Wood gunwales-CHEAP

I am wanting to replace the rotten wood gunwales and decks on a 1988 Mad River Malecite. I know Ed’s knockdown system is virtually the only reasonable priced option but I am famously frugal and always curious about pros and cons of cheaper options. I know hardwoods are preferred but is it just because of their impact resistance (won’t dent) on impacts? If you are paddling mostly flatwater and don’t expect rough useage,…why wouldn’t fine-grained 16ft strips of pine work? The 5/4 thick 2x6x16ft decking sold at lumber outlets that already have the rounded edges would have the perfect dimensions if it were run down a tablesaw to make 3/4 inch strips on both edges. Two $8 boards could complete a set of gunwales. I know they are pressure treated so not sure about long term preservation but HECK its made to last outdoors, exposed to sun and rain continously for many years. Any thoughts? No need to tell me I am a cheapo,…I admit it!

I recently seen a boat on craiglist that the guy had redid the gunnels with Trex decking, he seemed quite proud of his work.

Available in some nice colors, impervious to rot, very flexible and available at any local lumber yard. But it may not meet you low cost requirement.

I have TREX-heavy
I have a few 16ft composite TREX deck planks and they are a little heavy and tend to get chalky when scraped. Certainly might be completely maintenance free though! HMM

Possible issues.
The PT dimensional lumber that we see up here, even at the better yards, is typically construction grade southern yellow pine. Not sold kiln-dried, it tends to take off into bizarre shapes when ripped into thin pieces. In other words, good luck finding any straight-grained, defect-free boards.

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with SYP as far as strength is concerned when compared to ash. Maybe less shock resistant and possibly a bit splintery as it weathers, though.

You don’t need 5/4 stock. Original gunnels are 3/4 I’m pretty sure. And is 16’ long enough to re-rail a Malecite?

I’d try the nearest sawmill to see what they can do for you, but, around here, they generally don’t get their logs over 16’.

Good luck!

finding a canoe builder within driving distance and contact him/her. A builder will likey have a supply of ash, maybe even spruce. One never knows.

Might work
is 16 ft. long enough? Don’t forget the curve of the canoe will add length. Will you chosen material make the curves required with out splitting? How much weight are you willing to add to your boat.

And FWIW it will never be as pretty as oiled ash.

I’ve wondered myself whether
pressure treating with copper compounds would alter the strength of gunwale wood favorably or unfavorably.

If the pressure treating issue were left aside, I would consider douglas fir, which is available in close grained, straight grained, lengths. But I don’t think I would use it if I had to store a canoe outdoors. I have long pieces of douglas fir in the basement that I picked out of lumber yard stock, and while they would need to be ripped down from their “2x2” dimension, they would easily serve as gunwales for a malecite.

Grain direction important
Yeah I have been checking out some of the decking and certainly the position of the grain has got to be critical. I have found some with no knots and fine grain,…maybe 10 growth layers per inch. Getting a prime board where the grain direction is cupped inward towards the hull is what I assume is ideal. I have located several of these that will probably work great. I am gonna give it a try.

Grain direction vs. growth ring
orientation. Technically, they’re two different things, but, yeah, your instincts are good. I think you’d want the growth rings perpendicular to the screws for maximum holding power. In the long axis (axes?), you want the grain to run as parallel to the length as possible, if that makes any sense.

To my way of thinking, though, the cost of a decent re-rail job is so lopsided toward labor that scrimping on materials seems maybe a little pound-foolish. YMMV.

Plan on 17 to 18’
on the Malecite gunwale replacement. Believe me, done it twice on mine. If you go with 16’ you will come up short and will have to scarf in somewhere like I did this last round. 3/4 is the traditional dimensions but I made my first set at about an inch which really made it solid.

I try to be frugal to so usually end buying rough ash from a local shop so I get up to 6 gunwales out of one board that usually costs me about 65$. Not bad considering finding pre-made ones is difficult, expensive and shipping them is out of this world expensive. Just another view from been there done it.


Doug, I paid about $85 for a set
at Ed’s a few years back. Not too bad a drive for us, either, if combined with some paddling and an overnight. Plus, sticking them into a canoe on the roof is about the ideal way to get them home.

It is finished
Well I have completed the Malecite rebiuld. New southern yellow pine pressure treated 16ft gunwales. Took about 6 hrs to make the gunwales from premium decking. Lots of hand sanding to get the shape right. Also new custom oak decks and new webbing on the seats. Photos will be posted very soon. I am very pleased.

mad rive rerail
I have rerailed a few mad river canoes including a malecite. Here’s what I can offer. The reason to use hard wood is that the edges of the hull are very flimsy. The rails make the edges strong and prevent the hull from twisting when paddled hard. White ash is not just hard it is strong and very tough. I kept costs down by going to a cabinet shop and getting 16 foot strips 3/4 (1x stock) by 11/16". planed by the shop. The 16 foot length is a little short so get 5 pieces. under the bow decks, just put in a short piece of inwale held by the screws from the outwale. The deck will hide the joint. At the outwales the 16 foot piece will stretch from bow to just past the rear lift handle. Just behind the lift handle add the piece of outwale that completes the run to the stern. Any kind of joint works here because the inwale is continuous at the stern and the rails have very little flex at this point. The lift handle is the critical bit that backs up the joint if struck from the side right on the joint. the stern end pieces will be screwed into the inwale.

Great info and advice. Just finished it in pt pine and will post photos. I think it came out nice. Maybe I will research local cabinet makers and see about availability of long 16ft ash strips.

Not sure what you mean about the
edges of the hull being flimsy. I bought a MR Compatriot, all FG, custom fitted with spruce gunwales. They stood up to rack travel and class 1-2 ww quite well, and were stiffer than ash, at less weight. I’m sure douglas fir could do as well.

I always recommend ash, for the reasons you cite. And there are “softwoods” like redwood that I would never use for gunwales. But douglas fir is available and should work quite well. (I have sitka spruce, but I would never waste it on gunwales.)

Flimsy kinda relative
I have also rerailed many canoes in aluminum and vinyl but this is my first wood job. I now have a Old Town Columbia, a Wenonah Vagabond and a Mad River Malecite all with wood gunwales. I think he meant that the top edges of the fiberglass where the gunwales attach are very thin (virtually a single layer of fiberglass compared to the bottom and stems where it has numerous layers) but after observing the characteristics of naked canoes in royalex, plastic and fiberglass,…the fiberglass as a material is certainly the stiffest but thinnest at the gunwale. BTW the pine when secured as gunwales is very stiff. Sitka spruce would be REALLY NICE!

Needs 17’ 2" nm

Laminated pine rails
My first whitewater canoe was a Millbrook ME built by John Berry. John used lightweight pine for the inwale and outwale, but then glued a thin ash rub rail onto the outwale.

It worked very well . . . until I collided sideways into a sweeper log on the upper, upper Esopus. I don’t think solid ash would have held up to that impact either.

Sitka and yellow spruce don’t resist
rot nearly as well as ash or pine. One has to consider storage conditions and keep spruce varnished, not oiled.

My MR Compatriot, and my Millbrook Edsel, are both very thin at the top edge, and down the sides. A layer or two of inside Kevlar on the Millbrook make the thin laminate hard to tear, but it is flexible on its own.

But with thin laminate, which wood is chosen for the gunwales will not make a big difference in hull stiffness.

When I ordered my Compatriot, Jim Henry said that ash gunwales would be less rigid than spruce, if he used the usual cross sectional thickness. Of course, ash is tougher and harder to split or tear.