Canoe Paddles – Hickory & Ceder – 2014

Canoe Paddle Bonanza as a prelude to launch day – by David and Brian Rae for Donna.

Almost 18 months after the heavy lifting on my family’s canoe project was finished, the last coat of varnish was applied and the final touch-ups completed.  My mother at firstly hesitantly and then with a great sense of pride canned two seats. With its finish finally glistening  all of us gathered in Picton .  Launch day had finally arrived.  First the boat was christened with sparkling wine and then with the waters of Lake Ontario.   I think there are big plans for this boat and I am not sure they are all congruous.

In honor of launch day, David and Brian took the lead on building a set of homemade paddles – for the various captains and co-captains who took a turn steering the boat.  Paddles, their folklore and design is something I rely on David and Brian’s expertise for – and this case was no different.  David and I carved our mother’s paddle, Brian built paddles for our nephew as well as the boat’s captain.  In both cases, I think we lent on the wisdom of Graham Warren’s excellent book.


First trip 20140601-191630.jpg Primary Working Crew and lucas

David’s and Matt’s Paddle – Hickory

You may remember that David and I spent a frigid weekend felling a hickory tree in Pennsylvania.   Unfortunately the main segment of the log had a huge knot through its core – ensuring that we need a lot of gusto to split it and ended up with pieces which were not suitable for skis.  Before we maul in to the rest of it – David took the lead on fashioning pieces from the first third from a tree into a paddle. Although not nearly as soft or light as cedar – hickory tremendous tensile strength makes it an excellent choice for a paddle.

Sometimes old-time techniques aren’t just more satisfying they are a hell of a lot easier  – rather than turning to saws and planes, we are trying to master axes for everything from heavy stock removal to finer work (check out this post by for a description of axes in the shop).  David and me both are growing more and more attached to our axes as they become increasingly dinged.

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First, David used a Haida Gawain Warriors paddle to give shape to a new creation.  He built this paddle last year – while the paddle for our mother has a flatter face it will have the same narrower profile.  Needless to say my mother did not need the warrior’s point for jabbing foes during her amphibious landings.  Also, it seems a little weird to make a Haida paddle out of anything other than clear western cedar



David used the carpenters axe to split wood until the paddle is near the correct dimensions.  He then used the axe to cut towards the line – chopping out waste material rather than splitting.  Since the log was not fully dry the pieces coming off felt damp.  As the paddle dried, it got lighter and lighter – settling somewhere near 800 grams when finished,.



Next, David used a froe to split off extra mass – bring the handle down to the right width.  After the froe, David used the scrub plane and planer to reduce the weight


I am shaping the top of the handle with a draw knife.  Its sort of an action shot – as my hand pull the blade faster than the camera’s glance.

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At this point – we use string and chalk to figure out where the warp was – and started to plane the paddle towards a flat profile.  David is eyeing the length of the paddle to determine where he should remove more material.  I wouldn’t say we

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Using a set of carving knives to shape the palm grip.  The scraps obviously went almost directly from board to flame.


Brian’s Paddles – Ceder

As in the past I am turning the microphone other to Brian to talk about three  paddles he made for launch day.


I suppose paddle building has been my main gateway project into woodworking. David, Matt and I started with Greenland paddles 6 years ago for our skin on frame kayaks. Lately however I have been fascinated with canoe paddles and their different historical and cultural inspirations.  For example David and I mimicked a Haida paddles that we saw while on a kayaking trip to Haida Gwaii. They have a long pointed blade that are to be used in the large swells of the Howe Sound, and to be used as a weapon upon arrival.  Below Lucas has more of a gentle touch than the warriors who would have yielded these paddles in yester-year.  Also note the delicate work on the handle.

For the Rae canoe launch I was tasked with making a paddle for Lucas, and a spare paddle for the canoe (I’ve needed a spare before!). I chose a beautiful red cedar 2 by 6 for both projects, primarily because I am using Ash for another project and needed a break from its tough grain. For Lucas I created a simple child’s beaver tail primarily using planes and the barrel spoke-shave.  Beaver tail paddles are common in Ontario, have a round shape mimicking the animal from which they derive their name.  Lucas spent a lot of time holding his paddle not that much time propelling with it.

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For the spare paddle I chose the Algonquin design. I chose this as it is from the lakes of Eastern Ontario close to where the paddle will be used. It is primarily a long distance touring paddle for the front paddler. The cedar being quite light is surprisingly responsive in the water, weighing in at only 700 grams.

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I tried a new finishing method for both paddles. Usually I am either too lazy to oil or I use 2 coats of tung oil. This time I upped the coats to 6 which gave the paddles a poly feeling to them and a fantastic glossy look.  Dave and I were able to get a 2 mile paddle in while in Ontario. Yes the paddles felt great, more importantly the length and flatness of the Algonquin was fantastic for passing a large Quebecois beer between stern and bow while on the water…


One thought on “Canoe Paddles – Hickory & Ceder – 2014

  1. Pingback: Harvesting Hickory for Greenwoodworking – 2014 | raecreation

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