How should I refinish my gunnels? Grasse River Classic XL

I’ve just acquired a 20+ year old Grasse River Classic XL with wooden gunnels in need of refinishing. I’m not certain of their original finish but would love to bring them into better condition. I’m willing to sand them and hand rub oil if that’s a good option. They currently appear to be coated with some form of varnish with a couple of areas missing finish.

Thanks for any at least somewhat informed replies.


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If that is varnish, you can recoat or strip it off (heat gun and pull scraper are best). If you want to recoat, give it a good cleaning followed by a thorough sanding with 220 paper. Build up any bare spots with at least 4-5 coats and then give the whole rail two fresh coats. Note that true spar varnish needs 24 hour drying time and sanding with 220 between each coat, so this isn’t the quickest process.

If you want to strip, after removing the finish with the heat gun, give it a good sanding and then apply the product of your choice. There are plenty of good oils out there, but I can’t recommend any specifics as I’m in Florida and an oil finish lasts about 3.2 seconds here.

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Very nice boat Hugh. Brodie’s heat gun recommendation sounds smart. I’d normally just tape off the edge of the hull where it meets the gunwales with blue painter’s tape to protect it and then sand the gunwales with 100, then 150 and 220. Once you have bare wood personally I’d use Badger paddle oil. It’s non-toxic and it’s used to finish canoe paddles. Easy to use and a few coats gives a beautiful finish. Oil finish takes a little more maintenance than varnish but the maintenance is just an occadional tough of oil or light sanding plus oil so 5-10 minutes a few times a year. Just FYI some manufacturers and some paddlers use Watco oil for it’s durability.

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Thanks Brodie and Tom,

I’m leaning towards oiling but am waiting to find out what the builders did/do with the original boats. I paddled it for the first time yesterday and have a 12 mile river paddle planned for today. I’m hoping to use it as my single blade training boat and perhaps do some “stock class” races with it.

Gene Newman, the designer and builder of your canoe, will be at the Canton NY races on May5-7. Lucky you, there is a 12 mile race you can enter for serious competition or just for fun. I’m sure Gene will give you all the advice you need on maintaining that canoe.

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Here is a link to the 2023 event:

Canton Canoe Weekend | Race Information

Watco oil in any flavor you want. Or tung oil. .

We paddled the event in a tandem. Gene tells me that they use Helmsman’s spar varnish as the original finish. I’m still debating.

Thanks all