Intro: Make Your Own Canoe Paddle
I have recently finished building a cedar strip canoe, and had barrels full of thin, small pieces of cedar and ash left over. The pieces of wood were so small and thin I had been burning them in our patio fire pit just to keep them from taking up space in the garbage. I thought .....how cool would it be to make my own paddle from the scraps left over from the canoe?! Very cool, and surprisingly easy. Here I will show you how I made the blank, or the basic shape of the paddle, that can be finished off in many ways.
Paddle blades come in wide variety of sizes and shapes. This being my first paddle, I didn't really know what I was after. Having lots of scraps to experiment with, and for ease of just getting started, I borrowed my neighbors paddle and traced the paddle end onto cardboard. Simple. My second paddle I tailored a little more to my personal taste, but I'll go into that latter.
I was using strips of different colors of cedar for the blade, alternating light and dark colors making stripes. For one, I had LOTS of cedar to work with, 2nd...laminating several pieces together to make a plank is less likely to warp and split compared to carving the blades from a single, solid board. But...the cedar is a very soft bendable wood, it would not hold up to the abuse a paddle will take and would probably break easily. I had lots fiberglass and epoxy left over from the canoe, so I covered my finished paddle with that for strength, the alternative to fiberglassing would be make the blades entirely of a hard wood, or, use a few strips of hardwood in the design to stiffen up the blade, and use hard wood strips on the outer most edges, that is where most paddles get dinged and banged on. My paddle was covered with epoxy, so I used regular wood glue. If your paddle is only getting coated with varnish, then a waterproof wood glue would be needed.
Even with the fiberglassed blades, the shaft of the paddle that runs from the blades all the way through to the handle will need to be a hard wood for strength. I used a piece of ash cut to 1"x1 1/2" and 60" long for my finished length. I glued up the two sides of my blade using strips 1/2" thick.
Step 2: Gluing Blade to Shaft
After the glue for the blades dried, I glued those to the sides of the shaft. The blades are only 1/2 thick and the shaft is over and inch, so I centered the blades to the shaft,,I just eyeballed it, but it has to be reasonable close. For the handle I used the same technic. The shaft is 1 1/2" wide, but I need it wide enough for a handle. I just glued a small piece of ash to each side to make it wider. When you get to the finished pic of the handle, you can see the wood grain difference where I glued them on.
Step 3: Sanding and Finishing
Now that the blank is glued up and dried, I cut out my card board template I traced from my neighbor's paddle, laid it over my wooden blades and traced the shape to the wood. I used a sabre saw to cut out the outline, and roughed out the shape of the handle. Most of the sanding I did with a hand held belt sander with 80 git to start. I sanded my blade down to about 1/8", I was going to rely on the fiberglass for strength not the thickness of the wood. If you are not going to fiberglass, the thickness of the blade will depend on how stiff the wood is chossen for the blades. I used a hand held router with a round over bit to knock off the edges of the shaft, but had to fine tune the shape with belt sander. The handle was also shaped with the same sander, with some work done with a wood file. Then I switched to my 1/4 sheet palm sander with 120 grit, then sanded the whole thing again with 220 for a very smooth finish.
Like I said I opted to finish mine with fiberglass and epoxy, but that's another process left to another Instructable. Varnishing the paddle is the easiest part of the project. I would recommend at least 3 coats of a exterior gloss varnish. If you don't do alot of varinish work, a quart is pretty cheap, and buy 3 or 4 disposable brushes and throw them away after each coat of varnish. The first coat will soak into the wood and be pretty rough. After it's dry to the touch, sand it down with 220 and apply the next coat. When that is dry, sand it again and reapply. No need to over sand, a quick scuff to make it smooth is all. Keep reappling untill you get the build up want.
Step 4: Finished Paddles
The first paddle in these pictures is the one you watched me make. The feather paddle is my second. After using the first paddle a few times, I decided I wanted the shaft about 2" shorter and blade shorter and wider. I used the same technics gluing up the blade for the feather, but had a lot more, smaller pieces to glue up. The next one, with the wood burning on it, is made similarly, its a double bladed kayak paddle. The shaft is a old stairway hand rail, and blades are a kitchen drawer I disassembled, 9 ply maple plywood, very dense and hard. I did not use fiberglass on the kayak paddle, its used and abused the most of my 3 paddles and is holding up great...Let your imagination run wild making your paddle and have fun with it.
The canoe was also a project using up materials I had on hand, the entire canoe I spent about $60 on wood! A link for that build is here..