Introduction: Instant Paddle Making

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific I…
A paddle can be laborious to make. They can cost a lot to buy.
Here's a better quicker way.
The old-time Hawaiians sometimes made paddles this way. I've seen paddles made this way in Nicaragua.
I've done a lot of paddling with paddles like this. They work great.
Not much to it. Drill two pairs of holes in a board. Tie loops of string through the holes. Jam a stick in the loops and go paddling.

Here's a Naish carbon standup paddle that retails for $399.
Next to it is my "copy" which didn't cost anything to make and took an hour or so of work.
For reference, the blade is 9.5" wide and 18" long. The lashing holes in my blade are .372" diameter. The handle of the Naish is 1.15" diameter and is 86" long overall.
If you want a T-handle on top of your paddle feel free to add one, the old-time Hawaiians never did.

Now on Know How!

  More paddle and oar making projects:
How to make an Eskimo style kayak paddle from a 2x4 in 1.5 hours
If it's oars you need, here's how to make oars from 2x4s.
Make a steering oar for a Marshall Islands Racing canoe.

Step 1: Trace a Blade You Like

In the surf industry this process is called R+D which stands for "ripoff and duplicate". The shapers all do it and joke about it with pride.

I traced the blade onto a piece of scrap paper. It happened to be a map of Burning man 2008.
I folded the paper over to make sure my blade would be symmetrical and cut it out with scissors.
I added a bulge at the top of the blade so the lashing wouldn't slide off.

My scanner is smaller than the paddle blade, so I folded the paper into quarters and scanned it as shown. I scribbled on the lower piece of paper so the edge of the paper on top would show clearly.
The blade is 9.5" wide and 18" long. The lashing holes in my blade are .372" and are drilled in the fat quarter of the blade. Print this image out at the proper scale and trace it to make your blade.

Step 2: Cut Out a Blade and Drill the Holes

I used a laser cutter to cut a blade from 5/16" thick Baltic birch.
I lend away a lot of paddles, so I made a dozen while I was at it.
Use whatever tools you have, usually I use a handsaw and a hand drill. That's almost as fast as a laser cutter. A lot faster if you count cad time.
This wood came from a packing crate for a Contex brand large-format scanner.
Use whatever plywood you have handy.

Step 3: Rip Sticks

A hockey stick is a perfect shaft for a canoe paddle. Graft two of them together with a scarf joint for a standup paddle. I didn't have enough hockey sticks for all these paddles, so I ripped some nice scrap wood on my table saw. Ripping means cutting along the grain of the wood.
Ripping is one of those jobs that's a whole lot easier with power tools. I've done it with a hand saw, and it's a day-eater.
1.25" diameter is about right for a round softwood stand up paddle shaft. 1.5" is too thick. 1" wouldn't be too thin for the hand, but is too flexible for a shaft this long.
Measure some paddles that look and feel good to you to see how thick you want yours to be.
Personal preference will vary greatly. A rectangular shaft can be thinner than a round one and have the same strength.

Step 4: Round the Shaft Corners

I usually use an octagon scribe to mark the corners and shave the shaft with a draw knife, plane and spokeshave. That's fun and you can hold a conversation while doing it. When I'm in a hurry I use a router with a quarter-round bit as shown here. I clamped the router securely in a work stand.
Choose the radius of the quarter-round bit to suit yourself. If its radius is half the thickness of your work you'll get a round shaft.

When I'm in a hurry is when I get injured. But today things went smoothly. That's not my blood on the work stand. I think it's paint.

Step 5: Stick and Blade

So now you've got a stick and a blade.
Cut the end of the stick so it tapers down on one side to the end like a wedge.

The handle for this particular paddle is a broken hockey stick from the rink at Kihei, Maui.
I know from growing up in Minnesota that a hockey stick is the most suitable shape for grasping. I don't know why I've never seen canoe paddles with rectangular shafts. It works and feels great.

This blade is 8.5" x 18", which is big like a snow shovel. Later I cut it down into a smaller more graceful shape. Unfortunately I lost it shortly after taking that second photo.
Take a sharpie marker or laser and write a return address on all your gear.

Step 6: Cord Loop Method 1: Braided Grommets

This style of lashing is popular in Bali. It's surprisingly quick to do.
Put two turns of cord around. The third turn gets zigzagged through the first two turns to form a three-strand braid. For this one I kept following the pattern through the braid until I had six turns and the braid was doubled like this. Then I tightened it til it was the right size and pulled the tails through the inside of the braid. If there is sufficient interest I'll show it step-by-step.

Step 7: Cord Loop Method 2: Multiple Turns Whipped With "French Knots"

This method is simpler to learn and remember.
If you're in a hurry use bigger cord and skip the whipping. If you soak it with paint, varnish, superglue, epoxy etc, it won't unravel regardless of how crudely your lashing is finished.

Use the tip of your paddle as a spacer to set the size of the cord loops.
Make the lashing mostly fill the holes in your blade. This mason's twine is thin, so it took 7 turns of cord to seem right.
Then I tied a half-hitch around the turns of string.

Step 8: Pull It Tight

Pull the half-hitch tight.
The tip of the stick is just there for a guage. Don't make the loop too small. You'll want to jam the stick in there a few inches.

Step 9: French Knotwork

Do a series of half-hitches around the turns of cord. Somewhere I've seen these called "French Knots".

Step 10: Termination

Use a spike to part the turns of cord.
Poke the tail through them.
Pull it tight.
Your loop of string is done. Would salty lingo call that a "grommet"?

Tie another bigger one at the handle end of the blade.
Calculate the size to match the taper of the shaft, so both loops will get tight when you jam the shaft in there.

Step 11: Pre-Finish

I painted linseed oil onto the mating surfaces of the blade and shaft.
I oiled the grommets too while I was at it.

Step 12: We Be Jammin

These two holes are at an angle to make it easier to put the handle through the loop.
Then twist the blade into alignment and poke the shaft into the next loop.

Step 13: Pound Pound Pound

Make it secure. You don't want the blade to come off while paddling.

Step 14: Trim the Tails

Cut the visible ends of string off. Nothing will unravel.
Then I painted the rest of the raw wood with linseed oil.

Wipe off the excess when you're ready to go paddling, and just go.
That's another good thing about linseed oil. No waiting.

Step 15: Bent Tip

I glued this shaft to the blade with epoxy for extra stiffness. I painted the mating surfaces with epoxy thickened with wood dust before jamming the shaft into the cord loops.
I bent the tip while the glue dried so it would have a very slight curve later.

Step 16: Nicaraguan Style

Here's a Nicaraguan dugout with a pair of instant oars on Isla Ometepe in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. The blades are nailed to the shafts and the nails clinched (bent over).
I saw others with lashed blades.
Notice the simple rope-and-saddle oarlocks. Sudden winds of 30mph spring up on the lake. The fishermen need oars to make any headway against it.

Step 17: Ancient Hawaiian Lashed Paddle

The photo is from the book "The Hawaiian Canoe" by Tommy Holmes.

The text reads: "Another recent discovery, the only two-piece paddle ever found in Hawai'i (above left) has shed new light on ancient Hawaiian paddle design. Found in a cave at Kawela, Moloka'i, without any other artifacts, this paddle appears to be "of mid to late eighteenth century" vintage. It was found with its koa shaft lashed to the blade (of a lighter wood) with coconut sennit."

Step 18: Size Your Paddle

This Hawaiian petroglyph shows how to size a canoe paddle to fit you.
The photo is from the book "The Hawaiian Canoe" by Tommy Holmes.

Hold your paddle over your head with your arms in this position.
Make your elbows into a 90 degree angle as seen here.
If your paddle is too short for you to do that, your paddle is too short.

To size a paddle for stand up paddle boarding I use a different method:
I stand the paddle vertically and reach as high as I can. That's how tall the paddle should be. For me it's about 8 feet long.

Got a favorite method of paddle sizing? Please share!

  More paddle and oar making projects:
How to make an Eskimo style kayak paddle from a 2x4 in 1.5 hours
If it's oars you need, here's how to make oars from 2x4s.
Make a steering oar for a Marshall Islands Racing canoe.

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