Needing New Gunwhales


Newbie here. My father recently passed away and I was lucky enough to “inherit” his Mad River Canoe (none of my other brothers wanted it). It was Dad’s pride and joy, but it seems like my brothers used it and left it exposed to the elements for a couple of years. It appears to be a fiberglass 14’ 7" Quest. I went to use it this summer and the wooden gunwales are completely rotted and need replacing. I called my local MR dealer and he said new inner and outer wooden gunwales (materials cost) would be about $500. I’d like to honor my Dad by restoring the canoe but it be worth it to but that kind if money in a 20 year old fiberglass canoe. Thoughts? The canoe came with wooden gunwales but I understand they now make aluminum and vinyl gunwales now as well. I love the look of wooden gunwales, but are there pros/cons of each kind? Thanks.

My Thoughts on them
We have canoes with aluminum, wood, and vinyl.

The wood ones are beautiful, but if you paddle a lot require annual maintenance, and sliding them on and off racks take a toll on them.

If you are just an occasional paddler and want a beautiful looking boat get wood

If you paddle once a week or more you would be much better off with aluminum or vinyl.

If you are paddling in coastal areas or salt water the vinyl would be my choice over aluminum or wood.

Good luck with your choice !

jack L

Check local woodworking shops
to have them mill what you need from ash if possible. Should be a lot less than 500. Trick will be finding 15’ long board but it is possible. Remove existing pieces to have the shop copy.

Ash is good, not required though. Mahogany will work too and be lighter.

Whatever rot resistant wood you pick, not softwood, can be spliced to get the full length, not required to find them full length.

Bill H.

Kits available from this company… for everything in wood you may need for your Mad River. (I am not associated with their company - but, like you, also have a pre-1992 Mad River Canoe).

Try Harmony Gear
For ash gunwales that come either kerfed or non-kerfed.

You can buy the hardware from them too. Very reasonably priced.

Make your own
It’s not particularly hard to make your own wood gunwhales. I was able to order a 16’ piece of ash from a local company that deals with speciality woods (World of Hardwood in Hanover, Md). From that one piece I ripped 4 gunwales 3/4" square. How much additional shaping you do is up to you. I used a plane and sander to produce a nice half round shape. If I was doing it again I’d leave them square until mounted on the boat and then round them off in place. That way you don’t have to worry about leaving clamp marks on the gunwales during mounting.

As pointed out by other posters, the knock on wood is that you have to maintain it. This can be easily accomplished by oiling once or twice a year. The pros are beauty, a bit nicer feel to the canoe in the water, economy (discounting the $500 gunwales from MR), and that you can do it yourself. Also, in cold climates there can be an issue with cracking the hull due to different rates of expansion of wood and hull material, solved by storing the boat indoors, and maybe it doesn’t even apply to fiberglass hulls, not sure.