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wood canoe paddle making FAQs

Everybody has'em as the saying goes. Funny how doing something for the first time tends to bring out basic issues that prove surprisingly hard to answer. Below are some of the questions I asked and then figured out as I have worked my way through years of hand-powered wood working and canoe paddle building. In the DIY world quite often there are no definitive answers. There are opinions and preferences. You need to make your peace with that and instead of relying on someone else's answer you do your own research, decide on what you think is right and go about it in your own way.

Q: Why wood?

A: Personal preference. For me, I like the feel of wood in my hands. I like the flex. I like the warmth. I love how it looks. For me, the paddles I make are both art and functional. When I am not using it, it hangs on the wall and looks good. I feel good knowing that I made it.

I also like the fact that a wood shaft can be shaped to fit your grip. When you grip something like a paddleshaft your clenched hand does not make a circular shape. Yet most paddleshafts are exactly that - a circular shape. That is because it is easy to engineer a round shaft. NOT because a circular shaft fits your hand. Your grip tends to be oblong or elliptical. Not round. Using a spokeshave you can make the shaft into more of an oblong profile that matches your grip more closely than a standard store bought paddle.

And so we get to carbon fiber. Strong. Durable. Light. All true. At the end of the day though, when I am out paddling I am in nature. For me, a stringy piece of bizarre chemical in my hands does not fit that picture as well as a wood paddle does.

Paddling anything is good, especially if the alternative is eating Cap'n Crunch watching Dr. Phil. So get out and paddle. When so doing I just happen to prefer wood over carbon fiber.

Q: Is it a bend or a cut?

A: The bent shaft canoe paddles you can make from our kits all have one-piece shafts featuring a bend. Some call it a curve. It is NOT cut. It is ONE PIECE. The shaft piece in the blade is the same shaft piece as the shaft itself. I think this makes for a much stronger shaft as well as a more aesthetically pleasing look.

Q: Why a kit?

A: With one of our kits, you get the wood pieces - shaft strips, blade pieces, and handle ready to use. You don't need to own, borrow, impose on a neighbor, or use a table saw or a band saw to first rip the laminate pieces. You don't need to stand a three+ inch tall piece on edge against a rip fence to rip it and get the blade pieces cut down to size.

Finally you don't have to buy the entire piece of wood in order to get just a few pieces. You get enough for two paddles. You don't have to store the leftover wood or throw it away (gasp..but you wouldn't do that would you?). Likewise you will not have to deal with 7/8 of a quart of left over epoxy in a large container. Did I mention not needing the space or all the big expensive tools to cut the wood?

Q: What about the angle of the shaft to the blade?

A: Unless you are a sponsored racer focussed on racing, I think you'll find the angle of the blade to the shaft UNimportant. In my paddling, I find my technique to be of primary importance, e.g. keeping the shaft vertical during the stroke, followed by the feel of the handle, and length of paddle. The form comes with a 12 degree angle to it. However, if you feel strongly about this angle, we will provide a form cut to your own specified angle at no extra charge.

Q: How much does a wood paddle weigh?

A: I don't pay much attention to that number. If you want to see a big number figure out how much water a canoe displaces over the course of a mile. And then lose ten pounds off the paddler. That can be a big weight number.

The pleasure of paddling with something I made has always been the primary issue for me. I tend to wander around, switch sides, pick up a fishing pole, do a portage, go swimming, and whatever else comes to mind as I enjoy a day on the water. I am not a long distance, straight line, monotone paddler. I don't race and I don't worry all that much about weight of equipment. For me, enjoying the trip is a bigger factor than worrying about a few ounces here or there.

But people want to know. 20 ounces is the answer. The paddle I made for the book weighs 20 ounces (1 lb. 4 ounces). Paddle weight is not something I worry about at night. I do try and avoid a third pour of epoxy on the blade sides. That's the biggest thing I pay attention to in building a paddle. Do your thing with the wood. Get out and enjoy time on the water with your creation. That's the bottom line!

Q: I have no wood working experience. Can I do this?

A: Yes. Your first paddle may not be perfect. In which case, use that first one a few times, figure out what you want to change and then go back and make the second paddle. The second paddle will be immensely better than the first and now you will have a spare paddle. The instruction manual covers the process.

Q: Are wood paddles fragile?

A: If you try hard enough to break something you can do it. I have not yet broken a wooden canoe paddle. But..I don't do whitewater (living in Wisconsin is dominantly a flatwater experience), I don't jam the tip in between rocks, I don't slam it in car doors, and my kids are old enough to know how to handle a paddle. Just like a fly rod. Nothing lasts forever though, and accidents do happen. That is part of the reason why there is enough wood for two paddles in each kit.

Q: Does the shape of the blade make a huge difference?

A: I chose a paddle shape mainly based on the look I liked the most. I would call that look a teardrop shape, more than anything else. No rocket science is involved. Square, straight, short and round, they all work. If you really want a different profile, call us and we can go about providing a raw blank for you to cut, or we can cut based on your plans. So far, my limiting factors are human and not so much board or paddle. However, to each their own. Paddlemaking is a pleasurable pursuit, so go with what you like. Each kit comes with two sets of blanks, so you can try two different sizes or styles. The widths are the same. This means you can make a blade narrower by doing your own shaping, however you can not go wider. IF you want a wider blade than our stock blanks offer, just give us a call and we can likely cook up a wider width.

My personal experience is that a ‘normal blade’ lessens the risk of shoulder injury by lessening the resistance per stroke, therefore lessening the strain on your shoulders in what, after all, is a highly repetitive motion. That normal blade lends itself well to a paddling cadence that is fairly quick. I think a fast cadence is better than a slow one, which is what you get as you try to work a larger blade through the water.

Q: What if I do something wrong?

A: There is no right or wrong here. There are no rules requiring you to do this or that. There are some things that work better than others, but there is plenty of room for individual preference and pleasure. Your mileage may vary depending on tools, experience AND PATIENCE. One of the possibilities with material for two paddles is that you make the first paddle realizing that it is the first one. Making the first one will show many things that will lead to a much better second paddle. In our technology filled world, some pursuits like woodworking, are best learned by doing and by repetition. There really is not a shortcut, other than buying a ready made paddle.

Remember that it is far easier to take wood off than it is to put it back on!

80% of paddle making happens in just a few hours. That final 20%, like so many other things in life, is what takes the time.

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