A quick review of Canoe Paddles, A Complete Guide to Making Your Own, by
Graham Warren and David Gidmark; 2001, Firefly Books, Buffalo. 160 pp.
wood-butcher that I am, I learned long ago never to varnish or oil a
woodworking project until you are absolutely finished. Varnish smells bad
in the fireplace when you’re destroying the evidence.
things are easy enough even I can’t botch them too badly. Last winter I
ran across a number of URLs about paddle-making, Jim Michalak’s
article on making your own oars, and chapter 12 of Ted Moores’
Canoecraft, and I set out to make some canoe paddles.
band saw and no power planer, I treated myself to some new (cheap) hand
tools – one of those medium-sized, flexible, Japanese-style pull saws, a
really basic hand plane, a spokeshave. By accident I had plenty of clamps
from other wood-gluing projects so laminating wood strips together was
easy. I bought some new polyurethane glue with a great ape on the label.
S’posed to be waterproof. Easier on tool edges than epoxy, anyway.
I made a
rough replica of an old voyager-style, straight-sided paddle from cheap
hardwood. Cut out a West Greenland-style double paddle from a decent piece
of fir. Glued up a closet-pole, T-grip paddle with a square plywood blade
paddle. None of them pretty, all of them weigh too much, but they’re first
generation. I’ll get better.
Just when I
thought I knew something about whittling paddles, along comes Graham
Warren’s new book, Canoe Paddles, from the same (Canadian)
government-subsidized Firefly Books that printed Canoecraft.
text is well-written and easy to understand. He breaks out the various
parts of the paddle and makes the mechanical functions of different shapes
understandable. I knew straight-sided, long narrow paddles were good for
all-day, deep-water paddling and clumsy in the rapids. But who knew the
voyager shape sheds water faster than a beavertail?
information on different woods and how to paste them together is worth the
price of the book. Cherry and ash, glued together with the grain the same
way, is less likely to fail at the glue joint than if you turn one of the
pieces 90 degrees. See table on page 62 for similar values for 10
different woods glued in different grain configurations.
approach is analytic, scientific, mathematical (Thrust is proportional to
blade area times the squared stroke rate…hmmm). It has plans for nine
good-looking paddles, including a bent-shaft paddle, which require you to
work from boat-designer’s offsets. He gives you half a dozen ways to check
and recheck your work and get it down to the nearest 32nd of an inch.
time you think this is ’way too complicated, the author notes that there
is a good deal of art in this and shows some simple ways to do the same
quality control by eye. Mask off the center lines and edges of the
finished paddle, spray paint the rest and plane off the painted part until
it looks like a paddle. My kind of design work.
there’s the chapter by David Gidmark, a Native American who learned from
Algonquin traditionalists how to split out a paddle blank with an ax and
whittle it with a crooked knife. That’s the knife with the little curl at
the tip end. Gidmark adds pictures on how to make your own crooked knife
out of an old file.
Even if you
make positive use of the various Internet sites on paddle-making (and some
are below) you’ll learn a lot from Warren’s book. If you’re a wood-butcher
like me, just ignore the perfectionist part. Remember, 60-grit sandpaper
will remove a lot of bobbles.
Brit, maintains a webpage at
http://homepages.tesco.net/~moosehead/ , that includes enough
information to get started on your first paddle. I bought the book anyway.
Useful notes from a paddle-making seminar from Wooden Canoe Heritage
The “cheap and easy canoe paddles” with plywood blades from the
excellent Minnesota Canoe Assn site.
is how this one printed out – “Wood paddle making” by Marshwiggl@aol.com.
A 1996 e-article on kayak paddle making.
is Gerry David’s posted article on building a Greenland paddle.
Includes a link to Tom Lucas’ article about how to use the strange paddle.
The usual high-quality exposition from Harold Payson.