Make a Kayak Paddle!




About: I love building stuff, doing crafts, painting, and going on outdoor adventures. This website has helped so much in finding what other people have figured out. I'm so glad there are still DIY people out there...

After this Instructable you will never be up a creek without the means of building a paddle.
I recently bought a sit in kayak to explore the clear Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania(Highly Recommended!). I had a $200 budget, which was pretty tight to get into kayaking. I was able to secure a 10’ kayak from Dick’s Sporting Goods for $190. The problem is these days most kayaks don’t come with a paddle. My options at the surrounding sporting goods stores ranged from $50-250! Walmart didn’t carry paddles, unless you count a tiny emergency paddle.  So after searching in vain for a cheap paddle I decided to build one.

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Step 1: Materials and Tools

(2) 14.5-18 Gallon Storage Container Lids: $4.50 - Free (W)                                                                        
(7') 1/8" Nylon Rope $0.11 per foot = $0.77 total (H)
Duct Tape: $2.49 (H)
(1) 3/4” OD, 10’ long Galvanized Conduit: $6.99 (H)

Total Cost = $10.25 – 14.75

*From Hardware Store = H, Walmart =W

Other Tools
Pocket Knife
Flat Head Screwdriver
Medium Duty Scissors

The Storage Container Lids were actually given to me for free. I had the intention of buying just the lids without the containers ($4.50), but the clerk didn’t know how to ring it up. She told me when people buy the containers they forget to grab the lids all the time. She gave me a wink and had some free lids!

Step 2: Determine Overall Paddle Length

Paddle length can make a big difference in your ability to propel a boat and stay comfortable from your first stroke to your last of a 150 mile trip. There are many resources and ways to calculate how long your paddle should be, but in the end it really just comes down to your personal preference on your particular kayak.

A good starting point to estimate your needed paddle length is to take your height and add 2’

Another way would be to measure the distance between your hands with your elbows bent at 90 deg and add 4’

I stand at 5’ 7” tall so calculating out both methods gives:

5’ 7” + 2 = 7’ 7”
3’ 5” + 4 = 7’ 5” 

So I chose the average of the two: 7’ 6”

You can check out these resources for more advice on paddle length:

Step 3: Cut the Shaft

I wanted to keep the blade supported through most of its length and ended up only leaving 2” unsupported. In order to keep my overall length I would need to make the shaft 4” shorter. Though keep in mind you can always cut the shaft shorter if you feel the paddle is a little over extended and the blade is being completely submerged. You can also extend the blades out a little bit if the shaft is too short, but probably not more than an inch on both sides.

Chosen Paddle length – unsupported blade length(x2) = Shaft length
For me: 7’ 6” - 2”(x2) = 7’ 2”

The hardware store I bought the conduit from was able to cut the conduit down to length for me, but a pipe cutter or hack saw will do the job if you don’t have that option. They also had 6-8’ lengths of aluminum tubing which would have been lighter and a better choice for water conditions, but they ran at about $12-14 each and would put me over budget.

Step 4: Cut Out the Blades

I wanted to use as much of the flat portion of the storage container lid as possible and keep the blade at ~6” wide. The basic dimensions I used for the blades were as pictured below. This part can take a little creativity. I free handed the curves so they aren’t exactly perfect, but still good enough for this project. Once I had my blade drawn out I cut the plastic lid using a knife to start and then scissors to get smooth(ish) corners. After I had one blade cut out I traced it on to the second lid and repeated the process.

Step 5: Tie-down Holes

In order to secure the blades to the shaft using lashing you will need holes in the blade on both sides of the shaft to run the rope through.

I used a flat-head screwdriver to punch sets of holes 3/4” apart in 2” intervals down the center of the blade starting ½” from the top. You can also use the shaft as a guild in determining your hole position. Wall-out the holes to make them big enough to thread rope through them. The middle two sets will need to be large enough to allow two threads of rope.

Step 6: Lashings

Next cut the rope in half to give two ~3.5’ long lengths. Fold one length of rope in half and starting from the bottom set of holes thread each end through the holes with both ends coming out on the same face of the blade. Pull an extra inch and a half to the right hand rope end.

1. Place the shaft on the same blade face as the loose rope ends and position about 2’ from the bottom of the blade.

2. Cross the right hand rope end over the shaft to the next hole up on the left hand side. Thread this end through the hole and across the back of the blade to the second hole of the same set and through to the front of the blade.

3. Repeat the last step for the next two sets of holes. This should leave you with the longer rope end at the bottom most hole on the left side and a shorter rope end on the top most hole on the right side.

4. Taking the longer rope end cross over the shaft to the right hand hole on the above set and thread the end through to the back across to the other hole on the same set and back through to the front. This means that there will be two lashes on the back side of this set of holes.

5. Repeat the last step for the next set of holes.

6. This should leave you with two nearly even length rope ends on opposite sides of the shaft one set above the other. Cross both ends over the shaft, tie together, and cut the excess. Repeat this process for the other blade.

Step 7: Duct Tape and Done!

I taped off both ends of the shaft to keep water out of the hollow tube. If you are using aluminum for the shaft this might help keep your paddle afloat if you drop it in the water. Since I used a heavy galvanized conduit it wouldn’t help me all that much. You can also use rubber plugs to cap off the ends if you want to make your paddle look a little nicer.

I also taped the shaft and blade across the front to prevent the blade from spinning around the shaft or sliding off the end. 


Some final additions can be tennis raquet grip tape(rubber or electrical tape would work too) for a more comfortable grip. Drip rings to keep water from dripping down onto your hands and lap(I’m thinking some thing like a hand ball cut in half mounted a few inches from your grip). There’s a couple other Instructables out there for mounting the paddle to the kayak too.

Make sure you know and follow all your local boating rules and wear a life jacket were required(always wearing one is a good practice!)

In PA effective:  Nov. 1, 2012.  Anyone in a canoe or kayak, or on a boat less than 16 feet, will be required to wear a life jacket from Nov. 1 through April 30, which is the period most noted for cold-water temperatures.

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12 Discussions


5 years ago on Step 2

Longer paddles are easier to use IMO, the shaft doesn't have to be at as much of an angle with a long shaft, easier on the arms and allows a slower stroke, which is good for distance.


5 years ago on Introduction

you can get paddles at some wallywords, if not you can get them with free shipping sent directly to the store from their website,

great I'ble, I've never thought of using plastic lids for blades!


6 years ago on Step 2

Your paddle is a little on the long side. 6' 10" will allow you a quicker stroke rate and not stress your shoulders as much. I'm 5'11" and use paddles in the 197-215 cm range, depending on the boat. I love REI, but they have always sold people paddles that are too long.


6 years ago

So far the duct tape has lasted 4 outings but could use replacement. I'll probably use rubber or plugs instead of the tape. Feathering is a great idea!


Great idea, how long did your duct tape last - did it need replacing after every outing? Also, have you considered offsetting the blades slightly? By this I mean not having the blades on the same plane, but rotating one of them slightly. This allows for less wrist rotation, and improves paddling efficiency; especially useful for longer tips.

1 reply

6 years ago

Ya it is a great DIY paddle for the money, you could cut down on the weight on yours a little more if the pole was aluminum but I'm sure it's not much of a difference. I've been thinking about a camping kayak trip and it would also be a good idea if you could store cord or tent poles in to save space. You may want to look into being able to fold or collapse into 2 paddles for easier transportation or storage too

1 reply

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

That's a good idea! I've seen some that break down into 2 or even 3 pieces. I'll have to experiment with cutting the conduit, threading the ends, and joining the pieces with pipe connectors


6 years ago

Very cool! I recently bought a kayak as well for exploring local rivers and fishing. Is the paddle as strong as regular paddles, I feel it is more flimsy and would require more effort to go farther

1 reply

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

Thanks! I tested it out on a river and was able to fight the current pretty well, took about 15 min to get a half mile upstream. As compared to a manufactured paddle I have from Cabelas it feels slightly stronger in the stroke, probably because the shaft extends to nearly the bottom of the blades and has a bit more weight behind it, but is more fatiguing also due to the weight. So as far as effort goes i'd say there definitely is a little more. I've taken it out about 4 times now and feel more comfortable maneuvering each time I go so there could be a muscle memory and strength building thing going on or it could just be that I like kayaking too much to notice. One of the perks would be that you could gradually experiment and modify your paddle by shaving down the blades or trying different shapes to get more out of your stoke. Also lighter shaft materials would help.