Canoe Paddle #1: Starting to Make A Canoe Paddle

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Blog entry by Bagtown posted 02-29-2012 06:02 PM 14104 reads 6 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Canoe Paddle series Part 2: On to the shaft »

Well, this is such a great and giving site, I thought I should contribute a little. So here you go. There’s still plenty of snow out on the lake but we’re only about 6 weeks away from open water on the lake and rivers around here.

I’ve made a few paddles in the past, and this is how I make them. Nothing too fancy here, mostly handtools and lots of sweat. This is a very satisfying project, and it’s really not too difficult. There are no mating parts, no dovetail, no mortises, and no tenons. You only have to remember to stop when it “feels right” in your hands.

So I’m going to make this one out of a piece of yellow birch that’s been standing in the corner all winter and needed to come to life as something. It is 4/4 thick. I don’t like working with anything thinner because the shaft ends up oval shaped and feels wrong when paddling. I’m also not a fan of softwood paddles, they are definitely lighter, but they’re a lot weaker. I’ve broken softwood paddles going down the river. They only break when you really need them.

That’s my shop helper Sascha looking on. and the blue line on the floor is for my dartboard.

I just took my old favourite otter tail paddle and traced around it. You can see in the next shot that I perhaps leaned my pencil too much, so I took a straight edge and connected the blade shape to the hand grip. You can take a large piece of paper and draw a half paddle shape and fold the paper in half then cut it out to get your shape. I know I like this shape, so I just use it. I’ve always used one piece of wood to make my paddles, but I may try a laminated blade sometime.

So next I rough cut the paddle out on the bandsaw. You can do this with a jigsaw, or even a handsaw(if you have a LOT of patience).

So here’s the roughed out paddle.

So the next thing I do it put a fine ink centreline around the outside of the paddle. This helps later when shaping.

This line goes all the way around the paddle.

Next thing is a centreline down both side of the paddle over it’s entire length. I find the widest point of the blade and make a mark in the centre of the blade, and I make another mark near the top of the shaft in the middle of the face. Then I use a straightedge and connect these two points with a line that goes from the top to the bottom of the paddle. I do this on the front and back of the paddle. So now you have a one inch thick, very heavy, clunky looking paddle, with lines on it.

Notice how ugly I left the hand grip. That’ll be finished nicer later on.

OK, now we start the fun stuff. Tools from here on are a lot of fun. Mostly I use my spokeshave, a rasp, sometimes my #4 plane, and sometimes I’ve been known to take a few finish strokes of the paddle blade with my #6. Here’s the start.

So the first place I start is the blade. Right now I’m just roughing it out. I take the outside edge down to the centre line and fair it back to the centreline on the face. In the next shot, you can see something that always happens to me. The very end of the paddle doesn’t seem to get done and the sides do. It happens I think because I want to leave the centre of the paddle at full thickness until I rough out both sides.

You also get to use your rasp. You get to be a little artistic here without worrying about something not fitting.

This is my “Sharpening Station”. As you can see I have very expensive diamond stones, and a slow turning wet carborundum wheel. Not really. This may not be fancy, but you know what? It works. I’d like to have a couple of $150.00 diamond bench stones, and a $1000.00 Tormek. But for now, I work with what I have. (any tool companies that need their sharpening gear to be tested and reviewed, just let me know. lol)

So back to the paddle. I’m back at the end of the blade removing a bit more wood.

So here’s the first side of the blade roughed out. If you look very closely you can see the centreline around the outside edge is still just barely there.

You can see in the next shot that the centreline on the face is still there. Later on that will disappear whe the blade gets thinned out and finished.

I’m about an hour in at this point. That includes remembering to take pictures along the way. I’m going to flip the paddle over and do the same thing to the other side.

Thanks for looking,


-- Mike - In Fort McMurray Alberta

8 comments so far

View Willeh's profile


228 posts in 3501 days

#1 posted 02-29-2012 08:53 PM

Looking great.. I was actually thinking of doing a very similar paddle to this in the next few weeks! Thanks for the ti about the centre line, that should make it alot easier to shape the blade.
Do you usually put an insert into the bottom of the blade to prevent it from splitting up the grain?

-- Will, Ontario Canada. "I can do fast, cheap and good, but you can only pick two... "

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 4470 days

#2 posted 02-29-2012 09:30 PM

Very nice…and I know you must have had fun building it…
That brings back alot of memories. I have a cypress pirogue paddle that I made back around 1960. It has seen tons of use and never broke…So much for your softwood theory.

I still have it and it is hanging on my workshop wall

View Bagtown's profile


1743 posts in 4892 days

#3 posted 02-29-2012 09:37 PM

Willeh -no I’ve never put a piece in the bottom. Never really been a problem for me. And if it does crack or wear too much, I’ll just make a new one.

Greg -I’m glad your paddle never broke on you. My experience is different. I’ve been in whitewater on a river and just when I needed it most, the paddle broke, I lost control of the canoe, and the canoe rolled. Had to pick up gear for what seemed like miles downriver. You need to get that paddle of the wall and in the water.


-- Mike - In Fort McMurray Alberta

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 4470 days

#4 posted 02-29-2012 10:18 PM

Used it alot for duck hunting back in the marshes when I was growing up and never has it seen whitewater use. Cut a hook in the end to pick up the line on crabnets and whacked an occasional alligator on the head with it.
Now it is strictly a decoration in my barn next to some other old tools and stuff.

View Bagtown's profile


1743 posts in 4892 days

#5 posted 02-29-2012 10:37 PM

See know, that’s where we differ.
I’ve never paddled within a thousand miles of an alligator.
Don’t think I could either. Lol.
I think I’ll stick to the rivers here in New Brunswick. Worst thing you run into here is a moose across the river, but they’re tall enough you can duck down and go under their belly. Lol.



-- Mike - In Fort McMurray Alberta

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 4874 days

#6 posted 03-06-2012 04:43 AM

Very interesting, thank you for this blog.

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View Dave's profile


11435 posts in 4002 days

#7 posted 05-14-2012 11:00 AM

Mike I might have to give this a try.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View jackass's profile


350 posts in 4875 days

#8 posted 05-14-2012 08:37 PM

Hi Mike,
I Have a canoe that would have gone well with that paddle. Very nicely done. I have teed up my wife for a trip to Sackville when the Market opens, should be soon, let me know.

-- Jack Keefe Shediac NB Canada

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