Friday, October 23, 2009


This likely to be the final instalment in my series of posts moving material off of my about to be deleted Geocities site (Geocities is schduled to shut down permanently on October 26th). Some of the text has been edited & updated from the original.

A Greenland Paddle

I started building a Greenland-style kayak paddle several years ago and it was shelved shortly after gluing up the central part of the blank. Years later I came back to the project to finally complete it. The paddle is made of cedar and poplar laminated together such that the poplar forms the outer part of the shaft area (loom) and extends through the length of the blades. The blades are made from additional pieces of cedar glued to the central shaft and each of the four blades should have been made from the same piece of wood. Unfortunately, I forgot why I had been hanging onto those pieces of cedar and at some point I turned one of them into a toy canoe (shown in an earlier post). Since I no longer had a piece of cedar long enough, I glued together two shorter pieces. I should have used a scarf joint and glued them up properly, but instead I simply butted them together and glued them to the shaft. The result is a weak point in terms of aesthetics and possibly also in terms of structural strength. However, lack of strength has yet to become a problem witht the finished paddle. The excellent and free plans used for this paddle were those by Chuck Holst. The picture below was taken after carving. I waited to try it on the water before adding a finish.

The first thing you will notice when you look at the picture is that it doesn't look like most kayak paddles you may have seen. It is such a different style and that is one reason I wanted to build one - just to see what they are like to paddle with. The following is quoted from the introduction in Chuck Holst's plans:
Apart from its romantic association with the people who taught Europeans to kayak and to roll, the narrow-bladed Greenland paddle is popular because it is easy to brace and roll with and is not very susceptible to strong winds. Also, because it slips a little at the beginning of a stroke, it is easier on the muscles, and thus less fatiguing on day-long trips than wide-bladed “Euro”-style paddles. A further benefit for northern kayakers is that the Greenland paddle is adapted for paddling in freezing conditions. The shoulders where the blades and loom meet make an ice-coated loom easier to grip, while the narrow ends of the blades, which are immersed in water while paddling, offer an ice-free grip for emergency braces and rolls. The Greenland paddle is also popular because it is very easy and inexpensive to make with simple tools in a home workshop, which is the subject of this article. Working entirely with hand tools, it is possible to make a Greenland paddle with less than $10 worth of materials and 24 hours of labor.
I spent more than $10 on materials and more than 24 hours in the construction, but it was fairly inexpensive and once I got around to actually doing it, the project went fairly quick. Those who paddle with these "sticks" get pretty passionate about it. I haven't put a huge number of miles on the paddle, but I have used it a fair bit and really like it. The first impression was that it really wasn't all that different from the more familiar modern paddle. It still catches a fair bit of water, I can accelerate quickly and can paddle in a "normal" manner just fine. I like the long reach I have with it when I want to do a sweep stroke. Although I've attempted rolls with it, I can't say that it works any better, or any worse, in that department. So far, my rolling has not been terrible effective (one of these days I'll take some lessons on that). I should probably build a couple more greenland paddles and reduce the weight as well as possibly trying out different lengths.

Kids Paddles

I have made two small beaver-tail style paddles scaled down to be suitable for small children. The plans I used were scaled down from those in the book Canoe Paddles - A Complete Guide to Making Your Own by Graham Warren & David Gidmark. These paddles are very easy to carve out of cedar and one can be made quite quickly. The latest one that I have finished was for my daughter & I completed that shortly before we went on a canoe trip when she was 3. The graphic with the seal is just clip-art printed with an ink-jet printer onto a plastic overhead sheet. I cut out the graphic and used epoxy to glue it onto the face of the paddle. I then fibre-glassed over top and the graphic is now entombed on the paddle blade. This method may not be suitable for something which may flex since any flexing could possibly result in separation of the layers above and/or below the plastic. However, it has stood up to 4 years of abuse from two kids just fine. On the other side I practiced my wood burning technique to draw a flower & my daughter's name. With the whole blade covered in fibreglass, it is quite strong and has withstood much abuse. (These pictures were taken after a season worth of use and therefore there are numerous cosmetic scratches.)

Canoe Paddle

This is a "voyageur"-style paddle I built several years ago based on plans from the book Canoe Paddles - A Complete Guide to Making Your Ownby Graham Warren & David Gidmark. The paddle is laminated from maple and ash gleaned from the scrap bins of the local Habitat Re-Store. Both woods are strong and able to flex without breaking. Due to the strength inherent in the woods used, I was able to make the blade and shaft both quite thin and as a result the weight of this paddle is very reasonable. The tip has a mahogany insert running across the width in order to protect the tip from abuse and to prevent the laminations from splitting.

This paddle is LONG. The blade alone is approximately 30" long and as a result, this paddle is for use in deep water only. I think I also made the handle a bit too long for me. Unfortunately, it is tough to use in the shallow South Saskatchewan River and I have never really gotten the hang of using this paddle effectively. It sure looks nice though. (I need to take a better picture where the minor imperfections aren't magnified such that they seem far more prominent than they do in real life.)

2009 Update: I never really got the hang of using this paddle, it simply seemed too long. However, in 2007 my wife & I did an 7 or 8 day trip on Lac La Ronge & the Churchill River and I forgot my usual touring paddle (a basic Grey Owl bent-shaft) at home. Thus I was "forced" to use my voyageur paddle (we still had one more spare with us - on of those awful plastic & aluminum things). After several hours I started to finally develop a relationship with this paddle. Before long, I came to love it. It's light weight, thin edge, generous flex are endearing features. With such a long blade, it does best when the blade remains underwater, being knifed forward in and underwater recover stroke such as the "Indian" or "Canadian" strokes. I slowed down my paddle stroke, but put more power behind them, and the recovery becomes part of the correction to maintain a course.