Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Oars before stripping

Buddy’s big boy room is a work in progress. I’m trying to use a lot of what we have or get most of it at the thrift store. I picked up a couple of small oars at my local Goodwill for $8 each. The ones used for this tutorial are bigger, and given to me by my uncle. They are a stained and have a layer of polyurethane. I had them sitting around for a bit because I knew I wanted¬† paint and stain part of the oar which meant I would have to strip off the polyurethane and stain. I hate doing that. I have yet to find a paint stripper that works and I just don’t have the patience for it. I used a regular paint stripper. I have used Citristrip before, and while I enjoy the low odor and fact that it doesn’t burn a hole in my skin, I just haven’t had much luck with it working well. It seems to work well for a lot of other people though. Please excuse the bad pictures. Most of this was done on cloudy days, in the garage, or at night.

Oars before stripping

Oars before stripping

If you are going to strip something, make sure you do it outside or in a well ventilated area. Wear gloves! I got some on my arm, and boy does it hurt. I didn’t really have this problem when I’ve used Citristrip in the past. Once you have the stripper on let it sit until it bubbles. Use a flat tool or scraper to scrape off the varnish or paint.

oars with stripper

Oars after having the stripper applied

I did have to sand the oars after this to get the remaining varnish that was left. I wasn’t able to get all of it off, but I knew I would paint and distress so it wouldn’t be that obvious. After sanding, I wiped the oars down, let them dry, then applied painters tape to the areas I wanted to be stained later.

Apply the tape to the areas you want stained later. If you don't want any natural wood showing, then skip this step.

Apply the tape to the areas you want stained later. If you don’t want any natural wood showing, then skip this step.

After that I spray painted the oars with white. I know this is not very eco-friendly, but it is the easiest and fastest way to get the oars painted. I painted the smaller paddles with acrylic paint and it took FOREVER to get the white thick enough. The spray paint is so much faster and easier to get this project done when you have a two year old. I use Krylon spray paint for nearly everything I spray. I have tried Rustoleum and don’t like the way it sprays. I think I get a wider range of coverage with Krylon and the consistency seems smoother. I did one thin coat of primer and 4 coats of flat white. I probably could have done 3, but I was in the garage (with the door up) and it was hard for me to see if it was covered completely. I let anything I’ve sprayed sit outside for 24 hours to off gas, and longer if I can. I think these were outside for 2 days and didn’t have any odor when I brought them inside for the next step.


I put more tape on the oars so I could mark off where I wanted to use the acrylic paint. I overlapped with some of the other tape so I would have a thin white part between the color acrylic paint and the stained part. I painted the oars with navy, red, and yellow. I pulled the tape off when the paint was still damp. I did have some bleed through, and some of the white paint came off with the tape. I didn’t mind either of these since I would be distressing them, but if you want clean lines I would try a higher quality painter’s tape.


Some of the white paint came off with the painter's tape.

Some of the white paint came off with the painter’s tape.

After they were painted I distressed the oars using sandpaper. I used a hammer to create dents on the smaller oars. I tried to distress in areas I though would naturally get beat up. I focused on the top at the handles and around the edges.

distress 1

distress 2

After distressing, I used a dark walnut stain to age the oars. I just did one coat. I used an old t-shirt to apply the stain and then immediately wiped it off. It left a light stain on the paint, but was dark enough to bring out the wood tones in the parts I left unpainted.

Side by side of oars before and after staining

Side by side of oars before and after staining

The stain can have a strong odor so I let them sit in the garage for a few days before bringing them in. I love how they turned out.

oars after

I love the variations in the wood that came out with the stain

I love the variations in the wood that came out with the stain


This project took me about 3 hours total, spread out over a few days. I only spend about $5 on the acrylic paint since I had everything else. Otherwise, the cost would vary based on where you found your oars. If you can find them at a thrift store, this project shouldn’t be more than $25. Ebay seems to have some large wooden oars for about $35. This was a fun, easy project and would be cute for summer decor. I will do a room reveal when Buddy’s big boy nautical room is done.

Check out some other cool projects over at Thrift Decor Chick’s blog:

Thrifty Decor Chick