paddle design

I want to help my daughter build a canoe paddle for a 4-H project.

What kind of wood would be best, and what shape would be best to choose?

I don’t want laminations, but want to cut it out of a solid piece.

Google "Creenland Paddle"
I think cedar and redwood are popular woods are pretty widely available.


Some of my favorite

– Last Updated: Jan-28-08 1:13 PM EST –

canoe paddles are ones that I saw hanging as decorations on the walls of a venerable girl's camp on Sebago Lake in Maine. Many were old (1910's-40's) Old Towns that were painted with "indian" designs. Others were hand crafted with obvious careful attention. I can't imagine a better project for a father and daughter to share. I'm with Eric on the classic beavertail design. Species choices would be either fir, spruce or black ash traditionally, but cherry's my pick for this heirloom!(not splintery and not too heavy) For some related info. and inspiration, Google "Alexandra Conover canoe paddle" and check out her hand-made "Northwoods" style paddles on the WCHA (Wooden Canoe Heritage Assn.) site. Have Fun!-Tom

Paddle design
Go to and click on the “equipment and paddles” tab at the top. It will get you to instructions on making all types of kayak and canoe paddles. Possibly the most important part of the equation is the selection of the wood. You need quarter-sawn, vertical grain wood.

I don’t know
how much woodworking experience you or your daughter have or what equipment you have at your disposal.

If this project will be done mostly with hand tools then I strongly suggest you work with soft woods such as cedar, redwood or pine. Working by hand with hardwoods for the inexperienced, especially children, will frustrate them. Try to find a clear board (straight grain and no knots). A beaver or otter tail will be eaier to shape from a single piece of wood than will be a wider blade.

If power tools are available, along with the proper instruction and supervision then hardwoods such as birch, cherry or maple are options.

Traditional, solid wood paddles were not overlaid with fiberglass. For fine, lightweight, thin bladed paddles, especially paddles with wide blades, fiberglass opens up new possibilities. If this is a first time woodworking project for your daughter, I would keep it simple. One piece of wood, nicely shaped and finished to her liking.

I apologize if you already are a skilled woodworker and thus know this basic rule, but be certain that all tools are sharp. More people are injured using dull tools than sharp ones and the process of working with sharp tools is far more satisfying. Too many people assume that dull tools will be safer to teach children with and it just isn’t true. Dull tools need to be forced to do their job and they do a poor job at that.

Good luck. Maybe she’ll get hooked like I did. Competition is a good thing.

Marc Ornstein

Dogpaddle Canoe Works

Safety concerns
As mentioned before, power tools need to be supervised. But the traditional tools such as block planed and spokeshaves are what bring the paddle shape out of the wood.

And when it comes to sanding, always wear a dust mask (cedar dust in particular is toxic).


I am good at metal working and have a shop well supplied with metal working tools. My thoughts are to cut the basic shape out by hand, then do all the final shaping on a vertical milling machine.

My woodworking skills are not real good. I would pick a metal type project but all my kids are afraid of sparks! Myself, I started welding at age 7.

You all are such a great bunch and have so many great tips!

I welcome and appreciate more comments!

Metal is fun (I like aluminum)
but nothing compares to coaxing a shape out of a board. Seeing a thwart materialize from a plank, re-shaping a commercial paddle to make it sing, or any project that makes shavings is a real treat. Spokeshaves rule!


Really like the Ottertail design
I built an ottertail one piece paddle last month and really like the idea and shape of the paddle. It’s only 5 and a half inches wide so a 1 X 6 board works just fine. I use cedar from Lowe’s or Home depot and have found that with soft woods a Stanley Sureform rasp removes the wood quite nicely. Planes and Spokeshaves are great but really require experience to use IMO. Epoxy is the way to go to seal the paddle when you’re through but is expensive unless you are going to make a lot of paddles. I used a cheap woodburner to personalize the paddle with a picture and initials before finishing.

Good luck with you paddle and enjoy the time with your daughter…

How do you make the shaft thick enough with only a 1’ board? Wouldn’t we need to start with a 2" piece?

“five quarter"
start at a lumber dealer that carries hardwoods (generally not a home center like Home Cheapo) and ask for 5/4 stock of whichever species you’ve decided on. 'Five quarter” is nominally 1 1/4" thick (1 1/8 dressed) by width by length. A ‘5/4 X 8 X 6’ board would be 1 1/8" thick, 7 1/2" wide and 6 ft. long. Talk to the guys at the yard and tell them what you want to make. Trust them, they’ll know what to sell you!

Great info!
You guys are just great at knowing about anything. I’ve looked through the “Home Cheapo” places but find nothing worthy of making a paddle.


Prepare yourself for sticker shock at the lumber dealer. They tend to calculate the price based on “board feet”, a mysterious formula for volume (cubic inches). Good trees, cut up, don’t come cheap. I guess they aren’t making many anymore. Good luck!

Thicker shaft
I know you didn’t want to laminate but if you just glue an extra thickness on front and back of the shaft section (read that laminate) your shaft will be good and the paddle will be less work to thin down. Use gorilla glue or any glue designed for outdoor use, Titebond II seems to work quite good also. If you look thru the stock at the cheapo places you can find something that will suffice for what you want. Or just pay the price and go with the best…

I’m guessing it may look a little better if the whole thing were cut from one piece. I have seen some really nice laminated paddles though.

Building up
a paddle from smaller pieces certainly opens up a lot of possibilities, but also more concerns. Different species expand and contract at different rates and even the same species from different boards can do the same. Even so, some of the best wooden paddles made are, indeed, laminated. Makers pay careful attention to things like density, moisture content, grain direction, annular ring orientation, etc. Leaving 70% or more of a $40 board on the floor in the form of shavings is a good argument for buying some glue (which type is a whole other topic of varying opinions).

It’s not.
It’s not the idea of money really. It’s about the learning of the skill.

If it’s about money, I’d just buy a Featherbrand and focus on books for my kids!

Fer yer gluin’ information
an’ not ta be disagreeable, but ah’ found Gorilla Glue an’ Titebond II are not very good glues fer dis type of project. Thaat waar also a glue study done by a prestigeeoos woodworkin’ magazine recently an’ both Gorilla Glue an’ TiteBond II came in purt near last in strength an’ moisture resistance. Epoxy or Titebond III is wat be recommended. Jus’ fer yer info.

Fat Elmo

So what type of wood glues are best for paddle mak’in?

Epoxy or Titebond III