My canoe paddle, Bending Branches Beaver Tail, has some rough spots on the grip. It’s time to smooth them out and give the rest of the paddle a coat of varnish. I’m trying to decide if I should coat the grip with varnish or give it a few coats of oil. Which do you prefer and why?
I use varnish
Some prefer the feel of an oiled wood grip and some say varnished grips cause blisters (they never have for me). If I am refinishing a paddle it is easier to just go ahead and varnish the whole thing. I think it looks a bit better.
I have used both. My oldest varnished
grips are holding up quite well. However, while I think oiled shafts or blades weaken the wood, this isn't a consideration with wooden grips. An oiled grip gives a little better "traction" and feels friendlier.
I use Minwax 209 clear for oiling grips. After sanding the grip smooth, I actually wet the surface with water to raise and open the grain. I apply multiple coats of 209, wiping off the excess, and waiting until the oil seems dry (by touch and smell) before the next coat.
I keep going until the surface appearance indicates that the grip isn't taking any more oil. Then, using maybe 400 sandpaper, I wet sand the surface using 209 as the "wet", and wipe down the final time.
Oil doesn't penetrate very far, and in use, the grip may show patches that look "dry". Don't worry about them. You can just apply more oil some rainy weekend when you're not paddling.
Others will have their own OCD approaches to oiling...
This link shows a custom grip (elm) that is oiled. It may look varnished, but the satin surface without "depth" is how a thorough oil job will come out.
It’s up to you
But since you asked I prefer the feel of wood so a coat of watco does my paddles fine. Add more if tripping where it may stay wet.
think if your hand may get wet at any
time you’ll want it simply oiled(watcoed…or other, lightly). A little texture doesn’t demand as tight a grip = strained ligaments over time. However this is opinionated…sooooo.