Canoe Paddle - Custom Cherry Wood Paddle




Introduction: Canoe Paddle - Custom Cherry Wood Paddle

About: Don't take the world to seriously relax a little and enjoy the ride.

There is not much better then paddling on calm water in the early morning of the Canadian wilderness. Watching the sun rise and hearing the call of a Loon while smokey condensation dances across the waters surface... Having said that, doing that with your own hand crafted paddle can add a little more pleasure to the experience.

The paddle has been around for hundreds of years and taken on many different shapes and sizes. For this particular instructable I will be going through the process of making your own hand crafted;

Custom Cherry Wood Canoe Paddle with an "otter tail" blade design.

The process of making your own paddle is not hard but it is time consuming and will require some upper body strength. having said that anyone with a bit of spare time (about a weekend) can easily make their own paddle that will blow anyone away when you tell them you did it yourself.

Materials needed (for a cherry wood paddle)

  • 1 or 2 pieces of Cherry 6" wide x 6' long and about 1-1/2" thick
  • a design template (you can make your own or use mine)
  • spray adhesive
  • wood finish suitable for water

Tools Needed

  • Hand Plane's different sizes or at least 1 big one and 1 small one(block Plane)
  • band saw (I don't have one) or a Jig Saw which I used.
  • belt sander and palm sander with different levels of grit
  • marking items like pens and pencils
  • Clamps more is better but 3 will do
  • ** a Sturdy work surface you can clamp to***
  • A broom - there is going to be A LOT of wood shavings

Step 1: Developing Your Design

This is a critical step in the paddle making process but is also very fun because it gives your the creative ability to make your paddle fit your own measurements.

Blade design

My paddle blade is an Otter Tail design and this is simply because it looks like an otter tail. This design allows for me to easily change the depth of the blade to go deeper and more more water or keep it shallow and move less water. The blade is long and has lots of flexibility in style of paddling. I have also added an image of other common design styles if you choose to do something different.

The attached PDF is a 1 to 1 scale of a paddle and is the template I used for my paddle. The page size is 24"x36" and would need to be printed off at a printing store. this usually costs about 5-6 bucks.


as a rule of thumb I usual try to keep a paddle to be 3-6" shorter then your height and depending if you feel you have long arms or not. Longer paddles can be harder to use but have more reach into the water for speed. I am about 5'9" tall my arms are not that long so I made my 5'5" long and to be honest a 5'3" paddle would be plenty.


Most shafts have a slight taper and are roughly 1" in diameter and a bit smaller in some areas. I wanted a slight bulge near my handle for more grip options so i added that into my design but actually made the shaft skinnier between the bulge and the handle. I also think its a good idea to make the shaft slightly smaller near where the blade meets the shaft so its not to bulky


This is all preference I prefer smaller handles that are rounded so I made a really simple and small handle

Step 2: Layout and Cutting

Once you have the design of the paddle complete you will have to transfer that information to your wood. The easiest way is with a cut-out or template.

**Once you have made your first paddle you can just trace it onto wood for future paddles**


Print out your design on a large sheet of paper to the correct scale of the finished paddle. Because a paddle is very large in terms of being able to print, the template I provided has a middle point where you can match up two halves of the paddle easily making sure everything is straight. Once you have taped together the template you need to attach this to your wood.

Lay your template on your wood blank positioning it to get some nice looking grain on the blade as this is the area that will look the best when finished.

Once you are happy with the location of the template, tape down half to secure the position then using a spray adhesive coat the other half and press firmly in place. Once this is done repeat for process for the other half.

Allow this adhesive to fully dry before cutting ( read directions on can)


Using a Jigsaw or a Band saw (if you have one)
- cut out the paddle remember ***Patience*** is key, go slow and make your cut count to save on sanding time later. I ride the outside of the line giving myself a little "wiggle room" for the finished paddle

Step 3: Shaping - Hand Planing

Okay, so now you have a paddle cut out that's really big, pretty heavy and basically a block, not to worry we are gonna fix that.

This process is simple but tiring as it involves upper body strength and a continual repetitive movement for a long time but other then that its pretty straight forward.

Marking your center lines

To ensure the paddle is symmetrical mark your center line both on top of the paddle as well as on the sides of the paddle. To do this, used a straight edge for the top and try to get everything as close as possible to center. for the sides using a combination square mark the center and the slide it along the edge of the paddle with a pen or pencil making a line that goes all the war around the paddle. Then make another line 1/8" up from the center and all the way around on both sides of the center line

If you did this correctly you should have 3 lines on the side with a total finished blade with of 1/4" which is your target width at the tip of the blade. If you are going to be pushing off rocks often then you can always make it slightly thicker to add strength but this also adds weight.

Hand Planing - Clamp the paddle down firmly!!

Starting from where the shaft meets the blade, using a hand plane scrape toward the tip of the blade and repeat. In the beginning just focus on taking off material on a flat plane. once you have gotten to about half the desired thickness I begin to work each side separately which will leave a slightly higher point in the middle helping with water movement when in use.

This process will take some time so put some music on and just get it done at your own pace. Be sure to check your progress and to make sure the blade is even on each side. once you have reached your 1/4" at the tip and most of the sides flip the paddle and repeat the process

Shaft - Block Plane

Using a block plane round off the corners of the shaft to a size that feels good in your hand this is pretty straight forward you want a round shaft.

Step 4: Sanding

Now that your paddle is basically the correct shape and thickness its now time to sand and finish off the paddle.

I start with a belt sander upside down and clamped to my work surface with 60-80 grit paper. This allows me to move the paddle up and down to achieve a really nice uniform sanding. I shaped the handle on the belt sander as well because it was so easy to round off and smooth out while the sander was clamped down.

Next switch to a orbital palm sander with a high grit to removed the marks from the belt sander. Sand everything and always use your hand to feel for rough spots. After about 10 minutes the paddle should be as smooth as a babies bottom!!

Step 5: Finish / Treating

This is straight forward and SOOOOO rewarding after all the work you have put in. Seeing the grain of the cherry wood pop as the finish is applied is a wonderful feeling.

To seal the wood you want something that is suitable for water, tough and easy to apply/re-apply each season. I used a danish oil that really penetrates deep into the wood to make sure the water stays out. There are many different types of finishes you can use for a paddle but just make sure to double check with someone if you are unsure if its waterproof or not.

If you want to use a varnish make sure its exterior with high gloss and UV protection.

Follow the instructions for what ever it is you are using and do a minimum of 3 coats. With most finishes allow at least 24 hours before you head out on the water

Step 6: Finished !!!

I was so happy with my finished paddle and I hope you enjoyed this Inscrutable. Like I said making a paddle is not hard and is very rewarding. It will take a little elbow-grease but its well worth the effort.

If you liked this instructable feel free to vote!


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    3 years ago

    I have looked a lot of paddles and I like the look of the Otter Tail. I thought printing out your PDF pattern was a bit of a pain and thought making a hard board 1/2 template, for me made more sense. That way I could reproduce the paddle easily with without fussing and make length adjustment a no brainer. I used your PDF and laid it on a 1" grid making it easy to create the template from a regulate piece of paper. Thanks for the leg up.


    4 years ago

    I made one of cherry several years ago. It is much easier to find cherry or other hardwoods that are knot free. Mine is a bit heavy, but in the water it floats. I use an underwater recovery so I never have to lift it. I'm not happy with the grip and I kind of wish I could do it over again, but I have too many other things to do.


    4 years ago

    Reminds me of a paddle I made several years ago. Very similar technique. But for the length I always measure from the top of your toes to under your chin. For me that's five feet and I'm five foot ten. Your article has inspired me to make another one.

    Hi there


    thanks for the question.

    try to avoid the knots if possible putting your template on the wood so it
    misses the knots. Other wise maybe try to find a nice 6' piece of
    hardwood that is knot free. Another option would be to fill the void of
    the knot with a marine grade epoxy resin that has uv protection to help aid in
    the strength of the wood. I hope this helps.

    I am having trouble replying there is some sort of glitch not letting me reply directly to you.


    4 years ago

    Can you offer some tips on selecting wood? I picked up a 16’ length of cedar, but I can’t find a knot-free 5’ section for the shaft, and I’m concerned that the shaft will snap if there are major imperfections to the grain


    4 years ago

    So great! Love the design and how stoked it makes you- as it should! Added to my to-do list.


    4 years ago

    Looks great, love your iterative design process in the beginning!

    Corasaurus Rex
    Corasaurus Rex

    Reply 4 years ago

    Thank you so much for the comment. Cheers