Greenland Paddle Construction Comparison

Hi all,

I’ve been spending the frozen-water months up here carving Greenland paddles. I started with the Chuck Holst plans and made several practice attempts with plain old 2x4s before doing it for real with an expensive cedar board.

I also received Brian Nystrom’s book, “Greenland Paddles Step-by-Step” for Christmas, and am just now getting to the final stages of my first paddle made according to these plans.

I liked the simpler bevel layout of the Nystrom plans, and they also appear to lead to a more eliptical cross-section down near the end of the blade, however there seems to be less “meat” in the shoulder area compared to the Holst plans. It also doesn’t have as much of a pronounced ridge in the mid-blade area.

Since it’s too cold to paddle around here I haven’t actually used any of my homemade paddles yet. I was kind of wondering if these differences I’ve noticed will contribute appreciably to performance or feel. Has anyone here built from both sets of plans? I’ve been considering sort of “merging” the two for my next attempt, but was wondering if maybe I’m splitting hairs.

Thoughts from any of you paddle carvers out there are greatly appreciated!

paddle shape
My son has made a few GL paddles. The latest one (on the suggestion of a paddling expert) has a much more eliptical shape to the blade than the earlier models. He finds the clunkier looking eliptical blade provides a much better lift when rolling. When looking at the paddle, it looks like it would be inefficient, but when paddling, it works better.

Splitting hairs…
… will have to do until you can hit the water.

Yes, very small differences can matter hugely in feel/performance - but it depends on user. Other seemingly large differences can feel good either way.

Go ahead and carve one in between if that appeals. Follow your gut and eye.

After that - stop carving until you can paddle them all a while. Water time determines what’s what.

Things like amount of ridge or oval though the thicker areas are hard to predict effects without having used a lot of them. I have good paddles both ways - and with different amounts of volume/beef to them when viewed on edge. I prefer soft very shoulders and some like them more pronounced. I like fine edges along lower third and around tip - but have seen some too sharp for my tastes and many way to thick/blocky. I like no edginess at all on upper third/root area - but have tried some that have it that are good too…

Like I said - water time…

If you’re really bored, carve and Aleut as well (lots of variation in these too).

I don’t think
you will be able to tell the difference. (unless you are like “the Princess & the pea”. I have made over a dozen paddles and other than different weight, can’t tell them apart or see any difference from my Beal when paddling.

I doubt that it would make that
much difference but only by using them both will you know which style feels best for you. It’s amazing how different paddles feel so much different to every paddler. You’ll only what style and size paddle is best for you by trying many different sizes and styles and see which one gives you the feel you like. Enjoy the journey.

depending on the material
less meat at the shoulders, no ridge or thin blades can allow the paddle to flex. I’ve found that flex is somthing that varies between one shape and the other. I like a little but not too much. If you like thinner blades I’ve found the diamond cross section as seen on the Holst plans and the Nathanial Jensen Paddle at: to add stiffness in just the right place (I don’t care for the square loom though).

Thanks for the thoughts everyone. Rumor has it we may be able to get in a pool next month. If true, I will definitely be bringing my quiver of new sticks to play with.

hey, while you’re at it…
how about carving a storm paddle for me? hand width loom please. come on, I’ll pay ya.


You over-estimate my carving skills :wink:

In my one and only, I thinned the cross
section too much near the loom , so I got a lot of blade flutter. It didn’t help that the paddle is 240cm long.There weren’t many 6’5" native Greenlanders.

It is a very attractive wall ornament.

Greenland Paddle Sizing
The sizing guidelines are good - and tend to yield a nicely balanced all around paddle - but as other’s have mentioned - the various sizing methods can also begin to fail for taller folks and often result in TOO long of a paddle.

Pretty hard to find anyone that needs much over a 90" GP unless maybe they have monstrously wide shoulders. If they have narrow shoulders an over-long paddle is even worse.

If you look at grip width (typically shoulder width or a little more for GP) and blade length (and width) separately it all makes sense. Just looking at one measure like overall length is what creates teh problems.

Same goes for shorter folks not needing GPs under 80" (not talking short loom Storm paddles) - expect for children well under 5’/100 lbs. Figure their grip and how much blade is needed and the result can be a bit longer than the stand-up test for folks under say 5’4".

Another way to look at this is through power to weight ratios. Taller paddlers have a relatively lower power to weight ratio than smaller. They have more total power - but not proportionally more per pound. The paddle size begins to taper off at the upper end with much taller paddlers benefiting from a paddle a little shorter than the anthropometric guides say. The reverse is true for the smaller paddlers - who may benefit from a slightly longer paddle.

Between say 5’4" and 6’ the methods seem to be “close enough” most of the time - with variations/deviations being more about preferences (also about whether your span it more or less than you height - mine’s 2.5" longer and my paddles reflect that).

Since most GP users and advice givers will fall into this range - everyone else who’s taller or shorter should consider the source (I believe Bnystrom is taller - but likes shorter paddles himself).

Then there’s the question of what sort of paddling are people doing? What sort of power/endurance do they have? What pace do they like to set? In what size kayak? In what conditions? Are they social lilydipping? Paddling open water? Into speed/distance? Mostly working on rolling? These things really impact what dimensions will best suit someone. It’s also why I have a pretty odd paddle assortment these days - and can’t pick a favorite among them.

But enough nitpicking. For most it’s pretty simple and I’ll repeat my opening line: The sizing guidelines are good - and tend to yield a nicely balanced all around paddle.

Those of you that’s not likely to work for should know who you are, as you likely deal with similar issues of fitting into an average sized world of products every day.


– Last Updated: Feb-02-08 10:08 AM EST –

...I'm 6', 175#, 35" arm (sleeve) length. When I do the armspan + a cubit measurement, it comes out to 96", which is way too long in my estimation. For several years, I paddled with 90" paddles (armspan + elbow-to-wrist for me), but have recently switched to an 84" paddle which I like better overall. It reduces shoulder stress and the slight increase in cadence feels more comfortable and natural to me. This is strictly a personal preference.

Chuck’s method and mine

– Last Updated: Feb-01-08 9:16 AM EST –

I've never met Chuck, though I would certainly like to. I owe him a big "thank you" for helping me get started making paddles.

Although our approaches vary considerably, if you look at Chuck's final profiles in his Figure 7, they really aren't much different than mine. The biggest difference is that my blades are thicker in the center, which increases their stiffness.

From my experience making paddles and examining paddles that others have made from our respective instructions, it seems that many paddle makers tend to "run out of steam" during the shaping process and don't carve/sand the paddles to achieve the lenticular tip profile that both of us recommend (it's probably just the natural tendency to want to get on the water and/or that they hate sanding). I think that with Chuck's layout method, it's easier to end up with flat-ish blade tips, unless you're careful to round them so that they look like the cross sections in the diagram, rather than just planing/sanding off the edges. My intent with the layout that I use is to make it more likely that one will end up with either the type of cross-section that Chuck and I show or at least a more "rounded-diamond" shape, which I've found to be more efficient and less flutter prone than flatter blades. The slightly thicker/stiffer blades I recommend reduce flutter as well, at least in my experience.

By "meat in the shoulder", I assume you're referring to the oval shape that Chuck shows in his diagram. This puzzles me, as other than possibly making it more comfortable to hold, I can't see any benefit to it and I find that a more diamond-shaped shoulder helps me to orient the paddle naturally. But if you look at Gail Ferris' article, you'll see that this is a common variation in Greenland. Obviously, there is no "one way" to make a GP and it's all about adapting the design to one's body and personal preferences.

Realistically, we're talking nuances here and the end result is really more a function of the paddle maker than of the instructions themselves.

Of Course People Do Go Both Ways
A longer paddle for downwind. A shorter paddle for upwind. If you’re going to carry a spare, why carry identical paddles? Think low gear and high gear.

Too many variables to just say simply longer downwind/upwind shorter. My new favorite headwind paddle is my longest and narrowest - my 90.5" x 3" Aleut. My new favorite downwind paddle is my shortest and widest - my 84.5" x 3.75" experimental/hybrid. If I could only have one paddle - an Greenland somewhere in between.