Making Paddles (01/01/01)
First of all, this is how 'I' made canoe paddles, not necessarily the 'right' way to make them. So this is more 'the continuing adventures of Tom' than it is a 'how to' page.
I did not have previous woodworking experience so, before building a canoe, I thought I should familiarise myself with the materials and tools by making a laminated canoe paddle. Besides, my old Cherry paddle - which I have used for the last twenty years - was in need of repair. So before making any mistakes repairing my favourite old paddle, not to mention building a canoe, I thought I should try making a paddle from scratch.
I used an old Maple headboard that was laying around in my Dad's workshop. The twin of this one:
I started by planing the thin laminate from the surface of the headboard. As it turned out, the board was actually several pieces of Maple laminated together. There were also quite a few tiny nail holes scattered throughout the board which left long stained streaks in the wood. The nail holes indicate that this Maple had another life between being a tree and a headboard. I gave it yet another life as two paddles. The adjacent picture shows Paddle One glued but still in a rough state. Beside it are extra strips cut from the headboard - which later became Paddle Two.
I need a basic all purpose spare paddle so I chose a simple rectangular design. The grey colour is wood epoxy I got from a hardware store. I don't like the gray lines it left so later I used clear epoxy (Industrial Formulations G2) mixed with sawdust as a thickener. At this stage it looked more like a pizza paddle than a canoeing paddle!
One mistake was that the grain of the Cedar strips on each side of the blade faced the wrong way, making planing very tricky. After shaping and sanding the blade, I shaped the grip, and finally the shaft. The carving and shaping was done by hand and eye using a plane, spokeshave, wood carving chisels, and lots of sandpaper. Compare the two pictures of the grip below (sorry about the blur):
The shaft near the blade turned out too thin so I laminated a thin piece of maple over both sides of the Cedar running up through the length of the paddle. Finally(?) I coated everything with Tung Oil. Later, I sanded it down again and removed the thin piece of Maple from all but the section where the shaft was too thin because the rest of the shaft was too thick. Too thin! Too thick! It's a good thing this was the practice project! I left it unfinished and meant to fibreglass the blade when I reached the glassing stage of the canoe I am going to build.
Paddle Two was made in the same way except that I did not use any Cedar. This paddle was meant to be my whitewater paddle so I wanted it to be all hardwood. It is made of the best pieces of Maple from the headboard (which I set aside before beginning Paddle One above).
I found that the square blade shape interfered with the hull of the canoe. So I modified the paddle by cutting it into a teardrop shape. The blade can now be positioned much closer to the hull for more efficient and unencumbered paddling.
My old Cherry paddle had some serious cracks in the bottom of the blade (sorry, no pics). It was a three-part laminated paddle so I just cut the sides of the blade off along the old lamination line. I epoxied two new pieces of Cherry to the shaft piece.
Then I started to think about what shape I would like for the blade. This paddle would be for deep flatwater paddling. After drawing and erasing several different blade shapes, it came down to two finalists. The one on the right of these two merged photos was an attempt at a "beaver tail" shape. I chose the one on the left - a modified version of old voyageur paddles with the narrow end. Here it is after cutting, shaping, and sanding:
As you can see, the Cherry I bought was not as dark as the shaft of my old paddle. The blade of the Cherry paddle is very thin and the bottom 6 inches of the tip is reinforced with fibreglass, the entire blade is varnished, and the shaft is oiled for a smooth feel.