Oil, instead of varnish on paddles?

Does anyone know if oil, like Hornby’s and other sealing oils, is good to use on paddles? Seems that varnish is recommended often, but I wondered about using oil. I actually did, and it seems to work well. Thanks.

Why would you want to pollute?
Oil will eventually “float off”.

Oil the shaft
Many folks oil the shaft and varnish the blade. The idea is that oil is less likely to cause blisters.

I oil the grips and varnish the shaft and blade. I have been tempted to oil the whole paddle, but have not tried that yet. BTW, I oil my walnut seat drops, and if I had wooden gunnels would oil those as well. My seats and thwarts are ash, and I keep them varnished just because they came that way.

I sanded the varnish off the loom
of my Mitchell GP, and applied a mixture of boiled linseed, tung oil and turpentine to the wood. I didn’t like the slipperyness of teh varnish, and the oil is easy to touch up.


Rubbing oil into new wood
Start with your oil of choice (linseed, tung…) and thin 1 to 1 with turpentine (stinky) or mineral spirits. The thinned oil penetrates deeper and faster.

Rub on, let sit for while, buff off. Repeat this two to three times.

Finish with straight oil, rub on, wait, buff-off. Repeat a few times.

When th oil turns to sticky gum, it is no longer soaking into the wood and you waited to long to buff. The repair is simple, rub off (takes work) with turpentine and re-apply last coat of oil. Buff to a nice shine. Your done!..for a while.

I have heard of mixing oil and varnish for a final coat.

Has anybody tried this? Would you still oil the wood every spring and fall? Or, would you lightly sand and varnish?

I am guessing that the top-of-line spar varnishes from a boat shop are closer (and superior) to this recipe than the economy spar varnishes found at hardware stores everywhere.

Jay H.

What are you talking about?
Oil finishes do not “float off”. They cure into a solid just as varnishes do and remain in/on the wood. While it can wear off just like any other finish, cured oil is inert and doesn’t pollute anything.

Blended finishes
My favorite finish for cedar Greeland paddles is a 50:50 blend of tung oil (pure tung oil, not a “tung oil finish”) and varnish. I used to thin it with turpentine, but it doesn’t increase penetration significantly and it makes the resulting finish more porous. Blended finishes have the same soft feel and satin look of oil finishes, but are more durable and waterproof. They are applied in the same manner:

  • Wipe it on generously.
  • Let it penetrate for a few minutes.
  • Add more wherever dry spots appear.
  • Wipe off any excess.

    I typically use four coats on a new paddle. Touch-ups can be done with one or two coats.