I recently bought my first real touring boat and was in the market for a good paddle. I decided to try a Greenland paddle but I could not find a very good piece of wood. I used a terrible spruce stud with grain and knots all over it. I was very surprised at how well it paddled but it weighs 42 oz. I want to carve another one if I could get it a lot lighter. How light could I go and still be useable?
i have a cedar one at 28 oz
my spruce one is about 36 oz. i mostly use a euro style paddle i made with a cedar shaft and okume blades. it also weighs 28 oz.
Lots of people like western red cedar. It’s a little delicate compared to slightly heavier woods, though.
A good piece of spruce or even white pine are stronger, and less prone to breaking in my experience. The one paddle I have that has cedar in it has a sitka spruce core with the cedar laminated around it in the loom, and to the sides of it on the blades (Makes a striped pattern if you use red & white cedar). It’s strong, but a little more flexible than it maybe should be. I like it, and that’s all that matters.
My toughest paddle is white pine with aspen laminated onto it to build up the loom area. There are lots of choices.
An average size cedar paddle…
...one in the 84"-90" length range with blades 3 1/4" - 3 1/2" wide will typically weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 26-32 ounces. Cedar varies considerably in density. I have a 72" "storm" paddle that weighs as much as my 90" paddles due to being made from a particularly dense piece of cedar. OTOH, I've made and used paddles in the 24-26 ounce range and they've held up just fine. IIRC, my current 84" paddle weighs ~28 ounces.
If you want to continue to use pine and can find good clear wood, you can reduce the thickness of the blades compared to cedar, since pine is stronger and harder. That will shave some weight, but unless you have small hands and can reduce the loom size comfortably as well, it will still weigh more than a cedar paddle.
Another good reason not to use pine is that finding clear, straight, vertical grain pine is next to impossible. Even if you do find some, it may not stay straight once you carve it and get it wet. Clear, vertical grain cedar is not uncommon and it's a much more stable wood.
The weight of a paddle can vary
from board to board and it takes a lot of picking through stacks of boards to get lucky and find a good quality light board. Spruce is a good choice for strength and weight. I have made some spruce paddles that are almost as light as my WRC paddles. My lightest WRC paddle is 28 oz. and my lightest spruce paddle is 33 oz. The spruce paddle is carved a little bit thicker for extra strength. I wanted it to be able to get me back to shore in rough conditions. After you make a lighter paddle you’ll find it interesting how paddles of different weight work a little differently when used in rough or windy conditions. I usually use a light paddle for mild conditions and when the wind or waves kick up I’ll switch over to a heavier paddle which makes my maneuverable kayak respond better to the paddle strokes.
Brian’s book–has a very good discussion on wood selection.