Hands and Handles

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.

Wood is good!

Redwood and water go great together

curly reflections courtesy of redwood and H2O

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!

a Jig for Attaching the Blade

high tech wizardry in the paddle building world

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 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.

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!

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.

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.