Care and Maintenance
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Paddle Care and Maintenance

Why Tung Oil?

Paddles are finished with several coats of tung oil. Paddle tips are finished with epoxy for extra scuff resistance. At one time I coated the entire paddle with an epoxy finish. The idea was to provide the paddle with a hard finish that would keep out water and could be buffed to an attractive sheen. The new epoxy finish on the paddle looked nice but had two major drawbacks. The first and most critical was that it was slippery and made control of the paddle difficult in rough conditions. The other drawback of an epoxy finish was the difficulty of maintaining it. Although the epoxy is hard, the wood underneath is still relatively soft. When the edges of the paddle get banged, the epoxy tends to chip off and leave rough edges. They can be sanded of course, but touchup is difficult because epoxy is relatively hard to come by and needs to be mixed in exact proportions. Once applied, it needs to dry for a day, then needs sanding and buffing.

Given these problems, I have settled on finishing paddles with several coats of tung oil. The initial coat of tung oil penetrates and is absorbed into the wood filling its pores and preventing water from soaking in. Subsequent coats seal the surface. Tung oil is a drying oil which means that it reacts with air to form a durable polymer coating on the surface of the wood. But unlike varnish, it goes on very thin and leaves the surface feel of the wood unchanged.

Tung oil protects the wood from water without taking away the natural wood feel of the paddle. The loom keeps some of the natural tooth that wood has and assures that you get a secure and positive grip on it.

In addition to providing a paddle with adequate grip, a tung oil finish is also easy to maintain. How easy? Simple instructions follow.

Regular Maintenance

Tung oil provides a thin layer of protection to the surface of the wood. Over time, this layer will get worn off from contact with your hands, water and sand. How fast the finish wears depends on how much you use your paddle. The rule of thumb is that when your paddle starts looking dull, it is time to give it another layer of tung oil.

Start by buffing the surface of the paddle with some #0 steel wool. The steel wool will smooth out any rough spots, remove anything loose from the surface of the paddle and give it an even base for the application of more oil.

Tung oil is best applied with a small scrap of cloth, perhaps 4" x 4". Simply soak the rag with oil and wipe the oil on evenly all over the paddle. Do not over-oil it.

Put the oily rag outside overnight and let it dry away from anything flammable. Do not put the oily rag into a wast-basket or near anything flammable since the oil reacts with oxygen from the air, and under the right conditions can create enough heat to start a fire.

Once the oil has dried, check the surface of the paddle. If it has an even sheen then you are done. If it looks as though the oil has soaked into the paddle leaving the surface dull in places, buff the surface of the paddle with #0 steel wool and apply another coat of oil.

Once you are satisfied that the wood is not absorbing any more oil, give it a light buffing with #0 steel wool.

Treating Dents and Gouges

Sooner or later, you will be banging your paddle into something and possibly raising a splinter or just roughing up the surface of the wood. When that happens, go over the rough spots with some 150 grit sand paper until they don't feel rough any more. Follow that up with steel wool and tung oil as you would during a normal maintenance treatment.

All content copyright © 2007 Wolfgang Brinck.