Wood gunnel care?

I’m really surprised to hear

– Last Updated: Nov-06-12 9:36 PM EST –

they are essentially the same. You're a believable source in my book Glenn, but I remember that the odor of Deks was distinctively different from Watco. That is very unscientific, I know, but the results have been obvious to me. I've used Watco marine on all other canoes I've owned, stored them in the same vault in the Smithsonian, and I still have to re-Watco those about every year.

The wood on the Proem is mahogany. ... and really while I've always stored all my canoes indoors, I've had this canoe out hundreds of times and on many, many trips. Yes I treat my canoes well, but I think probably most of us do.


Watco and Deks behave quite differently

– Last Updated: Nov-07-12 3:00 AM EST –

For those who are unfamiliar with Deks Olje, Deks D1 is the basic penetrating oil. Deks D2 is applied after application of D1 if you desire a satin or high gloss finish.

To get the best results, the Deks must be applied according to instructions. D1 is applied to the wood in repeated coats, about every 15 minutes or so, until the wood will not take any more. This will typically be 5-6 coats. If D2 is not applied after D1 the finish will be matte (but quite pleasant).

If you want a satin finish you can apply a couple of coats of a 50:50 mixture of D1 and D2. If you want a high gloss finish, multiple coats of D2 are applied.

The main difference between the handling of Watco and Deks is how the oil penetrates the wood. Deks seems to penetrate better. Of course, you can try to emulate the Deks D1 application process with Watco, but after about the 3rd coat, Watco just sits on the surface of the wood and turns gummy, unlike the Deks.

So the Deks application process is more time consuming and Deks is considerably more expensive. But in my experience it produces a much nicer luster and is way more durable than Watco oils.

I have known people who have gotten cosmetic results with Watco oils nearly equal to that of Deks, but they applied Watco oil after every trip out. So maybe if you are willing to apply it dozens of times a year, Watco will eventually penetrate wood to the same extent Deks does.

Penetratingly ambiguous stuff
I have no position on which of these “oils” produce better results for different users on different woods.

I do know that neither Watco nor Deks Olje is an oil per se, but both rather are mixtures of linseed oil and different combinations of different forms of petroleum naphtha. I don’t see how the oil of either could “penetrate” more than the other, since the oil in both cases is linseed oil.

More generally, I don’t really understand why why any of these oil mixtures are different from varnishes, broadly defined, and indeed Deks 2 is marketed as a “high gloss oil varnish”. Perhaps the primary difference is the amount of linseed oil in the formulation and the cure speeds of the drier and solvent chemicals.

I suspect the finish of each of these products is determined simply by how many multiple layers are ultimately built up on top of each other, and how hard they dry, so as to enhance protection, gloss and lasting ability – the same way that is done with products labeled simply as varnishes.

I note that the Deks technical data specify that the product has been formulated for “thick, dense, oily and hard to impregnate woods” such as teak, mahogany, oak, and a bunch of tropical exotics I have never heard of. From all this, it seems reasonable that Deks, if applied properly, would be a very good finish for mahogany woodwork on a canoe.

I don’t know if ash, pine and spruce, which are common gunnel materials on flat water canoes, fall into Deks’ target of thick, dense, oily and hard to impregnate woods. However, spar varnish has worked well for me on these wood gunnels, giving many years of lasting gloss. Watco also does a very nice job, especially if rubbed properly to gloss, but it has to be applied much more frequently than spar varnish and probably Deks varnish.

Deks versus Watco versus varnish

– Last Updated: Nov-07-12 12:57 PM EST –

Deks D1 is a penetrating oil that results in a finish similar (but better) than Watco oil. Both are very different from the finish obtained with a good quality varnish, however. The difference in the finish is very readily apparent. Although Deks is more durable than Watco, it doesn't have the staying power of polyurethane or spar varnish, but it doesn't scratch up the same either.

Watco makes a Satin Wax product that can be applied over their regular penetrating oil that does produce a fair satin finish but not as nice as using the Deks D1:D2 mixture. To my knowledge, Watco doesn't make a product that produces a finish equivalent to the high gloss finish obtained by applying undiluted D2 over D1. I haven't tried applying varnish over Watco. I don't know how that would work out.

When I bought my first wood gunwaled (an MRC Explorer) back in the 1970s, I bought a quart of D1 and D2 from a local supplier in Minneapolis and used it every couple of years until I moved. After that, I couldn't find Deks locally and switched to Watco oil and have used several varieties. It is pretty easy to apply a quick coat of Watco, but I find that it doesn't stay nearly as well. After car-topping my boats and paddling them there are often bare looking areas along the midships gunwales and where the racks contact the rails after even one weekend trip. And I have never gotten as nice an appearance with Watco as with Deks, although Watco is not bad.

I think if you would use the product the difference in qualities between Deks and Watco would be immediately apparent.

White ash varies somewhat in density but is generally considered a denser wood, not as dense as some teaks, but comparable to maple and most mahoganies with some varieties approaching the density of hickory. It is generally considerably denser than spruce and most pines.

I think “penetrating oil” is …
… largely a marketing term. The oil in all these mixtures and in all varnishes – which often is linseed – surely penetrates somewhat. But how much penetration is going on?

Deks 1 recommends a minimum of 2 coats or more until you are satisfied with the finish. On top of that, Deks 2 – marketed as a “varnish” – recommends 6 coats as optimum. Clearly, all this goop in 8-12 layers is not penetrating the wood; it is simply building up in layers on top of itself.

These heavy oil mixtures may not dry as hard as a spar varnish, which actually is fairly flexible itself. Polyurethane dries even harder and should be more waterproof than spar varnish.

I did get a can of Deks Olje when I bought my Dagger Encore. Dagger gave it away with the canoe. It was only one can, so maybe it was Deks 1. I applied it and didn’t notice any difference from Watco. It looked gone and the gunwales looked dry within a year. But I don’t think I’ve applied anything in the 20 years since, with the canoe stored outside all that time, so maybe it’s still doing something protective.

Speaking just for myself, whether or not I get a nice protective and aesthetic finish on my canoe woodwork and paddles is overwhelmingly a function of how diligent I am in refinishing the wood when it starts to look bad – no matter what finish I began with. That’s why some of my boats rot and others look good.

Mike McCrea has test panels of six or eight different finishes. I wonder how they are faring. Too bad he does’t post here.

I agree, Glenn.

– Last Updated: Nov-07-12 2:11 PM EST –

The CW on oil finishes is that any difference in surface penetration depends as much or more on the species to which they are applied as anything and that traditional varnish application achieves comparable depth of "penetration" on long grain. Really, we're talking about dimensions measured in microns here.

Scrape the tip of a sharp nail across a gunnel and tell me how deep the finish has penetrated and hardened in the wood. Safe bet it's about as deep as a sheet of newsprint is thick.

The differences between the various oil/solvent/varnish finishes are minor variations on formulas that joiners, carpenters, and shipbuilders have been using for generations. There are modern resins and refined solvents that may be tougher or cheaper and the proportions may vary a bit, but it's mostly marketing that attempts to differentiate most of these products.

I always thought "penetrating oil" was stuff you put on rusted nuts and bolts to loosen them.

That is exactly why I now use CPES
I find the epoxy penetrating sealer outlasts anything else I have tried. I use marine varnish over it just to enhance aesthetics, and the varnish can be easily touched up. Not inexpensive, but the longevity more than pays for itself.

That looks like it’s got potential.

Wish I’d known about that before I replaced wood on and repainted my shed.

Epoxy - what about sun damage?
As I recall, epoxy can’t protect itself or what’s underneath from UV damage. I vividly recall Mike McCrea’s epoxy-only test panel.

Unless the CPES formula has UV inhibitors, it would seem wise to use UV protectant varnish over it.

The varnish provides UV protection.
Yes, epoxy under varnish works well and looks nice. I built two wooden sea kayaks. The decks were 'glassed with epoxy and then varnished. No problem with UV degradation of the epoxy. And epoxy does work wonderfully well as a wood sealer.

Well, I agree in part

– Last Updated: Nov-07-12 4:41 PM EST –

I don't think that oil finishes penetrate the wood to any significant extent and yes, the finished part of the wood is easily scratched off, perhaps more easily than a varnish or polyurethane finish.

I do find, however, that while sharing similarities, different oil products handle quite differently and produce significantly different results.

I think polyurethane or varnish is a terrific finish for wood that is not subject to much abrasion but is subject to long periods of continuous UV exposure, such as the deck of a wooden motorboat. Oil finishes on wood that is left outdoors sometimes attracts dust and dirt and greys. Most canoes are not left outside for very long periods of time, however.

There are a lot of folks who prefer using oil finishes on the gunwales of their canoes, if not on all the wood trim. Are we all dupes of a marketing ploy?

I think those who prefer an oil finish accept that the finish will need to be renewed more frequently than a varnish or polyurethane finish but choose oil because of the ease of application. Oil finishes, unlike varnish, are rather indifferent to the method of application. Varnish needs to be applied carefully to avoid sags and runs and for best results should be wet-sanded between coats. The wet varnish seems to attract every gnat and bug in the neighborhood while it is drying. And it is difficult, if not impossible to apply more than one coat per day.

Even for an oil finish with a rather involved application process like Deks D1, it is possible to apply 6 coats to a canoe's gunwales in an
afternoon. Applying 6 coats of varnish is a week long task. Once the initial application of the oil finish is done, touch up is also much quicker and easier than for a bright finish.

Another reason some prefer oil finished gunwales is simply the way they look, which is very significantly different from a bright finish.

It seems that this topic has about been beaten to death, but if anyone really wants additional opinions regarding oil finishes vs bright finishes, go on over to the wooden boat forum. Wooden boat owners tend to be pretty fussy about their wood. Here is a thread regarding Deks and other oil finishes: http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthread.php?4587-Oil-finishes-Deks-Olje&highlight=Deks+Olje

Not everyone there is a fan of oil finishes but this post pretty much mirrors my experience with Deks Olje:

" Deks #1 is a true matte, rich-looking oil finish. I don't know what's in it in terms of UV absorbers, but as long as it's maintained it doesn't seem to look much different as time goes by. I'm not sure I'd leave a boat in the water or out in the weather with only Deks #1 as a protector, but for dinghies or small boats that get covered storage, it holds up quite well, as will a lot of other coatings.

The ease of application, fast initial application and drying times compared to many other oil products (it's not still sticky two weeks after application, unlike some oils) easy touch-ups and that nice looking subtle finish are what I have always liked about it. The key to getting lasting results seems to be learning to apply a fresh coat before it starts looking like it needs it. That way you don't need to go in and sand any areas that have dirt ground into them.

Since I tend to approach re-varnishing as an unwanted chore, the fact that Deks is easy and quick to re-apply tends to simplify the process to the point where I don't put it off until the last possible moment. I've also used #1 as a base layer for varnish a couple times, instead of priming with diluted varnish. I don't know what the chemistry involved is or whether it's a good idea or not, but it seemed to hold up pretty well.

They used to run an ad in WB for Deks Olje showing one of Jay Benford's boats (named Sunrise?? and 34' sticks in my mind, but may not be accurate) that was finished bright with Deks #1 and #2. It was lovely and lived in the Pacific Northwest, so the stuff must work OK out on a mooring as long as it's maintained. I don't think it will ever put the varnish makers out of business and am not claiming that it holds up better, or even as well as a good varnish job, but for classy-looking, easy to maintain small boats I really like the stuff. "

Duped re "oil"
Yes, I think most of us have been duped about the so-called penetration and polymerization of oil mixtures.

But I don’t think this is the primary reason why OM’s are widely used on gunwales and thwarts. I think the overwhelming primary reason is ease and speed of application – and reapplication. I just use cotton rags; no brush.

I think canoe builders use OM’s for the very same reason. Why would they want to spend a week applying, drying, sanding, and reapplying six coats of a quality spar varnish, when they can spend 15 minutes wiping on three coats of an OM? Much less do they want to do all this varnishing of the wood, including the ends, before they attach it to the hull. Time is money. Then they rationalize their decision to us.

We continue using the OM for the same lazybones reasons: ease and speed of application.

Switching gears: I have noticed Watco staying very sticky for long periods of time when I apply it too thickly and don’t wipe the excess off. This may be because Watco uses raw linseed oil, which I just noticed in reading the MSDS. I wonder if Deks Olje uses boiled linseed, which dries in a matter of hours rather than days.

Watco oil
I don’t know if the difference is in the type of oil used or the solvent, or some other ingredient, but Watco and Deks D1 behave very differently.

Deks D1 can (and should) be applied wet-on-wet in multiple coats until the wood just doesn’t accept anymore. Try that with Watco and you will wind up with a gummy mess, as well as a whole lot of gummy rags.

Where does the D1 go? Perhaps it is just drying out layer open layer on the surface of the wood, and maybe that is why it tends to have significantly more depth to the luster and why it seems to last longer. And D1 is pretty much completely dry within 24 hrs or so.

Watco even when it seems dry may continue to attract dirt for more than a week after application. I find this most noticeable after car topping my boats within a week or so of oiling the gunwales. Invariably the vinyl covered rails of my Thule rack will leave dark smudges where they contact the wood. This isn’t just on the surface, it is down in the oil and you have to sand the wood to get rid of it.

It may well be that if one applied 6 coats of Watco oil each a week apart that one would get a similar depth of finish to Deks D1 but I have never tried it.

If you have only used Deks by applying one or two coats as you might with Watco oil, I don’t think you can judge the results that can be obtained with it when applied according to directions.

Sure, all of that makes some sense.
While most of these wipe-on oil/varnish products are essentially similar, I’m sure that some perform better than others. Most of us are not after fine furniture finishes on our canoe trim, however, and are just happy to have easy to apply and effective protection afforded by the stuff they sell at the corner hardware. There are others still that swear by traditional spar varnish and they would be completely correct, too… for themselves.

As I mentioned above, almost anything will work if it’s reapplied when necessary. I know a guy who works as a landscaper/gardener and loves old-fashion wood-handled tools. I once commented on the beautiful patina his collection had developed and asked what he treated them with. He laughed and pulled from his truck a gallon can of gloppy greasy goo from the vet’s used to help prevent and treat saddle sores on horses. At work, he dunks his hands in it before he puts on leather gloves. He said it helps prevent blisters, keeps his gloves supple, and treats his tool handles all at the same time. I think if you rubbed the stuff on canoe rails every other day, they’d look better than mine do with multiple coats of Watco and probably be as well protected.

And you’re right, too, that this subject is well beyond saddle sores, but those mahogany rails! Aren’t they something to see? Where are the fasteners?

Another thought
I have limited experience oiling gunnels and use Watco twice a year-I like the smell. I do have a lot of experince with finishes on reproduction muzzeloading rifles. The needs are similar-weather resistance,durability,beauty ect. There are literally hundreds of different formulas and products for gunstock finishes. The one I find clearly best is called “Permalyn gun stock finish”. It penetrates and can produce any look fron hand rubbed to glossy. There is a sealer that is used before the finish coat.Its big defference from others is that it is practally impervious to water or solvents and very durible. It would make the perfect gunnel finish and probibly last the life of the boat and can be spot retouched if gouged. The problem is that is is REAL expensive.It doesn’t smell as good a Watco,but not bad.