Finishing wooden canoe paddles

Recently we purchased a used canoe, which came with 2 wooden oars. Although I don’t know what type of wood they are made of, they are each a single, solid piece of wood.

They have previously been painted as far as I can see, but were mostly raw when we got them, as whatever was on them had mostly come off. We would like to refinish them and I am wondering how to go about that.

We have sanded them down, and would like to paint a design on them, and then seal it in. So here are my 2 questions:

First, do we have to use an exterior paint on the design if they are going to be sealed after? Or will any paint work if it is sealed after?

Second, what should we use to seal the oars? From what I’ve read online there is a lot of debate between products, and may are geared towards kayak paddles and strengthening them, which I’m not worried about. I just want to make sure that the design stays on (as long as possible), and that the oars are sealed so they don’t absorb any water while in use.

Thanks in advance for any help provided!

Canoes are not rowed
Unless you have oarlocks on your canoe such as the Old Town Guide 147.

You probably have canoe paddles. Your title seems to indicate this ( than you swopped titles).

Nevertheless, often old ones have a design painted on… You have done the hard part.

Finish off with several coats ( and sanding in

between) of marine varnish.

An exterior paint will last longer than an interior one. Try Krylon. You can get small quantities. You dont need Epiphanes.

I am not sure what products you are talking about to strengthen kayak paddles, unless it was fiberglass. And that requires a bit of finesse and experience to apply neatly… Not required normally for canoe paddles.

Sand the paddles down to bare wood. If there is any wood that became exposed and is weathered and grayed, you will need to sand that down to clean wood if you don’t want it to show. You don’t need to use ultra-fine sandpaper since you plan to finish them. 150 grit, or at most 220 grit will be plenty fine.

Clean the sanded wood off well. Remove any sanding dust with a moistened cloth or tack cloth. I then like to wipe the wood down with naptha.

Paint your design on. Let the paint cure thoroughly. Finishing with a decent marine varnish is probably quite satisfactory. A cheap alternative is Helmsman’s Spar Urethane (which is really a polyurethane, not a varnish). You will want to apply multiple coats wet sanding between coats with some fairly fine wet or dry paper. You really only need to sand enough to dull the finish of the last coat. I would apply at least three coats.

For maximum durability you can first seal the wood with a couple of coats of epoxy which you apply just like varnish, then apply varnish or polyurethane over the cured epoxy.

finish schedule
Sand the paddles down with 150 grit.

Wipe down with a tack cloth (cotton rag with mineral spirits), let dry

Spray with shellac, lightly sand smooth. Wipe with a tack cloth.

Paint your design with solvent based exterior grade paint. (Krylon spray or some enamel)

Spray a coat of shellac over the painted design.

Apply 2-3 topcoats using Epiphanes. You may want to add a tiny bit of mineral spirits to the Epiphanes to make it easier to brush on.

Your paddles will last a long time. If they look a bit used in the future, scuff them up with 150-200 grit sandpaper, hit them with a tack cloth, apply 1-2 coats of varnish.

(note…using shellac before and after the paint will allow it to adhere better when applying the paint, and then sealing that paint to ensure the varnish topcoat, containing solvents that might lift the paint…think wrinkle finish…, won’t harm the paint design.