Treating new ash gunwales

-- Last Updated: Sep-04-11 2:24 PM EST --

Hi paddling gang:

Next weekend I'm putting new ash gunwales on my old Dagger Encore. It'd be great to have some thoughts and counsel on treating the gunwales before installing them. Especially how many coats you'd use and any preference between Deks oil (I have) and Watco (available locally). Anybody got a guess as to how long it'll probably take to do the job?

Thanks as always & happy paddling

Five coats of marine varnish
ash is prone to darkening spots and dashes from fungus.

You can also do tung oil…again five or six coats and all worked in with a scotchbrite pad. Oil has to heat up to soak in. If you wipe it only on the surface you get inferior protection.

Neither is an instant job.

Just did my Encore…
My first boat with wood gunwales. I used Teak Oil from West Marine. Wouldn’t recommend it - last time I paddled it I had a sticky residue all over my hands like it was coming off - Maybe I didn’t work it in enough.

I was looking for Watco Exterior Oil, but couldn’t find it locally, and no one online would ship it to me. I was able to get some a couple of years ago and used it on my canoe poles - it worked great.

If you’re gonna store outside
you ought to follow the advice to use varnish and then keep the varnish out of direct sunlight. The gunwales will last longer. Unlike the teak woodwork on yachts, ash is not rot resistant.

If you can store it inside then whatever you do is largely cosmetic and it becomes a matter of taste, price and just how much work you want to do.


Have an Aubuchon Hardware in your

Its the blue Watco can. All the Aubuchons have it locally.

Watco Teak Oil
I’ve been using it on my ash canoe pole for a couple seasons now with good results. Re-apply once a season - at least if you scuff it up like I do my pole. No sign of rotting or mildew yet, and the pole is in the water a lot.

Do warm it up before application. Let it soak in a while, then wipe off excess. Give a few days to dry before using.

Warming oil won’t really help.
In fact, it could be dangerous. Oil really doesn’t penetrate side grain beyond a microscopic level anyway.

You might consider staining the rails dark before applying any finish. It helps to disguise the inevitable mildew and looks nice on some canoes, too. “Teak oil”, as far as I can tell, is just the regular stuff with orangey-brown stain and fungicides added.

One problem with oiling ring-porous woods like ash is that the pores can sometimesooze uncured oil for days, especially when taking them out into the warm sunlight too soon. Applying Watco seems almost counter-intuitive. Flood the surfaces, let sit for 15 minutes and rub off as much as you can. For open-grain species like oak, hickory, and ash, you should go back and rub off the stuff that oozes every half an hour for four or six hours. Let cure for a day, and repeat again and again…

There’s one in Franklin, MA
That’s not far from me. I’ll try there - thanks.

for Exterior Wood or Watco Teak Oil is what I use. Watco Teak Oil seems more available. I can always find it at Home Depot or Lowes.

On wood that will bend, flex, get burnished and dinged will be protected better by oil than by varnish.

Watco is easy to apply. It just takes a cotton rag and a pair of disposable rubber gloves.

The wood can’t soak up too much Watco.

Hope this helps.

More detail re: Teak Oil
First - “warming” isn’t the same as heating. You warm the oil by leaving the container in a heated room long enough for it to assume the warmer temperature. Using a source of direct heat is dangerous. And yes it will help to warm it if it has been stored in a cool place as recommended. Warm oil always flows better.

Watco Teak already has a UV inhibitor, and it does have a fungus inhibitor. No need to add either - although any added pigment will further delay UV damage to the wood. I have a wood pole that was treated initially with thinned boiled linseed oil only. That pole has mildew spots. My other wood pole that has only been treated with Watco Teak shows no spots or UV damage. Both poles have spent a lot of time in sun and water.

The bleeding from porous woods issue is real, but I don’t consider it a serious problem. I’ve seen it take as much as a week to stop - depending on temps. But with a low-pigment oil such as Watco Teak, you aren’t going to notice it that much in this application even if you neglect to wipe it often - and especially if we’re talking about ash and not oak, which tends to have much larger pores. Besides that - if your gun’l stock was milled (or I should say “selected”) correctly, you will see little or no pores (end grain) except at the very ends. If you want to get creative - you can seal that end grain with spar varnish before treating the rest with oil. The spar will soak into the porous ends a little - especially if you thin it a bit - and it will last longer than varnish applied to the non-porous flats would.

Teak oil vs varnish is a matter of what you are willing to put up with. Either will do the job if maintained correctly. I have one canoe that came to me with all varnished wood, including gun’ls. It still looks great after 14 years of use because the varnish has been religiously maintained and the gun’ls haven’t been scraped against rocks or other stuff.

More info about oil vs spar varnish…


– Last Updated: Sep-05-11 1:04 PM EST –

There are many products available that are appropriate for treating wood intended for use outdoors and there are many variables to consider when selecting them. In the end, however, maintenance at the required intervals seems to be the key to preserving wooden boat components no matter which finish is chosen.

Gunwale treatment
Thanks, everyone!! It’s so great to have a group of padlers to consult with. I’ll put this all together and decide the best course to follow.

Looking forward to paddling my pink (fuschia) Encore with the new gunwales in October. The Encore is STILL THE COOLEST BOAT EVER!!!

Thanks again.

Mine is teal
(where did they come up with these colors??), but I do love my Encore.

treat the inside portions of the wood
If you haven’t already put the gunwales on I would suggest that you varnish the inner aspects of the outwales, and the outer aspects of the inwales, i.e, the parts that will no longer be exposed. Varnish will last much longer than oil treatment and you aren’t going to be taking the gunwales off every year.

As for bright finish (varnish) vs. penetrating oil, both have their advocates. The Encore is a whitewater boat, and if you are using it on whitewater your gunwales will inevitably get scraped up by rocks and your paddle shaft. I find it easier to oil gunwales but the oil finish does need to be reapplied much more frequently than varnish. The good news is that oil is much easier to apply than a new varnish finish, although a bright finish can be touched up with light sanding and a coat or two of varnish if it is not too far gone.

I have used Deks Olje, Watco exterior oil and regular penetrating oil, and Watco Teak oil. The nicest finish I got was with Deks, although the recommended application is a little more involved. I haven’t noticed a great deal of difference between Watco regular and exterior. The Teak oil seems to give a little darker finish over time. I have also used Gunwale Guard oil, and I wouldn’t recommend it.