Care and Feeding

Care and Feeding of AluuPaddles

My two favorite finishes for wood paddles are tung oil or nothing.  I’ve used some of my paddles for years with no finish at all on them.  If I’m using a finish, it’s tung oil.  I like the look, the feel, and the fact that it does not trap moisture in the paddle, and is super simple to apply and maintain.

Tung oil is a natural product, made from the nuts of the tung tree.  It’s expensive, and not widely available.  “Tung Oil Finish” is a type of varnish, a totally different product.  I don’t like varnished paddles.  The varnish gets slippery when wet (we kayak in water), and I’ve torn shoulder muscles when my hands slipped on my paddle.  Varnish will also trap moisture under the finish, leading to discoloration, and eventually, rot.

The downside of tung oil is that it takes a long time to harden.  It doesn’t “dry”, it is a chemical hardening process.

It’s friendly stuff to work with.  I either put a bit on the paddle & rub it in with my bare hand, or with a lint free cloth.  Paddle makers argue if it’s better to thin the first coat and if it’s better to use either turpentine or mineral spirits.  It works fine with or without.  Apply a thin coat, let it sit for 10 minutes or so, then wipe the paddle (mostly) dry with a lint free something.  If you omit this step, the tung oil will probably turn into a goopy mess.  WIPE UP THE EXCESS

The cloth or towels you have used are now basically oil soaked rags.  I usually dispose of them by burning- it eliminates ANY chance of spontaneous combustion.

Now comes the hard part- Put the paddle somewhere sort of warm and exposed to light.  The oil wants to be above about 60 degrees and needs light to catalyze.   The first coat will take 3-10 days to harden.

If you want a second, third, (or more) coat, wait until the previous coat is totally hardened.  If you feel guilty, a light sanding with about 220 grit won’t hurt.

All wood paddles will change with time.  The wood spent decades or centuries being a tree, months to maybe a year being lumber, and just recently became a paddle.  It takes a while for it to realize it has become a paddle. It will change.  Although I raise the grain and finish, over time, eventually the grain will raise again.  A splinter may develop.  These are normal, and easy to fix as part of normal maintenance.  They are part of what gives a paddle character and personality.   Wood paddles can be easily modified to change the shoulder, blade edges, etc.