Wooden rail repar advice please

On a recient “creek adventure” I chipped the extreem bow tip of both rails on my Bell Flashfire.A top layer about 1/8in thick and about 1 1/4in long is gone on both sides.It sepatated along the grain. I would appreciate rapair suggestions.Would some kind of a cap be a good idea? This area always looked vulnerable to me anyway.


Judgement calls

– Last Updated: Sep-19-09 1:00 AM EST –

Skip this post and proceed to below. I don't know your boat and had a much different picture of your problem. Looks like others are providing sound advice.


Design Flaw
Bell cuts the inwale ~ 1/8" thick to cross the laminate at both stems. The thin section[s] eventually rot, break and end up in the condition yours are in.

This thin section predates my time at Bell, and while I redesigned inwales, outwales, thwarts and decks, I was unable to make the thin cuts go away.

The easy solution is to do a Curtis/BlackHawk/Hemlock Placid rail ends. Tale out the six 2" screws through outwale into the decks. With luck the epoxy and sawdust plug will let go easily. [Another historical design flaw, with inwales and outwales epoxied together, just try to replace one of the four pieces?] Cut the outwales at 45dg. Trim the inwales and deck with a Dremel Tool to allow water drainage; replace the screws. Scenic? maybe not, but functional at last!

Inherent weak point.

– Last Updated: Sep-18-09 11:46 AM EST –

The ends of wooden gunnels will not only actively absorb water, if not properly treated, but remain wet longer when the canoe is inverted, due to gravity. The deck/inwale area also restricts air movement and promotes the damp, stagnant conditions ideal for fungus growth and the resultant rot.

Unfortunately, the only proven practical method to prevent damage to wood components of watercraft is regular - some might say obsessive - maintenance and repair.

Design modifications, like Charlie's tip to aid drainage, can help some but, in the end, woood is organic. Unless we keep our boats in climate-controlled environments, the best we can do is try and slow the inevitable.

Another idea
Try mixing some epoxy, high strength filler and a bit of sanding dust to the approximate color of the wood and the consistency of modeling clay. You may be able to “fabricate” new ends for the broken rails. Mask off the hull around where you are working, and wax the gel coat behind the repair area so the new gunnel ends don’t stick to it.

Marc Ornstein

Dogpaddle Canoe Works

Custom Paddles and Cedar Strip Canoes

If the damage is isolated to the outwales and is as minor as it sounds from your description, it would be an easy fix for somebody with woodworking or furniture repair experience. I mean, it really sounds to be a cosmetic issue, but it’s something I’d probably want to repair if it were my boat.

I’d start by taking out a bunch of screws beginning at the stem to free the rail from the hull. If they’re plugged, you’ll have to dig out the plugs to access the screw heads. This is a convenient time to closely inspect the inside surface of the rail for rot. Next, plane the damaged area enough to make the wood flat and smooth enough to glue on a piece of ash slightly larger than the missing part. Epoxy would be an appropriate choice. A little filing/carving/scraping and sanding to replicate the original contour once the glue has fully cured, wipe on your preferred finish, replace the screws and done!

I wouldn’t put a cap on, though I’ve seen some folks add them, and besides, you’re gonna be a lot more careful next time!

If you’re not “handy” or don’t have the tools and materials, ask around. I’ll bet you can easily find somebody to help you out.

A “dutchman” is the term used to describe a close-fitting inlaid piece to repair damage or defects in woodworking and furniture restoration.

Bon chance!

that makes sense
water damage that is.I didn’t remember hitting anything that hard,and the newly exposed wood looked old-not a new break.


Ooh, that’s bad.
If the exposed underlying wood is soft and crumbly, or what some might call “punky”, repairing the rails may be more involved than I described below. If that’s indeed the case, you may be able to have someone (yourself?) scarf new pieces onto any intact portions remaining, or you may be looking at a re-rail job. If the rot is confined to the last few inches, and the outwales seem structurally sound otherwise, the good news is that you can safely continue to use your canoe for some time yet.

With the canoe inverted, press a fingernail into the the bottom edge of the outwale near where it contacts the hull. Try this along the full length of both sides. You should be able to get a sense of how far the rot has progressed. Usually, when things start to get critical, the screws will fail and the rails will start to pull away from the hull at the ends.

Do you store your boat outdoors?