Replacing Gunwhales

Is it difficult to replace gunwhales? Canoe is kevlar with ashgunwhales & we are considering purchasing this canoe, but were told it needs gunwhales replaced!

Also must they be replaced with same material?

What is cheaper, or even, a better material?

Thanks for any help, I am a newbie and this is my first canoe purchase.

It is a Mad River Explorer, 16’.


Gunwales are extremely important for stiffness of a canoe, acting like the flanges in an I-beam. They must be continuous and tightly fastened. If you have basic woodlworking skills, it is not too hard to scarf the pieces together and fit them to the hull. The bow and stern are a bit trickier, so just look at how the gunwales were fastened and how they were pieced togehter at the stems and you should be able to determine if this is within your level of ability.

Replacing Gunwales
You can order vinyal gunwales, they can be pop-rivited in place. I’ve never done this and am not sure who to order from. You could try to contact MR.

The route I have gone twice in the past is replacing the ash with new pieces. This is tough as ash in lenths that long are hard to find. If you do end up splicing pieces together make sure you do so as far away from the middle as you can. Treat the wood with oil of some kind before installing, especially the side that will be connecting to the hull.

I ordered gunwales from

I had to call them as these pieces aren’t listed on their website. Probably is that shipping will kill you due to length. Good luck.


step x step
The ash is a good product but expensive,could compair other types for durabilty at a local specialty dealer or shop. You would have to ease the two outside edges, top & bottom. square against boat 4 pieces total and seal or other type of finish at least two coats before installing to get unprotected hidden edge and all to keep minimum spill off boat.I would suggest 6-8 squease clamps and 2 screw clamps(put protective filler on screw clamps to avoid damage to wood. It would take two people to install gunwhales one side at a time. Kind of fit it with squease clamps and then use screw clamp to start at one end have that end allready eased-beveled like before,starting at correct spot and use smaller pilot bit than stainless screws and then counter- set for screw head to just barely recess flush not to deep. I would suggest to not use same holes in canoe just way to much trouble,find center of screws usually about 6" and pencil mark all the way through then just use screw clamps close to pencil marks and fasten all the way through 123 ect… Have wood at least 1’ -18" longer to cut off after all screws are finished, use squease clamps with all project to help keep it close to top edge If a little kevlar sticks up just use vibrating sander 80 grit paper to flush out You can do it with 1 helper, maybe raise to waist height to make it comfortable to work on then last coat of finish. Where you buy wood should be able to route -ease edge of wood. Ive changed a few including 17’ kevlar M.R. explorer takes about 4-6 hours lots off joy afterward

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Gunwales are one of those things that are difficult shipping and therefore expensive to ship.

Gunwales are a lot easier putt'n on than gett'n sometimes. Especially the long ones.


Mr Obvious sez

Replacement wood gunwales can be shipped with boats cheaply. Plus, you may be able to get the original design cross-section - as memory serves, the Kevlar boats had a shaped inwale or outwale that covered the exposed raggety edge of the laminate.

Even if you have to drive a ways to a dealer to pick up the wood, it is cheaper than shipping via common carrier.


Ah gee Mr. Obvious
Every time I turn on the light switch in my kitchen there seems to be some kind of animal living in my sink that makes a horible noise like Gggggrrrrraaaarrrrrraaaarrrraaarrr!

Gunwales through REI
I just ordered a set of ash gunwales from Mad River through REI. I don’t know if I got the best price on them but my total was @$255. Shipping was only about $13 so I assume it’s coming with a canoe order. I ordered them today and the expected delivery date is August 3rd. You need to tell them it’s a Kevlar canoe. Mine is a 17’ Mad River Royalex Explorer and it seems that I needed to order 4 inwales so I assume that the Kevlar and TT use different outwales.

As far as what they are made of I’ve only heard of ash, cherry, mahogany and Sitka spruce used for wooden gunwales. I don’t know which is the stronger but ash is certainly stronger than vinyl or aluminum gunwales and it seems to be the wood of choice. You might also look into Mad River’s new “IQ” system and see if it’s to your liking.

Another option is to look around for a shop that repairs canoes and kayaks and ask them what they would charge to replace them for you. Some of the outfitters also do repair work.

Your call as to what you want to do but the Explorer is a great canoe.

My Favorite
We used to hear Mr. Obvious in Indianapolis. That was at least six years ago and my oldest daughter and I can still get the giggles remembering that one about the “critter” under the sink.

Come to think of it, I forgot what kind of critter Mr. Obvious figured out that was :-).

Since I only need one side replaced I changed the order to just two inwales. In the process the price dropped to $45 each and the shipping dropped to @$9. This might be because I insisted on talking to only one salesperson or it might be that the others I talked to didn’t have the right information. Hope this helps in some small way. I’ve tired myself out looking for 18’ or longer pieces of ash that I could work into gunwales myself although I did find a site,, that offers a “knockdown gunwale” in ash. Price is about $130 + shipping for an 18’ set.

I think I’m going to fix the motor on my tablesaw, make a jig for cutting 1:12 scarf joints, get some epoxy and forget about one piece gunwales.

Unfortunately there is no animal under the sink. In reality, your plumbing is possessed and is in need of an excorcism. Easiest excorcism is to sneak in while the light is out, pour a gallon of hydroFLOURic acid down the kitchen sink drain, and wait for 24 hours. I can pretty much assure you that teh noise will be gone.