varnishing wood gunwales

anyone here varnish their wood gunwales. i’ve been thinking about it since i paddle saltwater all the time. keeping enough oil on the wood is somewhat of a chore. any pros or cons to varnish?

on both
of my stripers I varnish the gunwales. I am a little hard on my boats and did not have to worry about slopping varnish by mistake on the gunwales. Now I just slop Spar varnish on every thing, let it dry adn go paddling the next oppertunity.

Since I am varnishing everything it is a no brainer. The Drawback to Oil is that if you want to glue, cement or epoxy any thing to the gunwales you can not. Since I often cement foam to the inside of my Gunwales Oil would be a problem.

on my kevlar cruiser I have a sculpted yolk that i do oil, just for the flex and to remmember how much of a pain it is.



Hey Chad! Doing gunwales again?

– Last Updated: Dec-01-04 4:37 PM EST –

I do not varnish, I oil. Wanted to know if you ever did try the thicker oils we talked about in past wood trim care threads.

Have you tried the Olive oil like I do on mine? Does real well in fresh water. How did it fair in salt water?

Did you or anyone try the harder to apply, but much better protecting castor oil? It does fantastic on self bows, protecting the wood and increasing it's strength quite a bit! How did that do in salt water?

Happy Paddl'n!



Now I know I like my aluminum

Suggest using epoxy over the areas
where paddle wear may occur, then covering gunnels with varnish. The epoxy is harder. If you want to be fanatic, you can use a non-glass cloth such as polyester to epoxy the wear areas. Whether this is worthwhile depends on the amount of wear you have.

On some woods, I have used multiple coats of a thin oil, Minwax 409, and then have topped it with spar or exterior urethane varnish. I would rather not varnish over WATCO, but I can’t say it wouldn’t work.

Last word in permanent sealing of wood:

– Last Updated: Dec-01-04 7:20 PM EST –

Smith's Penetrating Epoxy!

If you really want to be done with gunwale oiling, varnishing, and whatever, simply seal them permanently. Smith's Penetrating Epoxy will do that and more. It will also penetrate as it's name states and it will strengthen the wood as it does it. The wood will be permanently saturated with and coated in a tough epoxy. It can be applied over oil. In fact if you have oiled wood that you wish to epoxy (fiberglass, Kevlar, carbon fiber) over Smith's is the medium that will make that possible. I use it. Most of the boat builders and restorers I know use it. Very easy to use. Just beware that it is also quite toxic until dry. Lots of ventilation and an organic breathing filter are a must.

Happy Paddl'n!



Have always wondered???
What would be the problem with putting on an occasional coat of tung oil?


sealing gunnels
If you use any method that forms a total seal on the wood you need to also do the side of the gunnel that is against the hull. If you don’t, water will be absorbed through that surface and turn the gunnel to mush from the inside out. I would recommend epoxy as a base coating, on all four sides of a gunnel piece. Then put the gunnels back on the boat and varnish.

I wouldn’t do it…

– Last Updated: Dec-02-04 5:48 AM EST –

Because varnish only lasts a few seasons and it's much harder to maintain. adding more and more varnish adds weight, looks bad, and is hard to remove. If you are going to do it, the correct way is to remove them and varnish the underside too so they are completly sealed. If you don't they will still be exposed to the water and salt that gets between the hull and the gunnals and doesn't dry out of days. The varnish on the outside only will cause the trapped water to soak in eventually causing dry rot. Because of that reason no comercial canoe makers varnish the gunnels, but seats and thwarts are common.

Also you will lose that warm feeling of wood that you get with oiled wood.

Point of Smith’s is it does penetrate

– Last Updated: Dec-02-04 1:12 AM EST –

and seal everything. Of course if you are doing a permanete treatment like this you WOULD want to remove the gunwales and make sure the job was done completely right the first and if done right, the only time. Also Smith's is very thin and runs like crazy. When doing such a long and many sided area as multi pieced gunwales you would want to remove them to keep the Smith's off the finish of the hull and do the most complete job you could.

Happy Paddl'n!



I too oil (Watco) my gunnels, thwarts, decks, and seats. Do it regularly, and it is painless (and I find relaxing). The more coats you put on, the harder and more permanent the finish. I also use oil on a couple of traditional paddles I have. Again, if you keep up with it (a couple of times a season), it is no big deal. I think it provides a better look and feel. To me, varnish gives a false impression of better protection, but chipped areas always turn gray and are harder to take care of.

i think oil is the way to go. i like the look and feel of oiled wood, too. maybe i need to take the gunwales off and sand and oil the insides as well.