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!

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!

Corporate out Design in

Knots and nail holes, courtesy of a bookmatched table saw cut

As my old corporate life recedes into the dim recess of time, an ongoing growth of ‘new stuff’ is blasting the old cranium. Maybe more like shaking the rust off….

Anyway, as I have likely written elsewhere on either the site or this blog, the amazing strength of fiberglass and epoxy is what allows for a wood paddle to do what it does. I should also acknowledge the waterproofing that fiberglass and epoxy does. For me, and hopefully you the builder as well, this means that I am free to use ‘non-traditional’ wood for the paddle blades. The picture above illustrates that notion. This is reclaimed barn board, at least a hundred years old, in addition to the age of the tree that gave up the lumber. The matching pair of blackish holes is from a nail. The iron of the nail oxidized (aka rusted) and stained the wood around it. At first I thought it was a bullet, but no – the wood is from a sensible midwest farm barn not a romantic western robber’s roost shack.

And the knot stands alone.

This has to be my favorite example of ‘design’ in nature, if you can call it that. The randomness of the lines, the color, and the shape is nearly impossible to match even with something as good as Photoshop. I love it! There’s just no way to manufacture something like this. Truly one of a kind, and best of all – accessible. Even affordable. Note the walnut accent strip on either side of the shaft strip, usually those strips are purpleheart, but not in this paddle. Also note the simple blunt and rounded off style end relief of the shaft strips. Also, one of a kind, something that no mass built paddle can ever replicate.

Building your own paddle using ‘found’ wood is well within the DIY paddle builder’s grasp. If you have a notion to think outside the box, I urge you to do so. The pleasure and ‘feel good’ parts of sourcing your own material and then building your own paddle is hard to beat!

I will happily resaw your paddle blade wood, AT NO CHARGE, if you have a piece you want to use and lack the table saw. Just send me your piece and I will send it back to you cut into quarter inch thick pieces as part of your kit.

OR, you can look through the range of ‘non-traditional’ blade blanks I have on the quietwater paddles website and pick some of your own.

As always, enjoy your paddling! Of course, you just might enjoy it more if you are using a paddle you built yourself!

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.

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.

a Woodcraft Madison class on paddle making

Some stores are more dangerous than others. While I feel zero interest in browsing Forever 21, in stark contrast to my daughters, I do feel a strong pull from stores stocking wood and tools. So it was both a dangerous and happy day when Woodcraft opened a store on the East side of Madison, which is an easy drive from Stoughton, where I live. So of course I go there fairly often and usually end up buying what I want and not so much what I need. Very dangerous, but fun, as most “wants” tend to be.

I explained what I do with the wood pieces I buy there, usually the exotics that I can not find anywhere else. I asked if they ever let “outsiders” teach classes and lo and behold they do. So I am.

Starting in May, Woodcraft in Madison, WI. will be holding a four week class on making a bent shaft laminated canoe paddle. I will be teaching it and six students will ultimately walk away from the last class with a bent shaft laminated canoe paddle they built with their own hands.