Introduction: Build a Stand-Up Paddeboard Paddle

This epoxy/wood paddle features a 10 degree bent shaft, just like the spiffy store-bought ones. Because of the setting times of the epoxy coating, it will probably take a week of evenings plus a Saturday afternoon or so to complete. If you're unfamiliar with fiberglassing, this is a great project to learn how to use this amazing construction technique.

Stand-up paddleboarding is the hot new watersport, but at $1000 to $1600 for the board, and $300 for the paddle, it's tough to justify unless it's your passion. You can go on Craigslist and buy an old beginner windsurfer (I paid $50 for mine), but what to do about the specialized paddle?

Check out my Instructable- I use the resources of my shop, but you can adapt your tools and skills to make yourself a fine paddle, almost as light as a carbon-fiber, one that will make all of the wealthy ne'er-do-wells grind their molars with envy at your skills! Maybe it will make up for the sketchy-looking board that you may be paddling...

All of the wood was purchased at Home Depot, and the epoxy can be found at a marine store (like WestMarine), or ordered on the web.

To complete my paddle, I used a:
table saw
drill press
orbital sander
mini-grinder with sanding disk (you may want a Dremel)
jigsaw (bandsaw or coping saw)

Step 1: Gather Your Materials, Make the Template

First, like in any good program, we're going to define an attribute:
yourheight = the designated paddler's height in feet and inches

Your shopping list for the lumber store (or friend's woodpile):

1 1/4" Closet Pole, yourheight, rounded up to the nearest foot, not warped
(make sure that there is at least 4" to spare)
1) 2" #10 wood screw, stainless steel
Piece of finish plywood, 3/16" to 1/4", approx. 16" X 24", something nice like birch
Marine grade varnish, small can
Nitrile disposable gloves
1 1/4" hole saw
6 or so 2" chip brushes
3 or 4 2" foam brushes
Bondo squeegee (you may have to go to the auto parts store)
60 grit and 220 grit sandpaper
Masking tape
Single-edge razor blades
Marine epoxy
Plastic (not metal) mixing cups, about 8 oz.
Fiberglass cloth, 6 oz., about 4 square feet
Resin thickener/filler

I really like using marine-grade epoxy and fiberglass cloth for durability and stiffness. I'm not a fan of polyester resin, as getting the exact mix of hardener is dependent on the amount of resin, the temperature and the humidity. It's more of a coating, while epoxy is a glue, ever so much stronger. And epoxy is far more of a gentlemanly process to use! If you're desperate, in a hurry, or lazy, I guess that you could dispense with it, and just attach the blade with some screws, varnish, and go. If Polynesian dudes managed to paddle around the South Pacific without epoxy paddles, so can you!

As we are building a paddle that's as good as store-bought, you can find epoxy at your local WestMarine store (West Systems), or online. MAAS is also good, but I've been using Basic No-Blush for years and find it to be a superior product for the cheapest price. If you want to impress the guy at the store, tell him that you want to finish your wood "bright", and that you don't want any "blush". Have a sneer ready for when you need to explain!

You want the no-blush or clear finish, as standard epoxy will leave weird white streaks in your project unless you specify that you want the good (more expensive) stuff. If you want to paint your paddle (shudder!), you don't need the special stuff. In the West System lineup, this would be the 207 Special Coating Hardener. West winds up being fairly expensive because you have to buy the special pumps that fit on the cans, but it is easier to make small batches. The small sampler of the ProgressiveEpoxy No-Blush is probably enough for your project, with some 3 oz. Dixie cups to eyeball the measuring. You also need a filler like Colloidal Silica (West 406), or fine grained sawdust (like from a belt sander bag) if you're cheap. Technically, this sawdust/epoxy mixture is called schmutz, and is massively strong, but will be rougher than something like the silica.

Download the file
Check out my paintings and architectural renderings while you're on my site!

This is your template for the paddle blade, traced from a very expensive paddle that shall go nameless, while I was being anxiously glared at by a kid in a local surf shop.

Open the pdf and print it out- you know about Adobe Reader, right? Print out the template at actual size on to three pages, and use the newspaper background to help you get everything aligned properly. Trim the edges off two of the sheets at the crop marks and tape all of them together. Verify that the width measurement is actually 8 1/2". Cut it out, and you're ready to go!

Step 2: Cut the Shaft Taper

This step is probably the diciest, as cutting tapers always makes me nervous. You'll be on the wrong side of your table saw, with no guard. Yikes! So coffee-up before you do this step!

You'll need some form of taper jig, but you don't need to go out and buy a fancy one like mine. If you get 24" of 2X8, and mark one end at 6 1/2", and the other at 2 1/2", and make the diagonal cut, you'll have a sweet 10 degree angle. Or whip together something resembling this affair out of scrap, just make sure that it's very sturdy.

Align the fence so that the blade just clears the big end of your jig, You need to stand on the right side of the table saw, and hold where I'm holding the dowel (Don't worry, I still have a thumb!). Use a tail-off table, or a trusted helper. Remember that if it gets hung up, your fingers get pulled into the blade! Once you complete this step successfully, unwind with the beverage of your choice as your pulse slows down- you deserve it!

Step 3: Cut the Notch at the Other End

One of the things that I don't like about many T-handle paddles is the way that the handle can loosen and twist around. This paddle does away with that, and has a better look, as well. We'll be cutting a "bird's mouth" in the end of the shaft with the hole saw.

First, you need to establish the length of the shaft. Surfing legend Laird Hamilton says that the paddle should be 8" to 10" taller than you are. Who am I to argue? Some say that it should be shorter, but I find that the longer shaft length makes sure that you fully bury your blade in the water, and also have a good reach without bending over.

So total length of the paddle (shaft + blade) for this Instructable will be yourheight' + 9". Subtracting the length of the blade, experience tells me that this makes the shaft yourheight' - 2 1/2". Note that this is to the top of the bird's mouth, so that's the location of the pilot hole.

I like to clamp the flat edge of the taper to my level, and plumb the whole arrangement. This gives me a nice support at the far end, plus I know that the blade attach point will be dead-on aligned to the handle.

After you've drilled the hole, use your sander to smooth the edges and give it a nice shape.

Step 4: Make the Handle

Mark the scrap piece of closet pole, I mean shaft stock, at 2" and 4". Drill a countersunk hole at 2". The #10 screw should slip in easily, so you might have to expand the hole if you use one of those combo drills. Cut the handle at the 4" mark, and round the edges to your pleasure. Test fit the handle to the shaft- you probably have to work down the bird's mouth to get a nice fit. Go ahead and screw it in, but remove it afterward- we want to glue it on with some epoxy when we have a batch ready.

Step 5: Trace the Template, and Start the Epoxy

Set the template on the plywood, and trace around the edges. Use a Sharpie, or other marker so that you can really see the lines. Cut a piece of fiberglass cloth to cover the board, and smooth it out with your hands until it's perfectly flat.

Put on the disposable gloves and mix up a small batch of epoxy. Unless you have the pump-type dispenser, you might want to get some 3 oz. Dixie cups to use as measuring cups. I typically use a half cup of resin to a quarter cup of hardener. Wet out the cloth with a chip brush to a bit outside the line, and then use the squeegee to remove the excess and really stick the cloth to the board. Never use a metal container! The heat from the reaction runs away as the epoxy kicks, and this can start a fire! If you use flimsy cups like I do, be prepared for them to melt when the reaction hits.

You probably have some extra epoxy, so you can start coating the shaft, which doesn't get any cloth. To attach the handle, mix a bit of the epoxy with the filler material until you have a stiff mix, one that if you make peaks, that don't subside (See the pic in Step 8). Spread some of this goo in the bird's mouth, and attach the handle with the #10 screw. Carefully clean up any excess, but allow enough to make a nice fillet on the joint. A Popsicle stick is my filleter of choice. Be sure to stand the shaft upright, as any runs will be less noticeable and easier to sand.

Go away until after the epoxy has kicked off. but hopefully before it's fully set. Just not too sticky is the perfect time. Flip the paddle blade and repeat the process of laying down the cloth on the other side. Add another coat to the shaft and handle. Hot coating like this means you don't have to sand between coats. Sweet!

Now go away for at least 24 hours to let the epoxy fully cure. If you start to sand it, and it clogs up your sandpaper, it's not cured yet!

Step 6: Cut Out the Blade, More Epoxy

Using a jigsaw or bandsaw, cut out the shape. I like to go a bit outside the line, then use a mini-grinder to get the sweet curve that I desire. Bevel and round the edge, imagining what mischief a rough edge could do to water-soaked foot flesh.

Sand down both parts with the 60 grit, lightly on the blade, making sure not to expose the cloth. Don't be afraid of using such rough paper, as it works better to grind down the high spots. Using too fine a paper too soon will make a wavy surface. Wipe both parts down with the acetone, and dust down your work area. Add a masking tape dam to the flat part of the blade, as in the picture. This keeps liquid epoxy from running under the blade and making hard-to-sand blobs.

When you epoxy the blade, try to soak as much as possible into the edge. The tape dam allows you to work that edge without picking up anything from your workbench. Give the blade surface a heavy coat, tipping off the finish in a variety of directions. There should be no gaps and the finish should be as smooth as possible. When you coat the shaft, be sure to stand it upright again!

Step 7: Attach the Blade

Sand down everything that you epoxied in the last step. Flip the blade over, and attach another masking tape dam to the underside of the blade. Lay out the blade and handle, and cut a small square of cloth, as in the picture. Make sure the everything fits and lines up properly- don't be too worried if the flat part of the handle rocks a bit, as we'll be fixing that in this step.

Mix up your epoxy, and in a separate container, mix some filler material in. The mix should look like nasty mashed potatoes. Spread plenty of this on the flat part of the handle, and set in place. Press down until the excess squishes out, then use your Popsicle stick to make a nice fillet. Immediately put the cloth on, and wet it out with a 2" chip brush. Carefully use the bondo squeegee to adhere the cloth, and to tuck it in around the joint. There should be no air gaps, and no excess epoxy, as this will make a weak spot.

After the epoxy has kicked, but before it gets too hard, you can use a razor blade to trim the cloth.

Step 8: Smooth in the Blade

Carefully grind the edge of the cloth patch to feather it into the rest of the blade, trying not to disturb the existing layer. Use your grinder to clean up the rough edges, and then orbital sand all of the new epoxy. If you're uncomfortable with using a mini-grinder in such a cowboy fashion, a Dremel tool with a small sanding disk will also do the trick, just in not such a spectacular way.

There is a hump where the edge of the plywood meets the shaft- this just Will Not Do. Feather in the blade, and try to make the revealed layers of ply symmetric. Be careful about making a razor-sharp edge on the top edge of the blade! Just like the last step, add a small patch of cloth to cover all of the raw wood, with about 2" of overlap on the blade and extending about 4"-5" up the shaft. Add some small masking tape skirts to the shaft so that the epoxy doesn't run underneath. Apply the epoxy with a chip brush and squeegee, take extra care to make sure that the cloth is adhering around the joint. When the cloth is leathery, trim with a razor blade then walk away for 24 hours.

Step 9: Finish Up

Sand and smooth all of the new work. Carefully look over the whole paddle, sanding any rough spots, and then coat the new work and touch up any epoxy as necessary. You don't want too many coats, as this increases weight for little gain. When you're satisfied with the epoxy job, sand down the paddle with the 220 grit, and apply a coat of the marine varnish with a foam brush. Try to work the wet edge, and don't go back to the beginning to touch up, unless you have a run. Use a thin coat, and be vigilant for runs!

When dry, lightly sand with more 220, and apply two more coats, not forgetting to stand it upright to dry. Your paddle is done, strut proudly down to the launch area and wave it about for all to marvel!
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