Greenland Paddle wood

I’ve been wanting to get a Greenland paddle since I was up in the UP at the Great Lakes Sea Kayaking Symposium last month. I had the opportunity to try one and really enjoyed it. I found plans on the Internet to make one and it seemed the wood(s)of choice were fir or spruce. They seem to have the strength-to-weight ratio needed and handle water well.

But after shopping around the area, the only thing I could find (besides pine) was poplar. I went ahead and bought it and have the paddle roughed out.

Do you experienced Greenland paddlers out there think this wood will do the trick? Any tips on optimizing its life?

Thanks in advance.


Preferred Wood
is generally western red cedar. It’s light, relatively strong and rot resistant. Just about any wood would do though as long it is straight vertical grained. Fir is pretty darn heavy though. Spruce I’ve had success with in my first two paddles, though hard to find straight vertical grain.

One paddle generally leads to at least several more. Play around with the first one to figure out what you want to change before starting on the second.


western red cedar is great because it’s softer than those other woods. it makes it a whole lot easier to carve and yet it still is remarkably light and strong. (plus the smell of cedar shavings is just incredible)

woodenboat magazine

– Last Updated: Aug-05-04 7:14 PM EST –

featured a guy in georgia i think who uses local woods and he has done amazing light craft with poplar. please let us know how it turns out, i want to use local stuff rather than having wood (like my last boat) cut in africa, manufactured in europe, and shipped to the east coast so i could pay 50% of the remaining cost in shipping to get it from maryland to s.c. no way this system can be environmental. i think poplar is not very rot resistant (cedar is) so a primer coat of epoxy resin followed with a couple coats of varnish should yield a durable paddle. keep us informed?!

Robb White is the guy
in Goergia that builds light boats with local materials. He uses what is called Tulip Poplar in Georgia. It is not the same as the Aspen commonly referred to as Poplar in the north and west. My understanding is Tulip Poplar is a member of the Juniper family.

It’s fine.
Yellow Poplar is a little heavier but that much stonger than Western Red Cedar (it’s also a hell of a lot cheaper). I don’t know about rot properties but don’t worry about that it’ll be dry most of the time. I don’t think you’ll need to take extra precautions against rot, a nice oil finish would do nicely.

Experimenting is a good thing, just take a spare if you’re worried about it.

Myself; I like Western Red Cedar, it’s very light, just flexible enough, and looks sweet. But I’ve made paddles out of construction 2x4s (they don’t break) and they were fine.

Here’s a good comparison chart:

No wood at all…
Why not use high density foam ?.. even easier to shape. Needs a bit more in terms of layup but would be superlight AND strong if done… right (? B.N :slight_smile:

I Am A “Luddite”
(opposed to modern technology) when it comes to making my own paddles and boats. But in a world of compromise (ah HA! a Liberal Luddite), I am not opposed to using paddles made by you with carbon fibers and certain composite boats made some manufacturers. :slight_smile:


where ??
patrick - where would i find that type of foam ? - had no idea it could be that strong - thanks - john

You mentioned interest in making GP’s…
…a while back. Are you still considering it?

The Superior carbon GP is highly regarded (for good reason), but the price is prohibitive. A similar quality, less expensive alternative would probably be very well received in the marketplace. CF (or fiberglass) over a structural foam core would eliminate one of the only complaints about the Superior paddle, the noise it makes if you bump it against anything.

Another item that seems to be in some demand is two-piece GP’s for travel. If you built one that maintained the oval cross section in the loom, it would be a breakthrough. On our recent trip to Shetland, one of the biggest hassles was dealing with transporting our paddles. The airlines’ baggage systems did a number on the end cap of the custom case I made (apparently, the length is a real problem for the conveyors). The paddles survived with minimal damage, but it would be great to reduce the length by nearly half with a ferrule in the middle. Come to think of it, just making a decent oval ferrule available for GP builders would be really nice!

Western red cedar is my preference…
…but I have always coated the tips with fiberglass or Dynel and epoxy for durability. I also put partial oak edges on the blades of one of my paddles and I’m really happy with the way it has held up, so I’ll probably do it on all my paddles in the future.

Poplar is easy to find and it’s straight grained, but it’s heavy and tends to rot. Applying a layer of very light fiberglass (1.5 oz. or less) and epoxy would be a good idea, in order to ensure that water doesn’t get to the wood. A friend of mine uses .55 oz. 'glass that looks like nylon stocking material. You can’t even tell the paddle has been glassed and it adds significantly to it’s durability.

Composite GPs
Maybe an intermediate level composite paddle - glass over hand shaped (or CNC if you got it!) foam cores makes some sense.

Brian’s right, a good take apart - that keeps the rounded rectangle shape (instead of slapping on a stock ferrule) and doesn’t interfere with shifting hand positions would really make the difference. Someone could probably just sell that ferrule system too.

I suspect Patrick has enough on his plate, but if he (or anyone else not a regular GPer) were to try making composite GPs - he should paddle with GPs exclusively until the technique and carving discussions at QajaqUSA make sense (for some - years, for Pat probably a week). I’d recommend using the Superior Carbon too. Not only is it a great paddle - the noisiness Brian mentions becomes an asset while first learning technique. When you can clearly hear air being entrained - you learn not to do it that much easier. Silent paddle = good strong stroke. More feedback is good. In short order, it’s as silent as any paddle can be (unless you drop it on something hard).

I know there are some good carvers/builders who don’t paddle - but Pat seems more of a hands on sort of perfectionist. I have no doubt of his skills with materials - and a GP is not complex really (or so it seems at first) - but it is quite different in both form and function. Just as with any paddle - there are many little things that make all the difference.

I have the Superior Carbon. It sets a high benchmark. Shape is wonderful tip to tip. The soft shoulders are very comfortable. It has incredible bite in the water.

The wood GPs I’ve tried ranged from good to Yuck! Some makers get it - some seem to think it’s just a narrow paddle with a funny shaped shaft. Certainly some wood GPs match or exceed the carbon in some ways, but the Carbon is so nice that if I wanted wood I’d still buy from Superior - as I wouldn’t want anything less (and it would take carving dozens to get there).

BTW - The Superior does have foam cores. From their site: “Digitally reproduced from our computer carved wood paddles, these composite paddles provide you with another medium for this great design. Foam cored for flotation, you will be amazed at the strength, warmth and feel of these beautiful black paddles.”

Blades are identical on all length paddles - even the storms. Loom is the only variable. Interesting that Mark’s wood paddles are “computer carved” too. Maybe not “traditional” but once you get it right…

I’ve also heard that the carbon work is outsourced to a specialist, as it’s a real PITA.

The Carbon GP Prices start to make sense given all that. Likely more work than a wing paddle - and look what Pat needs to charge for those now. In the same ballpark.

Given the limited (but growing) GP market - and the fact so many prefer to carve their own, and prefer wood even if they buy - and see wood traditional and “right” - and how expensive and difficult composites are to build - it’s amazing there is even one source for them.

That would be okay
but it’s not all about weight. I just like the feel of wood, weather it’s better or not.

When I was young
I was told my first time would be the most special. For all these years I thought they were talking about my first sexual encounter. Now I know they were talking about making my first Greenland paddle!

I finished up Saturday and immediately took to the water and began playing. I rolled for the rest of the weekend and never had to do a wet exit(that’s good for me)

I ended up using the poplar finished with handrubbed linseed oil. It looks so nice I was tempted to hang it on the wall in the living room instead of keeping it in the garage. Of course my wife vetoed that idea.

It’s a little heavy, about 45 oz, but handles great. Next time I’ll shop around for the cedar.

I want to thank you all for the advice and shared experience you offered. I think I can officially say my high dollar carbon fiber paddle is now my spare.

a paddle on the wall
sounds great when compared to some of the things my husband hangs on our walls! (moose, caribou, etc…)

congratulations on your paddle!


You could
use their antlers as paddle racks. That’s only fair. It would be quite the conversation piece.

or if you get mad
you can dry your neoprene socks on the antlers!

Oval ferrule

Semms to me it would be easier to have the ferrule/locking mechanism in the root of one blade, and have the other blade and loom be one piece. You’d just need a slight oval counterbore in the one blade.

Putting the joint…
…at the blade root places it right at the grip point. Right where the thumb and forefinger wrap around. My GP has soft shoulders and they have a lot to do with how nice it is to paddle with.

Besides comfort - that location is also where you are applying the force to the paddle most of the time.

Two good reasons no to do it there IMO.

To extend your thinking a bit farther out - joint could be placed part way down the blade - and on both sides - to make a 3 piece GP. Joint would still have to be very clean/smooth for extended and sliding strokes. Bigger joints and more complicated shapes (fat oval going to diamond on many).

better yet…
i’ve often thought one of those cute little spring bucks would make a nice figure head for my kayak