Flex: Stiff Vs Soft

What are the practicle on water differences between a soft and a firm canoe paddle. I’m trying to decide between woods for a classic solid wood paddle and the primary difference appears to be the flex but I don’t know the difference.

equals wasted energy, taking it to the extreme think of trying to paddle with a noodle, Though a flexable paddle it is more durable when hitting a rock.

Stiff is more efficient but harder on your joints and more prone to break when hitting a rock.

But unless your racing, a wooden paddle should be fine.

Flex is magic

– Last Updated: Jun-01-06 7:12 PM EST –

Your paddle shaft should not have noticable flex. A bit of flex in the blade really gives a solo canoe paddle a very nice feel. Some use the word "lively". I cannot adequately describe this feel, but all my favourite paddles have it, and everyone I know who paddles with a traditional paddle uses a blade with some flex.

My favourite woods are the basics - Ash for a bit more durability and resiliency, Cherry for a lighter weight and smoother finish (tighter grain structure)

Whitewater and racing are entirely different, and in these cases stiffness is desirable.

Cherry versus Black Walnut
My 2 favorites, out of about a dozen paddles, have come down to a cherry beavertail(Nashwaak) and a black walnut ottertail(Walden). The thin cherry blade will flex and is easiest on the joints for paddling in quietwater. It is the most gentle paddling you can do, and you can do it for long periods of time. When working against some wind and wave chop, greater control is needed, and that’s when the black walnut ottertail with its stiffness is superb for both power and control. Each has its pros and cons, so go with both. The same exact paddles may be hard to find now, but other similar paddles are available. Happy paddling!

Flex is old school
What enhances flex in a paddle is long paddle length, being carved out of a solid straight grain paddle blank, and a round 1 1/16" diamter shaft. Flex was strived for in the 5’ to 6’ straight paddles of yesteryear (which I still use). I believe a flexible paddle lasted longer for the style of paddle from that era. White ash gave particularly fine flexibility. But to get the right balance between a long shaft and the blade and not have a three pound plus finished paddle, the maker had to carve off a lot of thickness in the throat area. And that’s exactly where a lot of these paddles broke with a hard pull if they weren’t flexible. Modern paddles are made from laminatated blanks, 1 1/4" x 1 1/16" oval shafted, and short in length - all factors that work against flex. If a modern laminated paddle with oval shaft is what you are building, don’t worry about flex. It just can’t be expressed within those boundaries.

practical differences
There’s no practical difference in performance but there’s a real practical difference in comfort and super stiff paddles suck; you want at least a little flex - unless you are racing. I recommend that you go for the lighter wood/paddle.

Modern c-1 slalom paddles distribute
moderate flex evenly through the blade and the shaft. You get back most of the energy stored in that bending at the end of the stroke. Paddle blade and shaft flex takes some of the shock out of the initiation of hard strokes, adds a bit of temporary bent-shaft trail, and helps keep the paddle or one’s shoulder from breaking when the blade catches a hidden rock.

Slalom paddlers (of which I am only a very amateur example) vary considerably in their preference for paddle flexibility, but I do not know of any who prefer a rigid paddle. That says something.

It is possible to make a laminated paddle shaft which ends up moderately flexible. I did it. You just have to taper the shaft down sufficiently.

My Mitchell slalom paddle, with a thin curved blade and carbon shaft, is perhaps a tad too flexy, but one can quickly get used to it. For paddling my open boats, I use a Clinch River 62" with a curved slalom blade and a wood plate construction, oval cross section shaft. It is rather stiff, but not as bad as my old Norse paddles.

In my open boats I also use a homemade 5 degree bent shaft, where the shaft and blade center are made from a single piece of ash where the grain just happened to bend 5 degrees at the right place. The shaft and blade have moderate flex under power. It is a nice cruising paddle for my kneeling position, but even the modest bend makes the paddle unsuitable for serious whitewater.

There are many preferences and many logical solutions to the paddle shaft and blade flex issue. For any particular type of racing, what the racers have come to prefer is a strong indication of what is most efficient and effective. For general paddling, I don’t think there is an overall answer. One just has to try different paddles and settle into the style that works.

All great info. Does any one have experience with a sassafras paddle? I’m told they have a lot of flex?

beautiful wood but heavy for the few paddles I’ve handled; I’m sure the flex is - acceptable -not a noodle and not an iron bar

My favourite “off the rack” paddle is made by a company in Ontario called Redtail. They are well balanced, and reasonably priced. http://www.redtailpaddle.com/

I have seen, and appreciated (but not paddled with) paddles from Turtle Paddle Works. These cost a bit more, but offer a few different designs. http://www.turtlepaddle.com/

Grey Owl makes some nice paddles, but I find their traditional offerings a little too stiff, and they cost more than the redtail. I do have a few of their laminated offerings, though, and have been very happy with them.

Happy Hunting.

I have used it in a couple of the few laminated paddles I’ve built. I have used it in the blade in combination with cedar and basswood. Interesting color and grain. I don’t consider it to be too heavy. It was the wood of choice for the paddles built by the Ozark river paddlers in the early 1900’s. As far as flex, most of the flex in my paddles is in the blades because I use laminated shafts. I guess they work for me cause I don’t use “store bought” paddles anymore.

More flexible version…
Hi, first post here…

During the winter I made a more flexible version of a favorite one-piece cherrywood paddle, a narrow long-bladed native Cree cruiser with no taper towards the tip, parallel sides - just to see what the difference would be with greater flex.

After several long days spent using it solo, I now prefer it to the less flexible cherrywood. On a power stroke, the blade flexes visibly, maybe 5 degrees or more, mimicking a bent and it stays square to the water when applying power.

The thinness also gives a cleaner, more edgy feel when slicing and carving on control strokes, and overall I’d say it’s an improvement. The “lively” quality is there to a greater degree, and not all that easy to describe, similar to the post above.

White ash has good strength and flex characteristics, yellow birch even more so, it was used historically in wooden aircraft construction for it’s resilience and strength-to-weight ratio. The reason I didn’t use it in the above was I couldn’t find a decent board at the time, and went with the ash.

My wife has a Turtle Ottertail and I have a Stylus. I love paddling solo with them, but they are a style of paddle that is HEAVY. Solo I do underwater returns to use the bouancy of the wood. I also like the Grey Owl Chieftain, similar shape but smaller and lighter. Using the Turtle Paddles all day makes for a real arm workout.