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!
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 in the Friday night fire place.
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, in theory keeping everything flat while the adhesive dries and locks it all in place.
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 for just a bit of squeezing pressure.
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 ensures 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 between shaft strip and blade to begin with, so take care that most of the glue stays in there rather than 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.
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!
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.
There’s nothing like a good handle, at least for me. I think comfort when paddling starts with how your hand feels when gripping the handle. Ergonomics is the official word for this, but it’s really about comfort.
Quietwater paddles are all wood. They’re kits that you put together yourself. No cutting required. Not even electricity is needed, unless you really want to get that sander out (note: the pieces arrive fairly smooth so don’t sand too much).
Two pre-made handles come with each kit. If you’re wondering – yes each kit has enough materials for two complete paddles. There are a couple different styles of handle. The picture above is a batch of new handles I’ve been working on. This style adds a piece of redwood to the front of the handle. Redwood is hard to find these days. I was fortunate to come across some redwood and salvage it.