How to Thin a Laminated Canoe Paddle?

Due to shoulder issues, I decided I might want to try an ottertail paddle. To do so cheaply, I bought a Harmony Whisper on close out for $25. It’s probably worth what I paid for it. The finish has runs and the grip is as rough as sand paper. Both of these are easy enough to fix. Unfortunately, the blade is really thick at about 3/8 inch. I have the tools (and I hope skill) to thin it down, but don’t know if it being laminated is going to be a problem. Any thoughts?

Clements used to come about 1/4" at
the edge, but their glue procedure was almost certainly better. Maybe you can take it down to 1/4" at the edges but leave the centerline thicker.

Support the underside well with
something that won’t “give”, like lots of little wood shims if you plan to use planes. Maybe tack them in place w/ hot glue or carpet tape. Probably a pain because you’ll be wanting to flip back and fro frequently.

Alternately, you can clamp the shaft and work toward yourself, like with a drawknife and/or spokeshave. Work slowly by taking thin shavings and pay attention to camber the faces and not making the edges too thin! Try not to flex the glue joints too much, though the joints themselves are probably not going to fail, but the adjacent wood might be brittle, depending on species and grain. You can always re-glue and glass, if something bad does happen.

Bon chance!

you can do a spot on job with …

– Last Updated: Jun-17-10 12:26 AM EST –

....... a 5" Random Orbit sander .

Make same sanding passes each side of center , turn over and repeat same passes ... keep going in that manner ... a couple few this half , a couple few other half , turn over , repeat . Shape by eye always siting blade .

I can build a whole paddle , grip , shaft , blade with a random orbit ... it comes out symetrical and straight too ... that means you can too !!

A small plane, well sharpened, does a much better job than any sander and works slow enough that you won’t make mistakes in a hurry, like using a sander.

Finish with a sander, don’t shape with it.

Bill H.

I have done it with a belt sander
It took me about 2 hours. just by looking and a bit of marking. That was because a had a beld sander and not much else. I can imagine that a plane would work better.

I have done it as well.

– Last Updated: Jun-17-10 7:33 AM EST –

I had a BB paddle that I did not enjoy (blade-heavy, didn't slice well, shaft was not as oval as I care for) so I designated it as a "project paddle" and set about to lighten it.

I used a combination of block plane and spokeshave (I LOVE working with a spokeshave) and took a little here, a little there until I was happy. This didn't take place all at once - I was afraid to take too much meat out of the blade and overly weaken it.

I used an oil finish in between shaving sessions so that I could test the paddle, but I do not believe that a laminated paddle will be properly protected long term unless varnished or epoxied (glue joints exposed to water with only oil finish).

The rockguard tip stayed pretty much as is on the tip, but I had to thin it a bit where it feathered into the edges.

Now the edges are sharp enough to slice well for underwater recoveries, teh blade and throat are sufficiently thin and foil-shaped, and the shaft fits my hand comfortably.

One caveat: I use this paddle for flatwater and slow-moving rivers. It is now too light for me to trust it in WW situations. But it was a fun project, and it maded me appreciate why the paddle sold for $110 and not for $220. Paddles in the upper price range undergo far more shaping and contouring than the basic production types.


Edit: The paddle was a BB Sun Shadow straight. A very well-made and durable paddle, but not what I wanted for finesse, at least in stock condition.

The bigger paddle shops do
a lot of shaping with big, purpose-built stationary belt and drum sanders with aggressive grits for rapid stock removal. It’s not a very practical approach for the hobbyist, however, unless you enjoy the noise and the dust. A hand-held belt sander clamped upside-down to a bench might come in handy for sculpting the grip and/or throat areas if you’ve got a light, skilled touch.