How to Make a Wooden Canoe Paddle: Learning a Family Pastime

I’ve grown up paddling with my Grandfather’s homemade cedar striped canoe’s and paddles that always made me stop and think: “One day I’d love to do that. “

In my Boston condo, now filled with two kids and a dog, I don’t have the space for the canoe (yet) so I set my sights on the more reasonable goal of making a wooden paddle by hand.  

It seems to run in the family. My grandfather has made canoe paddles for over 50 years.  My father made a few but mostly made wooden kayak paddles when I was younger.  My uncle made canoe paddles for a period of time as well but he used a wood blade and composite shafts.  I feel like it’s in my blood to be able to do this.

But how to go about it? I asked my grandfather a few questions, watched a few YouTube videos, and I was ready to get started. I’ve enjoyed it immensely, and thought I’d share a little of what I’v learned along the way so you, too, can build a wooden canoe paddle.

Tools needed

I decided that I wanted to use my hands as much as possible on the first paddle.  I bought a inexpensive block-plane and spokeshave.  I had a jig-saw from a few previous projects.

  • Jig-saw
  • Block-plane
  • Spokeshave
  • Rasp
  • Surform
  • Lots of sandpaper

Tools that I am now using on other paddles

  • Hand Planer
  • Band-saw
  • Orbital Drum sander
  • Palm Sander

Here are some photos from the process that I followed.  If you’d like more detailed instructions, please email me at ben@rippledwaters.com.

I decided to use a western red cedar 2×4 for my first paddle.  I have plans to use one solid piece of western red cedar one day but the cost difference is huge.  The 2×4 was about $30 as opposed to a $200 solid piece.  One day…

The shape of the paddle that I used was from one that I had that I liked.  I’ll do more testing of variations soon but figured this was a good starting point.

I used a plate to draw the curve of the handle to customize it a little bit.   

Welcome to my shop, a.k.a the back porch.  Not ideal but need to make due with the space that I have living in the city.  This is getting set-up for cutting out the basic shape.  

It’s rough but the shape is there!

Using the block plane I am slowly taking material away to get the thickness of the blade that I want.

More progress!

The handle took a long time doing it by hand.  I bought a tool that I can do them in about 10 minutes now. It’s nice to know that I can do it by hand though.

Here is a shot of the paddle after using the spokeshave to round the edges.  I decided not to use a router for this process.  Doing it by hand takes a while but is much more rewarding.  

There is a lot of shavings.  I kept them and use them as for fires.  Came in handy when camping in the rain last summer to be able to get a fire going!

Next to my desk I have all my projects.  I have 5 paddles going on at the moment.  

I decided to make the paddles more professional looking so I designed a logo and got a wood brand.  The hardest part of this project was branding the paddle.  It’s not an exact science so it was really tense getting this right.  If the brand wasn’t hot enough it would only do about half.  If too hot it would be too deep and black.  Did lots of test before doing it on the paddle!

Here is the final process of finishing the paddle.  

The finish really brought out the grain nicely.  

I didn’t find anything too challenging about this project.  Once you figure out how to work with the tools, it was pretty easy.  Just time consuming.  I highly recommend anyone try this if you like canoeing!

Now it’s time for a nice paddle and fishing outing with Ben from New England on the Fly!

Future projects

My Grandfather (pictured above) made this cedar striped boat that he gave to me this winter.  It’s basically a shell so I need to decide what I want to do to it.  I am really looking forward to working on it over the next couple of years.  I’ll share photos and possibly another post about this project as well.

Fishing nets!  I have plans to make boat and trout nets.  I’ll be able to customize these a bit but will be taking orders once I get the first dozen or so done.  

The best advice that I got from making a paddle:  “Remove everything that doesn’t look like a paddle”.  Haha, it’s true.

Thanks for reading!

Ben from Brunt Canoe Company

Inquires are welcome.  ben@rippledwaters.com

 

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