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’!

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!

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.

K is for kink

When it comes to hand tooling wood, one needs to be vigilant. Usually this is part of being totally engrossed in what you are doing, so the two happen at the same time. Kinks are what I call abrupt changes in the wood grain that creates a tear out or a sudden dive or some other event that takes your work off in another direction.

Wood can be unpredictable. Just when it lulls you to sleep with its consistent grain…boom the changes happens and your plane takes a dive or your spokeshave digs in. It happens. To the best of us. It’s part of working with a real, physical, natural substance. It’s also why having a workable Plan B around is a good thing.

Nature will always do the unpredictable. Accepting this is part of what working with your hands and wood will teach you. If you want consistent, go with man-made. If you want natural, then know that you will have to contend with the unpredictable like kinks in the wood grain, that may mess up your plans.

B is for Bend

When I’m at a show (like Canoecopia for example) and talking with fellow paddlers, one of the most frequent comments I get relates to how surprised the paddler is at how I can bend wood. Their expectation seems to be one of the wood being brittle and stiff. I’m here to tell you (actually write you) that this is not true. A long (say 50 inches), narrow (say one inch) and thin (say one-quarter inch) piece of wood will behave more like a spaghetti noodle than a railroad track.

This depends on scale as it turns out, at least in my experience. In fact, it even applies to the railroad track mentioned above as an icon of inflexibility. Next time you are in the shop, anchor a long thin slender piece of wood JUST at one end. If you go to the free end of that long thin slender piece and move it, you will observe the spaghetti noodle behavior in all directions. It is flexible.

Now go down half way on the wood piece, which still just has one end anchored. You can still pick this piece up at the midway point and move it around considerably in all dimensions, but not nearly as much as when you moved it out at the tip. Move in again, to the quarter length. Again you will note movement, but again considerably lessened relative to the movement at the mid-point.

Finally, try and pick the wood piece up one inch from the anchor point. You won’t be able to budge it in any direction. For me, this lesson in “wood physics” is all about the radius of the bend you are trying to make. A big radius, like your first move is no problem, the wood is very flexible and will accommodate just about anything within reason.

Each move down the piece shortens the radius within which the wood can flex. It has less to work with and therefore has to make more happen over a shorter distance. Taking this to an extreme, at the shortest distance, the position in which the wood did not move, you have now crossed over from a bend to a corner.

Viewed from a mass point of view, the top surface of a bend is experiencing compression and the bottom surface extension. In a bend, the wood is experiencing the necessity of stuffing or stretching some amount of its mass into a smaller or larger volume of space. Just think about how the top of the bend is shrinking, yet the wood mass stays the same. You have to squish the same amount of wood into a smaller amount of space. Over a long distance (a big radius bend) both the squish (top side) and stretch (bottom side) factors are within the tolerance of the wood. As the radius of the bend gets smaller, you approach an elastic limit beyond which the wood will no longer accommodate a squash or a stretch. It now snaps.

Coming back to bending wood strips while making a paddle, the radius of the bend that the shaft strips make while in the form, are simply within the limits of the wood elasticity, so bending is tolerated. If you force it too hard, usually by moving the first compression block too close to the end of the angle block and/or tightening it too much, you cross that elastic threshold and go from a bend to a corner. The wood strip is now beyond its elastic limit and it snaps.

That’s it sports fans. Thanks for tolerating my diatribe on the letter “B”, all wrapped up in a rant about the wood physics involved in a BEND. I hope you will venture back tomorrow for a dose of the letter “C” as it is used in the word “cadence”.

happy paddling!

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.