Gunwale Repair


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Greetings All,

I am a new member to the forum, although I have been reading through the archives for a little while. A few months ago I also obtained my first wood canvas canoe. I have no idea as to it's make as I cannot find any serial numbers. It seems to me to be in pretty good shape and has just had new canvas fitted prior to my obtaining it.

Before I can use it I need to repair a section of the outwale on one end. I have had a piece (fir) cut to do the job (I had no tools to cut and rabbet my own) and now need to scarf it in and bend it to shape or vice versa if the idea I propose below is feasible.

I have an idea what is required to steam bend the piece but of course would have to fab the set-up first. I read in another thread where someone was going to soak the piece in the tub prior to bending. The length of my piece would allow me to do this. My question - Can I do this and avoid the steam process altogether?

John Parsons
Langley, BC
Looks like you have a "Huron" canoe, built in Quebec and probably sold new at Simpson Sears. I have replaced many outwales on these. When instaling new outwales no steaming or soaking is required if you start at the center and work outward to the ends. Clamp in place as you go. I would do the same with a scarfed outwale. Another trick is to purchase a Hemlock outside corner moulding of adequate length and width from your building supply. Remove one side of the moulding with a table saw leaving a slight lip. You now have an inexpensive outwale.
Thanks Dave,

I did clamp on the starting end (towards the center of the canoe) the other day but I got the impression that the combination upswept curve was going to be too much for a dry bend but I did not try too hard. I guess I should go at it with a little more conviction and see what happens.

It will be nice to get this in the water. I have never paddled a wood/canvas boat before and am quite looking forward to it.

wait wait

Before you go scarfing, you just sprung for new canvas, you gotta nice boat, don't go putting a mistake in , in a place where it really is not that much more work to do it right. I'd even say its EASIER to put in a new rail than to try and scarf in a scab. Remember, the root word of scarf is scar. You'll be glad you did , it'll be done for a lot longer than it takes to do. Scarfing into an existing rail is building in a weak spot. I doubt you're considering the eight or ten to one ratio that a glue joint under stress needs. If you are, then you gotta consider how much easier and better it would be to do a new one. If it was an inwale, I could understand the temptation( but still would not yield), but on the out rail ? Trust the Force Luke, you can do it.
Thanks for the advise. I had considered the stress on the joint but as it is in a reltively straight section I had thought it would hold. I don't have the tools to make my own outwale and I have never paddled this boat so I figured that to get it in the water doing the repair this was would be a good idea. I also figured it would be easier to handle and find a 4' length of material than 17'.

It took me a while but I finally found a guy, commercial woodworker, who said he could cut me the piece I needed for the repair. I am not really happy with it though as the rabbet cuts he made are not that pretty, one direction having overcut the other on the inside corner. It is hidden but nonetheless it bugs me.

The previous suggestion of starting with some hemlock outside corner molding might be a something that I can handle. I think I will take a look around today and see what I can find.

I had also picked up some brass screws from Lee Valley Tools as some of my originals were damaged but I don't know how happy I am with them either. I forget know but I think they are cut thread instead of formed (?) so the thread is not as pronounced as those of the originals and the shank is a little smaller diameter. My brother suggested that I contact Rollin Thurlow @ Northwoods Canoe Co. in Maine for some. Any thoughts on this subject?

Thanks for the inspiration!

Good evening. Well I think you can use #8 gauge screws. But before, I suggest you grab the canoe and soak it in the nearest lake and go for the feel of it. Have a good time.

Jeffrey Dinsdale

I think I have an identical canoe to this one (if interested please see my posting on the Research and History Forum under Tremblay Canoe). The outwales on my canoe are badly weathered and need to be replaced, the canoe sat outside on the ground for 10 years...what type of wood was originally used on the gunnels of these Huron canoes? I must admit I like the simplicity of the suggestion of using the hemlock that is posted on this thread. Also, my canoe has a wooden keel (that is also badly weathered) is screwed on with screws that go right through the bottom of the canoe from above, some of these screws have come seems like there has been an attempt made to stop leaking with some kind of caulking and I suspect that the screws holding on the keel are the reasons for the leaks. In the photo attached to this thread there doesn't seem to be a keel on the canoe...were these canoes made with and without a keel? Would it be o.k. to remove the keel? Thank you very much for any information.
To instal outwales all I usually use are the large spring loaded black plastic alligator type clamps. Pick up 6 of them from your dollar store and you're in business. Working from the center to end the clamps are moved as required. The clamps grip the inwale and hold the outwale in place. Sometimes, if the outwale end needs to be bent considerably, I use a "T" made from plastic pipe which is placed over the wale end. Steam is applied through the bottom of the "T". The outwale end can then be bent and fastened.
Hi Jeffery

The keel on my Shell Lake is done the same way. Bedding compound is used to seal the keel against the hull. If this is intact there should be no leakage. You may need to rebed the keel.

I suppose you could remove it and seal the holes. The keel helps the canoe track better when paddling straight lines. I'm no expert, just my 2 cents.

Thank you all for your explanations and suggestions. Was/is there a particular type of wood used on the gunwales of these canoes? I immediately think of ash, but this is not readily available in western Canada. Birch is a commonly available hardwood in this area...was birch used for this purpose? What about sitka spruce which is available on the west coast? What about Douglas fir which is readily available in my area?
The Quebec canoe builders ("Hurons", Faber) typically used spruce, ash or white oak for gunwales. A circa 1950 Faber catalog specifies red spruce for gunwales. If your gunwales are spruce, then sitka spruce would be a suitable substitute. I have not heard of birch being used as gunwales, nor do I recall a canoe from the Loretteville region having mahogany gunwales... It is a little hard to tell from the photos, but your gunwales look like spruce to me.

Good morning guys. I agree with Dan. And I would like to add a comment. Those peoples from north shore of St-Laurent river use a lot of spuce to build a canoe. Planking , ribs,...etc. A lot of black spruce on the north shore. Have a nice sunny day. Sandpiper