Making a Greenland Paddle with Hand Tools

Thanks, and good point about the waste, you don’t want to waste expensive stuff!

Nice, thanks!

There are cheaper alternatives than West Systems and for paddle tips, you really don’t need premium marine epoxy. I’ve got Raka at home and it works great, but there are plenty of other alternatives if you look around.

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I’ve been doing other stuff so I haven’t had time to sand yet but I travelled yesterday for lunch with friend and afterwards I visited the local big box store which I don’t have near me and pored over the cedar 2x4 pile. I went through about 30 to 40 pieces and brought home these two.

The right hand one looks pretty perfect, ok, not 100% but I think it will do just fine. The left hand one is the opposite of perfect, completely flat sawn. So I’ll rip that, rotate, and laminate it.

And no, I won’t rip that with hand tools, that’s just too much even for me.

As long as the grain runs straight, the one on the right should work well, but I see a crack in the end and what appears to be some swirling grain a couple of inches in, so you may want to cut off this end.

The flat-sawn board has nice tight grain, so once you rip, rotate and laminate, it should make a nice paddle. I know you like to use hand tools, but when making parts for laminating, I prefer to use a jointer and planer to get perfectly flat, smooth surfaces for gluing. You can do it with hand tools, but if you decide to go that route, I suggest practicing on a cheap 2x4 stud first. There’s plenty of info online on how to joint with a hand plane

In order to preserve the width of the paddle blank, you’ll need to add 1/4" or so to make up for the material lost in sawing and planing. A contrasting “spine” looks nice (this one is pine).

The resulting paddle blank may be thicker as well, so keep that in mind.

One important caveat with laminated paddles is that they’re harder to shape with edged tools because the grain varies from one lamination to the next. Tearout can be a real bugger in this situation, so you may need to stop planing and switch to sanding sooner in the process. Also, make sure your tools are extremely sharp, adjusted for a very fine cut, and where possible, close the mouth down as much as you can without the shavings jamming. Using higher-angle tools - like a smoothing plane - helps too.

As for gluing the laminations:

I prefer to use polyurethane glue - like the original Gorilla Glue - but it requires very tight joints and high clamping pressure. NOTE: Polyurethane glue does not fill gaps; it foams and becomes weak. It also requires moisture to cure, so you should wipe one side of each joint with a damp rag.

Traditional wood glues like Titebond III (which is waterproof) are more forgiving of less than perfect joints.

Thickened epoxy works well too, but it can be harder on edged tools. If you go this route, use wood flour as the thickening agent, as most others (fumed silica, etc.) will damage your tools.

Wet glue can act as a lubricant and allow your laminations to slide and creep under clamping pressure. You will probably need to clamp not only from the sides, but also the top and bottom to hold things in place.

Have fun!

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This advice is so helpful, Brian. Thank you. I have copied this post and added it into the back of my copy of your book. It makes finding suitable lumber for my next paddle much easier.
Thanks again.
Mark L.

One thing that I didn’t mention here is to make sure the grain runs as straight as possible from end-to end. Grain runout can be a killer. It’s covered in the book, so I assume you’ve seen it.

Here are some wood grain examples; the bottom one is a version of what Paul is planning to do with the flat-sawn board (I assume):

:+1: thank you.

Episode 21 is up! (Sorry for the lousy sound.)

This is the 21st episode in my series on making a Greenland kayak paddle entirely with hand tools, but really, start with #11. In this episode I coarse and fine sand the paddle, epoxy coat the tips, and apply the first coat of Boiled Linseed Oil to the rest of the paddle.

This part really made me happy. I get to see what the finished cedar looks like. My daily paddle is pine, which doesn’t look nearly as nice. I can hardly wait to get started on my next paddle. (This one is for @Lillyflowers )

Soon. Soon this paddle will be MINE ALL MINE.

(No. I’m not at all excited. Not even a little bit.)

Hey Paul,
It’s good to see that your paddle is nearly finished!

I have a few comments and clarifications:

  • That was an interesting technique you used on the loom, wrapping the sandpaper around it, but I would probably keep the sandpaper flat on the wood, since at that point you’re trying to keep the loom surface straight/flat while rounding the corners. The larger surface in contact with the wood will also speed the sanding process somewhat.

  • Perhaps a better term for “soft” sanding block would be “flexible”. The idea is to use something that will conform to the curved shape of the paddle. I use a piece of 1/2" Minicel foam, but you could use a sponge, a small folded towel, or something similar.

Working with epoxy
There are several things you want to have handy when working with epoxy, beyond those required for mixing and application:

  • Gloves - as you mentioned
  • A disposable work surface like a piece of cardboard, so drips and spills don’t become problems
  • Paper towels - lots of them
  • A trash can or bag
  • Vinegar or citrus cleaner - the acid in these neutralizes uncured epoxy and makes cleanup easy

Marking the tip

  • Using a measuring tape or yardstick as a compass is just an easy way to mark a straight line across a tapered and curved surface.

  • Measuring back 30" from your initial mark and holding the tape centered on the width of the paddle, then making marks on the edges at 30 1/16" will produce a straight line across the blade that intersects with your initial mark. In retrospect, this is probably more detailed than it needs to be, but that’s kind of how I am. :wink:

Applying epoxy

  • As you saw, the type of brush isn’t critical and a good quality foam brush - like those sold by epoxy manufacturers - works fine. However, cheap foam brushes tend to fall apart and leave chunks in the epoxy. Likewise, cheap bristle brushes can shed bristles, but they tend to be less of a problem in my experience. Either way, the brush needs to be disposable.

  • You can use painter’s tape as a guide when applying epoxy, but it will wick underneath no matter what you do. It’s best to use the least sticky tape - so it doesn’t pull up the wood - and remove it as soon as you’re done applying the epoxy. You could even use the tape instead of drawing lines.

  • My reference to rotating the paddle is only for when you’re applying thickened epoxy as a heavy sacrificial layer, since it will tend to flow somewhat. A thin base coat like you applied initially soaks into the wood and doesn’t require rotating the paddle.


  • When wiping the oil off epoxy tips, you should wipe away from the tip, so you’re not dragging the oil over the epoxy. Worst case, you’ll sand it off later when you prep the tips for tinted epoxy.

  • Spontaneous combustion of oiled rags is REAL! Thanks for mentioning it. I’ve actually tested it under controlled conditions - in the middle of a concrete driveway - and when you see a small wad of innocent-looking rags start smoking, it definitely gets your attention!

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Thanks, it is pretty exciting!

I wrap the sandpaper to help round the edges, I prefer a rounded style. I think I mentioned that in the video but the sound is close to impossible to hear with the respirator on.

Tarp on the ground, that’s hard to see.

Didn’t know about vinegar/citrus, good to know!

Oops, I wiped the wrong way. I’ll have to sand those a bit more, but that’s not a problem.

Here’s my current update. I applied a second coat with a brush, not reading the instructions again. So the third coat went on with the 300 sandpaper. I got cover in the BLO since I’m so lame I still have bought gloves. It washed off easily. This did raise the grain some one the paddle so I dry sanded with etc 300 2 days later. The paddle has a real nice smooth surface to it now.

The shoulders really needed more oil, I’ve done that twice now. I just checked this morning, probably need one more touch up on the shoulders. It is pouring rain and and the wind drives the water into the garage, I might try moving the paddle back, just to get a coating on. The happy accident is that after I dry sanded the paddle I didn’t like the look, just the feel of the paddle. After the shoulder soaked it I wipe up the rest with a rag, some got wiped onto the paddle. Man, that looks nice now! I hope to finish the BLO up soon as long as the weather cooperates. It has been so cold here I need to wait about 36 hours for the paddle to dry. (I’m not waiting that for the shoulders BTW.)

Then onto the white epoxy tips.

I guess I need to find a good piece of ribbon and bow then, shhhhh, don’t tell @Lillyflowers !

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Paul, what I meant about sanding the loom was not that you shouldn’t round it to however you like it (I did hear that in the video, I meant that you want the loom to be straight between the shoulders, not wavy. Holding the sandpaper so only the edge touches rather than holding it flat is sort of like the difference between using a spokeshave and a plane. The former will follow any unevenness in the surface - and could make it worse - whereas the latter will tend to straighten the surface. By all means wrap the sandpaper around the loom, just keep it flat instead of putting it on edge. Does that make more sense?

Yup, any end grain is going to absorb a lot of finish, which is actually a good thing since it’s a high-wear area.

I think you’re doing the same thing as me with the sandpaper and oil, but just to be clear, after the first couple of coats of finish, I use 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper as the applicator instead of a rag, so I’m sanding the existing finish lightly as I’m applying more. Once it’s wiped down and cured, it’s as smooth as a baby’s butt. A bonus is that sanding that fine brings out more of the fine highlights of the grain; it just about glows!

oh that does make sense! Thanks for advice.

Yup, same here, but is good to double check.

I just put the 2nd coat of oil today on the end grain shoulders… :- )

@bnystrom - what’s the purpose of the final coat with a rag? I have 4 coats on already, 1st and 2nd with a brush, wiped afterwards. 3rd coat with the 320 sandpaper, the dry sanded with 320 (you really could feel the raised hairs so I took them off). I put the 4th coat on with the 400 sandpaper, also wiped afterwards.

The paddle is still slightly damp now but feels and looks gorgeous. I don’t mind putting another coat on, but why?

When you use sandpaper as an applicator, you remove some of the finish in the process, which gets wiped off. Applying a final coat with a rag just helps to make sure the finish is smooth and even. It may actually be unnecessary, but I do it anyway; if nothing else, it makes me feel good. :wink:

If you don’t feel you need it, don’t bother.

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Ok, I need help. I put the thickened, tinted white, epoxy on the tips.
It did not turn out well.

Here’s the first side.

The gold stuff is just reflections from the ceiling LEDs.

Here’s the second side.

So what’s going on here. As soon as I started applying the first side I knew I had made a mistake. The epoxy is too thick and the thickener hasn’t completely dissolved.

I discarded that and did the other side. I used way less thickener, it looks a lot better, but still it looks like crap. The silica thickener needed to be sifted until it was dust, of course then it would all blow away!

Here’s the thickener.

How do I recover from this?

I thinking I can use a nice and pop the silica mountains. Course sandpaper might also work, like a 150.

Once it is smooth I’m thinking I want to tint the epoxy but not thicken it. Is that going to work? It seems the first one is so bad it just might need another thick coat. And if so, just how do I get the silica dust to be, well, dust?

The good news is a kayaking neighbor of mine threatened to steal it, so I must be doing something right.

Sand it smooth and start over. Use several thin coats.

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First…YOU NEED to get some gloves!!! {and wear them…NO excuses}

2 nd You only needed about 30 or at most 40 ml of mixed epoxy and maybe a couple of teaspoons of cabosil. {not 24 oz} No more than 10% of the mix can be dye. So maybe 50 drops.

Add cabosil a little at a time and fold it in. You never got it mixed. {not even close} If that was a cake or bread dough and you were adding flour that way…your wife would of thumped you on the head.


{dry clumps} Cabosil is already a powder …don’t sift it and don’t breathe it in.

Your not making cool aid it doesn’t dissolve like cool aid either. MUSH ANY CLUMPS OF DRY WHILE MIXING …be careful , …I doubt that you want to become epoxy sensitive {allergic} or have chronic lung damage from breathing in Cabosil dust.

Did I say…Gloves? {and a respirator is also a good idea}

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Yeah, I’ll be doing that. But I’m wondering what the next coast should be? I thinking just the tint, no thickener.

I think you’re misreading the last picture, that isn’t the epoxy, that’s the container of silica thickener!

I used 18g of resin, 7g of hardener. My tint doesn’t have a dropper, I just poured a bit in until it seemed to be enough.

I wore a respirator on the first pour, but it did seem to stay down so I took it off for the second one. I wanted to sift it to get rid of the lumps that are visible in that last picture.

This is just a minor setback, not a big deal. Treat it as yet another learning experience. You’ve gotten some good advice here. Once you’ve sanded off the rough stuff…

  • There’s no need to rush the process, as you have plenty of time to mix the epoxy before it needs to be applied.

  • Fumed silica is extremely light (wear a respirator or N95 mask) and it can be a pain to mix into epoxy, so you need to mix it very thoroughly. Do it in stages, rather than trying to dump a bunch in at once. Make sure there are no lumps before putting it on the paddle.

  • I typically use a combination of fumed silica and pure talc (not “baby powder”) for thickening. Fumed silica is hard to sand (it’s made from sand) and it can make the tips somewhat brittle. Adding talc makes sanding easier and seems to result in tips that are less prone to chipping. Unfortunately, I don’t have any recommendation for proportions, as the silica is really difficult to measure with any accuracy because it’s extremely light and clumpy. I’ve used talc alone, but the resulting mixture tends to flow quite a bit, even when it seems really thick. It’s not very abrasion resistant, either.

  • Getting the right consistency is tricky. Too thin and it will flow too much and require frequent turning until it kicks. Too thick and it won’t level, and you end up having to sand quite a bit once it’s cured. The ideal consistency will self-level over the course of a few minutes and only require turning a few times until it kicks. If you’re going to err in one direction or the other, I would go with a little too thick, somewhere between the consistency of mayonnaise and peanut butter. To me, sanding it smooth is less work than applying it over and over.

  • What kind of tint are you using (just curious)? The best and most opaque I’ve found is West Systems 501, which is a thick paste and you only need a tiny amount. If what you have came from Raka or another epoxy supplier, it’s fine, but even tints meant for use with gelcoat and polyester resin will work (tints have a neutral base).

Have at it and keep us posted!