Install Your Own Wooden Gunwales

The lakes and rivers where I’m from froze up back in December. That means no canoeing until spring. Paddles got tucked away in my gear closet and boats got stored in the rafters, garage and basement. This year, instead of putting my canoe away for the winter, I decided to give it new gunwales.

Synthetic trim may be practical—vinyl is durable and aluminum is lightweight—but in my opinion, nothing matches the warmth of wood. Even on my ultralight Kevlar boat, the classic look of traditional, natural wooden gunwales are worth the effort. Here’s my approach to installing new wood gunwales on a composite canoe.
You’ll need the following supplies:


  • Variable speed drill
  • 11/64” tapered drill bit
  • Various straight drill bits
  • #8 countersink
  • Screwdriver bits
  • Manual screwdrivers
  • 4 spring clamps
  • 6 to 10 C or bar clamps
  • Tape measure
  • 7/16” wrench
  • Grease pencil
  • Pencil
  • 100-, 120- and 220-grit sandpaper
  • Dovetail or Japanese handsaw
  • Rubber mallet


50 to 100 #8 1 1/4” stainless steel screws
10 #8 2” stainless steel screws
Stainless steel bolts, each with a cup washer, flat washer and locknut (four per seat, two per thwart and four for the yoke)


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