GP finish question for Brian Nystrom

(I'm posting this question here instead of emailing you so that others may benefit from your answer).

A few years ago I made 3 Greenland Paddles (cedar) and followed a recipe that you recommended to finish the wood. I liked the way the paddles looked and felt however I don't remember exactly what that recipe was. It's been some time now so maybe you've experimented and improved on it? At any rate, what is your current preference for a paddle finish? How many coats. Also, I'm going to epoxy the ends, I presume that it's best to epoxy the ends *before* the finish is applied to the paddle?

Thanks for any information you might provide.


Buy his book! :wink: NM

Then I’d have to learn how to read :slight_smile:

I would sure epoxy before applying
other finishes. Try to get as much sanding fuzz as possible out of the end grain so the epoxy can penetrate better. I like to warm the wood somewhat just before applying the epoxy, because as the wood cools, it may tend to draw the epoxy deeper into the end grain. Probably you’ll need just one epoxy application. Remember to sand and clean (maybe with rubbing alcohol) any amine blush off the epoxy before you put other finishes over it.

I’m sure Bryan will have much better and more detailed advice. I gotta go stretch some drysuit gaskets.

He said GP, not canoe paddle! L


It’s an excellent book.
Try it, you’ll like it.

Epoxy isn’t for everyone…
… or every paddle. Works? Yeah. Right for some things, sure. Smart over laminations, probably. Overkill or even counter productive on solid WRC - I think so.

Well, he said he was going to use
epoxy on the ends. I have used epoxy on the ends and edges of both canoe and kayak paddles. If I ever turn my 10’ length of quarter sawn, clear, close-grained sitka spruce into a Greenland paddle rather than soundboard slats, I will probably epoxy the ends and edges.

I certainly wouldn’t use epoxy on soundboards. Clear shellac only, and not much of that.

Anyone else?
If anyone else would like to weigh in with your preference for a finish I would love to hear it.



I like the simplicity of
Formby’s Tung Oil. It’s a durable finish that feels good. Some people get hung up on the semantics of “Tung Oil” because Formby’s is not really a tung oil.

A couple coats of epoxy on the tips and the a few coats of Formby’s on the paddle and it’s a done deal for a couple of seasons. At least it’s what works for me.

I agree with Matt
If I remember correctly Brian uses a mixture of varnish, oil and a thinner. I think what he likes about the finish is that it seals the wood well and provides a durable finish that has flexibility to it. When I’ve used hard finishes like polyurethane, it would develop cracks from the smallest dents and let water into the wood. I have found Formby’s Tung Oil to work very well for protecting soft wood. It has a durable finish that will some good denting before it cracks.

If your going to apply epoxy to the paddle, do it before you apply any finish. The more coats that you use, the more durable it will be. On a soft wood paddle epoxy helps with abrasion but will chip off if it is hit hard.

… though I like Minwax Tung oil finish (does have tung). Lately I only use it for first coat (it’s finish is a little tougher than just oil), and just use pure tung after that. The pure stuff feels silkier and is so much nicer on the lungs and hands. Can apply by hand and wash off with soap/water.

Tip epoxy may be a good idea (before oiling!). Most of my personal paddles don’t have it as I’m not very rough on tips (and I just grab the composite paddle if battling rough ground). Last one I made/sold did. Used graphite powder so tips complimented carbon ferrule (warning - sanding this mix, or any tinted/filled epoxy, can make a BIG mess on your otherwise unfinished wood. White not so much, clear no problem). In all the tips are pretty easy and quick to do.

I am thinking of going to varnish over epoxy for laminated 2 piece paddles. Durable and good looking, but I just don’t like the added expense and more all or nothing results compared to oiling/blends. Easier for people to touch up the tung oil finishes if they want to, and wood can breath, dings can pop out, water doesn’t migrate under finish cracks…

I use a simple 50:50 blend…

– Last Updated: Feb-08-09 11:38 AM EST –

...of oil and natural varnish. I've also used polyurethane varnish and it seems to work better with a little more oil in the mix, say 60:40

I stopped thinning the mix, as it really doesn't increase penetration to any significant degree and it's one less component to deal with. I'm beginning to think that the only reason I ever used thinner is that the scent of my original mixture of turpentine, linseed oil and varnish is really quite pleasant. I now use tung oil and it's not the same. ;-)

Speaking of which, either tung oil or boiled linseed oil will work fine on paddles. Tung oil cures a bit faster and has slightly less gloss, but boiled linseed oil is much cheaper and available just about everywhere. OTOH, 100% tung oil is generally only found at stores that carry specialty wood finishing products (Woodcraft, Rockler, Lee Valley, etc).

As for epoxying the tips, you should definitely do the sealer coat before finishing the rest of the paddle. You want the epoxy to penetrate into the end grain to seal and reinforce it, so it needs to be applied over the bear wood. This also makes finishing the paddle easier, as you can support it in the middle while you epoxy the ends, then support it by the ends as you finish the rest of it.

If you choose not to add contrasting tips, you should find that the clear epoxy and the oil/varnish blend produce very similar colors and the seam should be almost invisible. You'll want to add a coat or two of epoxy to produce a smooth finish. You can degloss it with #000 or #0000 steel wool to match the satin finish of the oil/varnish blend.

There is a pic of clear tip (single coat of epoxy) in my "Greenland Paddles" album on Webshots at:

As others have mentioned, there are detailed instructions and photos in my book.

Thanks to all that responded…

I never really took to the GP built to the specs that chuck holst gives in his instructions (loom just felt too narrow) so I put a 24" loom on the one that I’m finishing now (I can just hear the traditionalist gasping in horror :slight_smile: It’s 86" long. We’ll see if it makes enough difference to convince me to switch over from the Euro.


Use whatever works for you
A true traditionalist will say the same. There is no one size fits all when it comes to greenland paddles. Anthropometric measurements are meant to be a starting point. The more you study greenland paddles, the more diversity you’ll find. Also you’ll find that you’ll like paddles with different characteristics for different conditions. That’s why we all wear different shoes.

Just plain Danish Oil
is all I use, a couple of soaking coats on a new one and a freshening occasionally if I think of it. My favorite paddle doesn’t have anything on it at all and it is three years old and my most used paddle. It has developed a “patina” in the shoulder area.

Nothin’ wrong with that!
I know of a few people who prefer a 24" loom, one of whom is the Greenland paddling icon Maligiaq Padilla. That puts you in darn good company!

My first one
was way too heavy, twisted, warped, too thin, too short and ugly but I loved it up until I made the next one. That’s what making your own is all about.

Support the paddle when finishing?
Jeez, you probably even have power tools, dust collection, and a climate controlled workplace! L

OK, I get it for epoxying the tips (I have a work table the ends overhang) - but for oiling? My methods would be more familiar to those using seal oil than you serious woodworker types! Rub it on, wipe it off - right over the epoxy tips - stand 'em up to cure.

Do I dare explain my primitive laminating and carving methods? Best not…