Red and beautiful

Even on a gray misty day, redwood can still light up the room. The world of wood has grown larger with the ability to find even the most exotic of wood with the tap of a finger. Happily, far flung lumberyards have also evolved and now will ship just about anything anywhere, which is good if you live in a humble midwestern state like I do.

So here in the above pics is my latest entry in the world of paddles. It is redwood, in just about the most beautiful shade possible. Subtle textures and wandering lines of grain embellish the wood and make the color even better. At least to me.

Big fun for both mind and body. My eye loves seeing the red emerge under the addition of epoxy. My hands relish the feel of the wood taking shape under spokeshave, rasp, knives, and sandpaper. Truly – it’s all good.

As always, I can build a custom paddle to your specs, or I can send you the pieces as a kit and you can build your own.

Life is good. Summer is mostly here, the water’s fine and so is the wood!

Bird’s Eye and Paisley Paddles

It may not rise to the level of peanut butter and chocolate, but pine and cotton work just fine as paddle blades. My so-called ‘creative side’ favors the machine made paisley in all its many colors and patterns. My eye also likes the wild patterns found in nature, in this case a pair of book matched knots and the revelation of ‘birds eye’ upon slicing open the chunk of pine.

Both paddles perform just fine, in spite of the burden of being ‘non-standard’. Pine offers widespread availability, affordability, a light color, a variety of complementary colors, and an array of amazing textures and inclusions. Pine paddles are great!

Fiberglass and epoxy are the original (WWII era) lightweight composites that have greatly changed just about every industry that has ever used them. If you appreciate industrial history and the little known underpinnings that greatly advanced our culture, then you might appreciate the global story of how epoxy and fiberglass were ‘invented’. Laboratory ‘accidents’ figure heavily into that narrative. Clearly, planes (the original and urgent application in the WWI era), skis, cars, boats, and a long list of other items benefit from strength and light weight. In the paisley fabric canoe paddle case, I used just cotton fabric and the epoxy. No fiberglass. So far so good. If the cloth had not done what I hoped then I (still) have some light weight two ounce fiberglass cloth to overlay the cotton cloth. It looks to my eye though, that cotton fabric both saturates and provides a substrate in much the same way that fiberglass does. The MAJOR difference of course, being that cloth is not transparent like fiberglass is when it is saturated.

So build your own! Let your creative loose a bit and try something non-standard in your next project. Then….go paddle it!

a Jig for Attaching the Blade

Shelf board is not just for shelves anymore.

A paddle builder should be able to finish a paddle project using materials that a normal person can find in a normal garage, right? I think so, anyway. So let’s call out some details in the above picture and explain how simple things can go a long way towards making your paddle something that gets done easily and gets wet for years to come, instead of ending up in the burn pile.

First of all – shelf board. Maybe it’s called something else in your neck of the woods. It does come in a couple different colors and surfaces, so while the board above is white and slippery, it also exists in a tan color and a non-slip surface as well. It’s fairly cheap, comes in wide pieces and most of all, I trust it to be FLAT in all dimension.

Second, notice that it is up on two inch legs. This is so it is easy to get clamps underneath it, so you can squeeze the blade piece tight against the form.

Third, notice that on the far (back) side there is another piece of shelf board that makes a short wall. You can push the blade against this, which is a good thing when you want to push your pieces against something.

Fourth, look at the red handle clamp. Notice how the piece it is clamping has another piece under one end. This is a simple cantilever technique that allows you to ‘extend’ the clamping effect all the way in to a place where the clamp itself cannot reach. Like the edge of the blade right next to the shaft strip. This ensures that the join between shaft center strip and blade edge is straight and in full contact, which means ‘strong’. Or as strong as a little tiny quarter inch thick piece of wood can get.

Fifth, notice the three clamps along the bottom. The middle one is squeezing the shaft strip, while the outer pair are squeezing the blade pieces down against the form base (aka shelf board). The scrap piece is ensuring that the clamping is felt across a wider area than if the clamp was by itself. Up at the top, the final pair of clamps is squeezing the top of the blade pieces, keeping them flat and aligned with the center shaft strip.

Sixth, notice the thin line of squeezeout along the join between shaft and blade. To me, that is the perfect amount. Remember, there’s not much space in there to begin with, so take care that most of the glue stays in there rather then coming out on top. Just a little bit of squeezing will get the job done. The fiberglass/epoxy layer is really what gives your paddle blade its strength, not this tiny little joint.

Finally, use fresh wax paper underneath. There’s nothing worse than expecting to lift the paddle off the form and you lift the form up as well. You might wrap the wood scrap pieces with packing tape if you really want to make things easy.

The shelf board is a few dollars. The clamps are 0.99 cent specials at a hardware store. Wax paper is pretty cheap.

My point?

Paddle building is a great way to DIY, when it comes to a custom wood paddle. Simple tools, quite possibly already around the garage, make the project even better!

Paddle Blade – tape, trim, and level

Three things at once in the above image:

1.) I trimmed the plain weave, four ounce fiberglass cloth as closely as I could to the edge of the blade. This is important because if too much cloth is left overhanging the edge, the epoxy ‘flows’ out along this fiber and hardens. This adds enough weight and stiffness at just the right time and in exactly the wrong spot, resulting in the cloth ‘lifting’ off the blade. Think of a seesaw, where the blade edge is the fulcrum in the middle, and the outboard fiber and its cargo of epoxy is bending down, just like the heavier kid on the seesaw. If this occurs and goes unfixed, the result is a ‘white line’ along the blade edge where these long fibers were allowed. The white line is air that is now trapped under the cloth in the space that was made as the cloth lifted up of the surface. TRIM any excess cloth. Make the edge of the cloth fit the blade as best your scissors and steady hand will allow.

2.) Blue tape along the UNDERSIDE of the blade serves as the surface on which any drips will harden. When all is done you just pull the tape off, taking with it all the hardened stalagmites (or is it stalagtites?) that formed as that drip fell off the edge. Without tape the drip still happens, but it bonds with the wood and is much harder to cleanly remove.

3.) Use a small level to check that the blade is level in all directions. A dipping blade makes it easy for the epoxy to flow downhill resulting in a thicker layer on that lower side and a thinner layer on the higher side. This can also make it easier for dripping off that low edge, resulting in those undesired stalagmites on the underside.

Anything is fixable, but why make your project more difficult? A few minutes of prep time can make your project less stressful, especially that first paddle upon which so much is ‘learned’. You can make that learning have a good outcome, or you can make it more frustrating…….

P.S. I like doing the power face first as seen in the pic above, the cloth is simpler to work with, as you do not need to cut the slot for the shaft. Also a simple vise to hold the paddle shaft makes for an easier epoxy experience. Tune in next time for an easy way to cut that backside slot out.

July 4th means Lake Wazeecha


We have only a few simple traditions. Site 34 at South Wood County Park is one of them. The July 4th weekend found us camped out at that site again, for about the fifteenth time now. This spot overlooks Lake Wazeecha and is a ten second walk to the shore. The campground is heavily used and the lake is long, narrow and still fairly small. It’s also full of motor boats, but it is a sweet place, full of happy memories. So we went there for the hot steamy July 4th weekend and it did not disappoint!

New Dog and more Pleasant Paddling

I like pictures. I think they make a web page more interesting, especially if there is a canoe and paddles in the frame.

This time around though, there are no pictures, even though a canoe and paddles were involved. Water, too.

We took our young dog out on her first canoe (actually second) paddle. Just my wife and me. And the dog.

We put in on the Yahara River at the old iron bridge landing, just down from the old pioneer wood bridge and within sight of the 10,000+ year old native american fish weir remnants. It is said that this stretch of the Yahara is haunted. One of the many things I like about paddling this old slow river. This particular stretch certainly has the credentials for being haunted. I bet quite a few old bodies crossed the river here, whether it be fishing, or crossing a wagon or building a bridge.

Memorial Day weekend in the COVID era brought out surprising amounts of people. Usually, this stretch we have to ourselves. Not today. On the upside it kept Sula entertained. She has yet to meet a person she’s not immediately ready to run away with. Definitely a people dog.

All of which is a long way to write that I did not want to add an old expensive camera to the mix of young excitable dog, a wet river, and the first paddle of the year.

It was sublime. I do love getting out in a paddle-powered boat!

Nonetheless, there’ll be pics next time. This little dog is a happy smiley cutie. She adds fun and joy to the simplest of things!

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 – Amelia G. 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.