Canoe Paddle Wood

I have been using laminated beavertails for paddling and would like to purchase a solid wood paddle. The most common wood choices are Walnut, Maple, Ash, Cherry. I do not have much experience with wood and what would be the advantage of each material. Any help is appreciated.

Two excellent sources:

Shaw & Tenney has been building solid wood paddles since before dirt. Turtle is not as old, but make beautiful paddles. Good info available on each site for choosing your wood.


another link
My favorite traditional paddle is a solid ash Nashwaak, unfortunately no longer made. It has a flex or springiness that I’ve not found in another paddle.

Ray Kettlewell also makes nice traditional paddles:

Mostly due to weight of wood
Ash is heavy, maple fairly heavy to the heaviest of the hardwoods, walnut has nice flex and needs to be oiled rather than varnished, can vary in density

Cherry is strong enough for paddle applications and somewhat lighter…

Have to admit I dont have my Graham Warren book out

My personal favorites are cherry paddles by Jody Marc La Londe, Turtle Paddle works, or Kettlewells

Paddle wood

– Last Updated: Aug-10-07 5:21 PM EST –

I would like to echo those singing the praises of Turtle Paddleworks sticks (epecially the cherry ones, which seem to get lighter in weight with age.) The well-balanced (and historic) Shaw and Tenney "Racine" model (which can be made from sassafras, a wonderful wood) is also a beauty for those who prefer a longer blade. As for "tispitz", who seeks a paddle with real springiness, I'd strongly encourage you to try out a new Bending Branches model that is, I believe, exclusively available through Rutabaga: The Black Widow Plus. This paddle is made from Black Willow and has a very taut flex. The blade is glassed and edged in some sort of tough dynel (sp?) variant, so it is great in rocky stretches. It is quite lightweight, too. It is not a beaver or ottertail, but I've grown to like mine in the same way. Some like flex and others really, really don't; however, I find this paddle to do so many things well that it is now seldom left out of any of our trips.

i made my own a couple of years ago, but the peice of stock(whick i cut myself out of a cedar tree) had a knot in it and failed under stress. i am in the middle of making of a new one one out of the same log. cedar is light, rot resistant, andlooks beautiful when wet

I see flex being mentioned here as a positive. I really don’t like flex in a paddle. What is the attraction ?


Solid wood versus laminates…
A laminate consists of sections of woods,

usually different types, that are glued

together. The laminate will consequently

not have the inherent traits of a single

piece of wood, and will tend to be stiffer

than the softest wood in its composites.

The laminate is less expensive than a solid.

A solid piece of wood made into a paddle

will have the natural traits of the wood,

as covered in other responses. A cherry

paddle, for example, will be light and will

flex some when you paddle. The flexing tends

to soften the work load on muscles and joints,

and returns a slight power boost at the end of

the stroke.

I prefer a solid beavertail in cherry when I

like to feel the aesthetics and solitude of

the paddling experience. Happy paddling!

Paddle woods
Ash is the heaviest, but the strongest of the woods you mentioned. It is an open grained wood similar in appearance to white oak. You said up front that you don’t know woods, so sorry about the oak analogy… let’s just say it’s a blonde wood that sometimes has medium brown heartwood. Ash has been one of the most popular canoe paddle woods for many years, but has lost favor somewhat in recent years. Baseball bats are made of ash – it’s strong stuff!

Maple could be either soft or hard maple. Soft maple is (well geez…) soft and light weight while hard maple is much harder (duh, yup) and is considerably heavier than soft maple – about the same weight as ash, but not as strong. All maple is blond in color, some has medium toned heartwood. Maples are closed grain.

Walnut is soft, relatively light weight, it has a nice brown color that ranges from medium to dark chocolate brown in color. It fades to a lighter color with exposure to UV. It is a relatively open grained wood. Walnut that is oiled tends to be very, very dark in color while varnished walnut tends to turn a yellowish color over time.

Cherry is medium weight, medium density and medium weight. It is not as strong as ash or hard maple, but stronger than soft maple or walnut. It is closed grained and begins life as “baby butt pink” but the heart wood darkens to a rich orangey brown with exposure to UV. Like walnut it develops its best color if its oiled before varnishing. My personal favorite paddle wood is cherry. That’s all I buy any more and every paddle I carve is cherry. It’s my favorite furniture wood as well – “Queen of the forest” in my opinion.

I’m not sure why Kim said walnut needs to be oiled rather than varnished, that has not been my experience. Hopefully she’ll enlighten me/us further. From my experience all wood paddles can and should be varnished. Some like to oil the grip and leave the varnish off the grip area to make it easier to apply the varnish – that’s what I do when I carve a paddle. Some say an oiled grip doesn’t cause blisters, while a varnished grip does. I think that’s hooey, because an oiled grip gets just as slick as a varnished grip in a few weeks - but whatta I know? When I finish a paddle I’ve carved I start with several coats of my special mix rubbing oil and then follow up with several coats of spar varnish – not poly.

Regarding brands: I have a Nashwaak and think it’s poorly carved – to each their own. Mine was “mail ordered” as the maker was going out of business. I think I just got a bottom of the barrel crap-o-la duck ‘n hide model… (though a friend of mine owned one years ago and didn’t think highly of it either). Anyway… I’m a fan of Turtle brand paddles, I have an ash ottertail I like a lot, but it is a bit thick in the blade and heavier than it really needs to be. Turtle brand paddles have a hefty oval shaft that fits my hand very well. I own a couple of cherry Ray Kettlewell sticks as well, one is a real beauty (A Quill) - the other is a sad lumpy thing (an Ottertail)… Maybe he was having a bad day when he made that second one… I don’t know… Kettlewell is one of the few paddle carvers I know of who still makes round shafts (back in the day Omer liked round shafts – or at least I have a photo copy of a drawing he made of a paddle and it had a 1” diameter round shaft). Anyway, Kettlewell shafts are hefty enough for my taste, but the round shaft shape takes some getting used to. Another good paddle maker is Grey Owl. They are a much, much bigger outfit than the other two, but they make a good production product for the price. GO is unfortunately not very consistent with their grain matching. Their Guide model is a great all-around paddle, but the shaft is too small for my big mitts. Both my wife and daughter use GO Guides and love ‘em. With GO you can get an epoxy tip – the others mention don’t offer that (to my knowledge).

I hope some of that helps – good luck on your quest. - Randall

Well said
I agree completely - RK

I Like Flex In Both…

– Last Updated: Aug-10-07 10:16 PM EST – canoe and kayak paddles. It gives the paddle a 'lively' feel, and a lot of folks say it helps protect joints. There's also a theory that says the flex stores and releases a little energy with every stroke - the start of the stroke bends the shaft forwards, and then that force is released as it straightens out. I make my own paddles, and keep testing for flex as I go - really don't like a solid, stiff shaft at all. That's one of the reasons I really dislike the aluminum shaft kayak paddles I've used. And no, I've never snapped a paddle, despite having pushed really hard with both canoe and kayak sticks.
Bryan Hansel's Nessmuking site has instructions and a diagram for making a very simple, light, cheap and tough kayak paddle. We've made and used them for years, and have found they do everything we need 'em to do. Here's the link

arkay I found that on the Shaw
and Tenney web site…I havent used anything but cherry solid one piece paddles. OOps make that I do have a paddle made of black walnut…

It is quite a bit thinner than the other…the other piece of the equation is how skilled the paddle maker is…I think if it were the same thickness of the cherry it would be heavier…certainly harder to shape.

As a paddle maker I am a noob. I just drool over people who can make a fine laminated paddle and a consistent one piece paddle that does not look like a club. The skill really does show

I also tend to oil anything…even my Quimby laminated freestyle paddle…all I want to do is hide the scratches…I am too chicken to put a semi gloss varnish on that one …afraid of drips.

gimme a lam w/o tha flex
Paddles are a very personal choice. Just to offer another opinion, I like laminates because of the reduced weight they can offer and I dislike any flex. I feel flex dissapates energy and especially control. Different strokes for different folks!


another vote of confidence
for both Kettelwell and Shaw and Tenney. They both make beautiful paddles that are a pleasure to use. I have never tried a turtle.

One thing (re:price)
In my experience high end solid paddles have been less expensive than high end laminated paddles. Sure all those BB Loons and Caviness big box specials out there skew the overall data. But really, I find it easier to spend $200+ on a laminated paddle than a solid.

Yeah me too
I like laminated paddles as well, as I like a stiff enough paddle that I feel is more “responsive.” I’ve used paddles flexible enough that they felt like wet noodles about to break to heavy layup composite paddles with no tangible flex. On that spectrum, my preference is somewhere towards the stiffer end of the spectrum because I like to feel every facet of my stroke. Not to the point where movements are harsh, but stiff enough that I don’t feel the feedback I’m getting is muted by flex.

Not that you can’t use a flexible paddle just as effectively. Certainly any stroke you can do with a stiff paddle you can do with a flexible one. They just feel different. Again, boils down to what kind of feel you want out of a paddle.

…hope you don’t mind rrnmagoo…

To continue a side conversation Kayakmedic and I are having:

From the Shaw and Tenny web-site:

“Walnut - A dark, rich colored hardwood, when oiled (recommended) walnut paddles are stunning in appearance…”

I take that to mean that walnut looks best when oiled rather than varnished (without first oiling). This lines up with my experience. Walnut that is just varnished tends to fade to a sickly yellow color with exposure to sunlight. Walnut that is oiled OR oiled and then varnished is darker/richer looking. It’s not that walnut won’t hold varnish… it just looks better oiled (or oiled and then varnished). …and of course one of the main reasons to use walnut for a paddle is appearence.

There ya go… - RK

I appreciate the knowledge everyone shared this is great.