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!


Working on a paddle with redwood strips in the shaft. Unbelievably good smell, it might be even better smelling than cedar. The strips are from salvaged wood, but it’s clear and some of it is vertical grain. Redwood works well with both scraper and sandpaper, but it’s more brittle/rigid than cedar. So far so good.

Z is for Zambezi

Last one. While it’s not exactly paddling, it is a river which you can paddle in, on, and through. Do not go over Victoria Falls and do not feed the hippos! Yes I am talking about the Zambezi River. “The river rises in a black marshy dambo in north-west Zambia, in dense undulating miombo woodland.” Straight from Wikipedia. How’s that for a sentence laden with wonderful to read African vocab words?

This is the final entry in what has been a very pleasant to do 26 Days of April blogging challenge!

Y is for Yuba

There’s a neat little river in sunny (and dry) CA, the Yuba. Not to be confused with Yuma, that’s in even sunnier and drier Arizona. The Yuba is a river with a long history, the longest belonging to several native American populations. Then came the freight train that was the California gold rush and this river has not been the same ever since. It’s a typical story of resource extraction to build wealth for those who got there in time to risk their time and money on claims of unknown quality. For the most part, the purveyors of jeans and shovels are the ones who made the serious money.

Then came the dam builders and irrigation-loving farmers and agriculture types. They made their own mark on the terrain. Not really any better than the miners.

Today things are calm(er) and relatively stable. We seem not to be repeating the sins of our ancestors. You might even consider that we are trying to undo some of the damage prior generations have wrought. For the most part, it’s too late for the Konkow, Maidu, Nisenan and Miwok. A new wave of diseases pretty much took them out of the picture within a few generations of contact.

While the Golden State pats itself on the back on a regular basis, that state stands on top of the same pile of carnage as the other 49 states do.

Many times I wonder if what we have now is worth what it took to get here?

X is for xeno – stuff

I’ve tried to keep these 26 days of April somewhat paddle-, water-, wood-, maker- centric. The letter “X” proves to be taking more time than I want to give for discovering relevant words. So I resorted to the Phrontistery, which rewarded me with more X words than I can shake a stick at.
Xenophilia, for example, is the “love of foreigners”, while xenophobia is the fear of foreigners. I appreciate the symmetry of this word pair and appreciate the discovery of the Phrontistery, which for once allows me an escape in advance of any opportunities for digression……

W is for Walnut

It’s a dark wood. Not black, more like a rich chocolate brown. Marvelous contrasting wood for poplar. Love the look of these two together. Ebony and ivory-type stuff. Wonderful stripe pattern for the paddle shaft. Lately, I’ve been getting Peruvian walnut. Not sure of the provenance or even of the differences between it and American walnut. It’s proving good to work with and it looks great. So far so good.

V is for vertical grain

Why vertical grain? I sat here for awhile asking myself that very question. As usual, Google provided an array of interesting answers, most of which were in line with why I like vertical grain wood for paddle making. The big reason being that dimensional lumber, like a 1×10 piece of western red cedar (very expensive by the way), in a vertical grain cut is very stable. Pieces cut from that vertical grain board generally do not cup or bow very much (if any) at all. So I trust cutting blade pieces from a vertical grain board and both using them and selling them. I use them because I trust vertical grain blade pieces. I sell them because I trust that they will remain flat and not provide a bad experience for my customers. Generally no good ending to a story involving a mad customer with a piece of warped wood in their hands. I’m OK with quarter (flat) sawn wood for the shaft strips. The form takes care of warping and the one inch width of each strip does not leave much to work with for the forces that cup and bow.

Some wood, like walnut, I cannot find in a vertical grain. Walnut offers a unique color in the wood working world. It’s been good to me so far, but the risk is that the quarter sawn blade pieces may cup. Getting the wood under fiberglass and epoxy asap helps minimize this, but that’s not always possible.

I still use quarter sawn wood on occasion and it works. But I worry about it.

Vertical grain wood remains my preferred cut to work with for paddle blades.