Sunshine and paddle building – just like PB and J

bounced light reveals all – what’s gorgeous and what needs a redo or at least some sanding……

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.

One of a Kind Paddle

Small Bits, but no one else has them!

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’!

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!

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!

M is for min and max

There’s too much of a good thing and then there’s not enough. This describes the care and handling of epoxy when joining wood. There’s a time when too much epoxy is applied to the join surface. The max is exceeded. This means there is more epoxy than needed to make the ideal join. You are wasting expensive liquids for no additional gain. When pressure is applied the extra liquid is simply squeezed out of the joined surface and wasted. And then there is the opposite, not enough epoxy is applied to cover the joined surface. The join absorbs all of the liquid and is left “wanting” more. The join dries in a less than saturated state leading to a join that is not as strong as it should be.

Like Goldilocks, joining wood is knowing the difference between too much, too little and just right. Thankfully, you get a feel that fairly quickly. Most people understand that the join surface should be covered, but not thickly covered. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. And there is such a thing as “just right”. Experience shows you the way, fairly fast.

J is for Joins

The join is where all the magic happens. The verb is joining. Sometimes a large volume of the same work on the same project is known as joinery. The join is that interface between two pieces, almost always where something like epoxy goes. A join done right, is reputed to be stronger than the wood surrounding it. Much goes into that assertion of course, all of which must be near perfection.

In the paddle making world though, while I’ve not tested the strength of joins by taking them beyond their breaking point, I do have confidence in the materials I use and their contributions to making a good join that holds up to the rigors of paddling. GFlex, from West Systems, has been very good to me. Western red cedar, poplar, pine, basswood, purpleheart, sapele, and old growth cedar of uncertain genus and species have also all been very good to me. All have bonded together in joinery and stayed tight. In some cases for years now. The sun may fade the surfaces, but the join stays tight. I continue to wear out before the epoxy does.

Joinery. Symbolically I guess it can stand for many things, not all of which are wood. Get the right pieces and the right adhesive and some long lasting relationships can occur.

F is for Fiberglass

One use of epoxy is bonding wood to wood. Laminating shaft strips comes to mind. Another way to use epoxy though, is in conjunction with fiberglass, a truly miraculous material. Epoxy and fiberglass together create a stiff, strong, waterproof surface that is amazing. In the paddle world I find it impressive considering how flexible the underlying wood tends to be.

I started to look into providing a simple link to the history of fiberglass as well as to how fiberglass works. After all, the cloth and the fibers must be fairly absorbent right? What I found was a whole other world.

The fiberglass I know and enjoy comes from the same source, it’s the same weight and I always use the same epoxy with it. I trust my workflow. I know the materials work together and I know they are waterproof. But there is alot beyond my simple workflow. It’s a fascinating subject, if you are in to industrial materials. I kind of am, but not so much. It does however make me feel good that a kit from quietwater, takes the guesswork out of which epoxy to use with which fiberglass and which weight of fiberglass and which weave of fiberglass. And there are more question where those came from.

A four ounce fiberglass layer on both sides of a paddle blade is what makes my paddles work. They wouldn’t be the same without this miracle fiber.

adios until “G” brings us together again.

E is for epoxy

Epoxy is magic. Maybe even black magic. Not really. It’s all chemical. Yes thanks to the miracle of better chemistry, a normal person in a normal garage with normal skills can mix up normal epoxy and pour it onto some fiberglass and get….a miracle.

Cedar is a fairly weak wood. I have always contended that boatbuilders can get away with cedar because while it gives shape and color, it is the overlying fiberglass and epoxy that really give the strength and stiffness that you expect in most conditions and applications.

Epoxy is easy to use, the only trick being to make sure you honor the ratio of resin to hardener. For West Systems GFlex that is 1:1. Couldn’t be easier. For MAS it is 2:1, that’s two parts resin to one part hardener. I make small batches for paddle blades so I usually will use kitchen measuring spoons and do two tbsps of water, pour them into a small mixing cup and make a line (blue to match the cap). Then one more tbsp of water into the same mixing cup and another line (this one red).

Paddle blades are small and epoxy expensive. Three tbsp is a good size for the first pour of epoxy. I let it dry and then do a second coat, still at the 2:1 ratio but now only three tsp total NOT tBsp, so its a much smaller batch. I infill and smooth out with the second pour. MAS is very low odor and very clear. Great stuff for indoor paddle making in the winter.