Making a Greenland Paddle with Hand Tools

I decided to start a video series as I make my next paddle. This is for beginners to woodworking.


Thank you!

You’re welcome!

I just want to put this other video out there. Matt Johnson’s video is almost perfect. Definitely watch it. He does use power tools some, but still, it is a wonderful resource. I’m glad I rewatched it this morning. There are many parts he does so well I’ll just skip those parts and concentrate on the hand tools parts, and the parts where I deviate from his techniques.

Good idea. I have made a couple of canoe paddles and used them for 30 years.
Hand tools increase the reward of the experience by a lot.
Nice shirt.

Part 2 is up. I almost wreck the wood and slightly bash my pinkie!

If I may make a few suggestions:

  1. Don’t buy wood with knots or pitch pockets in it; it’s nothing but problems. If you don’t start with good wood, you compromise the quality and durability of the finished product. It’s one thing if you’re just making a trial paddle (in which case you could just use a pine construction stud), but if you’re making a paddle for long-term use, get the best quality wood you can find. If it means going to more than one lumber yard, it’s worth the time.

  2. If you want shoulders on your paddle - as you stated - design it with shoulders. I don’t understand why you would lay it out as you did if it’s not what you want. Greenland paddles are meant to be designed to fit the user’s size and preferences, which I why I teach a method to make them, not a specific design.

  3. Learn to use a hand saw; it’s not difficult with the right tool. In the time it took you to do the one taper with the chisel and cross cuts, you could have sawn all four tapers and the loom. A pull saw provides greater control when sawing and the thin blade will allow you to adjust the angle of the cut slightly if you need to. Japanese-style pull saws are great and readily available at reasonable prices.

  4. Don’t start planing until you have the entire profile cut out (you learned this the hard way). BTW, that Stanley #4 is “smoothing” plane not a block plane. It’s a reasonable tool for planing the tapers, if you don’t have a jack plane or anything longer. This is an example of a block plane:

Stanley Block Plane

  1. A spokeshave is not the right tool for creating a flat surface. The short sole is intended to allow it to follow curves, not flatten them. They’re great for making the rolling bevels on a paddle and I use them a lot.

  2. You need solid support when planing. Clamp the wood in the center and support the end you’re planing on a bench, a sawhorse or something similar, preferably at around waist height or a little below.

  3. Plane with the grain. Once you’ve cut out your paddle blank, this means planing the edges toward the loom. When you get to planing the wide sides of the blades, the grain direction may vary, but you’ll typically be planing toward the tips. Knots or wild grain in the wood create issues when planing, which is another key reason to start with the best possible wood.

Best of luck with the rest of your project!


Thanks so much for the advice Brian! (For those of you who don’t know, Brian has literally written the book on making Greenland Paddles. See I plan to order one on December 26th. :- ) :- )

I hear you on the wood, that was so frustrating yesterday. I thought the wood was good, I was so wrong. Sadly, I live in a rural area and unless I want to pay $35 for a piece I have 2 1/2 round trip to get to the nearest store that carries cedar 2x4s. (This is the Lowe’s in Amherst NH right on 101.)

As for making the shoulders, this paddles is for my wife who’s never used a greenland, so I’m making it by the PDF instruction. But man, how obvious. When I make my cedar one next, I’m putting shoulders in!

And I guess I can use my scrap paddles for sawing practice, but still, I have a hard time seeing that it will be faster. I have 2 Japanese saws but they both have braces on the top edge, I don’t see how I can cut a deep cut with them unless I just use the last few inches of the paddle.

Block plane vs smoothing plane. I had no idea! I have tons of tools in the basement that my father in law gave me. He both used planes, and has lots of nice ones, and collected old ones. I must have 20 in bins in the basement.

I love tip #7, thanks!

Part 3 is up.

I didn’t realize you were local. There are several places where you can find cedar in the greater Nashua area. Friend Lumber in Hudson and PJ Currier in Milford both typically have a good selection of cedar and you can pick through it to your heart’s content. Moynihan Lumber in Plaistow is another really good one. I wasn’t aware that Lowe’s in Amherst carried dimensional cedar; I gave up looking at big box stores a long time ago. Keep in mind that probably only 2-3% of the lumber you look through will be ideal for a paddle.

The first Japanese saw you showed (a “Dozuki”) looks like a really nice tool and it’s the right size, but as you pointed out the back can be problematic. However, there are a couple of other saw styles that will work well, the “Kataba” which is a large, single-sided blade without a back (similar to your smaller saw) or the “Ryoba” which has a similar size blade with crosscut teeth on one edge and rip cut teeth on the other edge. The rip teeth are what you want for cutting out the paddle.

It’s generally much easier to use a saw vertically than horizontally. You can use your weight to hold the wood down and resist the pull of the saw teeth. Also, start at the end of the blade, where it’s easy to start the cut and adjust the angle. As you experienced, starting a saw cut at a really shallow can be a challenge.

When cutting, you don’t want to hold the saw at 90 degrees to the workpiece; you want to angle the blade back toward you (this assumes you’re cutting vertically). This allows you to easily follow the line and with the flexible blade of a Japanese-style saw, you can correct the angle slightly as you go.

You’re right about sawing creating much more sawdust, though a rip saw will produces coarser dust than the crosscut saw you were using. I find cedar dust somewhat more irritating than other woods, but I always wear a dust respirator when sawing or sanding anyway. It’s not necessary when planing or using a spokeshave, unless you’re especially sensitive to cedar.

I hope you don’t mind me answering questions that I anticipate people asking. If it becomes overbearing, let me know and I’ll shut up. :wink:

The key thing is that you found a method you like, so by all means do what works for you. Have fun!

I’m not that energetic. My electric planer is my friend.

Here is a tutorial about sawing effectively that you might find helpful:

(139) How to Saw Straight with a Handsaw | Paul Sellers - YouTube

Great info. As a woodworker that’s getting into paddle and soon boat making its helpful to know some of the unique things when it comes to paddle shaping.

Oh I don’t mind at all, I’m learning so much here!

A quick search showed a Ryoba is available at a pretty reasonable price also.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I love power tools, but for this project, I wanted to go simple.

Oh that’s wonderful, thanks! I thought it was just me…

Glad you found it helpful. and, let me say thank you for sharing this, I eagerly await installments! We can all learn together, or as a quote I like says:

“We are all teachers, we are all students.”

  • Dubside

Part 4 is up. I make the mistake I warned you about. LOL!

I’m subscribing to this thread! I live on the Sea of Cortez and paddle as often as possible… this place is Nirvana for kayaking… It would be great to paddle with wood shaped and finished by my own hands, thanks for sharing this.

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billder99, you can take a much bigger step after the paddle and make a boat from plans. Check out JEM Waterworks.
I’ve built 2 from plans. It’s a challenge.