directly from Bell at Canoeacopia they sold me Watco Exterior Wood Finish. It has worked well for me.


Since we’re talking gunwale oil,
I’d like to know what techniques folks use to prep for and apply the oil and how often each season you do that process.

Try this

Woodcraft store in Columbus. Piragis also sells the Exterior oil if you do not wish to darken the wood.


Rail protection
Watco needs the rails sanded with 200 grit, then a couple coats wiped on with a rag and allowed to soak in. Galt used to suggest finer grit, but on ash it seems useless. Probably three apps a year should do the job. but sunlight and water are the problams, and boats stored outside will need more.

The fact that most people don’t is why we finish our rails with PU, but that is also an imperfect product.

Armada or Cepetol are better products. We’ve a few rail sections screwed to an outside boatrack to test Armada verse oil and PU.



– Last Updated: Feb-19-07 5:34 PM EST –

Isn't polyurethane pretty much a surface coating an' can acquire microfractures allowin' moisture ta penetrate ta de wood, while oils penetrate de wood itself an' remain flexible. This be why ah've always used oils (Watco Exterior - bought a case of de stuff from Bell at dealer's cost when ah' worked at an "outdoor" store). Ah' have seen polyed ash rails turn black due to water infiltration.
Also, ah' might suggest dat it's very important ta seal de end grain of wood - dats waar rot usually starts. 'Nudder good idea be ta flood de underside of de decks wit oil, canoos are usually stored open side down an' water has a tendency on collecting thaar. Ah' drills a 3/8" hole through de decks near de peaks for drainage. If yer have slotted gunnels seal de exposed end grain in de slots too, most slotted rail failure happens thaar because of rot developing here. Wat Ah' usually do is oil me' rails twice a year after sanding lightly wit 220 grit. Every 3-4 years ah' take de gunnels off an' oil de insides surface an' really give dat end grain a soakin'.


I’ve been using Voyageur’s
(Mad River) Gunwale Guard, which seems to have some wax in it. For my use, it only requires an annual application but it can wear off where abraded, such as where a paddle shaft frequently rubs the gunwale. It leaves a soft yellow glow on ash but it isn’t as nice as a pure oil finish. It’s been, ahem, six years since my last application but the gunwales don’t look too bad since I store indoors and only take the Malecite out on occasion. I’d be interested to know the outcome of the PU vs. oil vs. Armada test.


If your local Lowe’s or Home Depot
does not stock the Watco oil products (a lot of the larger ones do), look up one of those high end woodworking shops that are popping up or any good marine supply.

Applying oil to new Gunwales
I will oil the new gunwales before mounting them.

What about the holes the screws are going to make entering the gunwales? Is it worth taking the gunwales back off to get the holes? Should I squirt a little oil in once the hole has been drilled and before the screw goes in?

~~Chip Walsh, Gambrills, MD

Yup, ah’d erl de holes
Holes expose end grain, end grain sucks up water, water causes rot. Ah’ would oil de screwholes if it waar me boat. Only takes a little more time.


Would it be anal
to back out the screws on a new boat and drip oil into the holes?



– Last Updated: Feb-20-07 9:17 AM EST –

Not anal at all, but smart. Ah've seen rot startin' around screw holes more than once. When ah' gits a new wood trimmed canoe, first thing ah' do is pull de gunnels an' decks off an' really soak 'em wit oil. Most manufacturers only put one - maybe two coats on. Ah' likes 4-5 coats on raw wood.


Watco oil
I have been using Watco Danish Oil on my Bell Wildfire and Swift Kipawa since I acquired them. I was unable to locate the Watco Exterior oil finish in Ontario. I oil the gunwales, seats, thwarts, etc annually. I do a quick sand using a sanding sponge, which follows curves easily. Be sure to masking-tape the gel-coat to keep from abrading the gel coat, and to keep the oil off it - once dried, the oil is very difficult to remove. I do it on a warm, sunny day, outside, applying 2 coats over a period of ~3 hours. After allowing an hour or so for the 2nd coat to soak in, I wipe off any sticky excess oil with cotton rag, dampened with mineral spirits or varsol. I don’t remove screws - the oil flows into recessed screwholes anyway. The Kipawa is 8 years old and the wood is holding up just fine. Ditto the Bell, though the exact age is unknown since it was bought used (from classifieds on this site).

Thanks Jim
I’ll check it out.