I made a beautiful wooden canoe paddle by hand!
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Recently, I was in an expensive outdoor store and saw a beautiful basswood canoe paddle. In my shop, there is a lot of left over basswood from my grandad's carving days and one of the pieces is really long; perfect for a paddle handle. Canoe paddles are a perfect mix of function and form. They should be comfortable to use and move efficiently through the water, while showcasing beautiful woods and awesome patterns. I decided on basswood to run the length of the paddle from blade to handle, and add some walnut, maple, and teak striping to add width and color contrast. These pieces were glued up and clamped together to make the paddle blank.
Instead of using a pre-printed template, I drew half the shape of the paddle onto a long piece of paper folded over. I cut it out and unfolded it to reveal the full template. Afterward, the template was attached to the blank using spray adhesive and I cut out the shape using the band saw. It is important to leave room on the outside of the template so I could sand up to the lines. There will be a lot of sanding on this project so I left a lot of material after the rough cut.
You could use any number of methods to shape the paddle; spoke shaves, cutter heads, sand paper, each of these vary in aggressiveness and speed, but for my first time shaping something like this, I used a sanding disc on my angle grinder. I took my time and made very shallow passes with the flap disc, making sure not to take off too much material. Furthermore, be sure to alternate sanding each face of the paddle as you approach the centerline so you don't over-sand and have a unbalanced profile. Taking light passes allowed me to make shaping decisions as I went. Overall, I went with a slightly convex profile on each face that met at a semi-sharp edge. The length of the handle has a rounded shape that fit the size of my hands really well. At the end of the paddle, I sanded a comfortable grip that has a slight indention to fit the curvature of my hand. I was super excited to see how nice the shaping turned out using such an aggressive tool. The paddle was sanded smooth with some 200 grit sand paper on my orbital sander.
I researched how to finish a canoe paddle and couldn't get a clear answer on recommended methods. Spar urethane is used on many outdoor projects to protect the wood from the elements, but some people say that is it rough on the hands. One article said that a wooden canoe paddle had to be rubbed down with oil each week to ensure a quality finish, but that is way more care than I intend on giving. I decided on using the spar urethane because the paddle wouldn't see heavy use. The oil-based finish really made the contrasting wood pop and after sanding and applying a few coats, the paddle was ready to go.
Josh and I lugged the heavy canoe down to the water, but I noted how light the paddle was. The basswood is light, but very dense which makes it great for such a labor-intensive object. In conclusion, the paddle held up great to being push against rocks, smacking the side of the canoe, and propelling me through the water. I am super happy with how this project turned out, and I think its simplistic yet timeless style really fits my granddad's old canoe. If you liked this project, check out more of work!