OT Canadienne Gunwale replacement

Acquired a 1983 Old Town Canadienne with completely rotted gunwales and deck plates. I was wondering what kind of wood I should use and if I used a more flexible type,could I get away with not having to steam the gunwales before installation… This is my first major project I’ve done with a canoe so I am excited but a little intimidated… I would really appreciate any ideas…

I will be posting photos of the project as I go…

A few years ago a canoe builder
friend of ours gave us cherry cut to gunwale dimensions. We came home with 4 20 foot sections and no idea what to do, no steamer box.

We just started screwing them on in the middle and working toward the ends. No steamer box. Cherry is quite nice, and does not get black spots like ash, but its somewhat heavy.

I put gunwales (and everything else) on a Canadieene back in 1983. I used Ash and did not have to steam them. As Kayamedic reported, I just started in the midle and worked both ways. It does take some pretty strong force as you get close to the ends. Ash too is pretty heavy but durable. Although I’ve sold the Canadieene (to a neighbor)the gunwales are still in good shape.

Having worked with both cherry and ash
for other purposes, I think that the best ash is tougher than the best cherry, and not necessarily any heavier. A cherry I cut down in my yard and had milled is incredibly heavy, very hard, and would never bend well enough to make gunwales. The cherry I’ve received in furniture and keyboard instrument kits would be OK for gunwales, if one could get it in the necessary lengths.

White ash I’ve seen in SW Michigan grow incredibly tall and straight, so of course getting 20’ lengths out of them is easy. The black cherries in that area are seldom so undistorted. The black cherries coming up in my yard now seem to want to zig zag in their growth.

I would try for ash. “Eds” sells good ash in sections that one glues together on semi-scarf joints and then installs. They can supply lengths sufficient for an 18’ 6" canoe (about 20 feet) and of course shipping them in sections saves lotsa money and shipping complications.

Thank You!
Sounds like ash is the way to go. I appreciate all the advice… Im looking forward to getting started soon.

I will have to ask where my
cherry came from , I believe it was from a mill in rural Maine and it was a 20 foot length… hard to find. Then canoe builder friend planed it to thickness. It is not at all heavy. What I like best is that it is easy to maintain and does not get black spots.

Colden Canoe uses cherry too for wood rails. Not all of their boats have wood rails, I know. Probably for ease of maintenance. I know I never will go back to ash again because of the five cherry gunwaled boats I have look better with less maintenance. (Four were built that way… I have only had to deal with gunwale replacement once)

Another issue is the contour of the
gunwales, and the willingness of the chosen wood to follow those contours without steam bending. The boat I want to re-gunwale is our old Moore, which in addition to the usual easy curve as seen from above, has a steep rise at each end. More challenging than a MN II or similar. The boat originally had Moore’s peculiar split aluminum tube driven over pegs system. One of the tubes is a bit crimped, and as I understand it, Moore used a team of three experienced factory experts to hammer the tubes on from the end.

I also expect problems if I use aluminum gunwales from other suppliers, because the extrusions should be pre-bent where they have to curve up at the ends.

With wood, I’ll only have to worry about weather protection.

Non-standard method

– Last Updated: Jun-14-13 6:56 AM EST –

I first got into canoeing when somebody put a Mansfield canoe by the side of the road with a for sale sign on it - it was cheap. The fiberglass boat was in need of new gunwales. I had never taken on such a job, but thought I could figure it out. P-net wasn't yet giving repair advice.

I removed the old gunwales and bought an 8 ft length of 1 x 8" ash from a local yard. I ripped it into 1/4" strips. Using a lot of clamps I first stuck one layer (1/4") to the outside of the hull, port and startboard, using thickened epoxy. The 1/4" thick pieces easily conformed to the hull - no steaming required. After that cured for a day I added another layer overlapping the joints and the final outer layer went on a day later. Next I put two layers on the inside for an inwale also a day apart. Finally, I screwed the whole assembly together from the inside at about 12" intervals. I now had laminated outwales and inwales totaling 1 1/4" thickness. For good measure, I added an additional 1/4" strip on the inside where the seats and thwarts would be mounted. Finishing consisted of some fairly heavy sanding to level out the top of the laminations followed by five coats of varnish.

I owned the canoe for about 8 years during which time the gunwales held up fine. It was sold a couple of years ago and I have not heard a complaint from the new owner.

People have suggested that gluing gunwales to the boat is not a good idea as they have to be able "work" as the boat expands and contracts. That may be, and I may have avoided trouble by storing the boat inside where it did not see large temperature swings. But, it worked for me and it did not look bad. It was strong as lamintions always are. And, the material was available locally and easy to work with in short lengths.

The good people at Chesapeake Light Craft gave me the idea for cheap clamps. Just take about a 2" piece of PVC pipe, cut slices off of it (these will be rings) between 1 and 2" long and then take a hacksaw to the slice and cut it through in one spot. You can now spread it where it was cut and place it over the material to be clamped. When you let go it will hold tight. The wider the "slice" the greater the holding power. You can make a box full of these for a couple of bucks and they'll do most of the above job for you. You'll need a handfull of store bought clamps to get started and then use the PVC clamps in the middle of the run.

The method is not for everyone and certainly not for use on a classic hull that is being restored. I do think it makes sense on a boat that was cheap but is worth saving.


It’s hard to beat
a good piece of ash but cherry and spruce are all perfectly fine for outside rails. The cherry is pretty, spruce is easy to work with and lighter and ash is the toughest but the rails will black spot if you don’t keep them varnished. Use spar, not poly and at least three or four coats.

This boat does not require steaming to rail but if it did you can get a bit of slip in the grain just by soaking in hot water for a (good) while.

I would use spruce or ash for the rails and cherry for the decks…that will give you a nice functional result that looks really sharp.

With FG hull and ash gunwales,
I don’t think there would be a problem with differential ezpansion-contraction. Wood does that across it width, not along the length of the grain.

Did you state the thickness of your 1.25" strips? I’ve used douglas fir firring strips to laminate a paddle shaft.

I think I would still prefer Ed’s four piece scarf jointed ash gunwales. Not cheap, but it isn’t going to bankrupt me.

Not clear
My post was not clear in that respect. The strips were 1/4" thick.