I’ve been planning to take a paddle making course for an entire year, then right when I wanted to sign up, I found out that Andy Convery of Echo Paddles had moved and wasn’t offering courses anymore! Shoot. Luckily they reconsidered a few weeks later and a few courses were offered this year. I signed up for the two day “laminate paddles” workshop. It’s meant for paddles made with strips of wood (or laminates), but he was willing to let me try a bent shaft paddle. Bent shaft paddles are designed with a 14 degree bend in the shaft so that the blade hits the water at a forward angle, meaning that you get a bit of a more powerful stroke at the end of your pull. They are commonly used for marathon canoe racing, although most of the ones used in races are now carbon fibre.
I had this design in my head for a paddle using mainly walnut for that rich dark colour, luckily Andy talked me out of it, stating that a walnut paddle would be incredibly heavy. Instead I used a variety of woods, including cedar, basswood, and ash. Due to the laminations, softer and lighter wood can be used as they reinforce each other once glued up.
Day 1 – Glue, glue, and more…. glue
On the first day of the course we started out talking about paddle design, pros and cons, uses for the different designs. We then moved into wood types and selections, why certain types are used in certain places, etc. Then we started choosing our designs and picking our wood layouts. I decided on a cedar and basswood laminated shaft (3 layers of cedar, 2 of basswood), and a blade made of cedar with two diagonal stripes of ash (for strength) and a thin piece of ash wrapped around the edge of the blade. Next we went to the lumber pile to pick out our pieces and by lunchtime we had our shafts all glued up. Since mine was a bent shaft it went into a plywood mould with a ton of clamps.
After lunch we glued up the two sides of the blades and then pulled the clamps off our shafts. Everything glued up nicely and no springback once the clamps came off. After some smoothing out of the sides, we were ready to glue the two blade pieces to the shaft before calling it a night. One more thing we did before leaving was make a composite tip for a few of the paddles (including mine). The tip was made from fiberglass, kevlar, and graphite layered with epoxy.
Day 2 – Planing, planing, and more… planing.
If I thought we had used a lot of glue the first day, it was nothing compared to the amount of planing and shaping of the paddle blades and shafts we did on day 2! First we cut the blades to shape on the band saw, and then we pulled out the hand planes, spoke shaves, and card scrapers and went to work. At this point I was glad Andy convinced me to use a nice soft wood like cedar, as planing off that much walnut would have been a huge amount more work! Once the blades were smooth, we shaped the shafts and handles before finishing off the day with a ton of sanding. We didn’t have time to put a finish on the paddles (we could have done it but it wouldn’t have dried in time). Andy sent us home with some fiberglass and epoxy to cover our blades with since we used such soft wood. I also grabbed some Dynel from him to add a bit of protection to the paddle shaft as well as I can see mine getting lots of dings due to the soft wood. The dynel wraps around the shaft like a long sock and is then soaked in epoxy (can be seen in the canoe picture above).
So all in all the course was a ton of fun and I came away with a sweet looking paddle. I’m pretty excited to make some more once I have a little more time. I don’t plan on going into the paddle making business, but I can see making a few as gifts or for sale once in a while.