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!


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……