Shaving a paddle

I’ve got a nice cherry paddle with a round shaft that I’d prefer to be oval. I also have an old flat soled spokeshave (Stanley 61). Should I wait and get a convex shave for the grip/blade transitions, or just have at it and try to fair everything with rasp, files and sandpaper? And no, I don’t have no crook’d knife neither. Thanks, Tom

I suggest improving the grip instead.
If you do too much ovaling of that cherry shaft, you may find you have induced a tendency for the blade to flutter under heavy effort. And of course you will have weakened the shaft.

A paddle builder typically plans a paddle shaft’s dimensions based on whether the shaft will be round or oval. The builder doesn’t include extra wood for future ovaling or rounding by the customer, because the goal is to get as light and flexible shaft as possible without risking breakage in the field.

I regularly use both round and oval shaft paddles, and as a whitewater paddler, I am throwing cross strokes and wild braces where I need to be able to feel the blade angle. I find an oval shaft much less help than a properly designed, modified t-grip. I now make all my own t-grips, and each gives me instant feedback as to the angle of the paddle blade.

So, unless you are sure that you have a lot of surplus cherry “meat” on the sides of your paddle shaft, I would leave it alone.

g2d has a valid point
but if you are looking to put your flatwater paddle on a diet I say go for it!

If the shaft does in fact have enough “meat” you should be able to judiciously remove small amounts to get the desired oval effect. This summer I slimmed down a Bending Branches, both in the shaft and in the blade using a Stanley flat-sole spokeshave. You will be amazed at how well the flat model gets into inside curves.

I bought a curved-sole model, and have had little use for it.

My suggestions (based upon my experience):

  • Be conservative in what you remove. Tiny amounts are essential in not going too far.

  • A Stanley low-angle block plane is very useful for much of the shaft shaping.

  • Use sandpaper strips (from the plumbing department) to smooth the shaft after shaving. Use a shoe-shining action with the blade clamped securely.

  • Did I say work slowly and conservatively?

    Have fun! I am happy with the paddle I now have - it is a pleasure to use, opposed to the club it was.


It’s a Kettlewell Special
and don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing but respect for his design/craftsmanship and your experience. The paddle is used for deep water cruising only and has an unusually long blade. There seems to be enough ‘meat’ on the shaft for me to take a little off safely. The grip is of traditional style,but feels a bit small to me. I’m not ready to try any modifications there, as of yet. As far as flutter is concerned, I do already notice a vibration during quick underwater recoveries, but this is the blade, as the throat is never involved. Thanks G! -Tom

ex periment fist
Try using a section of round dowel and making that into an oval. It is very difficult to go from round to oval or from round to smaller round and keep your shape using hand tools, and you may decide not to modify the paddle after trying it.

Traditinal round and oval sections using hand tools start out either square (for round) or rectangular (for oval). Going from 4 sides to 8 sides to 16 sides to … and sanding for the final step gives a very smooth and symmetrical paddle shaft.

Thats what I would use
I can’t address if it is a good or bad idea. But the spoke shave is exactly what I would use to make it with. Among other tools of course. Properly set, it’s a good tool for the job.

Practice on scrap!

Get the blade as sharp as you can. If you can’t shave with it, it isn’t truly sharp.

Set it to cut fine fluffy shavings. That way you sneak up on the size you want. Yea, it takes longer but you don’t sit there and go DANG!

It’s a lot easier to take more off than put some back on. So take you time if you do this.

It was my big ash
Maine guide (Northwoods style?) that I just love to death that inspired me. The shaft on that bad boy is considerably thinner and I’ve pulled harder on it than I’m ever likely to on the Ray’s Special. Dimensionally, we’re talking nominal 5/4 (1 1/8") diameter. Is ash really less brittle than the cherry? I mean, the growth rings look tightly spaced and the grain’s nice and straight, but the cherry is certainly lighter in weight. The spokeshave seems like the ideal tool for this, although I’m inexperienced with one. With the blade clamped in my front vise (vertical), it shouldn’t be hard to maintain horizontal strokes to get narrow flats on each side, sighting from the grip end to avoid hollows. I’ll practice on some scrap first and let all of you fine folks know how things worked out when it’s done. thanks to all, Tom

Don’t forget balance

– Last Updated: Dec-18-07 7:53 PM EST –

Before you do anything put that paddle in your hands and note the balance. If you shave the shaft, the balance shifts to the blade side and your paddle is going to feel way heavier in use if it is out of balance. And if you can't thin down that blade anymore to balance out what you are going to remove from the shaft, do not proceed!

like the difference between a good and great chef’s knife. I get it! And you are entirely correct! Part of what’s good about this paddle is its slower cadence, although that long thin blade is a bit twitchy down there. I think using it has improved my solo strokes. Maybe I’m not giving that unfamiliar feeling round shaft enough time. Thank you, Mr. Moose, for saving me from myself. The exchange rate would have hurt nearly as much as the embarassment of asking nice Mr. K to make me a new one! -Tom

Good point about balance
My shaving project resulted in a paddle that was much less blade-heavy than the original, which contributes greatly to its current pleasurable feel.

You may have to judiciously trip the blade to account for the wood lost from the shaft, but only a bit I believe.

I am still a big fan of ovalized shafts for flatwater canoe paddles. For WW, all mine (Mitchells and BB) have round shafts.


Shaving a paddle
I build almost all of my paddles with an oval shaft. I like the feel and control. Most of my customers seem to feel likewise. The greatest stresses on the shaft are in line with the larger dimension of the oval, thus very little practical loss of strength takes place by ovaling the shaft.

On the outside chance that you remove a bit too much and the shaft feel a bit “soft” you have the option of wrapping the lower portion of the shaft with fiberglass cloth and epoxy. The fiberglass can be faired into the shaft and blade. Once varnished, it will be nearly invisible and the shaft will be stronger/stiffer than before you began the project.

I reinforce the lower portion of almost all of my shafts. Recently I have begun using carbon fiber to further strengthen some shafts. The downside of using carbon is one of appearance. Since it can’t be made “invisible” like fiberglass, care must be taken to lay out the reinforcement so that it is not only functional, but attactive as well.

Marc Ornstein

Dogpaddle Canoe Works

What about just taping it up?
Rather than take wood away, what about building the area up with tape (duct tape/electrical tape/etc.) ?

Likely to be tacky and messy. An
alternative used on an old “DoubleTorque” aluminum kayak shaft I have, is to tape or glue a shaped Nylon piece to the “front” or “back” of the shaft to achieve an oval feel. This actually works pretty well, but shaping the Nylon must be a pain.

Another approach would be to start with a piece of light wood, maybe 1.25 square, and then rout a semicircular groove down the length of the piece, with a radius the same as the round canoe shaft one will be modifying. Then one can carefully carve down the other three sides of the add-on, until one has a rather thin, shaped piece that can be glued on to the front or back of the original shaft. The add-on has to be as long as the region where one’s hand is likely to be during use. It could be cherry for appearance, or a contrasting wood. Once it is glued on, final tapering of the upper and lower end can be done. I would not use this type of modification on a round-shaft that is quite flexible, because the add-on is going to stiffen the shaft.

A crude approach would be to mask the sides, mix up a batch of epoxy thickened with microballoons and non-itchy fibers, and apply it to the front and back of the shaft. The hardened resin can be rasped and sanded down to the desired oval shape. I don’t really like that solution either.

The paddle I used most for several years had an oval shaft, and when I had to stop using it (because the Dynel fibers in the sleeve were causeing skin breakdown), and went to a very similar paddle with a round shaft, I found I didn’t miss the oval at all. My philosophy still is, if the grip is all it should be, the shaft might as well be round. With a cheesy little grip, an oval shaft may be of real benefit.

That feeling of control

– Last Updated: Dec-20-07 10:08 AM EST –

that Marc alluded to is what I've become accustomed to. In whitewater, g2d likes his T grip w/ round shaft. I understand why. When I'm out in calm conditions, I'm primarily concerned with precise control and a steady cadence. I try to keep 'soft hands' on my stick. Mostly, I'm barely hanging on to it, as a 'death grip' only causes me wrist problems. With an oval shaft, I can sense the blade orientation with my bottom hand, while keeping the fingers and thumb of my top hand relaxed and pushing only with the heel during the power phase. The Ray's Special seems like it should be a good paddle for this technique. I just miss the feel of the oval shaft! It could just be 'old dog' syndrome. As far as adding composites to my paddle, that's not going to happen. I'm going to keep this beauty one solid piece of black cherry (with a hint of quilted figure, I might add) and varnish. I even kinda like Ray's strangely stylized goose(?) logo! Thanks all, Tom