Canoe paddle grip and shaft finish?

I have just gotten back from paddling with the Vouager style paddle I made out of another paddle. Thanks for the advise,the inwater recovery works well and really helps my shoulder. I am using a palm roll stroke and noticed that on a long trip blisters could be a problem. I know I will toughen up and that gloves are a possibility. My question is; what would be a good way to finish the grip or shaft? No finish at all? just oil? varnish? Also as I havn’t finished shaping the grip and shaft is there a grip and shaft shape that would be best for my stroke that rotates the paddle every stroke.


I like varnish rubbed out with

– Last Updated: Mar-18-10 8:31 AM EST –

0000 steel wool or 600 grit sandpaper till it's baby-bottom silky smooth. I don't like the feel of a glossy surface. That said, I have paddles with no finish on the grips that are so well-used that the oils and grime from my hands have created a similar feeling surface. The only times I have trouble with blisters is early in the season, before callouses have thickened, when my hands stay wet in the rain, and then it's from the shaft.

Some like a rounded palm grip for palm rolls like on Shaw & Tenney's "Racine" model, but a traditional symetrical palm grip works okay for me. It's all personal preference.

I like bare wood grips, no finish. Poly will give you blisters. Oil wood be the next best finish but I greatly prefer bare wood.

Oiled grip, but varnished shaft.
The shaft is under marked stresses in whitewater use, and as most wood WW shafts are laminated, it is best to protect the wood from the expansion/contraction caused by wetting and drying. Actually I coat wood shafts with West epoxy, then varnish. If the shaft feels slick in use, I rub it lightly with some sand. This restores a secure grip feeling.

Oiled grip and a short portion
of the shaft (perhaps six inches) where your shaft hand goes.

You may find yourself doing palm rolls with your inwater recovery and I find that the short varnished section helps avoid any hand abrasion. That said you shouldnt be gripping the shaft tightly anyway and you may prefer to have varnish all along it if you tend to have contact with the gunwales.

Rest is varnished.

try to get hold of both before choosing.
My hands are not the biggest, thus love an oiled paddleshaft…as said, can be ~7", with the rest poly-ed. As you don’t wanna be strangling the grip with tight hand/arm muscles to begin with(in flatwater)…whatever is comfortable. A mostly thin(tapered) but wide grip with some roundness is nice…everyone’s different to some extent I think.


has anyone ever tried leather ??

– Last Updated: Mar-19-10 11:22 PM EST –

..... I've thought about this before , haven't ever tried it yet though ??

Just seems like it could be very comfortable in the hands . I've been thinking about trying it on a plain jane paddle this year just to see how it feels and if it's worth considering on some better paddles .

I got construction hands but do like raw hide gloves just to save some wear and tear ... seems the leather might kinda do the same thing as a glove (but in reverse) if fixed to a paddle ??

Might look neat anyway ...

I will bet that leather
is impossile to completely waterproof. It could turn into a soggy mess, sliding on the shaft.

I tend to favor what others have suggested: Oiled grip (I favor boiled linseed) and a varnished shaft.


Not really traditional but racers are going 10-20-55,000

strokes in a long race. If wood was more comfortable ,Bruce Barton,Serge Corbin and Jeff Kolka would have put wood grips on their paddles.

Wood is more comfortable in routine use.
And much more comfortable if you bother to carve grips that fit your hand, like I do. As for the racers, I guess they have to get rid of every extra ounce. You can, of course, tell us what grip shape they favor.

sure but not a leather grip
My paddle shaft for Canadian Style is wrapped in harness leather where the paddle may contact the boat.

Two brass tacks and careful stretching and wrapping ensure that after 12 years the paddle is not wrapped in a soggy mess.

Varnish over epoxy is my choice

– Last Updated: Apr-11-10 6:24 PM EST –

The epoxy seals and protects the wood better than any other finish I know of. The varnish provides UV protection for the epoxy and can be buffed, rubbed or brought to about any finish level desired.

If you want the "bare wood" feel, sand the top coat of varnish with 400 or 600 grit wet/dry paper. You can also rub it with 0000 grit steel wool. I've had diehards swear that the sanded/rubbed grips were bare. All that being said, in the end, I build what the buyer wants.

Eventually any grip that gets much use will become "oiled". It's only a question of whether the oil comes from a can or your hand.

Personally, I've never experienced a blister or other irritation from a properly finished grip or shaft. I suspect most (not all) folks who do, are grasping the paddle too tightly. Keeping a loose grip on top and letting the shaft rotate in your lower hand is a far more comfortable way to paddle.

Marc Ornstein
Dogpaddle Canoe Works
Custom Paddles and Cedar Strip Canoes