Greenland Paddle Shaping - blade ends / middle spine

I’m in the home stretch of carving a new paddle and thinking about what I would change about the last one. I’m roughly following the Chuck Holst plan using hand axe, drawknife and rasp. I’m using a good piece of Douglass Fir, no knots, straight grain, but the grain has some difference in growth ring thickness, otherwise it’s pretty decent. I’m wondering how thin to shape the blade ends, my last one was somewhat club like; I’m looking on improving on that but not sure what works. I saw several Greenland paddles in a museum in Iceland and they were fairly stout at the ends, but I assume that was because they were made from driftwood. I’m probably going to use Gflex epoxy on the last few inches to keep the wood from splintering if I go thinner. Anybody have pictures of your favorite wood paddle from an edge on view?

The other question I have is the spine that runs down the face of the paddle, the plans make this look fairly pronounced, to produce a flat “V” shape, but I thought this caused turbulence in another paddle and i just sanded it so it was nicely eliptical and smooth convexe shape for what I assume is laminar flow. Anybody experimented with this?

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In this photo you can see I edged the paddle with G-flex thickened. It comes in 2 tubes that you mix together. The paddle edge is about 1/8 to 3/16" thick.



I am no expert at paddle design or even their use, but I have now made about 13-14 GL and Alaskan style paddles. The ones that I have made that were the easiest to use were the ones with a rib or a ridge running nearly to the tips. I don’t take them all the way to the ends, but stopping short only about 4" to 6" seems best. Here are some pics of a few I made.

The 8 foot ribbed and the 9 foot Aleut seem to be the easiest ones to paddle with, and have no flutter.
GL Paddles by Steve Zihn, on Flickr
PB180001 (1) by Steve Zihn, on Flickr
Aleut paddle by Steve Zihn, on Flickr
For a standard style GL paddle, flattened diamond cross-section with the ridge fading out only 6" from the ends seems to work well. I have found that none of the blades should be sharp enough to feel bad, (edges or ridge) but only rounded down enough to dull them for comfort. That is working fine for me---- and those that are using the ones I made for them.


My fave GP is spineless and unshouldered, and like Castoff’s, is 3/16" thin at the edges of the blade end. I believe it was more like 1/8" when new (from Dave at Friday Harbor Paddles) but it had gotten a bit bashed last Summer so it is a little mushroomed. It needs its seasonal sanding and refinish yet this year. I may take Castoff’s advice and try to add a protective edge to it with the GFlex before I continue to wear it away.

Blade thickness tapers from 2" at the loom to 1" just before the full taper at the tip. Blade maximum width is 3 1/2". This is a 5 lamination 213 cm paddle and the distance from the tip to where you can see the outermost lamination point at the bottom of the face pic is 21".

Actually the carbon Gearlab Akiak I have is almost the identical cross sectional shape and dimensions. I have started to use that more in conditions where I am apt to be rock bashing to try to preserve the WRC paddle. The Akiak has a replaceable reinforced tip.

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I had the same question about blade thickness, esp at the tip. I make them a bit thicker at the tips and use Gflex also.
Mine are WRC and a little extra material is better protection from damage.

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That’s a nice design on the paddle too. I use Gflex resin on a lot of projects, it’s good stuff.

Thanks for the info, that’s a nice looking paddle.

Nice looking paddles. I’m leaving in a little bit of a rib transition on the one I am shaping tonight.

From competing in Greenland I can offer that the “racers” quite often prefer sharp edges and tips for speed, but the “rollers” prefer rounded edges for easier control underwater.

I like sharp edges, and make sure that the tips have the same “sharpness” as the blade edges. Too sharp, however, and the edges are uncomfortable to hold and are much more prone to damage.

Greg Stamer


I like sharp edges. Makes for a smoother quieter stroke. If the edges are so sharp that they bother and feel uncomfortable, but you still wish to have sharp edges and tip.

One thing that works is to make the paddle blades slightly narrower, so that the edges {width} is less than as wide as your grip. This lets the blade , when extended and griped, settle , not at the finger joint, but between joints where there is some meat.

Then adjust the amount of grip / force of the paddle by either length of paddle or length of parallel sides.

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Thanks, Dave Smith made beautiful paddles before he retired from the biz and I love this one, with the alternate laminations of light and dark cedar. He made them with vertical laminations too, sometimes interleaved with Douglas fir, which he said made a stiffer paddle. This horizontally layered one has just the right feel for me. It does look a lot better with the scratches sanded off and a fresh coat of tung oil and varnish. Since we are looking at a run of rainy days here maybe I will get to that this week. Kind of embarrassed to have my favorite paddle looking so grotty…

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Better grotty than if it looked pristine cause it means you use it!

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I also made my first paddle using Chuck’s instructions, but developed my own method after that, which ultimately ended up in my book. While I am grateful for having his instructions to get me started, I found that the “V” that he recommends for the ends of the blades is somewhat counterproductive. It’s much easier to achieve a smooth lenticular blade cross-section () if you carry the central ridge to the tip. As you discovered, the “V” tends to create a thin, flat tip that’s more prone to flex and flutter. A lenticular shape with thin edges and tips produces smooth water flow, increasing lift and “bite” during the stroke. It’s also less prone to flutter and quieter. That’s actually what Chuck shows in the cross-sections at the end of his instructions, so it’s really a matter of what’s the best way to get there.

3 Likes is amazing, the influence that one man, with one rendition of a Greenland paddle from a sample of one area, has so influenced the perception of what a Greenland paddle should be .

Had people used Harvey Golden as the man to emulate for paddle making shapes, paddles would be a lot more diverse.


Or how about a paddle picture taken by Greg Stamer when he was in Greenland with the first group of outsiders invited to the Greenland competition. {this paddle doesn’t conform to the Chuck Holst diagram and is styled more from an earlier date of stealth hunting with harpoons.

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This tip design is much easier on the shoulders than the design seen most today.

To test tip shape against each other I made two paddles to start with. Both paddles had the same lay-up, were the same length and width, same loom length and ended up one tenth of an ounce difference. I used the mold for the one to make the plug for the other…with the only modification being a slight change in the tip.

I even colored them the same so as to not be biased by liking one color sceme over the other.

The slightly tapered tip , for me, won over distance…less fatigue and smother entry and exit. Looking at them you can hardly tell any difference, but can feel the difference when using them.




I also noticed that if you look back at pictures of historical pictures of greenland paddles they are all quite diverse. I mentioned there was a folk museum in Iceland that has a huge wing dedicated to boats and seamanship. The curators didn’t know much about kayak paddles and had a huge collection all on one wall, many were obviously Greenland type paddles but not much like the styles that seem popular by commercial companies recently. I’m trying to get my photos off of my google drive but not having a lot of luck. The other thing I like to change is the abrupt shoulder cut with a right angle or close to it. I found when tyring to use the thing in surf this actually hurt my hand and there doesn’t seem to be a need for it, the smooth transition to the different shaped part of the paddle seems more ergonomic for me.

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The GP I use most often has a distinct diamond shape to the loom and upper half of the blade. I find that the flat of the diamond pretty much cants the blade automatically. It lays nicely against the knuckles of my hands. Edges and tips are pretty thin….about 3/16” and edged with hardwood.

Castoff; I’d be really interested to know how you make your edges with Gflex. Do you create a sort of “form” over the edge to contain it to the edge?

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I’m not Castoff, thank goodness, but I apply the epoxy and hang the paddle straight up. It results in good end coverage with a bump in the middle.
It increases the turbulence and adds .0002 mph.
Please discount that sentence.