I’ve been working on a series of paddles for a set of books that I’m writing. One of those books is about building straight shaft canoe paddles. Of which I have built many, mostly in what would be thought of as a beaver tail style.
So in a moment of rebellion I decided to do something different for the next straight shaft paddle and make an ottertail style paddle. This morning I put fiberglass and epoxy on the first side of the blade. The image below shows the results –
And once again, I realize building paddles of any size, sort, or style is nothing but pleasure. I especially love slowly spreading epoxy, watching it saturate the fiberglass, and then begin to saturate the underlying wood. Watching pale drab wood go into a lush vibrant color is very pleasing to the eye. For this paddle that’s even truer than usual, because the curl really emerges in the wood as it saturates.
Stay tuned for more pictures, including, eventually, some pictures of the finished straight shaft, ottertail-style blade, canoe paddle.
A glory shot of some grass in the fall light, with some paddles thrown in, too. While cedar paddles remain atop the pile, there are other options out there. The three paddles in this batch of images all (hopefully) off some inspiration for the paddle builder – or the paddle kit gift giver!
I have long since quit writing ‘this is my favorite’ or ‘this is my main’ paddle. I use them all and like them all. I shaped the shafts and handles, so each one fits my grip. I put the bend and blade pieces in just the right position (for me) so each paddle behaves just like I want it to. And each one has a bit of personality and a story to tell.
This is the beauty of building your own paddle………try it you just might like it!
(hint: both quietwater and wavetrain sell paddle kits for canoe and SUP enthusiasts that have a DIY itch to create their own ‘thing’.
Usually it is purpleheart, because I like how purple matches up with the many varied shades of color found in cedar. Sometimes though, change is called for.
I decided to try another ‘exotic’. Padauk hails from the next continent over. The more learned amongst my three readers will probably recognize it as Pterocarpus soyauxii. It’s in the orange color category and ages into a very nice dark red, which reminds me of rosewood. As with purpleheart, simple exposure to oxygen and UV light works on the surface of the wood and does all sorts of magic with the end result being a ‘new’ color relative to what you started with.
One thing that does not change is the knots. Really it is one knot, which I sliced in half and laid open in book matching style. I always think of butterfly wings first, before pages in a book, but they both work to describe mirror images, or lateral symmetry as the learned amongst us are no doubt thinking.
Barnboard remains one of my favorite wood ‘types’. A big reason for that is the forever mystery of just what the wood actually is. I just accept it as ‘pine’, but have no way of determining which species, or it could be hemlock, which was fairly common in the midwest back in the day. I’ll never be certain and that’s OK, because I really like the wood, whatever it is.
While the work flow and process I use to build paddles has matured into a fairly stable ‘style’, for lack of a better word, the part that is ever changing is the sourcing of the wood. Each piece is unique and offers a new color, grain pattern, and even smell. For the record, when first cut padauk is intensely sweet, almost overpowering.
While it is snowing as I write this, spring grows closer every day. Open water nears. Get out and enjoy your paddling! And I hope you are doing it with one of your own hand built paddles!
Hi paddlers – Jeff Bach here. I’ll be in the shop all weekend doing what I love best – working with hands and wood, coaxing out the beauty each piece holds. And of course – there are practical matters involved along the way, like what the final finish should be and how to prevent those super irritating drips off the underside of the blade. As in life, building a paddle has all sorts of little tricks that make the project easier.
I’m happy to talk through a paddle kit and what you may or may not want to include and what options you may already have on a shelf in the garage. Like mineral oil and a bit of beeswax. The final finish for a paddle, at least the shaft and handle, can be a simple rubbed in coat of mineral oil. I still hugely recommend epoxy for the blade and a tip guard to seal the end grains along the bottom of the blade.
happy trails and I hope they are wet! Jeff Bach owner, quietwater paddles.
In the paddling world, one hand or the other is always holding / grabbing / gripping a handle. I think handles are fascinating and underappreciated. They need to feel good in both hands, they need to fit a hand, so not too big or too small, most often they need to look good or at least somewhat appealing, and they need to stand up to sweat and dirt as well as handle getting wet and not absorbing water. I’m being dramatic, the shaft has the same set of concerns, too. Even the blade needs to handle the same parameters. By the way, remember to seal the bottom of the blade, which is all end grain and acts much like a bunch of little tiny straws that suck water up into the blade pieces.
A t-grip tends to be the start. In the kits I sell, I went with a modified t-grip. It is a roughly shaped piece with a mortise drilled into the bottom which then fits like a cap over the top of the shaft pieces. The goal for this kit handle is that it fits the shaft and does not require electric powered tools to create. This is a compromise, but it works well for a paddle builder putting a paddle together from one of these kits.
But this is ONLY one option. IF you have tools, then the world is your oyster. In the gallery of images above, I included a couple different styles of handle that can be added to your paddle. I can do it for you, or we can talk and I can include unfinished pieces in your kit. Multiple pieces, grain in line with the shaft strips, at right angles to the shaft strips, contrast or blend in with the shaft strips, on and on it goes.
So build that first paddle. Get acquainted with the steps in the project. And – if you like that first one, open up your scope and consider how you can create a truly unique paddle simply by adding your own touches to the handle.
In the big picture, paddles of all types are virtually identical, but once you descend a few levels and begin looking at details, a whole new world is there. Like so many others things in our culture, the joy is in the details.
The image above shows four such little touches that make each paddle a one-off, bespoke, custom paddle. All four paddles consist of five shaft strips. Each of the shafts, uses a design that calls for the top shaft piece to ‘end’ a few inches short of the handle. Here is where creativity can be given free rein. Using scrap pieces of contrasting wood, the above four are wenge, walnut, rosewood and purpleheart, I cut narrow inlets matching the width of the inlays on a table saw. This takes just a bit of planning and a few test cuts, but it is ‘doable’ by just about any paddle builder and offers a small subtle custom touch to your paddle.
All four shafts show wood inlay design options, but there are many more possibilities, including using the flat top of the fourth piece for a ‘decal’ containing the paddler’s name. When I do this, the decal is rice paper. I run it through a plain old ink jet printer backwards. That way I can lay it ink side down on the wood surface and, the admittedly fragile, rice paper will serve as a bit of protection to the underlying ink. It also makes it easier not to smear the ink when laying down top coats of epoxy and/or varnish.
The paddle blade is the largest canvas for custom touches, but shaft and the handle offer their own potential custom bits as well.
Simple, low cost, and fairly quick, shaft inlays offer a nice subtle custom touch to really make your paddle ‘one of a kind’!
A few years back, I got lucky and snapped up a piece of salvaged redwood joist that just happened to be curly redwood. Beautiful stuff. It’s also light and strong, especially when wrapped in the loving embrace of four ounce plain weave fiberglass cloth and my preferred MAS brand epoxy. Good stuff all the way around.
I went with walnut accent pieces along the shaft strip. A tip guard made from West Marine GFlex is protecting the bottom of the blade and sealing up the end grain as well. Sand and watere courtesy of a……lake. I can’t remember where I took this picture. Most likely Lake Wazeecha, up in Wood County, central Wisco.
Anyway, wood paddles are well within reach of an aspiring DIY’er. A quietwater kit simply puts all the pieces together for you, so you don’t have to start your project sourcing the materials and then cutting the wood. A kit comes with everything you need to build TWO paddles.
Or I can build one for you.
A one of a kind custom, with no epoxy stuck to your fingers and in your clothes.
Either way, a paddle is a means to an end. That end being the pleasure of a day spent paddling water somewhere. wherever you are…….Enjoy it!
As my old corporate life recedes into the dim recess of time, an ongoing growth of ‘new stuff’ is blasting the old cranium. Maybe more like shaking the rust off….
Anyway, as I have likely written elsewhere on either the site or this blog, the amazing strength of fiberglass and epoxy is what allows for a wood paddle to do what it does. I should also acknowledge the waterproofing that fiberglass and epoxy does. For me, and hopefully you the builder as well, this means that I am free to use ‘non-traditional’ wood for the paddle blades. The picture above illustrates that notion. This is reclaimed barn board, at least a hundred years old, in addition to the age of the tree that gave up the lumber. The matching pair of blackish holes is from a nail. The iron of the nail oxidized (aka rusted) and stained the wood around it. At first I thought it was a bullet, but no – the wood is from a sensible midwest farm barn not a romantic western robber’s roost shack.
And the knot stands alone.
This has to be my favorite example of ‘design’ in nature, if you can call it that. The randomness of the lines, the color, and the shape is nearly impossible to match even with something as good as Photoshop. I love it! There’s just no way to manufacture something like this. Truly one of a kind, and best of all – accessible. Even affordable. Note the walnut accent strip on either side of the shaft strip, usually those strips are purpleheart, but not in this paddle. Also note the simple blunt and rounded off style end relief of the shaft strips. Also, one of a kind, something that no mass built paddle can ever replicate.
Building your own paddle using ‘found’ wood is well within the DIY paddle builder’s grasp. If you have a notion to think outside the box, I urge you to do so. The pleasure and ‘feel good’ parts of sourcing your own material and then building your own paddle is hard to beat!
I will happily resaw your paddle blade wood, AT NO CHARGE, if you have a piece you want to use and lack the table saw. Just send me your piece and I will send it back to you cut into quarter inch thick pieces as part of your kit.
OR, you can look through the range of ‘non-traditional’ blade blanks I have on the quietwater paddles website and pick some of your own.
As always, enjoy your paddling! Of course, you just might enjoy it more if you are using a paddle you built yourself!
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!
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!