Gunwale Replacement


WCHA 8049
Hi All,

I'd be much obliged to anyone who is willing to share their experiences and or knowledge on obtaining gunwales for replacement on an OT wood and canvas canoe. Specifically I'm looking to replace the outer ones. Is it best to go through Old Town/An Old Town Dealer? Better to get straight ones and bend them yourself? Do they come ready to bend and install or is there any sanding etc. to be done? How do you pros do it? I couldnt find anything like this in the archives, hope I'm not a redundant question-asker!! Thanks to any and all who reply!!!

Hi Zach,

I'd argue for either milling them completely yourself or for getting straight wales, already rabbeted, from OT or similar and bending them yourself. There has been discussion of this issue in previous posts here, but those posts are gone. The short of it is that ordering pre-bent replacements can be a frustrating experience. Some OT models have changed, others simply no longer exist; gunwale bending forms and other old items have in some cases been destroyed long ago. Thus, pre-bent parts may require significant amounts of coaxing into place. Surely it is often as easy to set up a jig and steaming device, and you'll likely get what you're after with less headache. Many people can give excellent jig and steaming advice if you need it.

Pros and cons of starting from lumber vs. buying pre-milled stock? Depending upon where you live, finding sufficient lengths of quality raw material can be problematic. If you find it, all you need are a few tools and the ability to make long accurate cuts with tablesaw and/or shaper. OT (or other) straight milled stock will speed up the process, but you'll likely want to clean up the rabbet, modify the shape of the outer and top edges, and taper the ends in height and width. This can be as simple, though, as spending a little quality time with block and bullnose planes.

Went to a local window millwork shop for my S4S mahogany. I bought correctly sized, but not tapered, 18ft mahogany for a very reasonable price. I routed out the proper inner dimensions prior to steaming. Using a PVC pipe as a steam cabinet, I connected the the PVC pipe to a lobster pot with radiator hose, and boiled water in the lobster pot on the backyard grill. The PVC pipe was $4 buck, the radiator hose was $5 bucks, and the lobster pot was $1.25 from a second hand store. Using clamps and a extra pair of hands I bent the outer gunwales on the canoe. For really serious rise, you may want to consider building a form to prebend the gunwales.
Thanks Mike that's definetly valuable info. I was asking because I had gone ahead and ordered some straight stock from OT through Gander Mountain (not sure if you have those in florida or not). Anyway even though it was a special order we didnt have have to pay up front which was nice but I'm pretty sure they werent supposed to do it that way. Well they came in and we went to look at them and they didnt look very close to what was previously on there. My dad is an engineer and pretty handy and he thinks they sent the inside rails and didnt see any way to make them work. I didn't really know what to expect though as far as how much milling and shaping I'd have to do myself. I guess when I think about it, it would make sense for them to send a pretty rough shape so people are able to make them fit a variety of canoes. Is it possible we could be mistaking the outer ones for the inner ones :confused: Thanks again for the reply.

Whoops and thank you also Charvey I started typing my response just before your post so it appeared I was ignoring you - sorry! Yeah i'll be jerry-rigging up a steamer unit (sounds like fun really haha). I think the site should have a craziest-steamer contest.

When I used PVC it started to soften and sag from the heat. I now use heater duct that comes in sections. I can add or subtract for whatever length I'm steaming. Storing it is easy, too.
Best of Luck!!
All sorts of ways to do things.I picked up an aluminium irragation pipe from a farmer over 20 ft long A wooden plug was cut and banged into one end.This is then filled with wales and water a rag stuffed loosely in the open end ,leaned against a picnic table I will soak them for a day or so.A Tiger torch is used to boil the wales.After a few minutes of boiling heat is turned off ,the wales are pulled out one at a time and clamped in place.Never had a problem with this method as it makes the wood very pliable.
Having said all that we rarely ever see canoes that have that sharp rise in the bows like OT and some other American models.(like to find one out here)
I ordered pre-bent outwales from Old Town for my 1929 Guide restoration.

They were shipped to a local REI shop with some plastic canoes so they arrived full length and not scarffed.

I was surprised at how they were bent but have to admit that they went onto the canoe pretty easily. I had to taper the ends of course and I did get a chance to varnish the inside when I was varnishing the canoe.

I don't know that I would have had a clue as to the correct bend to put into them if I had ordered them straight
Steam bending outwales

I instal the outwales starting from the center of the canoe , working back toward the stems . $ store plastic spring clamps will hold it in place as you are fastening it . The outwales will bend without steam as you work but be gentile . For canoes with extreme upswept ends I have a "T" made from pvc pipe which I slide over the outwale end . The tail of the "T" is then hooked up to your steam source . Once steamed bend and instal the outwale end .
Thanks Dave . . . I'm not quite ready to this yet but i'll let you guys know how it goes (with pictures i hope). . . thanks again for the posts