Introduction: Not Your Average Sorority Craft: the 21st Paddle

About: A graphic designer, tinkerer and thinkerer. Easily entertained, creatively wired, lover of Gotham Condensed.

Your 21st birthday is the epitome of birthdays. The memories (or lack thereof) should make the masses laugh, cry, and wish they'd been on the invite list to your facebook event for the celebration. But, sadly, this isn't your 21st. No, it's actually your Big's. If you're like me, your Big turned 21 the summer after rush (ehem, excuse me, I mean recruitment), so Rev is very fresh in your mind, and you've still got a little to prove with your crafting ability.

Fair warning: This paddle is not for the faint-of-heart or the vegetarians. It involves dead animals. I didn't personally kill them, but they're still dead...

As an introduction to my thinking that went into this paddle, my Big's "life goal" is to kill a deer. While it is a little morbid and a lot of a joke, it is an admirable life goal. #DeerArePests

For this paddle, I chose a topic that I could execute well, and that I knew would be extremely unique and quirky. Not everyone's Bigs have a desire to hold a 12-gauge against their shoulder, but every Big has something: it's your job as their little to find out. The resulting paddle you're about to create will show them just how worthy of a crafter you really are.

So let's get crafting.

Note: At the top of each step, you'll find a tl;dr one-or-two sentence explanation of the step you're on. I tend to ramble, so if you don't want to read my explanations, feel free to skip over them and refer to the tips and tricks as needed.

For the sake of this instructable, I'm going to assume you're making the exact same paddle I did. Obviously, you won't. All of these steps are optional, especially if you're creating a variation on the paddle I've made.

Some Things You'll Need:

  • Time. Please plan ahead. My first pledge paddles took me more than a week of at least an hour a day, plus a few days of 4-5 hour stints. I did have to paint 4 paddles, one for my big, one for my g-big and two for our pledge masters... This one took me probably around 16 hours, including drying times.
  • Well... a paddle. Warning: If you plan far enough ahead, don't go to those Greek stores. They try to sell you a paddle for $40 when it cost them less than $3 to make. Buy online from Etsy, where you can get them really cheap, or buy from Amazon. Other online stores sell them for ridiculous prices as well, or have an upcharge of 40% if you need it within the next month, so be wary of the scams.
  • Wood stain (just a tester size will do)
  • Wall paint (don't really know the proper term for this kind of paint, I got a tester size custom mixed at the local hardware store)
  • Acrylic PaintAnother warning: do not use oil-based. Oil-based paint takes weeks to dry which is great if you're painting a giant canvas of yet another Madonna and Child, but not for paddles. Use Acrylic.
  • 20+lbs gauge twine (I'm using 45lbs), leather rope, anything to hold your paddle on the wall (a lot of girls just stand them on their dresser)
  • A drill
  • A hammer
  • A phillips head and a flat head screwdriver
  • Some screws (for attaching elements to the paddle and for distressing your paddle), some nails, maybe some gravel (also for distressing your paddle)
  • Paint brushes (I used a 5/8-inch flat; #3/0, #2/0, #0 detail rounds; #1, #3, #5 pointed rounds; and #2, #6, #10 shaders brushes; plus some super cheap really fat brushes from the local hardware store for the stain and background color)
  • Paint pens (maybe) warning: these are great if you're really down to not use paint, but they get expensive fast and have a lot less paint than you'd think
  • Small deer rack
  • A mounted bottle opener
  • A mounted bottle cap catcher
  • Tack cloth (sticky cheese cloth used to wipe down wood after you've sanded it)
  • Assorted Sandpaper (I used 50-180)
  • Old newspaper, some plastic (probably Solo) cups, paper plates, sketching paper, pencil, ruler, scissors, protractor, rubber gloves, painter's towels—all things cleaning and protecting
  • Painter's Tape Thinner works best for this project, 1" will be fine.

If I've forgotten something, I'm sorry. Let me know, and I'll make sure to add it in!

I totaled out around $65 for the paddle, antlers, bottle opener and cap catcher, and had the majority of the other supplies around the house. It's not hard to go cheaper or a lot more expensive, so borrow what you don't have, check your basement or attic for tools you never knew you owned, and plan ahead.

Step 1: Planning

Make a sketch, lay out the design, and consider what you want your paddle will look like when it's done.

If you're all about artistic perfection like I can be sometimes, you'll want to sketch out your idea so you can plan accordingly. Avoid surprises by visually working through the whole process before you even start.

I knew from the beginning that I wanted my paddle to be upside down. Typically, the handle has a hole already drilled where a cord can go through so you can hang your paddle on the wall. I chose to hang my paddle upside-down so I could maximize the space, knowing that the cap-catcher needed to be about 6" below the opener. I also was able to cover up the already drilled hole with the bottle cap catcher, but at this point the catcher hadn't come in the mail yet...

After figuring out the placement of everything on the paddle and sizing up the area you want for each painted part, go ahead and started drilling.

Step 2: Drilling

Drill holes to install the hardware onto your paddle.

Pretty simple and self explanatory. Line up where you want everything to go and use a pencil to mark through the holes in your hardware for the drilling spots. Now, I'm not saying this is safe or what you should do, but if you're like me and you don't have a sawhorse or a place where you can put the paddle down and drill a hole through it without damaging something underneath, get creative. I may or may not have used a large wooden box as my sawhorse. I put the paddle on top, where the lid would typically go, so that I could drill downwards without cutting anything. I also used some clamps to keep the paddle steady. This was also pretty great for the cleanup—I could just dump the sawdust out afterwards. Don't forget to drill your own hanging-holes if you need to!

Step 3: Sanding

Sand down the hard edges, corners and details of the paddle to make it seem less new.

To make this paddle a little less new and clean-cut, sand down all the edges, corners and curves. If your paddle is already stained, you'll want to sand down through the stain to get a natural wood, especially since we're going to stain it again.

For this part of the sanding process (there's many more to come) sand enough that you've got the proper shape (no harsh angles), but there's no need to worry about getting the wood as smooth as possible with a fine-grain sandpaper.

Afterwards (and after every time you sand or drill) you'll want to wipe down the paddle with tack cloth. Tack cloth is sticky cheese cloth that picks up sawdust, which is particularly important on something like this paddle that has lots of nooks and crannies where sawdust could hide. Leaving sawdust on your paddle may make it more difficult for the paint to stay on, and could cause it to chip or have a grainy surface.

Step 4: Treating Your Paddle

Beat your paddle up for a distressed look.

Channel your destructive side for this one. Don't be scared to go a little overboard. Here's a couple ways to get your paddle looking well-loved:

  • Take a flathead screwdriver and drop it from a few feet up, stab the paddle with it, or hammer it in depending on how deep you want the indent and what kind of wood your paddle is made from.
  • To make a termite tunnel, take the flathead screwdriver and hammer it lightly three times (always three times, so you can have a consistent depth). Once you're finished with the first placement, move the flathead only about halfway down the mark you just made, then hammer again. This ensures that there won't be a dotted-line effect from accidentally placing the second mark too far from the first, and it'll help keep the depth consistent. Think of how a hairdresser cuts hair—they never cut one section then just drop it and grab another, they always keep a little of the last section in hand so they can keep the length consistent. Same idea here.
  • Try using a Philips head screwdriver. Drop it in a few places and tap it with a hammer at an angle to make some longer scrapes.
  • Grab a big fat dowel screw and hammer it a few times while rolling it in one direction to get a bunch of long, parallel scrapes.

Concentrate on the areas that would be "most-used" if this paddle was somehow used in everyday life—the handle from having bottles opened on it, the corners from being moved from house-to-house, etc.

Don't be afraid to try some textures of your own. Just remember, afterwards make sure you wipe it down with some more tack cloth to get off any splinters you may have loosened or pieces of dirt you may have picked up.

Step 5: Staining

Add stain to your paddle for a few seconds, then wipe it off. Make sure to get stain into the marks you made in the previous step.

Stain is named appropriately. It stains. Everything. Prepare accordingly.

Two layers of newspaper, gloves on both hands over any daily-wear items you might have on (ie a watch, bracelet, rings... etc), an old t-shirt you don't care about, a rag you can throw away (trying to wash it may be a bad idea. See picture of sink for an idea of what I'm talking about in the next step); all of these things are very necessary for this step.

In terms of actually staining the paddle, there's no need to worry about doing it right. Basically, slather it on with your cheap, throw-away brush, count to ten, wipe it down. When slathering, make sure you really lay it on thick over any indents you may have made when scuffing up your paddle, that way the stain gets down in there. When you're wiping it off, just make sure you get the sides and corners, and don't forget the back may have gotten wet.

Now, some people do actually have techniques for getting a good distressed looking stain. Check out this video for the full tutorial on water staining. I thought the tutorial was good to know, though I didn't end up using it.

Step 6: Staining (part 2)

Re-stain any parts of the paddle you think didn't come out dark enough. Do not stain your sink.

After a few minutes, I decided I wanted the indents to be a little darker, so I just added some more stain right on top and let it sit for a few more seconds. Wiped it off again, and let it dry for about 2 hours. I live in Georgia, as previously mentioned, so it's extremely humid which means longer drying times. Under a fan, I probably could have gotten away with leaving it for an hour.

Very important note: Do not try to wash your brush in the sink, clean the towel in the washer or anything like that. Please. I had to sit in my laundry room and scrub the sink with bleach to get it to come clean.

At this point, I had a hard time choosing whether or not to go on with my original plan of painting over the stain. It came out really well, but in the end I decided that a lighter background would be best for the typographical work I was planning on doing on top, and I'm glad I did. Leaving the paddle here is a great solution for a fraternity pledge paddle, or a classic, very simple paddle. Continue through the rest of these steps with me though, and we'll make something pretty dope, if I may say so myself.

Step 7: Distress Painting

Paint over your stained paddle with a contrasting color. Use only one coat.

Once your stain is all dry, get a lighter colored paint to go on top. I used another tester-sized can of paint and had it custom mixed at the local hardware store. The name of the paint was something about beaches I think. Maybe not.

Using the same painting technique as you did for the stain, slather it on. Make sure the paint gets in the indents and everything, and let it dry. You only need one coat, since we're planning on sanding it off once it's dry.

Unlike the stain, which seeps into the wood, the paint will just rest on top of the wood for the most part, so don't worry about not putting enough on. In fact, you'll save your future self some arm-ache from sanding if you paint just enough that you've got full coverage.

Step 8: Sanding... Again

Sand through the paint for a distressed look.

Sorry for the weirdly colored pictures, it was quite dark when I took them and I'm too lazy to properly edit them in photoshop, so I did on with Pixlr... Which was an interesting experience...

And... we're back to sanding. This is where your paddle is gonna start looking like the real deal. Just like we did the first time, you'll want to sand the areas that would naturally become distressed over time, like corners, the area under the bottle opener, etc.

I personally found using courser grain sand paper here worked best. I tried starting with 120 if I remember correctly, and ended up using 80. The finer sand paper tore off most of the paint as well as the staining underneath, while the course grain just took off the paint. Seems counter intuitive, so maybe you'll have different results, but I just wanted to share my experience.

You can see in my photos the amount of dust that built up as I was sanding, so the tack cloth was definitely necessary for this step.

Step 9: Painting: Camo Edge

Tape off the main face of your paddle, then paint a camo border on the edge.

It may not seem necessary, but you'll want to use painter's tape to protect the main face of your paddle. Line the tape up with the edge of the paddle and cover any parts you may accidentally paint. More complex areas like the top of the handle may require more tape coverage than say the main part of the paddle. You can judge where you put tape, though, or even whether to use it at all.

For those of you who know a little about the color wheel, you may know about "true" colors. For those of you who don't know, here's a little life-crafting lesson: not all colors are "true". This means that when you get a paint that claims to be plain and simple "red" it's not always a real red. It may be more of a candy apple red, or a pink red, than a red red. In my experience, reds and blues tend to have the most variation in what people consider to be the pure color. This matters when you are mixing colors. If you mix a slightly pink red and a slightly purple blue, you'll get a weird violet. Or the worst, when you get a more orange red and a very purple blue: together they make brown. Let's say you have a very orange red, and a very purple blue and you want to make lilac. You would want to mix a little white, pink, or sky blue at a time, rather than using your orange-red. This is what happened to me: my green paint was too turquoise, so I had to add some reddish-brown, yellow, and black to get it to be the right evergreen-ish green. If you need help on how to get the color you're looking for, check out this link.

Continuing on... The order of colors I used was:

  1. Evergreen base
  2. Reddish brown splotches (medium sized, or between one and two inches wide)
  3. Light tan splotches (medium sized)
  4. Black splotches (small sized, or less than an inch wide)

In terms of the shape of each splotch, I took inspiration from that time my dog found a week-old dead possum in the creek out back.

I trust you can make your own splotches.

Step 10: Sanding (Last Time I Swear)

Sand down the edges and corners for a distressed look on the camo paint you just did. Be careful not to sand away all of the last layer of paint.

At this point you're a master of sanding. You know what to do. Don't forget the tack cloth.

Step 11: Installing the Hardware

Install all hardware onto the paddle using the drill holes you've already made.

So we're getting towards the end! Cool! Now it's time to go ahead and install the bottle cap opener and deer antlers to the bottom and top of your paddle. You can go ahead and install the cap catcher as well, though I do include a step for it later on. I, sadly, had not received mine in the mail yet at this point, so that was one of the last things I did for this paddle.

Now, you might be wondering why I decided to go ahead and add the antlers and bottle opener to the paddle if I still had painting to do. Here's why: if you don't put everything on before you start painting, you'll forget what's going where and end up covering up your paint when you add the hardware on later. I ended up painting ΦΣΣ under the twine, you'll see the picture later on in this instructable. At some point you may realize you need to take off one or both of the elements in order to get better access to the painting surface, but be sure to trace the edge of the hardware before you remove it so you know how far away to paint from a drill hole.

You may also want to paint the face of the screws. I just dipped mine in a glob of black acrylic before screwing them on. It won't last forever since the acrylic paint won't 100% bind with the metal screws, but it'll work for now. If you wanna be serious about covering these screws, there are a few options. One, you can buy a mounting kit for deer antlers. They come with a plate that covers up the skull and just lets the antlers show. They're cool, but kind of unnecessary, can be expensive, and may be too big for the paddle. The other thing you can do is buy bone-colored spray paint. Spray paint will bind better to screws than acrylic will.

As for the bottle cap catcher, I screwed it in just above the original hole meant to hang the paddle, so it covered up the unused hole. I also tested it before putting away the drill to make sure it actually caught a cap I popped off using the bottle opener. It did! Yay! Make sure you leave at least 5" between the bottle opener and the cap catcher. The magnet is really quite strong, I later tested it with a collection of bottle caps and we got up to 20 before we got bored of sticking bottle caps to it. There's plenty of alternative DIYs for the bottle cap catcher, in fact there's quite a few on Instructables. You may want to consider finding your own way to catch bottle caps rather than paying $12 for the same catcher I bought.

Step 12: Planning Your Painting

Just don't mess up. See below for a long-winded explanation of exactly how to plan out almost every step of this painting process. Or don't. It's up to you.

So now we're getting ready to paint. Don't be afraid to draw guidelines on your paddle with pencil—they can always be erased. Find a typeface you like online and base it off of whatever you find. I took inspiration from Clarendon (a slab-serif), Arbutus (by Karolina Lach, a woodtype-inspired slab serif from Google Fonts), Haymaker (by Trevor Baum, a display typeface from Lost Type Co-Op) and Pompadour Numerals (by Andy Mangold, who's website is currently broken, a display numeral typeface also from Lost Type Co-Op).

A fair warning, I'm a graphic design major, so let me give you a rundown on typefaces (please note, I got a C+ in my typography 101 class, so you are in no way learning from an expert)

Here's the important things to consider when stylizing your writing:

  • Margins: white space is always important. Just because you have a 5"x10" space to work on, doesn't mean you have exactly 5"x10" to paint on. In fact, you probably want between a quarter and a half inch margin on all sides of your painting surface, noting that the highest and lowest points of the antlers and bottle cap opener are the very edge of your painting surface and margins should be measured from there.
  • Leading: leading is the distance between baselines of each line of type. In Microsoft Word, you can have double- or single-spaced documents (or even 1.5). This is leading.
  • Kerning: kerning is the space between each letter. Kerning is more important for actual graphic design production, not so much what you're doing now. This isn't to say kerning isn't important, in fact it is, especially when you get down to the paragraph of what we're about to paint. It isn't so important on the hand lettering of your Big's name though, because often times words just kind of fit, or they don't. Don't get mad at me if you think kerning is super important in every day life (yes, I'm talking to the typophiles out there) because it is, I just don't want to scare you away from painting this paddle.
  • Consistency: If you start with a serifed typeface, end with a serifed typeface. If you start with each letter taking up 1/2", end with each letter taking up 1/2". Of course, I didn't practice what I'm preaching, and now I'm ranting about my own mistakes. Hint: don't mess up like I did if you get as anal as I sometimes do about your crafts.

In the little diagram I made above, you can see how the baselines and ascender lines work together to draw out the name of you Big. With that shape in mind, you can check out some examples of handlettering or chalkboard-inspired typography for an idea as to how to execute this type illustration.

When you've decided on exactly how you want this to look and drawn it out on a piece of paper, go ahead and sketch it in light pencil on your paddle. Make tick marks where you want to start and end each letter and evenly divide up the space allotted for each letter in each name (ie, J-E-N-N-A needs one large space for the capital J, and four evenly divided smaller spaces for the E-N-N-A). Under the two middle letters of the last name, kick up the baseline to fit, "is turning" in a scripted handwriting, and make sure your 21 is tall enough that it can span all the way left and right (ie if you only make the 21 half an inch tall, it'll look weird spanning 4-1/2 inches across the paddle, or leave room for some tildes, aka ~~~'s). Also consider how much space you're going to want for the paragraph below your Big's name.

My paragraph ended up reading, "Until we find a suitable DEER we'll take satisfaction in killing a BEER." Here you can see the aforementioned sloppy, unplanned work. I didn't make guidelines until after I'd started painting, and ended up making the typeface bigger and bigger as I went farther down. It was an avoidable mistake, so I hope you can learn from mine. An easy fix for this would have been to grid each line. Basically measure out your most crowded line by saying, "I have exactly 10 letters to go on this line, with 4 spaces." Each letter is worth 2X while each space is worth X (#math). Figure out how much space you have for each letter (4"=10(2X) + 4X, 4"=24X, you need to divide your line evenly into 24 spaces, knowing that each letter is going to take up exactly 2 spaces, and each space takes 1). In order to get every line to be the same size, base the size of the font on the most crowded line, so you don't end up with one line that's super crowded and a bunch that aren't that crowded. Everything will be evenly spaced and happy.

In terms of centering each line, figure out which character is the very middle of the line and go ahead and sketch it in the center of the line on your paddle. Then, going backwards from the center letter, mark each letter of the first half of the line (ie if the phrase is, "I am hungry" the H in "hungry" is the very center of the line. From there you'll mark space-M-A-space-I, which is, "I am" backwards. Then you can go to the second half of the line and mark out U-N-G-R-Y).

This may seem like a lot of extra work for something you could just do, so keep in mind all of this is optional. You can decide how exact you want to be with your planning. I was somewhere between moderate planning and a-little-perfectionist. I wrote out instructions for a perfectionist. If you're a perfectionist on steroid, all the more power to you, add as many or as few planning steps as you want.

Step 13: Painting the Name

After all your planning from the previous step, just do it.

I know I already said this, but please, please use acrylics. Oil paints take forever to dry.

One you've finished planning out exactly where everything is going to go, there isn't too much to explain. But don't worry! I'll find a way to ramble!

A good thing to know is that you can erase mistakes in paint, but you'll never fully erase them. Have a separate brush on hand that you only use for water, and if you mess up immediately dip the brush in water and dilute the paint. You can dab it up with a paper towel then. If you're really embarrassed about your mistake, you can wipe it away, then cover it up with the wall paint you used earlier over the stain. You'll have to wait for it to completely dry before painting on top of it though, so keep that in mind when you're painting.

Don't be afraid to use stencils, paint pens, or whatever tools you need to make this easier for you. I like to have a handful of change on me when I'm painting so I can use the different coins as references for different sized circles. The 2, for example, has a ball terminal I made from tracing a gold dollar, and the top and bottom of the O in Mosley is from a 1€ (not sure why I have euros on me). I also used a bread plate mark the curvature of the ascender line. Of course I didn't follow my mark very well and ended up with a not-so-smooth curve, but that's only annoying to me (I hope).

Be careful to let this dry as much as possible before starting the paragraph, you never know when you might accidentally put your hand right in the middle of your recently-finished masterpiece part 1.

Step 14: Intermission Painting: Painting Your Letters

While waiting for the name to dry, carefully do some detail painting. I went ahead and painted the ΦΣΣ on.

Go ahead and, keeping in the typestyle you've already chosen for your paddle, add your letters on! I felt under the bottle cap opener was a prime place, but I then made the mistake of not planning very well (as I mentioned earlier) and ended up painting my letters under the twine I later used to hang up the paddle. If you want, you could paint it on the antlers instead, or don't paint letters at all, it's up to you.

Step 15: Painting Your Paragraph

Title is pretty self explanatory. You're nearly done, paint the paragraph!

With all the planning you did a few steps ago, I think you can do this on your own. Make sure you break up the paragraph (which is really only one sentence) in a way that makes sense. My paragraph was "Until we find a suitable DEER we'll take satisfaction in killing a BEER." Since, "a suitable deer," is a noun with its describer, that can be one phrase, which leaves, "Until we find," as your first phrase, and you can break up the second part using the same guidelines. Also pay attention to the rhythm of the phrase. My paragraph has 8 beats in it, two per line.



we'll TAKE satisFACTion

in KILLing a BEER

It's like 6th grade poetry all over again. Or maybe not.

Step 16: Tying It All Together

It's time to add the twine to your paddle! And then you're done!!

I hope my diagram makes sense, basically there were two pieces of twine, each of equal length. One piece was fed through both drill holes starting from the back, to the front, then back through the second hole to the back. The other piece was fed the opposite way. Then I tied a simple double knot, leaving it loose so that there was a gap between each knot. Then, at the top, I just grabbed all four ends and tied them together. Pretty simple!

And you're all done!! Yay! The last step is just about wrapping it up for travel. I had to take this paddle from GA to DC on the plane (in a checked bag, I'm not privy to the TSA guidelines about large wooden paddles on board, though I did carry on the antlers).

Thanks for following me through all my steps, I hope you have as much fun making your own paddles as I did! Even if sorority life isn't for you, you can have fun making this paddle as just a decorative piece for your apartment, maybe a wedding gift or even inspiration for your own projects. Post pictures of your creations in the comments, maybe I'll take a little inspiration from you for a future project!

Stay crafty y'all~

Step 17: Bonus: Packing for Transportation

When I made this paddle, I had to come up with a way to get it from Georgia, on an airplane, to DC. I went ahead and added a bow for the sake of gift wrapping, and I took the antlers off the paddle. The antlers and skull are much stronger than you think (try hitting your head on a hard wall a few times to really know the limit of bone... or don't), so you don't need to be too worried about them. I brought a screwdriver with me and stuck it along with the screws for the antlers to the cap catcher so they didn't get lost in my bag. As for packing the antlers, I crumpled up a few pieces of newspaper and stuck them around the antlers before wrapping everything in another sheet of newspaper. Masking tape held it all together.

Once again, thanks for following me all the way through, I look forward to hearing from you in the comments!

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