While the blade and the shaft might get the lion’s share of glory with a wood paddle, it is the handle that gets most of the contact. I think it is the most important part of the paddle, but it spends most of its time covered up by one hand or the other and tends to be under appreciated as a result.
Manufacturing wants a repeatable process that can be automated and makes efficient use of raw materials. Some of you live in this world and make the mortgage payment based on process, automation and efficiency. As it should be! However, when it comes to bespoke (aka one-off) hand crafted wood paddles, I think you should leave your work at work and bring different skills to the paddle making project. More later. Let’s look at the picture below. Here are some details:
- This is my oldest everyday paddle handle. Still in use. Made from individual pieces;
- A much newer canoe paddle. Handle is one piece made up of several pieces laminated together. Curves on top and sides were cut in advance. Approximately one hour spent sanding to finished shape. Final cover is two coats of spar varnish;
- An example of a "raw" laminated handle much like #2, prior to cutting and sanding. This could be either a straight or a curved top, depending on what is ordered;
- old growth cedar handle, one-piece, cut, not sanded. Straight top;
- old growth cedar handle, one-piece, cut, not sanded. Curved top;
- a chunk of "carvable" foam. Using a serrated bread knife, an old school razor, and rasps you can shape this raw handle blank into just about any shape you want. It is dense enough that you can grip it in your hand and get a sense of the fit and finish "feel" for the handle you are custom creating. The idea here is to experiment on a workable piece of foam and not an irreplaceable piece of old growth cedar.
Bend your hand as if you were wrapping it around a paddle handle. Have a look at the shape. It’s pretty irregular. To my eye, the shape is an asymmetrical curve at an angle to the long axis of your arm. Yet most paddle handles are simply round pieces glued at a right angle to the end of the round shaft.
As a DIY paddle maker I think you can do better than that! Save your efficient, automated process skills for work. They have value there. But in your paddle making time, I would encourage you to be a bit different. Bring out your custom artisan woodworking skills. Even if you have never used them before they are there, they just need something to work with. Like a couple paddles and their custom finished handles!