Using tung oil for a solid wood paddle finishKeeping canoe paddles well maintained takes a little elbow grease, and there’s lots of debate among rowers as to whether varnish or oil finishes make the best choice for finishing.

While varnish gets the job done, using water-resistant oil for paddles, such as Pure Tung Oil from The Real Milk Paint Co., proves a much easier task. Using pure tung oil also offers other benefits such as it doesn’t mold easily unlike boiled linseed oil or doesn’t darken over time like raw linseed oil.

Keep in mind, however, that Pure Tung Oil for finishing paddles needs frequent application, especially during the first year or so of your rowing equipment’s life. Too many canoe paddles lose its finish touch because DIYers forget about this. Fortunately, application tasks are aided by Pure Tung Oil’s smooth-flowing formulation that mixes easily with Citrus Solvent for deep penetration and smooth spreading across the wood.

Finishing Your Canoe Paddle

Step 1: Sanding Your Wood Canoe Paddle

Before adding finishing oil for paddles to your equipment, sand the blade with 220-grit fine sandpaper to open the wood’s pores up to improve penetration. Higher grit than this tends to just polish the wood, which has the potential to hinder absorption.

If the paddle already has a finish that you need to remove, use Soy Gel paint and urethane stripper by The Real Milk Paint Co. to clear away all the old stain.

After you complete the light sanding portion of the process and strip away any finish, be sure to wipe the entire paddle down to remove all the grit, grime, and dust.

Step 2: Stain Wooden Paddle

Next, add water- or alcohol-based stain to the surface if extra color is desired for your shaft and grip. Avoid the use of oil-based stains and wood conditioners as both types of products seal the wood and inhibit penetration by Pure Tung Oil.

Step 3: Decide on the viscosity of the Pure Tung Oil

Next, decide if the viscosity of the Pure Tung Oil requires thinning before continuing. (Alternatively, you can use Hemp Oil or badger wood oil to finish your paddles as well!) The thickness of the product can potentially make it hard to work with on newer or bare wood, though old or dry wood might not require thinning for easy working.

If you decide to thin the Pure Tung Oil, consider Citrus Solvent from The Real Milk Paint Co. or odorless mineral spirits.

Keep in mind that for thinners, you need an oil-based solvent rather than a water-based one for your oiled shaft and varnished blade.

Also, dense woods like teak sometimes require thinning solvent at a 2-to-1 ratio to Pure Tung Oil, so plan accordingly if your canoe paddle is made of these woods. To save time, The Real Milk Paint Co. makes Half & Half, a product that combines Pure Tung Oil and Citrus Solvent in equal proportions for easy use.

Step 4: Applying Pure Tung Oil In Wooden Paddles

Now you’re ready to apply your first coat of Pure Tung Oil as your varnish finish, and you can do this with a brush, a clean rag, or even a sprayer if you thin it enough. Apply it liberally over the blade of your badger paddle, then give it at least 40 minutes to absorb before continuing.

After the time elapses, add thin coat in the canoe paddle again and wait another 40 minutes. Repeat this process several times with 40 minutes between coats. What you will want to see is the oil stop absorbing and begin to pool or puddle on a majority of the paddle.

After this, wipe the paddle down with a clean lint free cloth, removing excess oil, and allow it to rest and dry overnight to prevent tackiness. Repeat the process the following day, then leave the paddle sit and cure in a dry, warm, well-ventilated and dust free environment. Keep in mind that curing varnished paddle usually takes at least 30 days as Pure Tung Oil cures via natural polymerization rather than evaporation.

Alternatively, the submersion method of using Pure Tung Oil for finishing canoe paddles saves you all the rubbing and brushing by letting you soak your rowing equipment in a bath of Pure Tung Oil or Half & Half.

To finish your canoe paddle this way, make sure your container allows full submersion to achieve a penetrating finish. Since Pure Tung Oil has no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in its formulation, it doesn’t overwhelm you during use. Leave the paddle submerged in the bath for 24 to 48 hours, then pull it out, wipe off the excess Pure Tung Oil and hang it somewhere warm, clean, and dry for curing.

Canoe Paddle, sealed via submersion with Half & Half, by @seaman_custom_builds

Canoe Paddle, sealed with Hemp Oil, by @southernwoodpaddle

You typically can tell that no more oil is needed when the surface of your canoe paddle puddles up after adding oil or it has a uniform oiled finish after drying, with no uneven or flat areas.

Unlike some other oils, Pure Tung Oil has a long lifespan even with all that wet sand in your paddle. It also doesn’t darken your wood, but if you want a darker hue, consider using Dark Tung Oil for finishing canoe paddles. Though a wax topcoat may confer some advantages in terms of glide in the water, it’s not required to make your rowing equipment waterproof as Pure Tung Oil adds that quality naturally.

Maintaining Your Oiled Paddle

When you use Pure Tung Oil for finishing paddles, you typically just need to reapply it once per year as part of your paddle maintenance.

Even though Pure Tung Oil confers UV resistance to surfaces, it still makes sense to put your canoe paddle away in a darker space when not in use and store it in a well-maintained space free of moisture, mold, and mildew. Also, make sure to wipe it down after each use to remove excess water to help extend the lifespan of your canoe paddle.

maintaining oiled and varnished paddle

Canoe Paddle, sealed with Half & Half, by @seaman_custom_builds