As usual, click any photo to bring up a larger version.  

Canoe Paddles, Part 2


(Link to previous article about paddle making)

"Bet you can't make just one..."

After I made a test paddle, I made my son a paddle. Then I made my second son a paddle. Then I made one for a friend, and then made still another one. Then.... Well, you get the picture.

And speaking of pictures, I think I should start off with the following picture. In mid-August of 2012, these four paddles came with our family on vacation to Algonquin Park. (link to a map)

We went backcountry canoe camping into the interior of Algonquin for seven days/six nights. These four paddles were used to paddle over 30km (18mi) each; they were dumped on the ground; were left out overnight in the rain; used to fend of rocks (but not bears or moose); and did not split, delaminate or fail in any way. Twice we had strong headwinds, so the paddles were used hard for several hours.

I consider that a pretty strong endorsement of my construction techniques and design choices.

Now, I'd like to back up a bit to the spring.

Somewhere around the mid spring I picked up a small used stationary belt/disc sander. The end of the belt sander made the shaping of the handle a lot quicker and easier. I was using an Oscillating Spindle Sander, but the belt/disc sander cuts quicker. I used it a lot in finessing the shape of the grip. I found that the grip was a tricky thing to get right. And really, "right" isn't even the right word. I got it comfortable for me, and the shape of my hand. (And I also tried the shape of my kids hands and my wife's also of course.) Even so, I'm sure this will continue to evolve over the next few paddles.

It was either during the 3rd or 4th paddle that I actually went back and reworked the grip on the first two paddles, since I was not satisfied with the shape that I had first made. It's a very subjective thing. Again, I look to that Algonquin trip, where I came away with no blisters (and no blisters on the other users's hands either) and a general satisfaction with the feel of the grip.

My first two paddles were an Ottertail design, in which the blade narrows a bit towards the tip. Then I switched and made a few Beavertail-type blades, in which the blade stays wide at the tip. Both seemed to perform well. My own blade was an ottertail. I think I'll try a Beavertail for my own next paddle. Simple physics (larger surface area) would seem to support the notion that it will push more water. But in practical terms will it really matter? Who cares, it's fun!

Here are a few snapshots of a paddle I made for a friend. This time I was actively trying to copy the overall design of a previous paddle, so I had both on the bench, first as I layed out wood strips for the blade and grip, and then later to compare as I brought it towards final shape. In many ways, the glueing stage is just like making a cutting board out of several strips of wood.

Of course, not everything was perfect...

I decided to try one paddle from a solid cherry plank. However I messed up when thinning the blade on the bandsaw, and cut it too thin. The result was much too flexible. I thought to fix it by laminating a thin piece of wood to either side of the blade for strenght. It worked, at least in that it was now stronger. But I really dislike the look. This one is going to be firewood.

And one more story, since I can't finish on a sour note like that.

Once you get in the rhythm, and get used to the plan, and working with the right tools, a paddle is actually fairly quick project. I put this to the test with my youngest son's paddle. It's the short one on the left in the first photo:

I almost literally threw that paddle together. It took about one and a half evenings of work. I call it the six hour paddle. The story goes a bit like this: Having seen the two paddles that I gave to my elder sons, my youngest ask me a few times when I was going to make him a paddle.

Well the truth was, I wasn't planning to make him one at all. I figured he could just borrow a paddle from some friends, since he'd outgrow anythign I built in about a year (he's just eight.) But this was my son, my youngest son, who was asking me, and my confidence had grown with each paddle coming together quicker and easier. So one evening shortly before our vacation I went down to the shop to see what I could throw together with scraps on hand. You'll note I had to jazz it up at least a bit with a strip of Paduak. It was clamped before supper, and the first coat of finish was on before bedtime. I then left it for a couple days and came back and worked on it for a few more hours to finesse the shape of the grip and blade.

So I had a couple fun evenings and put a smile on the face of my son.


Thanks for reading. Finally, here is where we took the paddles for their workout...


Thanks for reading!

See Also:

Canoe Paddle

Cedar Strip Canoe Build: Part 1

Canoe Paddle Rack

Custom Laminated Canoe Paddle