Gunwale oiling; how far to go?

Postscript & Thanks
Thanks to all responders for the info provided.

A postscript is that since I posted this a few weeks back, the SRT has not been out of the shop. I’ve been out paddling, but have just been grabbing my Wenonah off the rack because it was several steps closer than the SRT and easier to grab the Wenonah than maneuver the SRT out of the workshop. The SRT was in the way in the shop. I ended up hoisting it out of the way, to the ceiling, making it even more trouble to get down and use. I am now realizing I need to build a rack in the garage. I know this is a crazy misprioritization, but I think I can put a rack up and to the side so that the garage can still store vehicles (gasp!). So, building a rack has been added to the to-do list, but it is pretty far down the list. Meanwhile, the SRT will sadly stay in the shop.

A story, related to GBG’s point on screw holes. Among my limited experience with wood gunwales, is a tale of a MR Fantasy. It belonged to a friend who moved to the area and had nowhere to store it. She ended up leaving it on the ground behind a sympathetic canoeist’s house, for a year or two. I volunteered to help her get it back in shape. She brought it over and the gunwales LOOKED solid, but weather beaten. We decided to remove the gunwales for treatment. As we were sanding, one of them snapped in her hand. Naturally, it was the fourth of the four gunwales to be sanded! Argh! Close inspection revealed the screw hole at the point of rupture had little cracks running out from the hole on the inner side. At that point, the wood inside the gunwale was powder. I believe if it had been GBG’s boat, and had irregularly received a squirt of oil into the screw hole, that would have prevented the wood rot. Also, it would have been preveted by PB’s and CEW’s periodic, complete removal and retreatment of wood boat parts.

The SRT wood was grey and weathered under the decks in the stems. Several pointed out this is a problem area. I taped a handle on a paint brush to liberally apply oil to that area, but short of complete removal, I won’t know how effective that was. I think it helps that the SRT has slots in the area where the deck joins the inwales, since that promotes drying and limits trapped water.

Thanks again to all who posted. I appreciate you taking the time to help me out.


Unprotected ash is simply not very rot resistant when exposed to the elements. It has a relatively open grain that soaks up moisture. Repeated exposure to damp opens the grain more and eventually the wood splits. The ends of outwales, where the end grain is exposed, is particularly prone to this process, and obviously, any hold drilled into the wood is a point for water entry into the heart of the wood.

Scuppered deck plates and inwales do help promote drainage some. It goes against the grain a bit, but it is a good idea to drill a 1/4" hold right where the tips of the inwales join together at boat stems, as close to the molded hole as possible to allow drainage of trapped water since this is the lowest point when the canoe is inverted.

I am going to have to rerail an old boat I just bought and will probably use ash. Since this is basically a flat water boat, I might go ahead and use a more durable treatment than penetrating oil to avoid some maintenance work in the future. I am thinking about applying several coats of System Three clear coat epoxy (very low viscosity with allegedly good wood penetrating power) and then covering it with varnish or polyurethane. I have generally preferred oil finishes on the gunwales of my boats, because the way I use them they tend to get scratched, so this would be something different.

I’m sure he does too
Mike just recently got a digital camera, so his wood test photo’s are probably actually print photo’s that he has squirelled away somewhere. I think he originally had the photo’s posted on webshot’s, which is now gone as well.