Wood gunnel care?

With the new canoe having all wood gunnels ect. what is a good oil to use in the care of it? more importantly what is the best choice to get frome lowes tru value or home improvment stores.

penetrating oil or varnish
Some prefer a bright finish (polyurethane or varnish) on wood gunwales and it does have more staying power than penetrating oil, but it tends to get scratched.

I have used Watco regular penetrating oil, Watco exterior penetrating oil, Watco teak oil, Deks Olje (a Danish oil that is hard to find these days), Gunwale Guard, and Formby’s Tung Oil finish. They all work pretty well but I wouldn’t suggest Gunwale Guard as it tends to get gummy.

Unless your boat is going to stay outside all the time exposed to sunlight you don’t need to get the exterior formulation of Watco oil. The regular works just fine.

Some folks use plain boiled linseed oil, but I have found that straight boiled linseed oil tends to mildew. Some people swear by a “home brew” that usually is a concoction of boiled linseed oil with vinegar and some type of organic solvent like turpentine or even kerosene mixed in but I haven’t used them. Some folks also mix a little varnish in with their Watco oil. If you want to darken the wood a little, you can mix a small amount of walnut or cherry stain into your oil.

The Watco Teak oil seems to have a little better staying power than the regular and it tends to darken light colored ash a bit more than regular Watco oil which you may or may not like. It is also more expensive than regular Watco oil.

People claim that Formby’s Tung Oil finish has little actual tung oil in it. I really don’t care as it gives a nice sheen and is fairly easy to apply.

Most hardware or box stores will have Watco oil and probably Watco Teak oil and Formby’s as well.

I usually apply the Watco products with a paint brush and then wipe off the excess after it soaks in. The Formby’s is applied with a cloth and rubbed in sort of like a liquid wax.

I think a nice sheen is largely a product of repeated application and hand rubbing as hand warmth tends to allow the oil to penetrate better.

We use tung oil on ours
But if you slide your canoe on your vehicle racks, you’ll have to use it yearly.

I think it gives a beautiful low lustre finish, plush sheds the water


It’s all about maintenance.
Just about anything will work if you reapply it when necessary.

Most use whatever’s easily obtained, like Watco. Maintenance intervals depend on usage, handling, and storage environment.

I wish it had worked out that way for me

– Last Updated: Nov-03-12 9:12 AM EST –

"The Watco Teak oil seems to have a little better staying power than the regular and it tends to darken light colored ash a bit more than regular Watco oil..."

I recently oiled a new cane seat with Watco Teak Oil expecting and hoping it would darken the ash wood somewhat. No dice. It looks just like it did before the oil, but with a little sheen. I'm going to have to sand it down again and stain it, then re-oil.

BTW, Watco Teak oil is not just oil, it contains some varnish. I think some people call it a "wipe-on varnish".

I use watco oil on my MR explorer. I even unscrew the gunnels and get behind it with rags or some narrow applicator

Wood trim

– Last Updated: Nov-03-12 11:17 AM EST –

I use Watco Teak Oil & have for several years. Typically 2 coats of it(as needed).
I let it dry between coat # 1 & #2.
Works for me; no mixing, easy to apply, and have never had a problem.

Be sure to wipe off any drips on the hull.


I have found that
repeated applications of Watco Teak oil tend to darken light colored ash a bit over time, at least relative to regular Watco oil. Might be the varnish in the Watco teak oil ambering a bit with aging.

If you want significantly darker rails, I would suggest applying stain before oiling, or mixing a little stain in with the penetrating oil. Ash seems to take up the Minwax cherry stain very nicely, especially if you first use the Minwax stain prep.

As noted in another thread, oil finishes
in general contain a varnish component. The thinnest oil I’ve used, Minwax 209 clear, contains a varnish component.

But that varnish component is not as effective a sealer and surface hardener as quality spar or polyurethane varnish.

Others have pointed out that even thin oils like Minwax 209 leave only a very thin layer of penetration.

And I’ll just say again that increasing moisture content will weaken wood somewhat. Epoxy and varnish minimize moisture infiltration. Oiling? I don’t think so.

Watco comes in many stains
If you are trying to change the color of light wood when using Watco, keep in mind that you can get Watco Teak (my favorite) with many different stains mixed in. I’m currently using medium walnut.

Watco is a mixture of linseed oil, varnish and drying chemicals.

“Oiling” with Watco is something you will have to do at least twice a season to keep them in shiny shape. Five coats of a good polyurethane or spar varnish can last many years in my experience.

Alternatively, you can do a good varnish job the first time and then touch up occasionally with a wipe-on varnish, especially where the paddle rubs the gunwales. That’s what I do with my wooden paddle blades.

OK I’ll be the odd ball…
I use a mixture of 50% turpentine and 50% linseed oil.


Pleasant aroma.
There’s nothing oddball about the traditional homebrew.

Add a little varnish, a metallic siccative, and some fungicide, then switch mineral spirits for the turpentine and you’ve basically got outdoor Watco.


– Last Updated: Nov-06-12 8:56 AM EST –

But I use my canoes a lot and have to slide them onto racks. I find that I sand and apply at least every 2-3 months, unless it's a boat that sits in the barn unused. The minimum I would apply, Mike, would be twice a year.

An old friend told me to try Olive oil once, and as I recall it worked? But haven't tried that in a long time. Seems like I had to put several coats on, but had a nice sheen and "Felt" smooth. Been almost a decade ago, but must have not been "Perfect" since I went back to Watko.

I think that is why some folks add vinegar to the mixture.

Watco yes - Deks Olje yes yes

– Last Updated: Nov-06-12 2:31 PM EST –

I've used Watco Teak (Marine) for years and like it a lot, but I've had better results with Deks Olje. In 1985 I applied 4 or 5 coats of step 1, then 2 coats of step 2 to the rails on my Proem 85. I've never needed to do any other maintenance and have used this boat extensively. The wood looks about the same as it did in 1985.

Here are pictures taken of that canoe within the past year.








I agree
The nicest looking finish I ever got was with Deks Olje but it has sort of disappeared from stores in the US.

I know there are sources available on-line. Have you bought any lately? If so, where did you get it?

About a month ago
I bought Deks 1 and 2 from here:


They seemed to have about the lowest price. I want to use it on one of my Reverie 2s.

My compliments. I’ve been using Watco on my Explorer’s ash gunwales, and while I like the way it makes them look I might have to pony up for some of that if it will get me those kinds of results. Much longer lasting too.

Deks Olje ingredients …
… are essentially the same as Watco – linseed oil, varnish and solvents/driers – though in different proportions, according to the material safety data sheets.

As to Mike’s Proem – reportedly stored between uses in the Smithsonian preservation vault – I would ask what kind of wood that is. Red oak?

Ingredients may be similar
but the results are different.

Part of this might be the difference in the application process.