Which oil for walnut stained ash gunwales?

Just acquired an 86 Mad River Canoes [Lady] Slipper in Kevlar. This boat was little used and well cared for. Almond gel coat with walnut (dark) stained ash trim, which is in exceptionally good condition. Seriously, no dry rot, better than any 80s MRC I’ve seen.

Forward with gunwale care, is the best approach sanding to 200 grit, then use watco exterior penetrating oil?

I ask because I do like the contrast between the almond gel coat and the dark rails, and figure the original stain is probably not too deep. For my goal of optimal maintenance the dark wood, perhaps watco teak oil is a better choice?

I have a cans of each, opened in the last 2-3 years. Is shelf life an issue?

I think either of the Watco products will work fine; I’ve used them both. Most recently I used the Watco Teak Oil since it says it is specifically made for tight grained wood. Pics shows a 1995 Blackhawk Shadow (cane seat) with mahogany outwales that was treated with the Teak Oil last year. I also gave my 1999 Merlin II (webbed seat) a thorough going over last and also used the Watco Teak Oil; the front thwart shown is walnut but ignore the seat since that has the Ed’s Canoe factory finish…and the rear thwart is cherry since I broke the stock walnut thwart. It seems like the Teak Oil is a little easier to work with (thinner) than the green label Watco. I don’t know the answer to your shelf life question but I’m sure I’ve used older Watco than yours and worst case it’s just a little bit gummier than when new so a bit harder to wipe off but that may not be all bad.

Congrats on your new boat. I paddled one many years ago and liked it.

I seem to remember Dave Curtis having something on his site about mixing in some colored interior Watco with the exterior Watco for maintaining the darker color of stained ash trim. I couldn’t find it when I looked just now, but he offers a “custom mix” for his nutmeg stained ash.

Rob is right and this link shows Dave Curtis’ custom mix if you want something a little darker.


Regarding sandpaper I usually use 100 for any rough areas, then 150, then 220 and no need to go finer than 220. Often there is a small ridge between the inwales and outwales from settling over time so you might use 100 grit with a palm sander to smooth it out.

I know I sound like a broken record on this subject, but I still think the best wood finish is water based polyurethane. Varathane Spar Urethane outdoor gloss. And yes it does work over an oil based stain. I usually use at least six coats with a light sanding after the first two, or three. It doesn’t amber and it dries to the touch in five minutes. For the best result, use a very high quality fine bristle brush. Allow 12 to 24 hours between coats for complete cure.