Lip at Outwale end

Howard Caplan

Wooden Canoe Maniac
I spent about 5 hours sanding and shaping the rails and decks, last night. On the ends, I did not remove the rabbetted lip of the outwales. Should I unscrew the gunwale and remove the lip? I think yes as it doesn't look right even though I tapered it nicely.

If it looks good it is good.
If it don't look right then change it.
A lot of components in canoes were applied to suit cost and building method.
Conversly;don't put Chev parts on a Rolls'.

All mine are just tapered out, with the rabbet exposed and seen.

But on my strippers where the outer rails extend past the decks, I filled them with cutoff rail material so that there is a continous lip all around the end of the deck.

What you do is your choice.

I left my secret decoder ring at home.

Thanks for the comment. To me, it looks so obviously wrong but I asked because I was wondering if some do leave the lip on knowing the tem band won't hide it completely.
For What Little It's Worth

And yes, the stem band does hide it a little, you might try to find pics of a brand (like White) that runs their rails past the deck to see what they do.

So you don't mind the gap left by the lip? Couldn't water get inside the gunnel through that gap easier and begin problems?
Hi Howard,

Most of the Old Towns that we've had through the shop had the gunwale ends tapered so that the rabbet could not be seen. Many of the OT's made after WWII had little plugs in the rabbets rather than tapers.


I just never worried about it. All the canoes/pieces I've seen (in person) were built like that.

As for tapering the rail, I'm wondering how that could work, as the rail has to cover the planking and canvas yet still fit against the ribs, and the distance from the ribs to the outer canvas surface doesn't change.

On the strippers, I actually stopped the rabbit "short" so the end of the rail that extended past was a whole cross section. It was a bit tedious to carve/sand the last little curve of the rabbet to match the exterior of the hull.

Dan, could you find/take some pics showing that taper?

I tapered the rails from the first screw to the entry to conform to the curve of the entry. No taper on the height of the rail just the into the entry.
And, the cant ribs are also tapered to soften the curve from wide to narrow.
I would like to see what a plug looks like on the ends.
Thanks for the link Dan. But, I am talking about the ends of the outwales. I am bringing the stem band up and over the top of the deck which leaves the gunnel ends exposed (can we drop the stupid w in gunwale, please - if we don't change the spelling, who will?) and, to me, leaves a less then finished look while staring straight at it. The look is, the gunnel ends seeming raised because of the rabbetted lip that is visible from straight on.

I will print the Step page as it shows how to do the wrap around gunnel at the entry which I need to do for my newly replaced rails on the kevlar.
I am too. This is a bit different, but that the jist is the same, Martin filled all the gaps to have a totally solid rail that runs around the end.
>But, I am talking about the ends of the outwales.

Why do you want to change the spelling and/or why would you care how it's spelled?
>(can we drop the stupid w in gunwale, please - if we don't change the spelling, who will?)

Gunwale is far from unique in modern English language in having an accepted, traditional (notice I did not say "right" or "correct") pronunciation that is not obvious from its spelling. The term comes from the days of sailing warships -- a gun is a gun, and a wale is a ridge (as in wide- or narrow-wale corduroy), comes from the Old English "walu" through the Middle (and modern) English "weal," a ridge resulting from a skin injury, and has nothing to do with cetaceous mammals. The term originally described the piece of wood added to the exterior of a hull above the gun deck to give stiffness and strength, needed in that location especially because of the weakening holes in the hull made by the gun ports, and the new holes in the hull at the level of the gun decks that would result from a close-in engagement with another warship.

Other maritime examples of words not pronounced as spelled include forecastle, boatswain, leeward, bowline, mainsail, and topgallant.

Non-maritime examples of words with spelling only loosely connected to traditional pronunciation (if connected at all) are to numerous to count, and include, e.g., height, through, enough, schism, and breeches (and for our linguistically fearless president, nuclear).

Those wanting to change spelling to match pronunciation are in good, but generally unsuccessful company; George Bernard Shaw went so far as to invent new alphabet for English -- Shavian -- which was not a wild success, to say the least, and I believe that the style manual of Chicago Tribune favors some pronunciation spellings (or at least did once upon a time). Some spellings that have been shortened to reflect pronunciation have become accepted informally, such as "thru" -- but shortening words can create its own issues by not giving any clue to pronunciation -- LOL, SWMBO.

Sometimes alternate words are available -- in the world of canoes, gunwales are often (raise you hand if you do not pronounce the "t" in often) referred to as "rails."

Such is the English language, which even with its quirks, idiosyncracies, and difficult spellings/pronunciations, has today become the lingua franca of most of the modern world.
I thought that useless "w" was old english - thanks Greg, I love that kind of background on language and spelling. But, i disagree, being ther optimist I am about ever being able to change it, officially. I think if enough people used the word, gunwale, it would have changed a long time ago with the "w" being listed as the archaic/old English spelling.

Back on track. I did plane and sand the lip on the outWale the other day and the ends layed down very nicely and all is well with a coat of varnish throughout and a little marring on the paint which is fine because I plan on a very light sanding and one more light paint coat.

Looking forward to floating his baby within a couple weeks. Pics, once daughter returns with her camera.
Hi Howard,

I did my first restoration and cut the rabbet first through the length of the outside gunnel. I did not like the hole at the end of the stem, even after plugging it with a piece of wood.

The next time I did not cut the rabbet until after I bent the outwales and they were on an OT Charles River so there is a lot of curve to them.

I used a shaper and a second set of hands to run the gunnel through the shaper and gradually lead the gunnel into the cut to start the rabbet about 6 or 8 inches form the end.

I found that shaving off the lip caused more stress as you tried to pull it close to the canoe and you don't have the fastener strength at the tips of the canoe that you do in the middle.

I had no problem getting the outwale tight to the canoe and I think it looks much neater.

Pic attached.

Good luck,



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Thanks Paul. The pic is what I am talking about. I, unfortunately, don't have as much wrap around from the gunnels and there will be some canvas visible on the sides of the stem band - which made the gap from the lip even more noticable.
The gunnel did lay down nicely after a little re-doing of the taper coming into the end.
Hi Howard;

the space there resulted from the planking going flush to the deck or 'innell' (inwhale for the Brits) If the planking had stayed in plane like it is amidships the space would be filled. I've done both ways and don't have a preference.

Planning the piece down sounds like a nice finish.


That does look cleaner.

Did you have to provide a clearance cut under the rail for the edge of the planking/canvas or how did you get it to lay down flat?

Hi Dan,

I had to think for a minute, but you may notice that on OT's they taper the top of those last few rib tops until the last cant rib is very thin and the next 4 to 5 inches to the stem have the plank flush with the outside edge of the outwale. I have attached a side view picture that doesn't show it as well as an overhead, but I don't have one at the moment.

So you do have to ease that gunnel into the cutter so the rabbet is gradual to match the gradual fade of the plank from extending beyond the outer edge of the outwale to flush with the outwale at the tip of the deck.

If you don't get it just right it will still screw flat to the canoe as it will bridge from the bottom edge of the lip to the bottom edge of the outwale.

I will mention that I do not shape the outwale until it is on the boat. Not a problem in the middle of the canoe, but a bit more work as you get to the stem. I will attach it with drywall screws and belt sand to the shape and angle that looks good and then re-countersink the holes and use the final brass screws.

I find it easier to bend the gunnels without the rabbet cut, they do not roll over as they have more of a tendance to do if you have the tapered rabbet already in the outwale before bending. The bigger the curve of the outwale the more it likes to roll over.

I attached a picture of the canoe showned from the tip of the gunnels.



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Thanks Paul,

Yes, the planking at the ends does get thin, when I get back to playing with canoes, I'll have to try this on the next project.

Rails rolling, :) ya, tell me about it. Another method I need to try. So far I haven't had to bend any with extreme shear, the most was a Thompson Indian and that isn't/wasn't too bad.

Nice work on the red canoe, what is it?