Wood choices for Canoe Seat,Thwart,Yoke

-- Last Updated: Apr-11-07 12:35 PM EST --

I need to replace all the wood elements in the boat. It's an Old Town canoe and Old Town sells replacements which are all made from White Ash. Is White Ash the best wood to use and why is it the choice?

What other wood types could I use? Any that I should avoid?


White ash
Great wood for gunnels, especially if they are kept oiled (which reminds me…). Can take some amazing torque in a pin situation without breaking. Same thing for a carrying yoke. I would avoid soft wood, except soruce which seems to be suitable for yokes and seats. I’ve seen maple used too.

But then again, i’m just a consumer, I don’t build these things, and I’m sure there is someone here that can shed a brighter light on the subject.


Mahogany or’
cherry are nice fer those, too.


I have used Ash
I replaced some thwarts with Ash. it is VERY strong. I think that is why it has always been a standard on canoes. If you go with ash, make sure you have sharp saw blades. It’s tough to cut.

Tough and springy
In addition to being tough, white ash is a very springy wood. A good feature for taking an occasional blow on the gunnel and not breaking like more brittle woods. For the same reasons white ash beavertail paddles were prized a half century ago. And that is also why baseball bats are made of white ash.


– Last Updated: Apr-11-07 10:18 PM EST –

I'm rehabbing a 1920's vintage Chestnut Canoe Co. Bob's Special right now. It has maple trim (thwart, seats, decks) and spruce rails. The figure and grain in the old maple center thwart jumped out at me tonight when I hit it with the varnish brush...Ahhhhhhh...

Strong and springy. Thats whats good
in or on your canoe. That would be ash. I spent a month last year building a seat from nice clear cherry. It was sweet. It broke. I salvaged it with a stip of ash laminated into it.

Think about "White Oak"
White Oak is an excellent wood to use where it can get wet, as it does not absorb water like other woods. White Oak is used for making whiskey and wine barrels, because of this property. It is also as strong , or stronger than Ash.

White Oak has natural resins in the wood grain & fibers, to seal out moisture

Ash is a lighter colored wood, and as strong as red oak, so people use it to get a lighter colored end finish.

I just wanted to give you an alternate to think about.

Bad experience with red oak
I made a custom yoke out of red oak (because it was readily available) and so far I have had no problems with it. But I also made the yoke pad bases out of red oak, and as I was stapeling the upholstery fabric it split. I probably should have used plywood for the bases.


Back in the days of wood-canvas canoes ash was the preferred wood for framing because it had a good strength-to-weight ratio and was also flexible and didn’t discolor during the steam-bending process.

As it was also harder than the cedar used for planking and since it was already in the shop ash was generally used for gunwales, thwarts and seats.

And thus, it became the traditional wood of choice for trimming our modern plastic fantastics.

On the west coast where ash is hard to come by, douglas fir is often used instead, as it is cheaper, readily available, and has similar characteristics.

Aside from weight and price issues, you could probably get by with pretty much any wood that is harder than poplar.

The most important thing to remember is to make sure you buy quarter-sawn stock and when you work it make sure you align the grain for maximum strength.

Red oak
There is no wood out there that splits easier than red oak, and I imagine that would be true for a lot of things made out of it. Speaking firewood (I know, not the same but somewhat relevant nonetheless), I can split a straight-grained 10-inch diameter log with nothing more than a hatchet. Use a splitting maul, and I can split it right through just about any knot.

White oak is stronger, due to a more intertwined wood grain, but only marginally so. Probably OK for normal use, but I wouldn’t want to see what happened in a wrap.


Thanks for all the suggestions. Very interesting observations all around.

After some research I ended up buying the seats and a yoke from http://www.edscanoe.com. Good prices and there is no way in the world I would have made anything as good and comfy loking as their bucket seats.

I will have to be content with building a rack for the canoe in the garrage from your good old 2x4 of the cheapest wood available :slight_smile: I installed a pulley system on the ceiling so my wife parked the car outside for the night :slight_smile: Afraid if I make the seats she will not step in the boat…

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