Tips on converting a rectangle

into a circle or oval, in wood that is. As in paddle shaft. I have done 3 and can get close but I’m a long way from dowel perfect.

My guess
is that the pro’s use a jig or template to make the shape perfect and consistent from one paddle to the next. I’m not a pro – just a guesser.


rounding corners
To make a nice round oval or circle cross-section with simple hand-tools, the best approach is to cut a chamfer (that’s a 45 degree bevel) on all four corners down to the diameter you want. If you sketched the shape you want to finish with on the end of the board, you’d be shaving off the corner to create a tangent to that circle/oval. I usually do this with a very sharp chisel (paying close attention to grain direction), but you could also do it with a spokeshave or a handplane. You’ll have an octagon now. Next shave off all 8 of those corners again, until the new faces are tangential to the finished shape. Then shave off those 16 corners you’ve created. By this point you’ve pretty much got your circle or oval, and you can just smooth things out to your liking.

paddle shaft shaping

– Last Updated: Apr-29-10 10:53 PM EST –

I square up the shaft to within 1/32" of the final diameter(s) I'm looking for. For an oval shaft that would be 1 5/32" x 1 9/32" (final dimensions 1 1/8" x 1 1/4") and for a round shaft 1 9/32" for final dimension of 1 1/4". On a straight paddle I go ahead and glue the grip and blade materials on before I start shaping it. I use a 1/2" roundover bit with a top guide bearing on a table router to take most of the waste wood off. On a bent shaft paddle, I measure and mark off the grip length and blade length on the shaft, leave that area as square stock for the grip and blade glueup later, and run the rest through the router. A small amount of see-saw hand sanding on the former 4 sides of your shaft blank with a 80 grit sanding belt will rapidly round up the flat spots on either an oval or round shaft to finish shaping it.

Spoke Shave
they are kind of fun to work with too.

just make sure it is sharp.

Wish I had the time.



Yes, there is a jig
an example of which is shown in this book on paddle making. The jig scribes lines based on 2/7 of the shaft width (as I recall - don’t bet the farm on this fraction). After that, it is spokeshave time.


Jim, that looks like a good reference

I am making an ottertail one from a single piece of wood. So far I have it blanked(shape sawn out).

You can aim for perfection using
the methods described here - my favorite would be square to octagon to sixteen sides to round method - but, to me, those little ridges, flats, tool marks and evidence of human effort that you see and feel on a hand-carved paddle are where the magic lives. Put a little of your soul into it, String. Just enough so the next owner can sense it.

There won’t be a next owner in my
lifetime. If nothing else, like the GP I made from WRC, this one will go on the den wall.This one is cherry.

Who said anything about your lifetime?
I’ve got a few handmade utilitarian items, such as tools, that I’ve picked up at barn sales and flea markets the makers of which are long dead. Just about every time I use them I think something like, “Man! Whoever made this thing really knew what they were doing!” and I’m grateful for their effort.

I hate seeing great old tools used as decorative items.

Does sort of sound like a museum.

– Last Updated: Apr-30-10 8:40 AM EST –

Mine live in the den, but have been known to go out and play.

I just use my credit card.

That’s the spirit!

So, I’m looking around for paddle
shape ideas and find Dri-Ki Woodworking in Canada who will make an Ottertail paddle from ash for $30.

That’s OK. I’m a builder first and a paddler second.

He’s in Patten, ME.
I have one of his beavertails I bought at Indian Hill Trading Post in Greenville, ME almost twenty years ago. If they’re still as good, $30 is a bargain.

Half cut PVC pipe in radius you like.
Place sand paper inside and go for it.