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Thread: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

  1. #1
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    Default White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    I'm building a Monfort SOF canoe. I have lots of white oak left over from the ribs. I know that woods like ash, mahogany, etc. are more traditionally used for these parts. My 'woodworking' experience has been limited to home handyman stuff with nothing more exotic than lumberyard pine and plywood, plus Western red cedar for this project and an earlier SOF kayak so I'm ignorant of the properties of other wood species. Any reasons not to use white oak?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    Every material presents pros and cons for designers and builders. White oak is strong and hard and would hold up to well to your application. A common vice to its use is the problem epoxy seems to have bonding to it in some cases. You can mechanically fasten WO or use a specialized epoxy designed for WO though. If weight is an issue, WO is a bit hefty also. I've heard there is a variability in WO rot resistance depending on the season of harvest, age of tree, type of cut, etc. but I imagine your thwarts will spend little time below the waterline.

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    You don't say which design. There could be issues particular to that design caused by the placement of relatively heavy wood. Conceivably. But otherwise... no issues I can think of. Varnish, oil, or a teak-oil style hybrid?
    David G
    Harbor Woodworks
    http://www.harborwoodworking.com/boat.html

    "It was a Sunday morning and Goddard gave thanks that there were still places where one could worship in temples not made by human hands." -- L. F. Herreshoff (The Compleat Cruiser)

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    The Arrow 14. I edited my post to include that, thanks.! Water-based varnish.
    Last edited by BruceC; 02-14-2017 at 10:11 AM.

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    Quote Originally Posted by BruceC View Post
    The Arrow 14. I edited my post to include that, thanks.! Water-based varnish.
    Red Flag.

    White oak has been known to be a bit difficult when it comes to finish adhesion. Water-based varnish is not the equal of oil-based, in that regard. Combine the two, and you've substantially upped the chances of failure. or short life. Is it too late to switch to standard spar varnish, or some other oil-based product? I'm partial to Daly's SeaFin Teak Oil (an oil-varnish blend) for such applications.
    David G
    Harbor Woodworks
    http://www.harborwoodworking.com/boat.html

    "It was a Sunday morning and Goddard gave thanks that there were still places where one could worship in temples not made by human hands." -- L. F. Herreshoff (The Compleat Cruiser)

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    use it. just allow for the fact it's so strong, you can use smaller dimensions Ash if pretty but if you don't have it.... and drill for any fasteners.
    Denise, Bristol PA, Oday30, Anchor Yacht Club, On tidal Delaware River. my current project; http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthre...58#post3996158

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    Yeh, it's heavy for a SOF boat, and epoxy doesn't like it very much.

    Wherever white oak was called for in my 15' wherry build I used densely-ringed Doug Fir ( i.e. for the stem and knees ). FWIW I used Khaya for the thwarts, Apitong for the rails.
    Gerard>
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  8. #8
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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    Bruce, I asked a similar question in my first post on this forum, about using some mahogany and teak I inherited for a hull. The best advice I ever got here was to save the hardwood stock for a project where it made sense.

    Skin on frame design is defined around light weight, usually for good reason. You could add 20 pounds to your canoe using oak, and if you want to cartop, let alone portage, you'll regret the choice the first time you lift the boat over your head.

    What woods does the designer recommend? For the 13 1/2 foot Gentry Whitehall I built, Dave recommends cedar or redwood for gunwales and stringers, which really means "as light as possible". If the answer is red cedar, pine or the like, oak is overkill. For a solid thwart or seat, oak is also not the solution. You might come up with a minimal thwart design, like some caned seats I've seen on traditional canoes or guideboats. If you can do that level of woodwork.

    The only parts I used oak for on my Whitehall were the rubrails, 1/4 x 3/4 inch in section, to cover the row of staples at the gunwale. There they make perfect sense because you need a tough bumper to protect the soft gunwales, and the dimensions are tiny. Both of these pieces together on my boat weighed maybe 1 - 1 1/2 pounds, not the 10+ for oak gunwales.

    Cheers, Dan

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    Quote Originally Posted by DeniseO30 View Post
    use it. just allow for the fact it's so strong, you can use smaller dimensions Ash if pretty but if you don't have it.... and drill for any fasteners.
    +1 Use it.

    We do think of white oak as being very strong, and as much as I hate to disagree with Denise, white ash is, on average, slightly stronger than white oak according to the links below. Other ashes might not be quite as strong, so Denise is also right. The difference is a few percent, which is less than the difference between one board and the next of the same species.

    The adhesive bonding issues are overblown when it comes to finishing. This is an ultralight SOF here, not some highly polished work of art. Any good exterior grade PU varnish should be fine on white oak. If you are scarfing oak, there are some epoxies that are better for oily hardwoods.

    White oak and ash aren't all that easy to tell apart. Those here who would argue the point have long years of experience. To them the difference is more obvious. While ash is not as heavy as oak. The aerolite rub rails are 3/8 x 5/8" and if this boat has the same size rub rails, and is 14' long, there is a whopping 0.046 cubic feet of wood there. Ash is around 7 lb per cubic foot lighter than white oak, so you would only save 5 ounces.

    White Oak
    (Quercus alba)
    We tend to split hairs here from time to time, so which ash was it that you aren't using, white, green, black, blue, olive...?
    http://www.wood-database.com/wood-ar...ng-in-between/
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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    Ash, I love it! had a whole log cut for me 20 yrs ago, finally down to the last board. But the OP has WO, why should we guilt trip him to use something else? It is only a matter of ounces.
    Denise, Bristol PA, Oday30, Anchor Yacht Club, On tidal Delaware River. my current project; http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthre...58#post3996158

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    I suspect the difference is far more than a few ounces, particularly when thwarts are included. And why build a SOF boat and then make it heavier than necessary??

    According to this chart, WRC is nearly half the weight of WO. http://www.oocities.org/steamgen/woodweights.pdf

    Thwarts tend to be at least 3/4" thick if not thicker. In an extremely rough calculation for two 8" wide thwarts, 1" thick and 36" long (probably less thick but easier to calculate), they'd come out with a total of .3333 cu ft.

    So two thwarts of WRC would weigh 7.5 lbs (roughly, remember?). The same WO planks would weigh 15.6 lbs.

    I know this in a very physical sense, as I used a lot of WO in rigging my fir over oak dory skiff to sail -- hey, it was cheaper than good Doug Fir, and only a little bit heavier, right? But that weight adds up when you build the centerboard case, mast and bowsprit partners, rudder and yoke, and a fair bit else out of it. It takes 6 strong men to carry that 13.5' boat very far, trust me!
    "The enemies of reason have a certain blind look."
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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    Thawarts in a canoe are usually 3" wide and carved they are not a seats, in this boat they are sticks!

    If the OP were obsessed with weight he would have used Sitka spruce! But has already used oak for ribs.
    Last edited by DeniseO30; 02-15-2017 at 08:21 AM.
    Denise, Bristol PA, Oday30, Anchor Yacht Club, On tidal Delaware River. my current project; http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthre...58#post3996158

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    Sorry, I thought he was talking about more thwart-like thwarts... ;-)

    "The enemies of reason have a certain blind look."
    Doctor Jacquin to Lieutenant D'Hubert, in Ridley Scott's first major film _The Duellists_.

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    Quote Originally Posted by Thorne View Post
    Sorry, I thought he was talking about more thwart-like thwarts... ;-)

    Pretty! But that is not an ultralight SOF (imo) LOL seats are way too high also
    Last edited by DeniseO30; 02-15-2017 at 10:11 AM.
    Denise, Bristol PA, Oday30, Anchor Yacht Club, On tidal Delaware River. my current project; http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthre...58#post3996158

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    To answer a couple of points: The Monfort-recommended materials are: Ribs - white oak or ash. Thwarts - Spuce, pine, or mahogany. Rub rails - Spruce or mahogany. In Hilary Russell's book he says "hardwood is preferable for the rubrails, decks, floorboards, thwarts, and backrests", and names ash, cherry (expensive) and walnut (ditto) as some choices. The ribs are narrow and thin, 3/16 x 9/16, hence pretty light. A handful of them didn't weigh that much.

    The stems, stringers, inwales & outwales on my boat are all Western red cedar. Ribs and stringers are lashed with artificial sinew, stringers & gunwales epoxied to the stems. All longitudinal members are scarfed. I'm using the Monfort-supplied Superbond epoxy. I assume cedar is pretty oily too; the epoxied joints seem just fine. I'll scarf the rubrails too. Not enough room in my shop to rip 14+ feet of wood.

    One of the thwarts might be a backrest, with cedar over oak at the backrest section, unless I decide to use a backband. Think I'll use cedar, cut a bit thicker per Russell, for floorboards.

    Per earlier discussions in another thread here & with a few local builders, I'm skipping the Kevlar roving.

    If I can get Sitka spruce here I might use that instead of oak. Thank you for the illuminating discussion!

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    Quote Originally Posted by MN Dave View Post

    We tend to split hairs here from time to time, so which ash was it that you aren't using, white, green, black, blue, olive...?
    http://www.wood-database.com/wood-ar...ng-in-between/
    White. Didn't know about those others!

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    Looks like you're getting squared away in terms of using the oak. I'll just repeat my opinion that this is not a good candidate for water-based varnish.
    David G
    Harbor Woodworks
    http://www.harborwoodworking.com/boat.html

    "It was a Sunday morning and Goddard gave thanks that there were still places where one could worship in temples not made by human hands." -- L. F. Herreshoff (The Compleat Cruiser)

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    And since it really is the case that epoxied joints in white oak fail more often than with other species you would do well to use a longer scarf than usual. It will also help is you drill a lot of small diameter shallow holes in the scarf faces, thereby increasing the glued area and providing more sheer strength.

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gib Etheridge View Post
    And since it really is the case that epoxied joints in white oak fail more often than with other species you would do well to use a longer scarf than usual. It will also help is you drill a lot of small diameter shallow holes in the scarf faces, thereby increasing the glued area and providing more sheer strength.
    I've been impressed with both my personal experience, and what I've read about the success of G-flex epoxy for white oak.
    David G
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    http://www.harborwoodworking.com/boat.html

    "It was a Sunday morning and Goddard gave thanks that there were still places where one could worship in temples not made by human hands." -- L. F. Herreshoff (The Compleat Cruiser)

  20. #20
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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    I'm rather surprised that nobody seems to have mentioned anything about grain run-out (and trying to minimize it) in these discussions. Maybe it's not as critical to most "boat people" as it might be to hard core "canoe people", but one of the best ways to get maximum strength with minimum weight for pieces like canoe rails is careful wood selection. In the white ash vs. white oak discussion, I think you'll find that it's easier to get long, straight-grained ash (especially the second growth stuff) than similar oak. This is why it has been favored over the years for canoe rails, snowshoe frames, etc. - good strength, good bending capabilities and minimal grain run-out.

    Mad River Canoe, for example, used to take it one step further and split the ash blanks out before milling them into gunwale stock. Sitka spruce, fir and cedar can also be had quite straight, though as outwales they tend to get beat up pretty easily from paddling. Long scarfs are indeed a good idea, if needed, and the worst place to put a canoe rail scarf is in the middle of the boat. The 1/3 or 2/3 positions usually have a lot less bend and stress on them. If you need a 16' rail, for example, two 8 footers usually isn't the best way to do it. 12' and 4', or 4',8',4' with two scarfs usually holds up better.

  21. #21
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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    Todd, and it's hard work! Years ago we tried riving a couple of logs just for that reason... Groans on groans.

    I love how ash seems to be naturally "laminated" which shows occasionally when a steamed bend splits
    Denise, Bristol PA, Oday30, Anchor Yacht Club, On tidal Delaware River. my current project; http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthre...58#post3996158

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    Quote Originally Posted by BruceC View Post
    White. Didn't know about those others!
    Thank goodness. I was afraid that you weren't using tamo ash. It would be very hard to find it if you weren't going to use it. Much easier not to use the white ash. I just like the web site, which has a good description of almost any wood you might want to look up.
    Management is the art of counting beans. Leadership is the art of making every being count. --Joe Finch

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    Default Re: White Oak for canoe rails & thwarts?

    there's so much ash out there right now lot's of places won't touch it. restrictions on moving it around because of the borer can cause problems sawyering.

    never had problems epoxying white oak. I wouldn't use G-flex if I didn't have to.

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