Greenland paddle finish advice

-- Last Updated: Mar-04-13 7:48 AM EST --

I'm thinking about buying the second paddle (love it) from this page:

But, I'm not sure about what finish is good.
I've heard the pros and cons of epoxy and varnish, tung oil, and etc...
Looking for some experienced advice.

Thanks all.

Depends on what you like
The only real difference is what YOU like. I’ve built both, and use both, and the only real difference for me is that a properly done epoxy finish is a little tougher than an oil finish, which is good for rock garden paddling.

Other than that, I find little difference other than oil paddles needing a little more upkeep, which is zero big deal.

My GPs have epoxy on the blades, bare wood elsewhere. The epoxy seals and toughens the blades, and I love the feel of wood on the shaft…

Danish Oil
I’ve had both epoxy/Spar varnish combo (you need the Spar varnish, epoxy breaks down with UV light), and Danish Oil. The oil paddle feels some much better in your hand. An epoxy paddle can be thinner since you are gaining strength through the epoxy but in the end it just doesn’t feel as good.

Northern Lights sells rubber tips to protect your paddle. I personally would go the route of oil with a protective tip.

Tung oil
I recently bought my first Greenland paddle, a Tuktu, and I had it finished in tung oil. I love it. It feels silky smooth and is very durable compared to other “oils”. Tung oil takes some time to dry (my paddle was still sticky when I opened the box) but again, it is super durable and I doubt very much that it will need retouching as often as Watco does.

Watco does not stand up to hard use and it is not truly an oil. It’s a mix of oil, varnish and solvents. But be sure to get real tung oil. Some products are labeled “tung oil finish”. If it says “finish”, forget about it, it’s a blend more akin to Watco.

I also got the paddle tip protectors from Northern Light paddles. They work well and fit very tight.

Those tips are cool. thanks

My choice
You might want to consider water-based polyurethane. My favorite is outdoor Varathane Spar urethane. It is extremely easy to use and the finish is absolutely clear and non-ambering. I’ve used this finish on all of my wood paddles. It takes six to ten coats and light sanding between coats–particularly the first couple. Repairs are effortless–just a quick sanding and apply another coat. It is very fast drying, so it is not necessary to have a perfect environment to work in

I build a lot of wood furniture and I have now been using this finish for all of my projects. I’ve used many differnt finishes over the decades and this is the best I’ve ever found

I prefer straight linseed oil on the paddles that I carve, but my paddles aren’t laminated…so-

I’m going to guess that he laminated the paddle with epoxy. I would go with epoxy and varnish just to really keep the water out and not have problems with wood expansion and glue that doesn’t expand.

I use polyester resin coated with
Spar varnish. I use the polyester because I have a friend in the boat repair bidness and get it for free.I also think the resin penetrates the wood and makes it tougher.

Varathane water-based poly
I had a very bad experience with the Varathane water-based stuff. And the guy who recommended it to me had an even worse time with it!

He had used it successfully before on several boats of his and recommended it as an easy-to-use, low-fume alternative to the other polyurethanes and varnishes. So I used it on a paddle, gave it several coats, looked good. The first time in the water it got soft, started turning white and peeled off just like the skin on a popped finger blister would! I was stunned. It told him about it and he couldn’t believe it, having had good results before.

Later he varnished an entire boat with it (a new can, I am assuming) and the day he tested it in the water, all the parts of the hull that were under water turned white, just like my paddle. He had to scrape and sand all that stuff off and start all over. I guarantee you he was not a happy camper.

The only thing we can think of is that Varathane changed the formula. Moral of the story: beware of this product and test on a small item before using it on your prized paddle.

also combo
My first GP was a laminated Friday Harbor with a combination tung oil and varnish finish. The feel was wonderful, like a baby’s bottom with really good grip. But a season of use wore the finish through quickly especially at the tips, so I reluctantly sanded them down and refinished both ends past the loom with straight marine varnish. The combo finish makes the grip really nice on the loom so I left it that way.

My two other wood paddles have varnish on the whole surface and the grip is not as sure. And it sure ain’t as purty.

GP finish choices
I have tried all of the finish options noted above and they all work in the short run. In the longer run there are trade-offs with each.

A Don Beale two piece (carbon ferrule) I purchased was used three times, by two different competitors (not me) in Greenland competition. Don used epoxy for the surface coating of this solid WRC paddle. Epoxy is nice in the short run but since WRC is a softwood, it eventually develops bruises from use. At the site of bruises the epoxy surface is breached, allowing water intrusion. Eventually there is water staining there and over a longer time, the epoxy starts peeling. This paddle had extensive staining from it’s heavy use and some epoxy flaking. I stripped the epoxy off, lightly sanded and stained it to hide the water staining. It was oiled it with 100% tung oil. In it’s restored state it is as attractive as a new paddle. Restoring it was a lot of work, a consideration I have about using epoxy finishes on solid WRC paddles when, in my opinion, they don’t really need it.

Oiled paddles scratch much easier than epoxy coated paddles and need much more frequent refinishing. Usually thats just light sanding and another coat or two of oil. This finish is much easier to restore than epoxy. For this reason, on my solid WRC paddles I prefer oil finishes.

WRC paddles can be left unfinished and they will turn a nice muted gray tone. Sand them a bit smoother and sanding any rough patches that develop from water raising the grain will eventually leave a very fine surface. This results in the least slippery paddle surface.

Paddles made with a number of laminations are good candidates for epoxy coating. Epoxy will reduce the chances water intrusion causing delimitation from differential swelling between the layers of wood. I made 15 hollow WRC paddle blanks for a ConnYak class and specified they were to be epoxy coated on completion (at home) for this reason. The two that developed some delamination were not epoxy coated. After being reglued, they are now fine with their (new) epoxy coating.


protecting paddle tips
As with paddle coatings, there are a number of choices.

One can do nothing extra and then sand the damaged tips and refinish frequently. Some makers inlay a hardwood spline in the tip and glue it with waterproof glue. This spline should have the grain running from side to side, not towards the tip. Others glue on hardwood tips with a biscuit or mortice and dowels.

There are some who run thin hardwood strips on tips and up the side edge. Traditionalists sometime inlay bone or white “plastic” material to simulate the appearance of bone.

Plain epoxy coating on the tip works slightly better than nothing, but is not very durable. Much better is WEST G-Flex epoxy thickened with silica filler and used to cap the tip or to run a bead around it. This is what I presently use. Without additives it cures to a bone like beige color. It can be sanded to shape, colored, painted whatever you choose.


That was one of my concerns with the laminations, expansion/contracting issues. On the same page

An oil & varnish blend…
…will give you the look, feel and ease of application of an oil finish with substantially improved durability. My personal favorite is a 50:50 blend of pure tung oil and spar varnish, but you can use boiled linseed oil and any type of varnish (other than water-borne products). I’ve tried a few combinations and they all seem to perform similarly.

mine are now bare wood
I have two paddles made by Don Beale, solid WRC. One is about 8 years old and still in great shape. It was originally coated with tung oil but it’s been bare wood for at least the last 6 yrs. I take it on every paddling trip but mostly as a spare because I usually use a carbon fiber version that I slightly prefer for the extra buoyancy. The wood paddle is faded from the sun and sea, but the bare wood seems perfectly fine and handles as comfortably as it ever did. I like the feel.

Bare wood
Mine are bare wood too – the ones I made from western red cedar. The ones I bought or won were oil-finished once (a Beale and a Lumpy). But I don’t see that the finish really adds anything beyond beauty. My well-used paddles are silvery now.

Tung Oil
Another vote for tung oil. Nice feel, durable, easy to apply. As has been mentioned, make sure that it’s 100% real.

get what you can replace.
All the mentioned finishes work well. I like oil because it requires no mixing, has reasonable time to work it into wood, looks nice, feels right to me and is easy to touch-up.

seen one
A friend of mine got one of these. It was nice. I’m still looking.