Grip finish restoration on vintage paddles


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Hi folks - I just bought a couple "vintage" Old Town paddles off Craigslist. The one with the guide grip has a spine not only at the top of the blade but also where the shaft meets the grip - hadn't seen that before. I'd like to use them, at least occasionally.

It looks like they were mostly varnished but the tops of the grips were left oiled, and now they're a very dull grey. They're still surprisingly smooth, but I can feel how open the grain of the wood is with the wood dried out as much as it is. After reading some other posts (a couple of the most relevant ones are below), I think that the grips should either be re-oiled or varnished (with sanding as appropriate). Thoughts on restoring these beyond the above? Can the grips ever be made to match the current appearance of the rest of the paddle?

For the tips, I'll sand them down and varnish them. One has about a half-inch split in the tip (1/4 in on the back side), which I will probably fill with a paste of saw dust and wood glue before sanding and varnishing (allowing dry time between steps).

Relevant past posts on repairing old paddles: (includes some humorous and enjoyable banter on paddle collecting - I've certainly got the bug!)

PS - Anyone care to venture an age or wood type?


  • OldTownPaddle1.1.jpg
    64.3 KB · Views: 185
  • OldTownPaddle1.3.jpg
    79.4 KB · Views: 176
  • OldTownPaddle1.5.jpg
    60.1 KB · Views: 180
  • OldTownPaddle2.1.jpg
    63.7 KB · Views: 183
  • OldTownPaddle2.3.jpg
    113.1 KB · Views: 181
  • OldTownPaddle2.5.jpg
    71.9 KB · Views: 175
  • OldTownPaddle2.7.jpg
    165.9 KB · Views: 176


Curious about Wooden Canoes
My guess would be ash and after 1987 when these types of paddles were first shown in the Old Town catalogs. See for the current versions of these paddles.

@Benson Gray - thanks for the info. I'd stumbled upon Dri Kri while searching around on Northwoods/guide grips. I was toying with calling them about a paddle until I found these used ones for sale. I wasn't sure if they're widely known or reputable.

@pklonowski - thanks for the tip. My thinking was that wood glue would be OK under a good couple coats of varnish (I'll likely do 3-4 on the tips for added protection), but I can see why waterproof adhesive would be best.

@MGC - I have to agree to disagree - I hear this a lot but I've paddled many a varnished paddle and haven't yet gotten blisters from one. As Paul K said, I think not white-knuckling it helps; it probably also helps that I tend to keep my grip hand pretty dry most days, and tend to keep a bandana or something on hand if I'm not wearing cotton to dry my hands if needed. From time to time, especially early in the season, I end up with blisters from a kayak paddle where I'm more likely to have water drip down the shaft (despite drip guards). I'm sure the particular varnish (gloss, satin, brand, sanding between coats) and grip shape also play a role.

Benson Gray

Canoe History Enthusiast
Staff member
I wasn't sure if they're widely known or reputable.

I have no experience with Dri-Ki. My understanding is that Porter Woodworking made your paddles for Old Town before Porter went out of business. Dri-Ki appears to have worked at Porter and is making very similar paddles now.



Wooden Canoes are in the Blood
At the risk of starting a heated discussion on varnish vs oiled.....
I own a bunch of paddles, some with varnished grips, some with un-varnished grips. I've used both and have never gotten blisters from either style. Can't say I have a preference. Some people will argue that the grip should be oiled, the shaft and blade varnished. Others will argue that both the grip and shaft should be oiled and just the blade varnished. Others will oil the whole paddle no varnish at all and then some people varnish the whole thing. I wonder if the trend of not varnishing the grip started because when you varnish a paddle it needs to be hung up to dry. If the grip were varnished and then hung up the drying varnish would cause a problem at the spot that it's hung from. I'm just not going to worry about it. Would you look at the time...It's cocktail hour!


I was not looking for an argument but I did offer an be it.
My experience with varnished grips is limited. I had a cheap paddle with varnished grips that I used on a month long canoe trip. I did get blisters from it, but I don't wear gloves on my hands or otherwise wrap them in anything. After a few weeks and after my hands healed I was fine. Possibly I would have also blistered using a similarly shaped oiled paddle. My father, once a Maine Guide, made a big deal out of not varnishing the grips. I always figured he had some idea what he was talking about.
My hands are usually pretty callused from paddling but there have been those times when my time served guiding my desk/computer allowed my hands to become soft....maybe that was such a time.
I did not miss the cocktail hour. The Wild Bird made an appearance.


Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes
I have no experience with Dri-Ki. My understanding is that Porter Woodworking made your paddles for Old Town before Porter went out of business. Dri-Ki appears to have worked at Porter and is making very similar paddles now.

I have a paddle from them and I quite like it. It's an ash beavertail.


Curious about Wooden Canoes
@MGC makes sense, especially the part about the month long canoe trip. I'm most likely to get blisters from any paddle during the first day-long paddle of the season, and I could certainly see a month-long trip doing the same. My newest pair of hiking boots felt just dandy on the hour-long hikes I was doing to test them out. My first full-day hike over really rough terrain was a different story. I can't imagine not getting blisters on a month-long trip. :)

Cheers to cocktails! To bad it's 9am here.....must be 5 o'clock somewhere though....

Dan Lindberg

Ex Wood Hoarder
Porter - Thanks Benson, that's who I was trying to remember during the last string on paddles.
Some years ago, I bought several unfinished from them, fairly cheap, and finished them both with oil and varnish. Haven't used them enough to notice a difference. (Don't/didn't use them on BW campouts, only causal day paddles.)

And ash paddles 1st appeared in the catalog's in '67? Interesting.

My understanding is that Porter Woodworking made your paddles for Old Town before Porter went out of business. Dri-Ki appears to have worked at Porter and is making very similar paddles now.

Yes, X2, I hate wearing gloves (and hats but that's another story).

" I don't wear gloves on my hands or otherwise wrap them in anything"


Benson Gray

Canoe History Enthusiast
Staff member
Clarification, ash paddles (and others) first appeared in the 1901 Indian Old Town Canoe Company catalog as shown below. Ash paddles from Porter first appeared in the 1987 Old Town catalog.



Todd Bradshaw

In my experience, I find that the typical oiled grip is far more likely to have a surface that might give you blisters than the varnished one. How much so can also be a function of what type of wood the paddles are made from. Oiling is fine if you want that look and feel, but you need to be prepared to oil the heck out of them repeatedly in order to get the surface to stay smooth and prevent the grain from raising from exposure to moisture. Until that point, the raised grain can generate a really abrasive surface, and it can happen pretty quickly - even while you are using the paddle. Woods like maple and cherry with pretty tight grain seem to be somewhat less prone to dramatic grain-raising than ash or softwoods like spruce and cedar, but in any case the first step with any wood is to generate a stable surface texture that is well sealed and will stay smooth in use. That is going to take some serious oiling - or varnish.

The blanket statement that varnished grips will give you blisters and an oiled grip won't is horse hockey. I used to occasionally paddle canoe marathons using varnished grips without any blisters and just about all the guys in the next level up who were really serious marathon racers did as well. Whatever you do on that end of your paddle, make sure that it starts the day smooth and ends the day just as smooth. The fastest way to build a good oiled finish that I've found is to use an oil like Watco. Brush on a heavy coat and let it sit for an hour or two - until it gets really sticky. Then you rub it off with a piece of cloth and a lot of effort until it is smooth and no longer sticky. Repeat as needed, but it seems to build much faster than just the usual wiping a light coat on and letting it slowly dry.

Unless you're paddling through shallow rock gardens, there is seldom anything down there trying to rip the paddle out of your hands, so lighten up on your grip. Once the grip area is smooth and has a stable finish, if you are getting blisters, it is far more likely that the problem is your technique than it is something wrong with the finish on the grip.

Dave Osborn

I agree with Todd on the varnish/blister thing.
I’ve tripped with both and had no issues.
I do like the feel of an oiled grip , both on the palm grip and shaft above the blade for a short distance.
For the grip, I pour some boiled linseed oil in a jar and stand the paddle up in it for a week or so. I’ve never had to re-oil since. For the shaft, I just made several applications until it doesn’t absorb any more.