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.

Student Designed Paddles

A few weeks back a university student called me up. He was here in the state, in an industrial engineering class (I think)  in which the class assignment was to design and build a paddle. What a cool class and an even cooler lab project. He was calling in search of information and fiberglass.  I gave him the fiberglass (he had to pay for shipping) and wished him well. A nice guy.

The other day he sent me the above pics of his class creation. Looks like they turned out well! Not sure of the angles, but he tried, he built and he’ll learn one way or the other. I think he is better for having done it! As are most people that undertake the many pleasures and problem solving efforts found in hand crafting their own paddles!

I’m also quite impressed with the professor who’s doing this class. None of the professors I had, ever came close to this much practical learning.

Sunny Day. Simple Water. Leisure.

picture of a paddle going down the Yahara river

A beautiful day on the Yahara. Local water, middle child, and some sunshine are all that’s needed.

Finally. An afternoon to get out on the water. Not so much an escape to someplace, as much as simply enjoying what’s around us. Big vacations happen sometimes. Little afternoon paddles trips like this happen quite a bit. Although with my daughters away at their summer jobs, not so much this year as in others. But they came home for a few weeks and away we went one afternoon.

I love paddling like this. The wind blew us around. The ducks paddled around us and we drifted silently quite a bit listening for the water talk. It only whispered this time around, but that was enough.

This little stretch of the Yahara above the newly redone Dyreson bridge is historic water, although you’d never know it, much like so most of flyover country. There’s a sweet little put-in at this bridge and directly out from it are the remants of an old pioneer log bridge. If memory serves, I’m thinking pre-Civil war – late 1850s? It amazes me that these little old pointy logs still survive after so long in the water. Just up from those remnants are some large stones in the water. They look like stones should look in water. Some of them though, are doing double duty. Those hard working stones are the remnants of a Native American fish weir, approaching 12000 years old (again if memory serves me correctly).

This little stretch of beautiful quiet flyover river speaks volumes about years gone by and people long gone, but you have to be still and listen to that water talk. So when your chance comes along, enjoy a simple float on local water and soak up all those that have gone before you.

a Michigan paddler’s bent shaft paddle project

A Michigan paddle maker in the depths of winter sends along an awesome note. Made my day! Love getting messages like this!
“…Hello Jeff,
A year or so ago I found your book and ordered one of your kits.  Well, I’ve finished my first paddle (you do stress patience in the book) and thought maybe you would be interested in my adventure.  I feel like I’m learning a lot about hand tools and wood and never would have got started without your book.  Hand planes, rasps and a lot of sanding (and patience) got me this far.  After looking at a lot of paddles, info on the web, and fixing little goofs along the way (a couple of times I considered scrapping it and starting over) I finally got it finished.  Did improvise a bit, sometimes out of necessity, but most of the pieces are from your kit. G-Flex (with a little black tint) poured into a mold made a nice rockguard.  Found your instructions on fibreglassing to be particularly helpful as I’d never done anything like that before.    Anyway, just wanted to thank you for the inspiration.  I think you can see from the picture (s. MI) that it might be a few days before I get to try it out – patience!   I do have a couple of questions if you don’t mind:  Do you sell rice paper decals? – I’m not happy with the ones I have; and, can I purchase individual pieces but not the whole kit?
Thanks again,
Dave T …”
and yes I can do rice paper decals or simply sell you a piece of blank paper and yes you can buy parts and pieces and not ‘just’ the whole kit……
happy paddling!

Winter paddling

I don’t do it. Cross country skiing gets the winter time nod from me. This winter though, is pretty weak here in flyover country. So no skiing this winter. Not yet anyway.

There’s cold air blowing on my neck. In a few minutes I’ll be getting cold unless I hop up and go back to the shop where paddles wait and heat blows away that cold.

Winter paddling, for me anyway, is all about building paddles. This time around I’ve opted in for a booth at Canoecopia, so for the past few weeks and the next month, I’ll be in the shop 10+ hours a day trying to get paddles ready for the biggest show in the US when it comes to paddlesports. Except when I’m in this cold room with that wind on my neck trying to get a newsletter ready and websites updated. At least it keeps the old laptop from overheating. Next house we’re getting better windows for sure…..

Making Paddle Handles

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.

Floatzilla 2015

It was a great day for Floatzilla ! This is an annual event put on by River Action. It happens at Potter Park, a sweet watery spot just off the Mississippi in the Quad Cities. I think Rock Island is the closest of the cities. Tons of canoes and kayaks all in one spot for an attempt on a Guinness Book of World Records for most canoes and kayaks in a single floating raft.
Floatzilla 2015

Customer Paddle Project

Janet B hails from Texas. She purchased a kit last summer. This past weekend she sent in pictures of her project paddles, one bent shaft and one straight shaft. Turns out that not only did she make two paddles she also made a pirogue. I can see how the boat would add an extra summer to the schedule.

The only thing better than paddling with paddles you made yourself, is sitting in a canoe (or pirogue) you made yourself and then using your own paddles as well.

Simple Tools for Paddle Making

The main idea underlying quietwater paddles, besides using lowercase letters for the company name, is that I do the “work” requiring electricity and power tools, as well as gathering all the pieces together and producing a kit that has materials for two paddles. Raw materials like lumber comes in widths and lengths that do not fit paddle dimensions. Other materials, like epoxy, come in large quantities for hundreds of dollars, rather than the 2 or 3 ounce sizes that are needed for paddle making. That leaves you, the paddle maker, with the main task of making the paddle and not prepping and gathering the raw materials.
All that said, once you get the kit, there are still tools and techniques that can be used to make the project more enjoyable. The humble “bench dog” is one such tool. Rather than the wood sliding all over the bench, a bench dog gives you something to brace the piece against without movement. Very handy.

A vise also comes in handy for making a paddle. Unfortunately most vises come with metal jaws. These tend to leave undesired marks on the paddle. I replace those metal jaws with wood jaws, which tends to decrease the marks left on the paddle surface.
Happy paddling!

Redwood Paddle Project

Design options are one of the many benefits you get in making your own paddle. In the custom paddles I make, deciding on wood to use for the handle is one of those design options. The first picture below is a handle I’m working on that I made from a piece of salvaged redwood. Secondly, I used to think that working cedar produced the best smell on earth. After working with redwood, I have to report that the aroma from working redwood is even better than cedar.

Anyway, you can see in the first image below that there is a knot on one side of the handle. For whatever reason, or possibly character flaw, I really like how knots look. I’ve incorporated them into paddle blades before, but this is the first time I’ve found the right piece of raw wood that offered the chance to incorporate a knot into the handle. So far so good.

Besides just being simply beautiful, to my eye anyway, an object like this handle serves to illustrate several design concepts that I like to keep in mind. First and foremost, this is an asymmetric element in the paddle. It’s not centered, it’s not paired and it is irregularly shaped. It is fairly tight, so I am confident that a few coats of epoxy and spar varnish will “lock” it in place and not irritate the hand holding it. I do make paddles intended for using after all. A paddle that hurts your hand defeats that purpose.

Finally, for this custom paddle (which will be up for sale when complete hint hint) the handle is the only obvious element offering a unique design element. The blades are going to be clear vertical grain redwood and the shaft is made from five pieces that blend well together. The final design point here being that subtlety is a design element to keep in mind. Offering multiple unique elements tends to “water down” each of the elements and lessen the overall impact. Of course, if your design style goes in a different direction, that’s alright as well. Perhaps the best design element of all is that there is not really a right or a wrong, as long as you like what you are making.
Happy paddling!