How to Maintain Oiled Gunnels and Wood Paddles

How to Maintain Oiled Gunnels and Wood Paddles

Many of you will be anticipating the warm temperatures so the paddling season can begin – while some of us have already been “moved” by a Spring paddle.

For those who are still getting ready for the season – this is the perfect time for ensuring your gear and equipment is in good condition or in need of some quick maintenance/serious repair before the paddling season really gets going.  Especially when the weather is good.  These maintenance steps, as seen below, can also be done as needed through out the paddling season as well – using a mask, protective eyewear and gloves where (or if) needed.

Maintaining an Oiled Paddle:
If you are preparing to oil your canoe paddle – be sure to check out our maintenance page and past posts on this blog.   Here and here.  And, while you are perusing the notes on maintaining an oiled and/or varnished paddle on a rainy Spring day – make sure you pick a sunny weekend to actually get to work.  Working outside provides the best ventilation and allows you to dig out your canoe for some maintenance too.  We also hear vitamin D is good for you!

Maintaining Oiled Gunnels on a Canoe:
If your gunnels typically get a lot of wear and tear from paddles, transport, portages or other heavy use, then it is best to go with an oiled finish.  Keep your eye on the weather reports and when you have a good couple days of sunshine and warmth – bring out your canoe – flip it so the gunnels are up and let it air dry in the sun for one of those days.  Even a garage may be musty and having a dry surface is important for the best results.  After that – you can take care of both your paddle and gunnels together.

To re-oil the gunnels/decks of your boat – just sand, using 220 grit paper, to remove any mold, mildew stains or to smooth out any roughened areas.  You can later sand with an even finer paper to make it really smooth for finishing – but it isn’t really necessary.  After the sanding stage is finished – just wipe off the dust with a clean, dry cloth – you are ready to oil!

You can use your own mixture – or – as we tell our customers – Behr’s Scandinavian Tung Oil* (found at Home Depot in Canada – see above photo) or a similar product will do.  A fine marine grade/outdoor quality product is recommended as these products usually offer UV protection.  After the sanding and dusting, wet a clean rag with the oil and apply liberally to the wooden gunnels, etc. on your canoe.  But try to keep it neat and not slop it on your boat shell or the gelcoat, if you can.  (We usually put the oil in a large open container only adding more oil as we need it.  Then we just dip our oil rag/cloth into the oil as we go for ease.)  Let the oil soak in and penetrate while you work your way around the rest of the canoe – oiling as you go.  You can even leave it for 10 minutes or so to allow more penetration while you take a break or oil your paddles – but don’t leave it for too long or it will be thick and tacky when you return.

When you get back to where you started and feel the oil has time to penetrate the wood – take some fine sandpaper (320 grit will do) and “wet sand” the entire area that was oiled using the oil on the sand paper only. When you are back again to the starting point – take a clean, dry cloth and wipe off the excess oil.  The gunnels will still feel oily to the touch but if you allow that to dry for a few to several hours, you will return to find a dry oil finish.  Repeat this whole process a second or third time – depending on how many coats the wood needs – or how “thirsty” it is….  

If it the first time that the gunnels have been treated – we would recommend that you repeat the process at least 3 to 5 times to ensure enough finish has been built up to protect the wood.

From Varnished to Oiled:
If you are wanting to apply an oil finish to your gunnels that are varnished then you MUST REMOVE THE VARNISH FINISH FIRST or the oil will NOT penetrate the wood.   This can be done by hand sanding using coarse grit sand paper or – even quicker – with a machine or hand-held power sander.  Be sure to wear a dust mask to ensure you don’t breath in any of the varnish dust.  When the wood is bare again – begin the oiling process as described above making sure that the first time you are oiling your gunnels that you use multiple coats of oil.  Once the gunnels are oiled – maintenance will be more simple needing less oiling during the maintenance process then the first time you apply the oil to just bare wood.

Cleaning Up:
It is extremely important to note that oil and the rags used in the oiling process are highly combustible.  Make sure to read all the instructions regarding application and disposal located on your product’s label before you begin.  It is significant that you dispose of garbage and rags properly as these are are prone to spontaneous combustion (for example: if left in a heap on the floor).  Soak your rags in a bucket of water and/or lay flat to dry before disposal and be sure to use all necessary safety equipment.

*UPDATE: Behr’s has recently been discontinued. Try Watco Teak oil instead or our Badger Wood Oil.

1 Comment
  • Mike
    Posted at 19:33h, 02 February

    Great info….thanks for sharing