Why are some canoe thwarts shaped?

I’m borrowing a friend’s canoe for the summer. As a way of thanking him, I want to replace the old thwarts that are cracked/loose. It’s an Old Towne Discovery 119k, with unshaped thwarts. I checked the Old Towne site and they don’t sell the correct size, and I can’t find unshaped thwarts in the right size anywhere. I can easily find all kinds of shaped thwarts. I could also buy some 1x2 ash and make them myself, but it’s pretty much cheaper to buy them pre-made.

So is there any advantage/disadvantage to the shaped thwarts? The original ones are 27.875" 1x2 ash, with slightly beveled sides.

Thanks for any help/advice.

Wha Ho, Pilgrim

– Last Updated: Jul-02-16 9:18 AM EST –

Here ah's made me own custom length thwarts fer me OT Appy awhile back. Iffin' yer gots de tools it be a'bit easier.


Try Ed's or Essex fer already made.


Shaped jus' looks a bit fancer ta me.


I make my own
and have never worried about matching the shape of the original ones

Jack L

cut down
Canoe manufacturers will sell thwarts, seats, and yokes in lengths to fit the widest canoe in their lineup. You just cut them down to fit your hull.

Thanks everyone.
Follow up question- does the species of wood matter that much? I see ash used everywhere on ones that are sold, but is there any reason oak wouldn’t work if finished with marine polyurethane? My local Home Dumpo doesn’t sell ash that I’m aware of. I assume any hardwood will work, but am wondering if there is any reason oak wouldn’t work.

Thanks again.

Its heavier and more rot resistant
than ash

Moore Canoes used to use oak…

But your home dump might not have clear oak.

Oak is stiff and heavy.
Try “Select Pine” from Home Depot. The variety of this they stock in my areas Home depot is close to clear Spruce. Spruce was the wood of choice for canoe gunwales for some of the early builders. Any way It has worked good for two canoes I have made gunwales for. It is softer than ash but still works good. A lot easier to work with than oak, lighter than oak, cheaper, and holds oil good.

Make sure you do not just cut a 45deg angle to splice gunwales. A scarf joint is best. If a scarf joint is more than your skill level then just make a jig for a long angle cut. If I remember correctly the ratio should be some ware around 2 to 1 (two inches long for every 1 inch width). Tite Bond III is a good almost waterproof glue to glue the splice. Works much better for me than epoxy if not below the waterline.

Make sure to use stainless steel screws.

You will need clamps, a lot of clamps, never too many clamps.

Not that hard to make and install new gunwales. Watch a few videos and do not get to fancy. Did I say you will need a lot of clamps?

Thwart Shape
Thwarts are shaped to reduce weight and improve cosmetics.


– Last Updated: Jul-02-16 9:14 PM EST –

Oak is not used because it does not handle water well. Ash is the way to go. Ash is lighter,is better for exterior use and is cheaper.


– Last Updated: Jul-03-16 12:25 AM EST –

There's more than one oak. White oak will work great in water, has a natural oil that resists soaking up water. Red oak which most people associate with "oak" is a poor choice, it turns black after it's exposed to water and rots.

There are lots more sub species of oaks, most will work to some degree in water but are hard to find.

Softwoods, ie: pine, spruce etc. are rarely used because they are not very damage resistant (dent easily) and would have to be quite large in section to have sufficient strength. (2x4 for a thwart would work, wouldn't be pretty)

Bill H.

Canoe builders used to make part that were recognizable like the hex shaped bolts on the old wood Old Towns. Now parts builders do the same thing. The shape is of no consequence. Replacing the thwarts is a great idea and you are a thoughtful person.

when hefting the hull …


I used
birch to lower seat on my Wilderness. Spar varnish can’t tell difference between it and the ash thwarts.

Thanks everyone
I wound up ordering pre-made ones to save time and the stench of marine poly. I appreciate the input though.