Montana Riverboats Test Domain Roadkill

Gunwale choices

Gunwale choices

There are (at least) five and maybe six gunwale techniques

I'll list them here from easiest to hardest. 1 and 2 below are about equal difficulty-wise.

1) oarlock block on the inside.

Make a hardwood oarlock block, perhaps with a brass liner, that is tapered to the inside a bit, so it looks a little like a wedge...maybe 2-1/2" thick by 2-1/2" high by 4-1/2" long. Fasten it temporarily to the top inside edge. Or (like Bob Lind, make it longer, so you can have two holes 6" the Honky Dory this is to accomodate 2 people or 3) Cut two inwales that fit the oarlock block at one end and fit to the stem and transom at the other ends. Make a full-length outwale. Scarf some 1x2 stock together first if you have to. Fasten it all up (with glue). Don't use any spacers.

2) open spacers with oarlock on the outside

Make a full length inwale. Your oarlocks will go on the outside. Make a flat oarlock block 2-1/2" high by 1-1/ 8" thick by 4" long. Mount it temporarily to the top outside edge. Make a full length inwale. This can be a bit tricky because you have to fit both ends. So start with it a tad long and then wittle down teh ends, until the inwale drops into place, fitting well at both ends. Make a full-length outwale. Let it be long and run wild at the ends for now. Make some flat spacers same width as oarlock block, but only as high as the outwale, so only the oarlock block sticks down below the outwale. Temporarily mount one of these spacers on regular intervals, out in both directions from the oarlock block, maybe 12-14" apart. Make two tapered spacers. To make those, cut some stock about 18" - 24" long, same height as outwale and 1-1/8" thick. Now taper that piece so it goes from a point at one end to full thickness at the other end. Mount the tapered spacers, on the top outside edge, like the oarlock block and all the other flat spacers. but put the tapered spacers at the ends of the boat, or maybe 18" or so in from the ends. It doesn't matter. Put the outwale on to of the spacers.

Clamp it up. Drill holes and install stainless bolts, washers and nylock nuts.

3) solid gunwales

This is a more complex technique. This is the only photo I have right now. It doesn't show this technique well, but it's better than nothing. This technique is described in detail in the plans. It's basically one long spacer on the outside, tapered to a point at both ends, with a bunch of shallow saw kerfs cut into the inside edge of the spacer, so it can bend to the shape of the boat. The oarlock holes bore right into that double-tapered spacer. You can buy brass oarlock liners. I like to use 1" pvc pipe, which can be glued into the spacer....and replaced when needed. I sand the outide of the 1" pvc pipe. The outside diameter is 7/8," so that's what I bore into the spacer. The inside diameter is about 9/16" and you need 5/8", so you have to bore the inside of the pvc with a 5/8" twist drill. The only problem with that is cost: a 5/8" twist drill is about 30 bucks. So maybe it's better to buy brass inserts, perhaps from Jason, or Northwest River Supply or a half a dozen other suppliers.

4) Laminated

I've been talking, here on the forum periodically, about laminated' gunwales. That's currently my favorite technique, but it's a tricky, advanced technique that hasn't made its way into my online plans yet. Laminated gunwales are made from random-length 1/4" thick strips. They're glued and clamped together in place, on the boat. You need a lot clamps to make this work. I don't have a good photo for this yet. I need to take one. ....trouble is I'm remodeling a kitchen right now. And as soon as that's done the backhoe comes and I'll start work on a new 24x26' shop in my back yard. I may not do any new boat building before the end of the summer. I don’t have a good photo of a laminated gunwale.

5) Ledge Top

This final technique uses a lamintated gunwale on the outside, with a curved 3/8" plywood ledge glued screwed and glassed down over top. The curved edge provides extra-stiffness, so you could build with pedestal seats (stitch and glue boats usually rely on a side-to-side rower's seat for absolute stiffness). The ledge also provides a a safe place (underneath) to hang rods.



6) Decked and no gunwale at all

If you build a decked boat you don't need a gunwale. Most decked boats (Briggs etc) do still use a traditional gunwale and they put the deck 6" inches or so down from the top edge of the side panels (down from the gunwale).  But you don't have to. I'm going to avoid arguing which way is better or worse (although I do have an opinion that way). For now I'll just point out the gunwale is entirely optional on a decked boat because you can build the deck so it goes side-to-side from the very top edges of the side panels.  The Dayak is going on six years old as of this writing. The Dayak is one of the best things I've ever made and it has no gunwale.


For what it's worth the anchor hole behind the rower's seat above was a bad design mistake.  The boat anchors up better that way, making it possible to stop in fast mid-river water (you'd better have a sharp knife on hand in case the anchor snags).  But that anchor hole slowed the boat down too much.  I knew it would slow the boat down some but I didn't realize how much. Experimentation is good.  You have to try things to find answers.  In this case I used my Milwaukee Sawsall to cut that anchor tunnel out.  And then I patched the boat so it has a smooth top and bottom again.

While I'm on an experimentation roll I should also point out I originally made this Dayak with a romovable deck that bolted down onto a closed-cell foam gasket. The Winter after I first built it I put  hatch lids in the deck and glued the deck down permanently.  That too was a mistake.  Bolt down decks are the way to go.  My orignal bolt down deck worked flawlessly and it makes year-end maintenance on the boat a lot easier--when the top comes off.

I'm building a big decked white water boat now, designed around 18' foot side panels.  That boat will have a removable deck that bolts down onto a 1/2" inch thick closed-cell foam gasket. For me it's the only way to go.