Refinishing paddle

I had two inexpensive wooden canoe paddles that had lost a lot of their varnish so over the winter I sanded them down and stained them. I was going for a two tone look but the stain did not take except where the wood was distressed. Made them look pretty distinct. Then I used Spar varnish, mostly three coats but six on the tips at least. First time I used them water was pretty low and we did a lot of shoving off the bottom. The varnish at the tips and a few other places blistered and peeled looking like sunburnt skin.

Now I plan to sand them back down and put G flex epoxy on the tips and tung oil on the bare wood as per a thread awhile back about refinishing paddles that came out after I had started the varnishing.

Thoughts? Did I do something wrong applying the spar varnish? I have never used tung oil and only know about it from reading here. How frequently do I need to reapply the tung oil and does it leach onto your hands while using them?

Evidently the wood was not sufficiently
cleared of previous finish

or other impurities.

I’ve heard good reports about tung oil. One hundred year old wood in my daughter’s dining table is finished with tung oil, and it has held up well.

I use G-flex and other West epoxy, but I wouldn’t depend on just epoxy to tip a paddle. But since your paddles are inexpensive, it may hold up until you’re ready for paddles that are properly tipped at the factory.h

This sounds very familiar
You wrote:

“The varnish at the tips and a few other places blistered and peeled looking like sunburnt skin.”

Did you use Varathane water-based varnish? Because that is exactly what has happened to me and two friends of mine. It turns soft and kind of milky white in the water and blisters (just like skin blisters). It is junk. Any other spar varnish will do.

I use Varathane Spar Urethane on all the paddles I build and it works great. This product is water based and is the easiest, to apply with the best results of any finish I have ever used. You must allow it to thoroughly dry, which might take several days, even though it will feel dry to the touch in minutes. I usually apply two coats per day and after maybe 10 coats, allow a few more days to cure. I give it a coat of wax and it’s good to go. Repairs are very easy.

That has not been our experience
The guy who recommended Varathane to my paddling buddy and me (a boat builder with much experience varnishing) said it worked great for him. We followed instructions, let the stuff cure for days and it still went bad.

He varnished the last cedar stripper boat he built with Varathane and the entire boat turned white in the water on its maiden voyage. He apologized to us for recommending it and won’t use it anymore. He says the only thing he can think of is that they changed the formulation.

I would say it’s too much of a coincidence when three people (two of whom are very experienced) working from three different cans get the same crappy results.

What I used was
Rustoleum ultimate spar varnish (gloss). It is water based. I followed directions on the can regarding applying coats. It sat in an air conditioned room for about two months after finishing before being used, so it was thoroughly dried.

When the stain didn’t take I suspected that maybe the old finish was impregnated in the wood but I had definitely sanded off all surface finish. I spent several weeks hand sanding them.

I had already done the refinishing when the previous thread came out and as soon as I got off the water and looked at the paddles I remembered that phrase about sun burnt skin.

Well, I guess that raises questions
…about water-based “spar” varnishes and other finishes in general.

I also made the mistake of painting the inside of a canoe with acrylic latex paint, which is also water-based. First time it got wet and I rubbed my shoe soles on the bottom, there went the paint.

Stay away from water-based finishes, period. Use oil-based or urethane.

I did not realize it was water based
until responding to this thread. I thought spar varnish was for marine uses.

Spar varnish IS for marine use

– Last Updated: Jun-20-13 2:17 PM EST –

However, not for UNDER WATER use. As the name implies, it is meant for spars (masts and booms--and cabin sides, etc.) If you look at any spar varnish label, it usually has a statement that reads something like "not for use below the waterline" or "only for use above the waterline". They are meant for large wooden sailboats and motorboats, or those with lots of wood on deck.

We canoeists and kayakers get away with it because our hulls and paddles don't STAY in the water all the time. But after my experience, I wouldn't trust a water-based varnish for anything. Why get water-based if it has no advantages and one great disadvantage and it costs the same as say, Minwax Helmsman, which WON'T blister and peel off?

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Avoid waterbased products
If the item will be subject to water immersion period.

Minwax Helmsman is what I chose after doing some research. I believe it’s oil-based. I used it on my cedar greenland paddle that I made. Beautiful finish!

Since the topic of paddle refurbishing is reappearing… First I’ll try to help by sharing my practices. There may be better, but its worked adequately for me for a long time now.

I use Helmsman or Cabot high gloss for refurbishing my beat up paddles. Both are oil based and are available at normal hardware outlets. (A big plus, IMHO) I only use oil based for any exterior application, though some of the newer water based might be OK for non immersion situations. I’d worry about compatibility though and, not knowing what the original finish on a paddle was and that oil based is traditional for paddles, I assume oil based and stay with it. Don’t think its a good idea at all to layer oil with water based products. I zip strip and sand the grip on all my paddles and use tung oil on the grip. I find I get far fewer blisters early in the season or after really long trips if the grip isn’t spar varnished.
My paddles usually need some a touch up every year to keep them bright and good looking, and I usually do it in spring, after they’ve been sitting around all winter and the wood is good and dry, just aching to soak up varnish. I sand out any old runs I may find (100 grit) and feather out the scratches (220 grit), go over everything with 00 steel wool (or plastic wool equivalent) to improve adhesion, tack rag it, and varnish. I don’t think it really needs the prep work on the second coat if done within a day or two, unless I find a run.

But moving on, I do notice that I’m starting to accumulate some nice older paddles that are showing points that are starting to split. Its usually from hitting a submerged rock while I’m pulling hard on them to avoid an obstacle in the river. I know, don’t do that…but nevertheless it happens and there they sit awaiting refurbishment. Sawyer and Bending branches use a layer of light fiberglass cloth epoxied to the blade and it seems like the application of such a layer would be a good fix for these emerging splits (with a small hole drilled at the top of the split and filled with epoxy) it done before they get too bad.

I’m thinking the blade should be zip stripped down to bare wood and finish sanded before doing this, but does anyone here know of a good source of small quantities of 2oz. glass cloth? West Marine and automotive sources don’t stock anything that light and I don’t want to add any more weight than is necessary to the blade by using the overly heavy glass cloth I find at the outlets I’ve looked at. Decent balance (at or near the throat of a canoe paddle) is a really nice feature of a good paddle and I don’t want to screw up an otherwise nice paddle up by using cloth that’s too heavy and soaks up a lot of heavy epoxy. Has anyone here found a good retail source for light glass cloth in small quantities suitable for this use?

Take a look here for the glass:

A fine quality paddler maker I know advises to use a good quality marine varnish cut with 10% boiled linseed oil on bare wood paddle blades up to the throat. This gives the blade a nice hard glossy sheen. On the grip and shaft (loom), reverse the mixture; use 90% oil cut with 10% varnish. this gives the gripping surface a long lasting pleasant looking comfortable surface to hold.

Thank you. I’ll give them a call. For some reason every place I was finding on line that had 2oz glass cloth was selling by the roll. I have a couple split paddles, but I wasn’t thinking of going into manufacturing. Thanks.

Yes, at Canoecopia I’ve seen some very nice looking paddles that used oil (or perhaps, as your friend suggests, oil with some light mixture with varnish) on the shaft as well as the grip. Perhaps I’ll try stripping the shaft (OK, loom :wink:) on one of my paddles and try paddling that for a year. An oil finish certainly doesn’t show dings as readily as varnish. It might well be better on all counts. For the most part, though, its the varnished grip that I notice most tends to give blisters, not the shaft. Its kind of a non-issue after paddling enough so proper calluses build up, but it can be a bit annoying early on in the season. And then there are those who wear paddling gloves - that works too.

I painted professionally for 5 years. Generally, blistering is from poor adhesion, and fish eyes, and crackle are a sign of contamination. Did you clean the paddle with solvent before sanding? did you sand off the old finish with low grit sandpaper (as in 80 grit max)? if you describe your prep process it would help. 70% of the final product depends on your prep.

Also, in general, I would use a non-water based finish for use in water. Oil, lacquer, catalyzed lacquer, or epoxy all have 0 emulsion in water. Generally, the nastier and pickier the finish, the better it is in my experience. The tradeoff is they take more prep and more skill to apply and get a good finish.

I used Bristol Finish amber Urethane on the bottom of my canoe for UV protection over an epoxy coat which has been used for hundreds of hours submerged and shows only rock scratches.

If you can use a catalyzed (2 part) product, those offer the highest level of protection in my experience.