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Canoes with fine woodwork are a tradition at Mad River Canoe. The rails, seats, yokes, carry handles and thwarts on your Mad River Canoe are native Vermont straight-grained ash, chosen for its resiliency, strength and aesthetic appearance. Unlike aluminum or plastic materials, white ash will not kink upon impact and cause undue damage to the canoe hull.
Mad River Canoe has used a variety of woods for decks over the years, ranging from mahogany to butternut to walnut to beech. Most of the changes have been made to respond to sustainability of wood species. Currently, our decks are made of beech, a native American hardwood with excellent stability and durability and just as importantly, a wood that is well-managed and replenished.
Wood gunwale replacement might require more craftsmanship than working with synthetic materials but the process need not be intimidating. It is recommended that you fully review the instructions before beginning the project so that you have a sense of what to expect and can judge whether you are comfortable with all the steps involved and have the necessary tools, etc.
Most of the more complex steps occur at the ends of the canoe, from fitting the inwales (inside gunwales) to the stem of the boat and the decks. There are two alternative processes described in the instructions. One for a complete re-rail including new decks and another detailing a splicing process that allows the use of original decks.
Rails can be ordered from an authorized Mad River dealer. Replacement ash rails are available for all Mad River Canoes. Due to their length, ash rails cannot be sent UPS. The best alternative s to coordinate an order for replacement gunwales with a boat delivery to your dealer.
A full set of wood rails has four pieces: two inside (inwales) and two outside (outwales) strips. The rails are not pre-bent or pre-drilled, but are flexible enough to follow the shape of the canoe by just clamping them to the hull.
It is possible to replace a single outwale or inwale or the gunwales along one side if desired. On composite canoes, the outwale has a “kerf” on the upper surface. The kerf is a small extension that will cover the top of the hull laminate. The inwale fits flush against the inside of the hull and its’ top is butted up against the edge of the kerf, concealing the hull. Inwales can be solid or slotted. Slotted rails have cutaways evenly spaced through the central third of the gunwale. They can be merely ornamental or can be used to tie in gear or be used to set the canoe up as a hunting blind. Slotted rails do cost more than solid rails. Specify what rail you need (kerfed outwale or standard or slotted inwale) and the overall length of your canoe. The gunwales will need to be longer than the length of your canoe as length is measured straight along the keel line while the gunwales take a more circuitous route from stem to stem. To re-rail a 14' or shorter canoe you will need 15' gunwales, 15' or 16' canoes will require 17' gunwales, etc.
For best results, however, it is recommended that you replace gunwales as a complete set. A better job results if all the rails are of the same age and moisture content. Older rails, especially if they have not been properly oiled, will be brittle and can break more readily than new one soaked in a penetrating finish such as Gunwale Guard.
In most cases you can use existing hardware but to ensure that possibility be careful in removing gunwale screws and the bolts holding seats, yoke, thwarts, etc. The hardware is durable stainless steel but the heads or threads can be stripped during removal.
It is an option to use non-kerfed gunwales intended for Royalex hulls on a composite hull if your dealer has such gunwales in stock. Care must be taken to sand down the exposed top edge of the hull laminate between the gunwales as this can be sharp and a bit ragged. The instructions that follow are written for the installation of kerfed gunwales but most of the steps are consistent for either gunwale style.
On older model Kevlar/Airex models with foam core, the rails were glued to the hull as well as screwed and this can make complete removal more challenging. Use caution in breaking the glue joint as damage to the hull laminate can result.
The other unique aspect of the Kevlar/Airex editions is that the inwales were kerfed. If you have a foam cored Mad River Canoe and are unsure of its’ construction, contact Mad River customer service with your serial number and we’ll help identify your canoe’s construction.
Prior to ordering gunwales, back out the screws securing the decks to the gunwales to confirm that the decks are not glued in place. If they are glued, you will need to order replacement decks as well as new gunwales. Mad River Canoe stocks decks for current canoe models and those that have been discontinued for 3 years or less. Older model decks may no longer be available and you should factor this into your plans. If you have an older model canoe and the decks are glued to the gunwales, you may want to consider the “short-splicing” process that allows you to utilize those existing decks. This process is described at the end of the following instructions.
Prior to 1985, Mad River used square sided gunwales on all canoes. In 1985, a new lighter rounded profile was introduced and all replacement gunwales are rounded. If your canoe has the square gunwales, you will need to plan to replace the decks as well as the gunwales.
In the late 1990’s Mad River switched from ¼” hardware to 3/16”. This change was made to lighten the canoes and to enable improvements such as double bolting the yokes to prevent rotation. The easiest way to tell the size of your hardware is to look at the bolt heads. The ¼” hardware had round carriage bolt heads whereas the 3/16” has a Phillips head.
Older hardware can be recycled during a re-rail. It is recommended that extra care be taken in drilling the larger holes needed to accommodate the ¼” hardware and that you drill a smaller pilot hole first.
The size change has more impact if you find out that your existing ¼” hardware cannot be re-used and has to be replaced. The only hardware available is 3/16”. You may prefer to make a complete changeover even if some of the original hardware is usable.
Replacement gunwales will need to be treated with Gunwale Guard or equivalent penetrating oil before installation. This is the perfect opportunity to ensure longevity with your new gunwales and the only opportunity you will have to thoroughly treat the surface of the gunwale that will be against the hull once installed. Mad River Canoe does not recommend the use of varnish to protect gunwales. Varnish is a brittle top coat protection that will be broken down as the gunwale flexs under normal use. It is not an effective protection for gunwales.
Gunwale Guard is available in a natural or dark-stained finish. If your canoe has walnut or dark stained gunwales and seats you will want to use the dark finish.
In most cases, the original rail screws are reusable as they are stainless steel and resistant to corrosion. It is recommended that to minimize the chances of stripping the screw heads, first back them out manually with a screwdriver and then remove with reversible drill with a #2 Phillips head bit. On the average, 80 screws are required to refasten a 16' canoe. It is recommended to have a package (12) of screws available should you inadvertently strip a few. Composite hulls require 1 1/4" #8 screws to secure gunwales to hull and 2” #8 screws to secure deck to gunwales. If your canoe has a few years on it, it’s wise to acquire a dozen or two of replacement screws in case of need.
All above materials are available via your local authorized Mad River Canoe Dealer.
*C-clamps with round clamp surfaces can tend to walk off the gunwale as you tighten the clamps. Take some scrap cardboard and cut into 2” squares and put squares of cardboard between clamp and gunwale to provide better grip and reduce tendency to walk.
**Waterproof wood glue is needed if you pursue the “short splicing repair process that preserves original wood decks by trimming new gunwales short of decks.
** “S” hooks can be made easily from a wire clothes hanger. Cut off about 12” of wire and bend into an S shape with each bottom curve of S large enough to fit around the gunwale to be used as an outwale. Bend the opposite curve at a slight angle to the bottom. You will use the S hooks to hold the ends of the gunwales close to the hull as you begin to clamp them at the middle. Hang the top curve over the side of the hull and put the outwale in the bottom curve.
Prior to removing original gunwales, the locations of the seats, yoke, thwart, etc. need to be marked on the hull before removal. The new gunwales also need to treated with a fresh coat of oil. Existing gunwales are next removed from hull with care being taken to protect original hardware upon removal. Original Decks will lift off of hull with the old gunwales. Depending on model of canoe and date of manufacture, decks may be glued to gunwales or released when screws are removed.
New gunwales are then clamped to the hull and tamped down to ensure they are properly seated. New screw locations are marked on the gunwale and countersunk holes drilled at marks. Screws are driven through hull and both inside and outside gunwales to secure gunwales starting from center of canoe and working towards one end and then the other.
Once the gunwales are in place on the hull the new or original decks are fitted into place and secured with 2” screws. Seats, yoke, thwart or carry handles are then reinstalled at original locatons and finally a coat of oil is applied for maximum protection.
Apply coat of Gunwale Guard to bottom of gunwale, let sit, and wipe off excess as done prior.If additional information is required, contact your Authorized Mad River Canoe Dealer or call Mad River Customer Service