Making an Algonquin Guide paddle

Ready to give up
I sorted through stacks of boards and only found one piece of 1.5" stock long enough to make a paddle out of. I have lots of four footers for anybody that wants to make a little paddle! My piece looks to be the sister of NT’s stock, the next slice off the log, but it must have been the next slice outwards, since I think it is narrower.

I traced a friend’s beaver-tailed blade this weekend and intended to use it as a pattern. One little problem, it didn’t fit the width of my board. I decided to try using NT’s otter tail pattern, printed out two of his pictures, and attempted to scale his dimensions. I say attempted, because if the paddle is 62" long, I wasn’t properly scaling the size of the blade, since I was coming out with 28 x 6. Narrower than the beaver tail, but still a little too fat for my board.

In this picture you see my scaled pattern of NT’s blade, laid out on the board. Also in the picture is the tracing of the beaver tail and a couple of photos I printed of NT’s blade. I think all I can get is about 5.5" of blade from this board.

So, on the one hand, I am ready to proceed and cut the blank. OTOH, it seems like wasted effort to build such a skinny stick. I seek guidance from the gifted paddle-maker community. What say you?

Also, a question, if you’d care to opine on it. What’s the reason for flaring the paddle shaft 6 inches below the grip?


ps - the photo numbers don’t fit in the URL, paste them in or go to the album, they are the only two pictures.

Kettlewell Special
Chip, I purchased one last summer to play with on my local pond. Long, skinny blade that felt ‘skittery’ to me at first. Now that I’ve spent some time with it, I think that it has helped to refine my technique, but doesn’t have nearly the ‘oomph’ of a guide paddle. I do like it, though.

That guide-style grip affords a more comfortable hand placement when ‘choking up’ in shallows or when using a ‘northwoods’ stroke.

Do not give up!
and Walnut in any length is worth keeping. A kiln dried 1x6 (3/4 x 5.5) 6’ long will cost you as much as 4 sawbucks! 40.00, 36" is plenty long enough for blades, thwarts, seat drops and even making seats. Do not be afraid of laminating, it’s easy and there is no shame in laminating a traditional paddle, It will in fact be stronger and less inclined to warp. I just fixed one of Ed’s that was cherry made in 3 pieces, a simple shaft and two half blades laminated together. Beautiful paddles, they sell for anywhere from 75.00 to 120.00 store bought. Beyond that the slab you have looks like it would make a very nice paddle one piece. Some long blade paddles are slimmer. Search the Internet for traditional paddles like the Sagamore and go to Turtle paddles website. They are out of business but you can still find it here there is an excellent description and explanation on blade and shaft length. Study the different paddles too.

The grip on the one I just made is one of many different modified grips that guides and people who paddled for a living developed so they had different hand holds they could use when paddling all day. if you look around you will see them in books and on the net.

I’m headed out to the shop now to start yet another paddle. It will be a light weight practical paddle made of cedar and a few hardwood strips. I use just a table saw with a sharp thin blade to cut my strips, I do not plane them or anything else. The saw cut gives a perfect strong glue joint.

It makes no difference how long it takes to make a paddle. As soon as you start seeing results things will go faster on the next one.

I would sugest that for your first try just use any wood you can find. My first paddle was scrap cedar fence boards. once I saw that I could make one it was all downhill from there. It was crude yet funtional and it worked. I have some simple drawing that I made up a long time ago that show a few of my tricks. If you want to see them drop me and email and I’ll send them.

Started another paddle
I’ll add it here so that people who are not interested can skip over the thread. I’ll try to go slower.

Not even sure what this thing will be yet. But I do know that it will be super lightweight with only a few peaces of hardwood and the rest cedar and redwood.

I picked out 3 pieces of wood for the shaft, a single ash strip for the backbone to add strength and stiffness to the shaft and two clear cedar strips. shaft ends up 1" wide. 1 1/8" thick and 60" long when all glued up.

Make a glue spreader.

Wet the wood with water.

run a 1/8 bead of glue on all strips.

Spread the glue and make sure it runs out to the edges of the strips. Note this glue will turn your fingers black and not much will remove it. I use lacquer thinner and it works well.

Slap them together and move everything back and forth a few times to bond the glue then get it in a clamp, I use my vice as a third hand and clamp loosely at first.

Line everything up then start clamping tight.

After it’s all clamped up sight down the shaft and straighten as needed. it will still move when wet. already foaming up.

I’ll let that dry overnight but first I still have some clamps left so cut a scrap cedar 2x4x24 and two thin redwood strips that will make the first two boards that make up the blade, book match them and glue them up.

Clamp them back to back in my spare vice, I’ll split them in the morning and glue them to the shaft so I have something to work with tomorrow night.

4 saws later, it’s a blank
This wouldn’t happen in a shop where there is good quality equipment and a well-organized scheme, but the part of the band-saw that holds the blade in place broke. It was a cast piece and it just gave out, and has likely been broken since the saw has been in the shop. Shame. It was a good quality saw in 1988, and I suspect a replacement part is going to be hard to come by.

Okay, I have a sabre-saw. I tried a few different blades I had on hand. None worked too well and I extrapolated it would take me 10 additional hours to complete the cut. Next!

Skill saw. Sure. Can cut the straights along the shaft, close to half the cutting, right? Yep, that worked, but wooo, smokey. I rummaged around and found a brand spankin’ new blade! Yah, luck. Slick, the shaft was easy.

What else might work? Sawzall? The blade in the saw looks right for the job, but it wasn’t effective. Oh yeah, I think the last time I used it I was cutting roots, guaranteed to kill a blade. I had a new pruning blade and I gave it a shot and it was a winner.

So now I have a blank. Next I’ll smooth off all the edges. I’m wondering about thinning the blank to 1.25" before I get into it. Any reason not to?

After it was cut out, I picked it up, put my paddling grip on it and took a faux stroke. Does that happen to anybody else?

Looks great
I admire your perseverance on that one. It can be pretty frustrating when tool bite the dust just when you are in the middle of something. I’m sure the band saw can be fixed, Sounds like one of the guides broke. If you can’t find the part you can make one


…if I knew an Algonquin guide, I’ll be sure to make him paddle.

It don’t get much uglier than that

Rip, glue, repeat. Just two more strips of walnut for the edges and one tongue and grooved into the bottom edge and the sanding begins.

grip will be walnut, shaft is ash center with two strips of cedar then two thin strips of redwood two more cedar then outer edges thin walnut. it going to be one ugly paddle.

All strips are glued on
This morning I went out and put the grip blocks and two walnut strips on the side of the blade where the paddle will get the most abuse.

Tonight I went out and cut the slot in the bottom of the paddle and made the piece to glue in the walnut tip protector. Since cedar and redwood are lightweight but split easily this will ensure that the blade won’t break. you end up with a strong but very light paddle.

Now I’ll make the pattern for the blade so I can make some dust in the morning.

Finished paddle
Except for 4 or 5 coats of varnish between sanding. I have a few pics to post later too but I wanted to get this up.

I think I’ll keep this one since it’s so ugly. I think I’m getting faster at this too. Really didn’t expect to get this done today.

looks like a good one for the Malecite
Sweet. What’s the length?

Fascinating process
and I see the face. That’s pretty cool.

Beautiful work, NT.

Quick-grips and other stuff
even short grip clamps can glue some pretty long stuff. With the use of some blocks of wood, drywall screws and two short clamps I glued and clamped the ash ends on this storm paddle, Both end at the same time.

More details on that last paddle. when shaping the grip on a paddle a round dowel rod or 1" pipe is good for doing the detail work, just wrap the sandpaper around the dowel. Finnish up with an orbital sander, these two tools really speed things up.

Second coat of varnish is on and it looks like one more will complete the job. I’ll post those pics when it’s dry tomorrow. Paddle looks good considering a nail hole (cedar boards are from and old fence) and a knot or two.

58" Blade is 8.25x24" and razor thin

– Last Updated: Jul-04-08 7:40 PM EST –

22oz. with two coats.

Lightest one I ever made was 13oz. Edr56 has that one. Photo...First one on the left. WesD has the Otter tail on the right and Jamaica James has the center one and you have the Sagamore.

Heavy weight , just over 38oz.
but it is after all a hunk of walnut and it is not a paddle that you use for sit and switch.

Damn Nice Work
and thank you for taking the time to post all the pics. Just shot you off an email but finally found the info from your pics. I just finished one paddle but am to ashamed to post a pic of it, not nearly as nice as your workmanship!! But am going to start another this after noon as I can’t do much of anything else with this freaking back problem. If it starts looking like a real paddle I’ll put up some pics.

Thanks NT,


Got your email…I think I found a photo
of you and Hal the Gull boy loading up for a trip…

Last photos
only took 3 coats of varnish. I set it next to a redwood/walnut paddle for comparison.

Crank em out, NT!
I’m left choking your dust (walnut, cedar, ash, etc). While you were knocking out your last few paddles, I cleaned up the edges on my blank.

Friday, I took the planer to it and promptly burned up the planer. That blank is a pox on my tools. Hand planing didn’t work worth a darn. I slid a new 40-grit, gator grip, belt on the belt sander and applied that for about an hour. I didn’t make much progress. Between the sander and a sureform tool I took .25 to .33" off one side of the blade before I went out to the fireworks. It was not an encouraging session in the shop, and the blank is nowhere near becoming a paddle.

Do you really do most of the cutting with the belt sander? Your belt sander must be a beast.


Yes I do
It is a DeWalt 3x21 and has made all my paddles. I told Mike that when I put the 36 grit belt on it it was taking toothpicks off the slab. I generally switch back and forth at a 45% angle for quick removal. When it starts looking a little like a paddle I switch to 50 grit to get the deep cuts out. You kind of have to develope a feel for when to switch belts.

The paddle I made from the slab is the only paddle that I’ve ever thined the blade with my band saw. Took about 1/4 inch off of each side. Still had plenty of sanding to do.

My belt sander did take third place in the 2001 beltsander nationals, Stock class.