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Making a Greenland Paddle



Dimensions

Its not easy to decide on dimensions; its worth checking other targets to get as many views as possible. I took an overall length of as much as I could reach up with my fingertips curled over the top of an imaginary paddle and in my case this was 228cm (90 inches). For the loom length, I tend to hold a paddle with hands spread a little wider than average so I chose a loom length of 53cm (21 inches). Better to underdo this measurement because you can easily widen it later (I did!). The width at the end of the paddle should be no more than what you can comfortably wrap your hand around and for me this was 89mm (3 1/2 inches).

Construction

Its worth starting off with a decent piece of wood so I got a piece of Western Red Cedar. If you check wood densities you'll find this is one of the lighter woods and its recommended by many of the definitive guides on the web.

Sourcing the wood

Western Red Cedar is not easy to find, I located some at Roger Haydock & Co.Ltd Mersey View Rd, Halebank, Widnes, Cheshire WA8 8LN Tel: 0151 425 2525. They are a franchise with other locations. You need a a piece of 8 foot * 4 inches * 2 inches, 'clear' 'grade A', seasoned timber. Its worth calling in advance then spending about 15 minutes carefully selecting a piece - they were very helpful in letting me do this. Cost should be in the region of £15. Check for a good quality piece, no warps or splits. Pieces vary a lot in colour, density and thickness. I also checked for strength by supporting each end and putting some weight on the middle with one leg. I bought two pieces in case I messed up the first attempt.

Planning

Its best not to rush any stage of the construction because its easy to make mistakes and once wood is taken off there's no putting it back. I typically spent about an hour per evening over a week or so. Its best to spend a lot of time just pondering over the shape and planning what bit to work on next.

Before starting work on the piece you need to decide how you're going to protect the ends of the paddle - you dont want a split to develop here. Some builders splice in other types of wood using traditional woodworking techniques. I'm not a joiner and I don't have any whale bone to hand either so I decided I would wrap the ends in a glassfibre capping.

One other thing you'll need is some form of workbench with a forgiving surface that isnt going to damage the piece once you start shaping and sanding. I used a B&D workmate and an old thick towel; I could then cramp the piece in the workmate jaws without damaging it.

Markup and rough shaping

After marking up in pencil, I worked on the thickness first, keeping it as thick as possible and leaving about 1/8 of an inch extra for finishing. So at the tips the thickness was about 3/4 of an inch tapering to the 'loom' thickness of just under 2 inches. Roughing out was done with a large power saw. Then the plan view was marked out and rough sawn.

Shaping

For the next stage I used a regular wood plane (well sharpened first) on the thickness. Tip: from this stage onwards be very careful with the paddle, its easy to put a dent in it by careless handling and once done you'll need to take off a whole layer to remove it. The cross sectional shape I was aiming for was a flattened ellipse at the tips that turned into a squashed diamond, then a fuller diamond as you approach the loom. I worked on the blades first leaving the loom until last. I wanted to keep as much thickness in the 'spine' as possible for strength. One manufacturer in Scotland appears to shape in flutes to minimise flutter and an overall assymetric profile that means you can only use the paddle one way round but I wasnt going to attempt this. For the shoulders around the loom area I used a surform with a convex blade. Remember you'll need to leave at least a millimetre for sanding.

The plan view shaping involved much less work with some careful shaping around the shoulders. Finally the loom was shaped. I didn't go to great lengths in trying to achieve a perfect oval, again I kept as much thickness as was comfortable with a bias to more thickness in the plane of the pull if you get what I mean.

Sanding

The next stage was sanding. I used a power sander with 80 then 120 then 220 grade paper. A mask is essential. Hand sanding around the shoulders between the blade and the loom.

Capping the ends

The next stage was to prepare the ends. I took off about 2mm from the last 3cm of the blades. I then masked off the blade with tape and plastic bags to ensure no resin would end up where it shouldn't. I wanted to achieve a clear finish but unknowingly I had an inferior glass resin combination which didnt turn out clear. Also I had bought chopped strand mat but it didnt follow curves at all so I ended up having to keep revisiting this part of the job several times until I got total coverage. Next time I'll use either glassfibre tape (1 inch wide) or strips from a piece of woven roving. I built up a layer somewhat thicker than needed to leave plenty to sand off afterwards. I sanded down the glassfibre with the power sander; once again a mask is essential. Finally I used some hammerite paint I had lying around to cover the glassfibre.

Finishing

The final stage was to apply Danish oil. This is readily obtainable from well known DIY stores. Its put on with a cloth in several layers. I put on as much as I could on the first layer without causing any excess. Three layers were applied with a days drying inbetween each coat. Finally I took off the sheen and any stickiness with some 00 grade steel wool. The finished weight is around 1200 grams.

In Use

Pros

Its superb for manoevering; the blade really acts like an aerodynamic fin in the water so for sculling its amazing. For anything where you can hold it by the end you get the advantage of all that leverage. Sweep strokes like you've never done before as the end of the blade in the water is so far away from the boat. My Alaw Bach almost turns on a sixpence with full edging. And when you do hold it by the end its not unwieldy because of its bouyancy in the water. For stern and bow rudders its excellent. For rolling it opens up many new opportunities. Sometimes I've rolled up so quick I've gone straight over again. For high style sprint strokes its good and you can turn that into a 'wing paddle' stroke as the blade slices so well in the water and exits like a spring unwinding - there is some flex in it.

Cons

The lack of initial accelaration wasnt a problem but then I wasn't in surf. The area where I'm having difficulty is the touring stroke where you're looking to put some miles behind you. The main reason is that you have to be careful how the blade enters the water, ie correct angle as others mentioned. Also it can flutter easily so some control is needed as you pull it through the water. So I find that I need to grip it rather than use the usual loose grip as with my EP. Perhaps as I get more used to it this will improve but when I swapped back to my EP I found it easier to keep up a fast cruise. Just a note on my EP, its an Epic touring (850grams) and its a delight to use, especially for long distances.

Minor wear and tear such as typically occurrs around the shoulders can be easily fixed by a light sanding and re-oiling in that area.


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© Jules Kayak 2020, last updated: 2020-11-03