I was inspired to try something like this when I discovered my favourite paddle had been water damaged and neglected. I decided to sand it right down to the wood along with two older paddles we had lying around and see if I could make them look new again. The paddles weren't completely destroyed but definitely required some TLC before they could be used in the water again.
Painted paddles weren't something I knew about before I decided to do it with this project. It wasn't until I went searching for inspiration that I realized it was a "thing".
Step 1: Preparation
These paddles I sanded down by hand with 80 grit sandpaper, followed by 120 grit maybe even 220 grit if you have it handy. It took a while and honestly my hands were stiff and contorted when I was done.
Sometimes it's hard to know when you've managed to get all of the old finish off, especially when the paddle is now covered in fine dust from your efforts. I've done a few more paddles since then, and now use an orbital sander with variable speed control. On 1 or 2 setting (slow), and with 80 grit paper I have found it easier to see where the old finish ends and the wood begins. It's hard to describe but pay attention to how it looks as layers come off and you'll be able to see the difference.
If you would prefer to do it completely by hand (understandable), or still can't see the subtle change in texture as your sanding I would recommend have a cloth nearby that you can wipe the paddle down with periodically. Doing this under a good light source will help you to see any light reflection that occurs when their is still old finish to remove.
Step 2: Treat Your Wood
I wouldn't say this is a necessary step. When I went to put the first coat of spar urethane on this particular paddle (the damaged one) the urethane didn't absorb evenly and it left dark spots where more urethane was absorbed and visible scratch marks where I had sanded on the handle. So I sanded back down to the wood using a finer sand paper, 320 grit, and applied a wood treatment by minimax. This made a night and day difference for this paddle and helped to the urethane to go on evenly in a later step.
Step 3: Spazazz It
I was originally thinking I would like to try applying a design with pyrography, but decided against it. I wasn't sure how easy it would be to fix any mistakes if I was burning the wood, and I didn't want to hate this paddle. Alternatively, I decided to apply a design using acrylic paint. That way if I didn't like it, I could easily lightly sand it off.
I began my measuring and drawing a grid lightly with pencil directly onto the paddle. Then applying painters tape in a receptive pattern on both side of the paddle so I could be sure everything would line up, and I could apply the colour to both sides at a time. The trick with drawing directly on the paddle is that you do this lightly so as not to dent or run grooves into the paddle, and that you erase any visible lines BEFORE you paint. Somehow, it doesn't matter how opaque the paint, the lines always show through.
An alternative that I have found is applying painters tape to the entire paddle, drawing the design over the tape (again not pressing to hard) and then carefully cutting away the area you would like to apply the paint. Cutting into the wood isn't an issue as long as you are applying paint along that line. Cutting into an area you don't intend to paint only leaves a crevice where urethane will accumulate and appear darker, and more noticeable.
Step 4: Apply a Finishing Coat
Spar Urethane was my product of choice. I decided to go with a clear gloss so that I could see my wood grains clearly, and my paddles would look shiny.
I used a bristly paint brush for this step, but you can use a foam brush if that is your preference. There are some great YouTube videos if you need that kind of visual to help you understand this step better.
With a firm grip on the shaft of the paddle, hold the paddle out so that it is parallel to the ground. Dip the brush into the urethane loading the tip only. Excess is good at this point so don't brush it off on the inside of the can rim. Dip and apply directly to the flat of the paddle, allowing the excess to drizzle or drip over the surface. Drag the brush over the outside edges of the paddle all around and smooth out the urethane in long strokes over the entire surface of the paddle. Spin to the other side and repeat. Be sure to smooth out and drips or excess while following the grain of the paddle with your strokes.
When moving to cover the shaft allow the paddle to hang in your hand with the paddle now pointing toward the floor. A good brush will still have urethane loaded in the brush and you shouldn't need to load more to cover the shaft, if you do that's okay, but you will want to avoid lots of drips here so scrape off any excess on the inside of the can rim. Than using long strokes in the direction of the grain move up the paddle to the handle. For these paddles I hung them to dry between two nails, but that required more vigorous sanding to reduce the bumps left in the urethane once it had cured, no I use a hook screwed into the top of the paddle. This gives a surface to hold the paddle as well once I reach that end with the urethane. The paddle is usually quite slippery and it become difficult to get a grip otherwise.
My hooks were above my head for hanging the paddles so I did have to then grip the paddle on the shaft where I had previously covered with urethane to then hang the paddle. A quick brush over where I was gripping the paddle smoothed out any fingerprints I had left.
You need to stay close by for the first 20-30 minutes and watch for drips on the surface or off the end of the paddle while it dries. Using a brush you'll want to wipe away or smooth at these drip marks before they harden. Otherwise you'll be living with drip marks in your work, or starting over again.
Step 5: Finishing Touches
Now that my paddles were all fancy looking I didn't want them to just sit in a corner in my garage until I took them out to show them off. I found a design online for a simple leather hanger that allows me to hang them on my entrance wall when they aren't being used and causes no damage to the paddles.
I cut 1-1/4"X3" pieces of leather, then punched 4 holes at each corner. I then cut a thin length of leather at least 6" long. I then fed the thin leather strip through the holes so that they formed and loop and crossed over on the backside to secure the paddle. I adjust the loop so that the paddle would hang with enough clearance for a nail to catch the loop and not damage the paddle. The length of the leather may vary depending on the design of your paddle handle.
A protective waterproof coating should be applied to the leather as well if it's possible that it may get wet.