Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Check out posts on the very lively Canadian Canoe Routes Forums about the topic and you'll find unending debate about how to finish the paddle. Do you go with finicky varnish that's difficult to put on well but much more low maintenance, or oil which is a breeze to use but needs frequent re-application (some say as after each paddling use). The Canoe Museum Workshop provided each of us with enough Glossy Minwax® Helmsman® Spar Urethane (with a Material Safety Data Sheet printout) to provide 4 coats and thus far, I'm quite content with its use.

Varnishing safely requires a clean, well-ventilated area. For me that means working on the balcony to avoid fume buildup. I also rigged up a varnishing rack that allows me to hang the paddles vertically allowing any excess varnish to pool near the tip where more is needed to protect the end grain from water seepage. The real tip here is to use what you have...in my case, a folding laundry rack and an unused wall mount guitar hanger (for one of my other hobbies). I've since been able to rig up 3 paddles on the laundray racks using nothing but trigger-style grip clamps. A run to the dollar store to get an aluminium cooking tray to collect drips and a few foam brushes and I was in business.

The Hellsman Spar varnish says no thinning is required, but I always prefer applying many thin coats initially rather than apply this thick varnish in globs. Without being too obsessed with measures, I generally apply in the following order:
  • First Coat: Thinned out 50/50 with minerals spirits.
  • Sencond Coat: Thinned 70/30 with mineral spirits
  • Third Coat: Unthinned varnish
Between each coating, I generally scour with a fine 0000-grade steel wool to remove any pooling and allow for each successive layer of varnish to stick.

Some paddlers varnish the blade and oil the grip to prevent blisters. I haven't tried that yet but intend to on some of my upcoming designs.


Susan Tomlinson said...

I've been using a recipe that is 1:1:1: spar urethane, turp, and boiled linseed oil. I put on about 5-6 thin coats initially, then re-apply once a year or so. It's worked pretty well, but with this glassed blade on the Brazos paddle, I think I'm going to try varnish over most of the paddle and see how it goes...

My preference for the oil finish is that is that I've worried that a varnished finished would get pretty beat up on the river rocks I usually encounter--and it would be harder to re-finish than simply re-applying the oil finish...

Murat said...

Never heard of that combination before (but then again I'm a bit of newbie). In fact, I've always been under the impression that you couldn't combine urethane with oils because the mixture won't adhere & soak into the wood. All the books I have mention varnish or oil, but never both. But I love the look of your finished paddles. This is the kind of info you can only get by sharing with others...so thanks for sharing your recipe. It'll definitely try it out on future projects.

jerm said...

Thanks for the varnish/mineral oil combinations, i'll try it someday. As for varnishing the blade and oiling the grip, I never bothered to do so : a week of paddling and the little imperfections of the varnish will wear out in your hand.

R. Paonessa said...

Glad to see the thinning works nicely for you. I used this varnish unthinned on a kayak paddle and it really was worse than trying to paint with molasses. Then when I thought it was stable, I would leave it to dry only to find out it had runs and sags when I came back to check it a few minutes later. It moves ever so slowly. I will try your thinning ratios next time.

Post a Comment

Newer Posts Older Posts Home Page