View Full Version : the three-dollar paddle

Todd Bradshaw
05-01-2003, 02:37 PM
Hey, for a change of pace I actually got a chance to build something out of wood last week! I've been eyeballing the Inuit-style kayak paddles at boat shows for several years. They seem quite different from modern paddles, but have an interesting feel and balance. On the other hand, I have never been intrigued enough to drop a pile of cash to find out just how interesting they are.

So I did some digging on the web and found this website:
This was followed by a quick trip to the Home Depot to hunt through their stack of 2x4's. $2.86 ain't bad. All I had to do was cut away everything that didn't look like part of a Greenland paddle. I more or less followed most of the parameters and instructions on the website. I first drew the thickness profile on the board and roughed it out on the band saw. Then I drew the face-side profile and cut it out.

Next, I attacked it with the only plane I had lying around that didn't need to be sharpened. The shaft is fairly large, yet comfortable with a lot of oval for closed-eyes indexing and went pretty quickly just working by eye and feel, no 8-siding or anything complex. I used the plane to transition into the blades and to start thinning them out but got bored about half-way through and broke out the big Milwaukee disk to make quick work of a lot of excess blade-wood. Back to the plane for touch-up, followed by a couple grits on the random orbit and some hand sanding. Total woodworking time about three hours.

The website suggested oil finishing as he maintains that varnish is slippery. My only can of Deks #1 is about 2/3 evaporated and getting pretty thick. Since there was no way I was going to lay out $16 for another can to oil a modified 2x4, I opted for a couple coats of WEST epoxy on the blade tips to add a little durability and split-resistance and five coats of left-over floor varnish over the whole thing, instead. I justified this since I paddled whitewater with varnished wooden kayak paddles for over 20 years and never remember losing my grip, plus this shaft is very oval and not prone to slipping in your hands.
The end result, which was really a pretty simple project looks like this and is almost as light as my Werner carbon paddle:

I took it out Saturday for sea trials. Just in case, I tucked my two-piece, fiberglass spare under the deck shock cords. The first hundred yards of trying to push a boat with a paddle less than half as wide as anything I've used in 32 years of kayaking was as anticipated, interesting. Actually, it was more like "This thing is a total piece of %*$#@!"

It felt like I was trying to get the boat up to speed using a closet pole. But....once it was up to speed, maintaining it was very easy and the low swing weight of those little blades grows on you fast. I paddled about two miles and then stopped and switched to the spare for comparison. Now my spare paddle is a fiberglass Werner Kauai, which is a pretty good paddle and which is worth about $250. The boat accelerated faster and those first few strokes really dug in with power, but by comparison, it very much felt like a stick with two separate, heavy blades stuck on it's ends. Once the hull was up to speed, maintaining that speed seemed to be more work and it felt like I was having to lift more weight. I cut across the lake on the way back and switched between the two every few minutes. The Greenland paddle always seemed to have less brute power, yet it was easier and less work to keep the boat moving with it.

I doubt that I will abandon my others and use it most of the time and I have yet to try it in big winds or for heavy-duty bracing or rolling - I don't even know whether mine is a good Greenland paddle or something that would make an Eskimo break out in hysterical laughter, but it seems to work pretty well. If you have a kayak, $3 and a spare afternoon to do a little carving, it's worth trying one.

Wild Dingo
05-01-2003, 02:48 PM
You done did that to stir me new fangled store bought bright lallow and black ones eh Todd!! tongue.gif

aahhh well into it ol son... looks a hoot... although if Im gonna do it may as well be soon before I get used to these buggars eh?! good idea ol son! :cool:

Wiley Baggins
05-01-2003, 02:53 PM
Thanks Todd, I may have to give that a try.

John Bell
05-01-2003, 03:03 PM

I don't know if you've noticed what's been going on with whitewater paddles lately. At least for play boating and cruising, blade area has been getting smaller. I've still got a few WW sticks around and my favorite is the one with the smallest blades, a Jim Snyder "S. O. Terrick" peanut blade squirt boat paddle. It's also a 45 degree offset, which is another very nice feature. The reason I like it so much is that it is easier on body than it's larger bladed brethren. Like your experience with the Greenland blade it doesn't accelerate as well. Once you get going, though, there isn't any appreciable difference. The WW slalom guys can still use the low end grunt afforded by bigger blades, I'll stick to the small ones and save myself some tendonitis in my elbows.

J. Dillon
05-01-2003, 03:14 PM
That was a good read Todd. Can you carry both ? the 250 buck model to get a fast start, lash it quick, maybe with velcro, then switch to the home made one for the long trip ? :rolleyes:


High C
05-01-2003, 03:37 PM
Pretty floor, too.

05-01-2003, 04:22 PM
I first drew the thickness profile on the board and roughed it out on the band saw. Um, Todd, that's just backwards. I surprised you didn't have to face the stern to get your kayak moving.

Okay, so truth be told I've been putting off making paddles for the several grandneighbor boats. I think I'll make some like that for them.

Beautiful floors, indeed, and wood work as well. WOW!

Todd Bradshaw
05-01-2003, 05:18 PM
I thought about cutting the face profile first, tacking the scrap back on for support, like you're supposed to do and then cutting the thickness profile, but was feeling too lazy and skeptical of the whole project at that point to go to all that effort. So, I figured that the thickness would be the harder cuts and I cut them first, while the board still had flat sides to rest on the saw table. The face was a pretty easy free-hand cut even though the blank didn't have any flat sides left at that point.

The floor is a sore spot at the moment. A couple years ago we sanded and refinished them in mid winter and I built all the new baseboards, door frames, etc. to match. Since it was winter, we used water-based stain and varnish to keep from blowing up the house with solvent fumes. The dog had scratched them up pretty badly this year, so a couple months ago we decided to put another coat of varnish on. We cleaned and sanded the old finish and put on another coat. They looked fine again. The only problem is that somehow when I went to the store to get varnish, I picked up their oil-based by mistake. It was already on and dry when I figured out why it smelled different from what I had remembered.

That cream and Tanbark thing on the floor is the sail I'm building at the moment. Under it, the profile, seaming lines etc. are lofted out on the floor with masking tape, like I have been doing for years. Since re-varnishing the floor, I've built about five sails and you can now see the lofting from all of them because removing the masking tape peels that oil-based layer off clean as a whistle. Unless I can find 15' wide masking tape. I'm going to have to sand the whole floor back down to the water-based varnish layers and re-varnish with the proper stuff. Bummer...

Jack, I can actually tuck a full length paddle under the deck lines on the bow deck in front of me and it rides there pretty calmly without getting in the way so switching is quick. It's probably easier to just live with slow acceleration though as it's still only a matter of ten to fifteen seconds to get up to full speed. It just feels very strange at first because normally kayaks respond almost instantly to anything you do with a paddle and getting up to speed is a matter of two or three strokes.

05-02-2003, 09:10 AM
If they're that easy to make, you could try several widths from a 2X6 or 2X8 and see if some compromise width works better for your all-round blade. Your weight and the sliperiness of your hull ought to have some sort of effect on what turns out to be your optimum paddle.

Don Maurer
05-02-2003, 10:11 AM
I've thought about making one too. I just can't get past the habit of rotating the shaft after paddling with a feathered paddle for so many years. Maybe I need to wean myself out of the habit be going to a 45 degree offset first.

Todd Bradshaw
05-02-2003, 12:01 PM
Tom, that's certainly a possibility. I figured for the first one I'd stick to the width specified in the plans. The question will be finding the point at which it ceases to feel and balance like a Greenland paddle and to stay just shy of it. Wider blades or blades with more shoulder where the blade and shaft meet would both provide more area and a little more bite on the water. What I don't want to lose is the super low swing weight which seems to be what makes the thing worth using in the first place. You really get the feeling that nearly all the paddle's weight is in the shaft, centered right in front of you and in a place where during a typical stroke you move it very little. The parts that you do move (the ends of the paddle) seem to weigh almost nothing by comparison. As blade size grows, this is bound to change somewhat and it's a matter of finding out how much extra blade one can add while still maintaining the feel.

The same thing is true in terms of pulling the blade through the water. By increasing blade size, at some point I would expect to start to lose the "easy pull" that this paddle has and to start to see some blade flutter, which this paddle didn't seem to exhibit. More experiments are in order and Home Depot still has a big stack of lumber.

Don, I grew up on 90 degree feathers and actually like them much more than my 60 degree Werners. These days if you go into a store asking for a 90 degree feather they look at you like you're some kind of whacko. I seriously thought about making a long mid-shaft scarph and 90 degree feather on this paddle, like my old whitewater paddles have, but decided to try the first one straight and true to the plan.

I wondered if I would spend most of the afternoon unconciously stuffing the left blade into the water at a funky angle (one of those "Old Dog - New Tricks" things) but it didn't happen and seemed surprisingly normal. I think the key was having so much oval on the shaft. Without even thinking about it, your left hand seems to know by feel alone what direction the blade is headed and orient it properly before it goes in. Unless I start noticing a lot of windage on the out-of-the-water blade, I don't see much reason to feather future versions either. Plus, they lie flatter when stowed on the deck this way.

05-02-2003, 12:05 PM
What did the Inuits use? Whale bone?

05-02-2003, 05:06 PM
Nice greenland paddle there!

Driftwood was used, as was views as a "gift from the gods". They actually thought it was the bones from some sea creature. No trees grow where they are!

There's a nice writeup on skin-on-frame kayaks in WB a couple of issues back. The one where the man has 20 kayaks all over his, and his friends houses.

Wood was scare, whale bones were not. So the wooden paddles were often tipped with it for protection! :eek:

05-02-2003, 07:59 PM
I've been using nothing but Greenland paddles for a few years now. One of the main reasons that the blades are so slender is so you can grip the face of the blade with your hand. Having the ability to grasp the blade near the tip greatly increases your lever arm. Hold the face of the blade with your right hand and place your left hand at the end of the loom where the blade begins. You'll be surprised at how quick you can turn the boat. Also while holding the blade in this position try bracing and sculling. Again the lack of effort needed will be very surprising.
When accelerating you can hold the paddle at a higher angle, dipping more of the blade surface in the water, then decrease the angle for cruising. If you measure the size, in square inches, of the Greenland blade you'll see that it equals or in most cases is greater then a wider European design blade.
Smaller paddles called storm paddles were carried as spares. The dimensions were half those of the regular paddle. They were used in high wind/wave situations. A sliding stroke is employed while using the storm paddles.

A traditional method of figuring out the measurements for a Greenland paddle is:

Length = distance from the ground to fingertips with arm straight overhead plus the distance from inside of elbow to fingertips.

Loom (shaft) length = While standing with arms straight down at sides with back of palms facing forward measure distance across from outside of left palm to outside of right palm.

Blade width = Width of palm.

Once you get used to them you'll find yourself carrying a storm paddle as your spare and leaving the wide blade paddles on the beach.