finishing gunwhales

33 Canuck

Curious about Wooden Canoes
I have them all stripped and sanded any recommendations for finish on the gunwhales? Typically with my rustics I would finish with linseed and poly but not being familiar with Canoe building/restoration I thought their may be better finish's to use.
well it depends

Most will frown on the use of anything with the word 'poly'. I think because poly tends to break down thru its entire thickness whereas spar breaks down from the outside in. Poly cracks, spar wears off. But I could be wrong. Some varnishes surely crack like mad and they call it patina.
Some will use oiled rails.
Most, i think use the same spar varnish as the rest of the canoe. that's what I do. I bend the gunwale on. then after awhile I'll remove it and varnish it several coats. A final coat goes on after I re attach it.
Thanks, I wouldn't entirely agree with the Poly statement though, a bad poly job may crack but I have made many a piece of furniture without a blemish to this day. I'm not familiar with Spar but I will look into it sounds like the right product. My job is a restore, so my rails are already formed I just need to finish and mount back on. I need to recanvass prior to, and refinish the interior as well.
I varnished new outwales before installation to that the wood pressing against the canoe would have some protection. After installation I finished them with a couple of full strength coats.
The guidance I received from the overwhelming majority of canoe restorers here was to use spar and not poly. Your furniture doesn't get loaded on a car top and heaved into the water - so perhaps poly is fine in that application.
Before putting old gunwales back on, I like to seal the inside with a coat of epoxy so they don't rot from the inside out. Then I seal with a few coats of quick dry varnish and then several coats of high gloss spar varnish.
The main performance difference (not withstanding the chemical difference) is that spar contains UV inhibitors which hel keep it from breaking down upon exposure to sun and water. Most of the polys that people put on boats bubble and peal into a yellowish chaff after a few years of outdoor use. I have not tried the polys that supposedly have UV protection, nor have I tried the water based finishes. Perhaps someone with experience with those products will chime in - but I'm sticking with spar varnish.
I've used spar poly on cedar strippers & paddles, and find that it can peel off. I suspect this is procedural on my part, as it happens in patches (did I sand that area as well as I should have?) more than entire surfaces, but can't back that up. I don't seem to have this issue on paddles, but they get sanded & re-finished more often than boats. Or maybe I'm more careful when I'm sanding paddles?

I have learned from preservervationists from Wintherthur that polyurethanes soak into the wood and polymerize the surface - that is, it turns a certain thickness of wood into plastic. They don't use it on furniture, so I wouldn't use it on a wooden canoe. It is not reversible, so I wouldn't use it on anything of value.