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How To Make a Canoe Paddle

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Jim is a retired engineer who enjoys the outdoors. He likes to challenge himself with creative DIY woodworking projects at home.


Getting Started

I purchased the book “Canoe Paddles: A Complete Guide To Making Your Own,” written by Graham Warren and David Gidmark. I thought it was best to proceed with some knowledge and information rather than just grabbing a hunk of wood and hacking away. As it turns out, I had quite a lot to learn about paddle making.



I chose the traditional beavertail design, for the obvious reason that the blade shape resembles the shape of a beaver tail. I thought it was a good compromise between a paddle with a noisier wide blade, which pushes more water and requires more effort to propel the canoe, and a quieter narrow blade, requires less effort to propel, but more effort in terms of a higher stroke rate. Plus I liked the shape.

Since I didn’t have a board large, thick enough or long enough to carve a paddle in one piece, I decided to laminate a paddle, i.e., glue boards together. The paddle would be about 59 inches long with about as 1-1/8 x 1-1/4 inch oval shaft and with a blade about 29 x 6-1/2 inches.


Wood Selection

I chose to use what I had on hand, so I ended up with a blade of ash and cedar, a shaft of ash and cedar and a grip of ash, redwood and mulberry. The mulberry was used for a colorful accent. The ash was from 1 x 12 rough sawn boards harvested from my neighbor’s property several years ago. The cedar was from 1 x 6 boards purchased from Menards, a local home improvement store. It was labeled as red cedar, but technically I suspect it was Eastern Red Cedar. The redwood was salvaged from an old hot tub I demolished. The Mulberry was cut from a dead tree branch in my yard.

The paddle can be made entirely or mostly from various hardwoods, resulting in a heavier but stronger paddle. Using more cedar makes the paddle more lightweight but more prone to dings and chips, especially in the blade area. The lightweight wood has the advantage of being easier to carve also. I figured that I would not really be abusing this paddle, so the cedar was OK.

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Tools I Used

  • Clamps: C-clamp, bar clamps and spring clamps
  • Band saw for cutting the blade and general shape (alternative: coping saw)
  • Table saw for ripping wood (optional)
  • Radom orbital sander for shaping and finish sanding (alternative: hand sanding)
  • Sand paper: 40,60, 80, 120, 320 grit
  • Surform scraper for shaping (example)
  • Spoke shave (example), block plane, or draw knife for removing wood from the blade
  • Rounded wood rasp for shaping tight curves

The Process

I started out by making a cardboard template for the blade and the grip. Next I cut the wood to be laminated with my table saw and laid it out. I then glued the flat pieces of the blade and grip to the flat piece of shaft wood using two-part epoxy mixed with wood sanding dust to thicken it. My epoxy was from U.S. Composites, 635 Thin epoxy and hardener. All the glue surfaces were first brushed with unthickened epoxy/hardener. The pieces were clamped together and the epoxy was allowed to cure for at least 24 hours. Next I traced the blade and grip templates onto the flat pieces of wood, and then cut the shape on my band saw. I then glued and clamped on 1/4 inch thick strips of cedar to each side of the shaft to make it a little thicker and stronger, and some 1/4 inch thick mulberry blocks to each side of the grip area. I used the same glue, except before clamping I sprinkled some chopped fiberglass strand onto the glue on the shaft. I thought it would add some strength. (Note: on my second paddle I used Titebond 3 and no chopped fiberglass.)

Once the epoxy cured I began to shape the shaft and grip with the Surform scraper and wood rasp into an oval shape with the wider part of the oval being perpendicular to the blade. Next I began to shave wood off the blade using mostly the Surform scraper and spokeshave. The longitudinal center of the paddle was left a little thicker then tapered toward the blade edges which were eventually finished to about 1/4 inch thick. The throat of the paddle, where the blade meets the shaft, was also left a little thick. Once the paddle was roughly shaped, I used the random orbital sander with 40 grit sandpaper to do final shaping. The shaft was somewhat tapered, becoming a bit thinner towards the grip.

The Process (Continued)

Some people apply fiberglass cloth and epoxy to the blade for added strength and durability. I decided not to do that, but did attach a protective tip at the end of the paddle, made of epoxy thickened with colloidal silica from I made a sort of tray from cardboard, packing tape and painters tape around the tip. Then I globbed the thickened epoxy mixture on edge, coating the edge first with unthickened epoxy. After it cured, I trimmed and shaped it.

Being satisfied with the shape I began finish sanding with the progressively finer grits of sandpaper using the ROS and by hand. After caressing the paddle for what seemed like too long, I brushed on a 50/50 mixture of System 3 Gloss Marine Spar varnish with mineral spirits. After it dried, I sanded by hand with 320 grit sand paper and applied another coat. I applied three more coatings of varnish with a slight amount of mineral spirits, allowing each coat to dry, then sanding before applying the next.


The Finished Paddle

I like the looks of the paddle. I haven’t used it yet, but I’m anxious for the ice to melt so I can go out and give it a try. It was fun to make, so I'll probably make another.

Source for Epoxy

Source for Epoxy and Filler

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