How Do You Make a Canoe Gunnel?

If you’re looking to build a canoe, one critical component to consider is the gunnel. The gunnel is the topmost edge of the canoe, and it plays an essential role in shaping the boat’s overall structure. Here’s how you can make a canoe gunnel from scratch.

Gather Your Materials

The first step in making a canoe gunnel is gathering all your materials. You’ll need several pieces of lumber, usually ash or cedar, that are at least 10 feet long and 1 inch thick. You’ll also need a saw, drill, screws, sandpaper, and varnish or oil for finishing.

Measure and Cut Your Lumber

Before you start building the gunnel, you need to measure and cut the lumber into appropriate sizes. You’ll need two long pieces that will run along the length of your canoe, as well as several shorter crosspieces that will connect them.

Long Pieces

For the long pieces, measure the length of your canoe and add an additional foot on each end. This extra foot ensures that there’s enough material for shaping the ends of the gunnels. Once you’ve measured this length twice (for both sides), use your saw to cut two identical pieces of lumber.


The crosspieces will be placed perpendicular to the long pieces at intervals along their length. Measure out equal distances between each crosspiece and cut them accordingly. The number of crosspieces required depends on the overall length of your canoe; typically 6-8 are necessary.

Attach Crosspieces

Once you have your lumber cut down to size, it’s time to attach your crosspieces to your long pieces using screws. Make sure everything lines up correctly before drilling pilot holes through each crosspiece and into each long piece. Then screw them together firmly.

Shape the Gunnel Ends

After the crosspieces are attached, it’s time to shape the gunnel ends. Using a saw, cut each end of the gunnels in a graceful curve that matches the design of your canoe. This shape is essential for aesthetics and proper functionality.

Sand and Finish

Now that you’ve shaped your gunnels, use sandpaper to smooth out any rough edges or splinters. Once sanded down, apply either varnish or oil to protect and finish your gunnels.

Install Your Gunnel

To install your gunnels, place them on top of your canoe’s sides and attach them with screws. Make sure they’re level and aligned correctly before screwing them in place.


In conclusion, making a canoe gunnel requires some planning and effort but is achievable with the right materials and tools. Take your time measuring, cutting, attaching, shaping, sanding, finishing, and installing your gunnel to ensure it fits perfectly on top of your canoe. With these steps completed successfully, you’ll have a beautiful canoe ready for an unforgettable adventure!

Photo of author

Emma Gibson