Journey or Destination?

Knotty-Farmhand-paddleEvery wood paddle journey starts with raw wood, as the first image shows. Most colors in nature are muted. Some would say drab. Why is this? Does is take too much energy to produce a bright, vivid color? Does brightness attract unwanted attention from predators and hungry consumers? Does a relentless sun always win when it comes to UV rays damaging the pigment and chemistry of a vivid color?

Could be all of the above. Or none.

The blades in this first image are barnboard of unknown origin. Almost for sure it is pine. Most likely white pine. Age has faded what little color the wood may have originally had, but it is beautiful (to me anyway) and I enjoy the story this wood has. I’ll never know it absolutely, but it has to do with a tree that was probably growing when that old incorrigible, Chris Columbus, landed on our eastern shore and changed the world. That tree grew for the next couple hundred years until some immigrant arrived on the Wisconsin frontier and made their claim on the plot of land that included this tree. They cut it down and somehow milled it, turning it into the lumber that was then used to build their barn.

Or not.

Maybe loggers clear cut the tree somewhere in northern Wisco and floated it down the Wisconsin river, to a mill, where it was then cut into lumber which the farmer subsequently purchased and hauled out to the farm and built the barn.

We’ll never know.

The red trim pieces are tropical in origin. Not sure which country. I can’t remember if the trim is bloodwood or bubinga. It might even be a third species. There are several tropical woods that are red like this and my eye cannot really identify which is which. They’re all red though. And fairly vivid at that. Why does wood native to the north american continent tend towards the drab, while off shore wood (either south america or africa) is frequently found in strong colors? Is it seasonal? Is it the soil? This is a whole new set of questions.

At any rate, the paddle building journey starts with raw wood and it tends to look drab. The final finish, ideally epoxy covered with a varnish containing UV inhibitors, provides the ‘pop’. Like this next picture.Solid-Citizen-and-Old-School-red

This finished set of paddles both have epoxy and varnish covering the blades. Yes the lighting is different for the two images, but having taken both of these pictures, the impact that adding epoxy and varnish make is still quite strong.

The left paddle is cedar (bland NA origin wood) with purpleheart (vivid SA-origin wood; maybe African?) trim. The right side paddle is reclaimed redwood with walnut trim. Redwood is a strong exception to the color theory described above. Redwood is ONLY found on the NA continent and it is incredibly red. All by itself. Even in its raw state it is still a gorgeous dark red. Definitely not drab. The walnut trim complements the redwood (to my eye anyway) and is one of the most well known and popular NA woods to be found.

So like the old saw about journey and destination, it is good to keep in mind how visually stunning your finished paddle will be, while you happily enjoy the journey of the building project, all the while wondering what the raw drab wood will look like once that final finish brings it to life.

Happy trails! I hope they are wet!

PS 1 – Call me a hopeless capitalist, but I would be remiss if I neglected to add that all of these paddles can be built from quietwater kits.

PS 2 – Amanda from Canoecopia sent an email inviting quietwater paddles (and wavetrainSUP) to show and share what I do in paddle building. I accepted and will be hosting a table-sized chat up in the solarium Saturday starting at noon of 2020 Canoecopia. Come and see these paddles with your own eyes!

The Mystery of the Hot Coat (of epoxy)

Complex chemistry solved with a simple fingerprint. No – this isn’t some funky TV cop drama. This is using a fingertip to assess whether or not the first pour of epoxy is ready for the second pour. Here is the (no doubt) thrilling image that explains this topic.

Fingerprint-Epoxy

That’s my fingertip and my fingerprint showing on a still wet coat of epoxy that is mostly saturating the fiberglass on the blade. First of all, you can still see the fiberglass cloth weave to the right of my finger. That means the cloth is not saturated. The weave you can NOT see in the rest of the pic is (more or less) saturated from that first pour.

The big question is WHEN DO I POUR A SECOND COAT OF EPOXY?

The easy answer is to just wait until the next day when you can scratch up the freshly hardened surface and pour on the second coat. The accepted theory is that this is a ‘mechanical’ bonding process between the old and new epoxy.

The ‘other’ accepted theory (mostly anyway) is what I am doing in the picture. In the time frame of the image, I’ve been checking the blade surface every few minutes with a fingertip. Prior to this picture, I had checked a couple of times and still had epoxy adhere to my fingertip – meaning it was too wet for the next pour. The third check (pictured) my finger still left a mark, BUT came off the surface dry and not sticky. In that small window of time when the first pour is still wettish but mostly dry, is when you can pour on a second batch (aka a hot coat) and achieve a ‘chemical’ bond between the two layers of epoxy.

I can’t say when this window of time occurs because conditions vary and that makes each pour different.

If you want to try this, get a rag and a second cup of coffee (or an adult beverage), maybe find the great version of Althea that John Mayer D&C did at a 2018 concert, and WAIT. Check every minute or two until your fingertip leaves a mark, but lifts off the surface dry and clean. I then mix a three teaspoon batch of epoxy and pour it on the areas of concern and move it around (I use a fresh brush) until it is blended in with the first pour.

If you are building a quietwater paddles kit (or wavetrainSUP), do this on the first paddle first side. That way you have the second side to confirm/correct your technique and a whole second paddle to more confidently do this method again. Really, ALL you are gaining is time savings. If this seems too risky, just let that first pour harden and then add the second pour.

Enjoy the build and then go enjoy your shiny new paddle in something wet!

It’s About the Wood!

Barnboard-BladesWood paddles tend to start with the…..wood. Call me Captain Obvious, but in some segments of the population that tends to mean only a few things – because…….why? tradition? habit? assumptions?

The more paddles I build and kits I sell, the more I realize that simple things are what make a paddle work. For me and my experience, those simple things are fiberglass/epoxy on both sides of the paddle blade and a laminated paddle shaft.

That’s it.

Do paddle blades, shaft or handles need to be a certain shape? No.

Is cedar the only wood that you should use in a paddle? No. As much as I like it, other woods work just fine. It’s those simple things, i.e. fiberglass and lamination, that allow for a huge range of options.

And so enters barn board. Let your inner creative out. Tradition is fine. Cedar is fine, but there are many other things that are just as good.

But what about weight?

I think paddle weight is kind of like horsepower ratings for a car engine. It’s a nice sizzle factor used in marketing but…..when was the last time you were on a death march paddle, with life or death stakes, in a race against time?

How about never? Kind of like the last time you floored your car for an extended period of time and miles and really exercised all those horses.

I see paddling as a leisure pursuit, one that I think should be devoid of competitive factors and work place metrics. Like weight.

Build your own paddle. Have fun doing so. Be creative. Feel free to use a design and materials you have not considered before.

And then?

Get out on the water and use it.

Odds are it’ll be just fine.

Enjoy.

Canoecopia 2019

Canoecopia-SeminarWhile Rutabaga Nancy has retired, that does not mean that Canoecopia has gone by the wayside. Nancy’s replacement, Amelia, seems like a great replacement, although she remains in the ‘mysterious’ category, as I have not met her yet. Her trial by fire grows daily, I’m sure, as Canoecopia 2019 approaches.

Rutabaga is the host/owner of Canoecopia. Rutabaga is one of the few full time paddlesports shops in the country that remains open year round, tempting paddlers every day to come in and look at the various gizmos as well as boats that fill the store. A great place. Owned and capably run by the ‘one of a kind’ Darren Bush.

And from that springs Canoecopia, an annual event that kicks off the start of the paddling season each year. Darren and his staff have carefully cultivated and nurtured this show, and the result has been a stellar production, a well run show offering a perfect oasis for paddlers tired of frozen water and ready for something warmer and easier to paddle than snow.

I’ll be up in the Atrium on Saturday from 1-3 (I think) talking about wood paddles and how to make them. Stop by and visit!

All About the Wood

Clear vertical grain western red cedar

Every paddle should start with wood –
right? Sadly some do not. Yes, stringy chemicals exist even in pleasant pursuits like paddling.

Cedar is one of my favorite woods to work into a paddle. There’s nothing quite like a slender piece emerging from a tablesaw. It looks good. It smells good and soon enough it’ll be part of a paddle. Vertical grain wood is available in every species. Lumber with a vertical grain is produced from every quarter sawn log. The grain in a vertical grain piece of wood has to be within 30 degrees (if memory serves) of vertical in either direction. The result is a stable piece of lumber that stays true with very little cupping, like plain or flat sawn lumber can do.

Student Designed Paddles

A few weeks back a university student called me up. He was here in the state, in an industrial engineering class (I think)  in which the class assignment was to design and build a paddle. What a cool class and an even cooler lab project. He was calling in search of information and fiberglass.  I gave him the fiberglass (he had to pay for shipping) and wished him well. A nice guy.

The other day he sent me the above pics of his class creation. Looks like they turned out well! Not sure of the angles, but he tried, he built and he’ll learn one way or the other. I think he is better for having done it! As are most people that undertake the many pleasures and problem solving efforts found in hand crafting their own paddles!

I’m also quite impressed with the professor who’s doing this class. None of the professors I had, ever came close to this much practical learning.

Sunny Day. Simple Water. Leisure.

picture of a paddle going down the Yahara river

A beautiful day on the Yahara. Local water, middle child, and some sunshine are all that’s needed.

Finally. An afternoon to get out on the water. Not so much an escape to someplace, as much as simply enjoying what’s around us. Big vacations happen sometimes. Little afternoon paddles trips like this happen quite a bit. Although with my daughters away at their summer jobs, not so much this year as in others. But they came home for a few weeks and away we went one afternoon.

I love paddling like this. The wind blew us around. The ducks paddled around us and we drifted silently quite a bit listening for the water talk. It only whispered this time around, but that was enough.

This little stretch of the Yahara above the newly redone Dyreson bridge is historic water, although you’d never know it, much like so most of flyover country. There’s a sweet little put-in at this bridge and directly out from it are the remants of an old pioneer log bridge. If memory serves, I’m thinking pre-Civil war – late 1850s? It amazes me that these little old pointy logs still survive after so long in the water. Just up from those remnants are some large stones in the water. They look like stones should look in water. Some of them though, are doing double duty. Those hard working stones are the remnants of a Native American fish weir, approaching 12000 years old (again if memory serves me correctly).

This little stretch of beautiful quiet flyover river speaks volumes about years gone by and people long gone, but you have to be still and listen to that water talk. So when your chance comes along, enjoy a simple float on local water and soak up all those that have gone before you.

a Michigan paddler’s bent shaft paddle project

A Michigan paddle maker in the depths of winter sends along an awesome note. Made my day! Love getting messages like this!
“…Hello Jeff,
A year or so ago I found your book and ordered one of your kits.  Well, I’ve finished my first paddle (you do stress patience in the book) and thought maybe you would be interested in my adventure.  I feel like I’m learning a lot about hand tools and wood and never would have got started without your book.  Hand planes, rasps and a lot of sanding (and patience) got me this far.  After looking at a lot of paddles, info on the web, and fixing little goofs along the way (a couple of times I considered scrapping it and starting over) I finally got it finished.  Did improvise a bit, sometimes out of necessity, but most of the pieces are from your kit. G-Flex (with a little black tint) poured into a mold made a nice rockguard.  Found your instructions on fibreglassing to be particularly helpful as I’d never done anything like that before.    Anyway, just wanted to thank you for the inspiration.  I think you can see from the picture (s. MI) that it might be a few days before I get to try it out – patience!   I do have a couple of questions if you don’t mind:  Do you sell rice paper decals? – I’m not happy with the ones I have; and, can I purchase individual pieces but not the whole kit?
Thanks again,
Dave T …”
dave-t-paddle-project
and yes I can do rice paper decals or simply sell you a piece of blank paper and yes you can buy parts and pieces and not ‘just’ the whole kit……
happy paddling!
Jeff

Winter paddling

I don’t do it. Cross country skiing gets the winter time nod from me. This winter though, is pretty weak here in flyover country. So no skiing this winter. Not yet anyway.

There’s cold air blowing on my neck. In a few minutes I’ll be getting cold unless I hop up and go back to the shop where paddles wait and heat blows away that cold.

Winter paddling, for me anyway, is all about building paddles. This time around I’ve opted in for a booth at Canoecopia, so for the past few weeks and the next month, I’ll be in the shop 10+ hours a day trying to get paddles ready for the biggest show in the US when it comes to paddlesports. Except when I’m in this cold room with that wind on my neck trying to get a newsletter ready and websites updated. At least it keeps the old laptop from overheating. Next house we’re getting better windows for sure…..