How to Make a Canoe Paddle

Made properly, a personalized canoe paddle is beautiful, strong, lightweight and functional.

| July/August 1984

For centuries, the canoe has been an economical, reliable, and swift means of transportation and recreation. Many enthusiasts attribute this long history of service not only to the small boat's durable design but also to its simple method of propulsion: the canoe paddle.

Not just any paddle, however, will do the job. To generate maximum performance and enjoyment, it must be strong, lightweight, and properly fitted to the individual canoeist. Unfortunately, many mass-produced versions lack the surface area necessary for power. They break under stress, and they aren't nearly as comfortable to use as a customized paddle that conforms perfectly to an individual's height and grip.

Lovely and Lightweight

You can solve these problems by making a quality, personalized paddle. For materials, you'll need only one 1/2" X 6" X 72" board of hardwood (such as oak, ash, walnut, or hickory) and one 1/2" X 6" X 72" board of softwood (such as poplar, redwood, or Sitka spruce—don't use yellow pine). Almost any lumberyard stocks these woods.

To begin construction, use a band or table saw to cut your two boards into the size strips shown in the Image Gallery chart.

Now, starting with the 1/2" X 1" X 72" strip of hardwood at the center, lay the pieces of wood side by side, alternating hardwood and softwood, and on edge, so that the 1" width serves as the paddle's thickness. The three 72" strips will extend the entire length of the paddle; they'll become the shaft and form the center of both the blade and the grip. The 30" strips at the bottom, on either side of the three center strips, will form the rest of the blade, and the 4" pieces will make up the grip.

Before you actually position the shortest pieces, however, you must find the correct location for the handle in relation to your height. While standing, measure the distance from your chin or shoulders to the floor. This measurement is approximately the right paddle length for you. If, however, you prefer a longer or shorter paddle (whether you sit or kneel in the canoe can make a difference, for example), feel free to adjust the length accordingly.

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