Make an Eskimo Style Kayak Paddle From 2x4 Scrap Wood in 1.5 Hours




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...

This traditional pattern of paddle is a joy to use. The blades aren't feathered (rotated relative to each other) so they're easy for beginners to use.
I just made two of these in less than 3 hours according to the timestamps on the photos.
I wasn't rushing, that's just how long it took.

Read Nativewater's Eskimo paddle pages to learn theory and refinements of this type of paddle.

Paddle Dimensions:
The paddle is 7 to 8 feet overall.
The blades are 3.5" wide at the tips and 2.5" wide where they meet the handle.
The handle portion in the middle is 24-27" long, 1.2" wide, and 1.5" thick.
Size the handle portion to suit yourself.

Tools I used:
safety glasses
dust mask (very important. You'll be making storm clouds of dust)
table saw or bandsaw or jig saw or hand saw for cutting the outline
hand saw (Japanese pull saw)
electric planer
angle grinder
with Porter Cable 24 grit carbide disk ($7!)
with 50 and 80 grit resin bond sanding disks
C clamp
ruler and magic marker

  More paddle and oar making projects:
Here's the quickest way I know to make a paddle.
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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Step 1: Get Wood

I brought a paddle with me to help see where any knots would be if I used a certain chunk of lumber to make a paddle.
Dig around in the guts of a demolished house or barn til you find a softwood 2x4 about 8 feet long Look for straight grain and no knots where the middle handle portion.
Knots in the blade area are okay, imagine whether the knots will make the paddle too weak or not.
Usually it's easier to find clear wood on a bigger plank such as a 2x6, 2x12, etc. They came from a bigger tree and you've got more leeway to dodge knots.
New cheap 2x4s tend to be the core slice from a log and have lots of knots from the baby tree.
I found a good old 2x8 with knots in all the places that wouldn't be paddles. It's weathered and severely cracked, but that doesn't bother me. The blades are carved down past the bottom of the cracks. I'll fill any cracks in the handle portion.

Step 2: Make 2x4s : )

I saw the plank lengthwise on my little bandsaw. I use the bandsaw instead of the table saw because the blade is very thin and wastes no wood.

I got this band saw for free because it looks ugly to the world, although it is beautiful to me and has many fine features.

Step 3: Lay Out the Paddle

Draw the paddle on the plank with a magic marker.
The paddle is 8 feet overall. The handle portion in the middle is 27" long and 1.2" wide.
The blades are 3.5" wide at the tips and 2.5" wide where they meet the handle.
The tips are round. Trace the lid from a yogurt tub.

Step 4: Danger! Freehand Tablesaw Cutting

Usually people use a bandsaw or jigsaw to cut the outline. That's a better method. A handsaw, stone adze, etc is fine also.

I freehand cut the outline on my table saw. It's fast and dangerous to do that way.
Wood chips get flung at your face.
Wear safety glasses, keep the whole area clear, and have no distractions.
Make multiple cuts into the handle area so the blade doesn't bind.

I got this table saw for free because there are too many table saws in the world. Also this one had many pieces broken off it. Maybe it really fell off a truck. But the table is flat, the blade is square, and the parts I need still work. The only part I needed to order was the nut that holds the blade on.

Step 5: Trim With Hand Saw and Mark the Edges

Use a hand saw to trim the stuff you can't get to with the table saw.

Mark the centerline on the sides of the blades.
Mark the sides of the blades with a straight taper that goes down to 1/2" thick at the tip

Step 6: Electric Planer

Clamp the paddle securely.
Plane down the blades with an electric planer. Plane them flat and taper them down to 1/2" thick at the tips.
Then plane the blades down to a 1/8" edge all around the edge.
Flex the paddle and heft it. Keep shaving it down until it's light but not too flexible.
Trust your intuition about this.

Step 7: 24 Grit Carbide Disc

Porter Cable makes a really great carbide chip abrasive disk for $7. Really great for carving wood.
Dangerous! Great for carving human flesh also, so be careful.
It also flings crap in all directions and will fill your lungs with dust. War all your safety gear.
They tell you to only use it with their backing plate, but it seems to work fine with a regular stiff backing pad from a disk sander.
Wear safety glasses and dust mask. Clamp and shape the blades. Smooth out all the marks from the planer. Round the corners of the handle. I like to leave my handles mostly rectangular like a hockey stick.

Switch to a finer grit sanding disk and smooth out the gouges from the carbide chip wheel.
Hand sand with finer grits of sandpaper until you're satisfied with the finish. Use epoxy mixed with wood dust to fill any cracks or glue back any chips that broke off during shaping. Finish the paddle with linseed oil, varnish, or whatever you prefer. Some people leave the part your hands will grip unfinished.

I like linseed oil because I can soak it in, wipe it dry, and

Go paddling!

  More paddle and oar making projects:
Here's the quickest way I know to make a paddle.
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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    15 Discussions

    black holeseabananers

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    No, Inuit and Eskimo are one and the same. . Inuitt means more or less "The People". Eskimo is an Algonquin word meaning "Eater of Flesh"

    rawly old

    8 years ago on Introduction

    I made my paddle even simpler, but it still works quite well.
    I'm tall and broad shouldered so i wanted a 90" paddle. I
    cut 2 28" blades from a 5" wide strip of scrap 3/8" plywood.
    I had an old seasoned 75" doug fir 2x2 which i back cut 21", 3/8"
    deep. on the side opposite the back cuts i tapered the ends to 3/4".
    i drew a midline thru the blades and handle. With a couple squeezes
    of construction glue, I snugged the blades into the back cuts and
    aligned the mid lines and zapped in 3 1 1/4" drywall screws. With
    a rasp I rounded off the 2x2 at my grip locations, slopped on some
    spar varnish, and was good to go.

    (Note: blades are 5" wide at the end tapering to 2 1/2" where they butt
    to the back cut, corners rounded off. This paddle is lighter, and far
    less work to use than my $125 Mohawk whitewater paddle.)


    9 years ago on Introduction

    what about using a 2x6 for a wider paddle blade? and, is the preferred style of paddling any different from using a wide blade? (e.g. a more vertical paddle for deeper strokes)


    9 years ago on Introduction

    These are fun to build, and fantastic to paddle with, though I am not sure of the "beginner" comment.  I modify mine (have built several) by using a 2x6
    stock of wood, Have used solid ash, but prefer a laminate of cedar and pine,
    with a core 'backbone' of doug fir.  Make sure to use marine epoxy to glue the laminates, I buy all my materials at Home Depot.  Also, I finish mine with fine sanding, and an acrylic or poly coat. If you are addicted to rolling, these are fantastic to work with.
    Thanks for the comments.
    Dave, in Florida


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I've never seen the carbide disc before. Is it like really long lasting, coarse grit sanding disk, except with a metal backing?  Cool.

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    It's like metal sandpaper, a steel disc with tungsten carbide chips affixed to it somehow. Probably solder. They sell these discs in 3-packs so they must wear out, but it probably takes a very long time. Watch out for the thin edge, it can cut you fast. They're made for a paint removing machine, probably they clog up before they wear out in that use.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    one description says: "Use belt cleaner to clean or soak overnight and reuse". So for really big jobs you may need several, just like a pro might have several batteries for their cordless tools.

    looks like it comes in 48, 36, and 24 grit. 


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 4

    It isn't usually. But my tablesaw happens to have a very flat "planer" blade in it that cuts fast and I can shave things flat with it.The blade is thick and wastes a lot of wood, so I'd usually use something else unless I start with just enough wood that the kerfs don't cost me a useful piece of wood.
    My bandsaws have fine tooth metal cutting blades in them at the moment, and I was too lazy to change them. They cut wood slowly and the damaged blades make the cut a little wiggly.

    Very nice, i made one once using nothing but a block plane, three problems with that, it took forever, my wife came home to a living room full of shavings and freaked, and I planed the tip of my finger off.