How Do You Attach a Gunwale to a Canoe?

Attaching a gunwale to a canoe is an important step in the canoe building process. The gunwale provides structural support and adds rigidity to the canoe, ensuring its durability and longevity. In this tutorial, we will guide you through the process of attaching a gunwale to your canoe.

Materials You Will Need

  • Canoes: Ensure you have a stable surface to work on.
  • Gawale: Typically made of wood, aluminum, or vinyl. Choose one that suits your preferences and budget.
  • Screws: Stainless steel or brass screws are recommended for their resistance to rust and corrosion.
  • Drill: A drill with appropriate bits for pilot holes and screwing in the screws.
  • Screwdriver: A screwdriver can be used instead of a drill if you don’t have one available.
  • Tape Measure: To ensure accurate measurements when attaching the gunwales.

The Step-by-Step Process

1. Preparation

The positions where you plan to attach the gunwales on the inside of your canoe. This will serve as a guide during installation.

2. Measuring and Cutting

To ensure accurate installation, measure the length required for each piece of gunwale. Use a tape measure to determine the precise length needed for each side of your canoe.

These measurements on your gunwales using a pencil or marker. Double-check your measurements before cutting to avoid any mistakes that could compromise the integrity of your canoe.

3. Making Pilot Holes

Before attaching the gunwales, it’s important to make pilot holes. These holes will prevent the wood from splitting when you insert the screws. Boldly mark the locations for pilot holes on both the gunwales and the canoe. Ensure they align properly before proceeding.

Using a drill with an appropriate bit size, drill pilot holes at each marked location. Be careful not to drill too deep, as you don’t want to penetrate through the other side of the canoe.

4. Attaching the Gunwales

Once you have your pilot holes ready, it’s time to attach the gunwales to your canoe. Lift one end of a gunwale and align it with its corresponding marked position on the inside of your canoe. Ensure that it sits flush against the hull.

Secure one end of the gunwale by inserting a screw into one of the pilot holes. Use a screwdriver or drill to secure it tightly but be cautious not to overtighten and risk damaging or splitting the wood. Align and attach additional screws along both gunwales at regular intervals, ensuring that they sit flush against the canoe’s hull. Continue this process until all screws are in place, securing both gunwales firmly.

5. Finishing Touches

Your gunwales are now attached! Take a moment to inspect your work and ensure everything is secure and aligned correctly.

If desired, you can apply a protective finish such as varnish or paint to enhance their appearance and protect them from moisture and UV rays.


Attaching a gunwale to a canoe is a rewarding process that adds strength and stability to your vessel. By following these steps and utilizing the appropriate materials, you can ensure a successful installation that will withstand the test of time.

Photo of author

Emma Gibson