Replacing Canoe Gunwales

Thursday is agarbage day in my area and on my drive to work I picked-up from a trash pile a canoe that now lies in my own back yard. Obviously, it’s nothing special but seems usable. Fiberglass with wood gunwales. About the only thing that seems to need immediate attention is the gunwales - some cracks and rot there. So it looks like I will be replacing them.

This being my first canoe, got a question for you experts and handy-persons -:wink:

How do you do it?

Does not look like I would need to steam bend the wood to conform. The shape seems benight enough. Can I just get wood pieces of dimensions close enough to the originals (inner and outer parts of the gunwales) and bolt them on?

Is there anything else to replacing gunwales? Of course, some waterproofing of the wood would be in order (got some tung oil or I might just use some leftover floor polyurethane lying in my garage).

Thanks for any suggestions!

replaced several.
depends on weather you want beauty or functionality. My preference is aluminum with poprivets. buy the gunwales from the manufacturer or wenonah. Have them shipped in when they have a truck coming near you to avoid freight. Wood gunwales are easier in some ways if you just want functionality. I put Ash gunwales on a stripper for under 20 bucks plus a bottle of booze for my wood working friend…

I sent you an E-mail if you want to talk give me a call

Charlie Swengros

Denver NC

replace sections
If most of the inwales and outwales are sound, and if just sections are dry rotted or cracked, you might just replace short sections of the gunwales, especially if the cosmetics are not that important to you and the boat is not getting any extreme usage.

Short sections of straight-grain ash are a lot easier to come by than 20 foot lengths. You can splice in new sections using scarf joints or step joints.

Thanks - let me clarify…
The canoe does not look like much and I don’t want to spend much $$$ on it. Only enough to get it in shape to paddle on very flat and very protected water unloaded…

Will probably go with wood scraps…

sorry I didn’t
think of just splicing sections. That might just be the best idea.

Thank you both for the advice!
That would be a spring project so no rush, just checking my options here.

I think I should replace the entire length - there are a couple of breaks (in the middle on both sides) and some rot in others. But no missing pieces so I can see the shape/size everywhere.

The hull seems in good enough shape to allow me to use it. Some small patches here and there but it looks waterproof and no soft spots. Someone has slapped chopped strand fibers in many places both inside and out and has not sanded them down well before painting. Many areas on the outside are so rough the hull will probably have 3x the drag it is supposed to… I think they wanted to build-up skid areas on the ends with this material but left it very rough. I plan to sand these down too after I take it to the water a few times and determine if I’m interested in that thing or not…

If you want
to spend a little money and save a lot of work.

You can buy knock down gunnels from Ed’s canoe.

Fun with Gunwales
It’s not that hard and you can probably find step by step instructions around the web. Ash is a favored material for gunwales because it takes bending very well. You can order the size board you need from World of Hardwood, which is in the BWI neighborhood–used to be in Harmans but they moved and I’m not sure if the new location is still in Harmons. You can find them on the web.

Look me up in one of the club rosters or PM me your phone number and we can talk about the process.

What size canoe? I may have ash left over from the gunwale replacement I did on the Chipywan that I can pass on at cost.

With all the ice around, this an ideal time to undertake a canoe project.


RE Rail protocol

A. Swing an arc from bow or stern to each seat and thwart bolt hole. Make a sketch noting the arc distances

B. Note the hull’s center width in solo hulls; retain carry thwart if tandem.

  1. Inspect wood, discarding sections with significant knots or cross grain

    Note longer wood may be cut to shorter lengths to eliminate flaws

  2. Lay rail sections on bench; cut left end square for inwales, 45dg for outwales

  3. Mark Rail centers outwale, inwale; these are different marks

  4. Mark inwale 6” screw spacings:

  5. Drill, countersink, marked, 6” inwale screw placements on drill press w/ flathead #8 countersink.

  6. Square inwale rabbet ~4” each end w/ air grinder

  7. Sand outwale ends, sand all surfaces. Preserving center marks

  8. Sand and Seal all 6 surfaces of each rail, apply first coat of Epiphanes.

  9. Measure hull center

  10. Center and double clamp inwale and outwale on hull center mark,

  11. Bore through laminate & into outwale w/ blind, collared #8 countersink;

    careful not to over-drill. Set first screw.

  12. Install spreader bar or center thwart, countersink and set successive screws.

  13. repeat on second inwale/outwale.

  14. Use 90 dg drill or flex shaft for final 3 inside screws,

  15. Mark two outer screws 1 ¼, 2 ¼” spacing on outwale; longer screws attach


  16. Install thwarts, grab bars; mark, drill, countersink location arcs as specified;

    mounting w/ flathead 10-24 Machine screw

  17. sand rabbet flush, refinish with Epiphanes; two coats.

    cew Sept 09

I bought a Merrimack Baboosic and the outer gunwales were shot. Tried Ed’s knockdown set unsuccessfully. When I tried to get the glued 3 piece assembly in place, some of the joints failed. Some tore the wood with the glue, others failed at the glue. So I broadened my google search methods and stumbled upon a huge canoe outfitter in Clearwater, fl area. They stocked ash gunnels. SO MUCH NICER than trying to deal with a compromised 3 piece section. Anyone who’s ever snapped a fishing rod, vaulting pole or any long piece of wood knows you don’t simply glue it back together and it works the same, as the bending occurs along the entire length and relies on the cellular slippage of all the individual cells. I know some folks have had success, but I’d figure out a way to find a complete full length set. Period.