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Canoes with fine woodwork are a tradition at Mad River Canoe. The rails, seats 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.
Installing wood gunwales does require a bit more craftsmanship than attaching synthetic gunwales. This makes this section a bit longer than the corresponding instructions for other types of rails. Don't let the length of this document intimidate you but it is strongly recommended that you review the instructions in their entirety before beginning the project to make sure you are comfortable with all steps.
Rails can be ordered from an authorized Mad River dealer. Replacement ash rails are available that will fit all Mad River Royalex canoes regardless of age. Due to their length, ash rails cannot be sent UPS. The best alternative is to coordinate an order for replacement gunwales with a boat delivery to your dealer.
A full set of rails has four pieces: two inside (inwales) and two outside (outwales) parts. 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. Specify what rail you need (inwale or outwale). For best results, however, it is recommended that you replace a complete set of gunwales. A better job results if all the rails are of the same age and moisture content. Older rails, especially if they have not been re-oiled, will be brittle and can break more readily than new ones soaked in a penetrating finish such as Gunwale Guard.
It is necessary to order rails longer than the length of your canoe to accommodate the curvature of the hull. The length of a canoe is usually measured down the center along the keel line. That is the shortest distance between the two points. The gunwales take a more circuitous route from end to end. To re-rail a 14' or shorter canoe you will need 15' gunwales, 15' or 16' canoes will require 17' gunwales, etc.
Wood gunwales milled for Royalex canoes are flat sided and are installed flush to hull on each side with top of hull material exposed in center. Think of it like a sandwich with the gunwales as the bread and the hull the fillings.
If your dealer has in stock wood gunwales with a narrow lip at top of gunwales, these are kerfed gunwales and were originally designed for use with composite hulls. These gunwales can be used with Royalex if that kerf is removed.
Mad River ash gunwales can be used on canoes of other manufacturers. It may be necessary to make adjustments to accommodate existing deck designs.
Slotted inwales are available at additional cost.
Prior to 1985, Mad River Canoes were outfitted with square gunwales. At that time, Mad River switched to a rounded rail system for a more elegant, finished look and lighter weight. Replacement rails are available only in the rounded format. This system is very suitable for replacement of squared gunwales but may necessitate replacement of the decks as well.
Decks on Royalex canoes have been made of different materials and different woods over the years. However, Mad River has always used a “capped” deck system on Royalex boats wherein the decks are screwed to the top of the gunwales.
Replacement decks are only available in current material and current models. It is possible that those available can work with older models or it may be necessary to get creative, particularly if you need a wider deck than available. You may have to fabricate your own deck. Hardwood is the preferred material. Current Mad River Canoe decks are made of beech. In past, walnut, butternut, cherry, and mahogany have been used.
It is always good to retain original decks if you can. If beyond use, they can still serve as a template to make replacements or to confirm fit with factory decks. Mad River Canoe has been manufacturing Royalex canoes for over 35 years and during that time, changes have been made in various models, new molds have been brought into use, etc. All of these situations can result in changes to deck size such that the deck for a 1978 Explorer can vary significantly from that for a 2008 Explorer. Keeping your old decks can ease the “pain” of having to come up with a replacement if current factory parts do not fit.
Older Mad River canoes also used ¼” hardware to suspend seats, attach yokes, etc. The hardware was changed in the late 1990’s to 3/16” to allow for double bolting yokes for stability and saving weight. The easiest way to tell which size your boat has is the ¼” hardware is crowned with a carriage bolt head whereas the 3/16” is a Phillips head.
You can use your original hardware or convert your canoe to current standards. The one thing you may want to be aware of is that ¼” stainless steel hardware is not available from Mad River Canoe and if you encounter some damaged hardware, you may end up with a “mixed bag” of hardware.
NOTE: In all cases, the serial number from your canoe can be very helpful in determining the original gunwale system used on your boat and determine necessary replacement components.
The rails are already dipped in a penetrating oil at the factory. Additional sealing with penetrating oil such as Gunwale GuardTM before installation is recommended, especially on gunwale surface that will be installed against hull surface. Replacement rails are finished natural. If you wish to replace stained rails, it is best to stain them to match existing rails before installing them on the boat.
Mad River Canoe does NOT recommend varnishing the gunwales. Varnish is a surface coat protectant and is adversely affected by the natural flex in canoe gunwales in normal use. This creates hairline fractures in the varnish that will continue to expand and will admit moisture under the varnish top coat. This in turn leads to deterioration of the gunwale from within.
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. Royalex hulls require 1 1/2" #8 screws to secure gunwales to hull and 1” truss head #8 screws to secure deck to gunwales.
All above materials are available for order 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.
** “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 1” screws. Seats, yoke, thwart or carry handles are then reinstalled at original locatons and finally a coat of oil is applied for maximum protection.
If additional information is required, contact your Authorized Mad River Canoe Dealer or call Mad River Customer Service @ 888/525-2925.