Tool suggestions for paddle making

I’m finishing up school, and I have an extremely busy schedule this semester. I’m taking some time off of work to try to focus as much as I can on my studies, but I’m close to going insane without having something to do (I’ve working in a local factory during school so far). So I thought I’d take up paddle making to give me something to do to relax at night, and let me brain calm down, and let me hands do some work.

So I’m interested in getting started quickly. I order Canoe Paddles by Warren and Gidmark, and I should have it soon. But I’m interested some tools for the job.

Since I’m not working right now, I can’t afford a lot of tools, or really expensive tools. So what do I need to get by? I’d like more than an ax and a crooked knife.

I’m going to start with single piece paddles, and work into laminates as my skill increases. So any suggestions for say top 5 tools to get my by? I’d like to spend under $100 if at all possible.



two …
A spokeshave

and a


along with a good clamp or two …

Tools for addle making
There are a number of tools that can be used but few that are essential.

I second the suggestions of drawknife (4" to 6" blade best, 10" max, no pits on back of blade) and a spokeshave. Stanley made many usable spokeshaves. Model #151 is easiest for beginners to adjust, but all work when adjusted properly.

I like to use a wood clamp with double adjusting screws, placed on it’s side and clamped to some table or other support with a second clamp. This allows me to put the blade in the wood clamp, edge up, and work on the upper edge, throat or shaft. Some paddle makers use rasps and random orbital sanders, others don’t.

One additional tool that you will need, and use frequently, is a block plane. A low angle block plane is best, but harder to find and more expensive. Any Stanley, Millers Falls or Sargent normal angle block plane with a adjustable mouth works well most of the time. If you can’t find one with a adjustable mouth, buy one with a narrow mouth (1/8" or less).

Spokeshave ($5-$15), drawknife ($3-$10), block plane ($5-$15) can usually be found at large flea markets. Take someone who knows tools with you so you’re not ripped off on damaged tools. Used tool dealers charge about double the prices above, as they have to find, buy, clean, and repair the tools. New tools of good quality are very expensive. Older woodworking are better made than all but the most expensive new tools and the wood won’t know the difference if you choose to use old tools.

Keep tools sharp!! Don’t spend $ on sharpening stones at this time. Google “scary sharp” and find info on sharpening with emery cloth on glass- cheap and effective.

Have fun- paddle making is addictive.


You will find a sabersaw or jigsaw (or a coping saw for the hand tool equivalent) to rough cut the paddle out of your blank very useful. Use a draw knife and a spokeshave if you have a lot of time, but to speed things up considerably use a belt sander for fast removal of material on the blade. If you can’t afford these two power tools, you may want to find a friend that you can borrow them from. A standard 1.5" blade woodcarvers knife works well for shaping the grip and throat. Use 1" sanding belts (back and forth pulling) for final shaping the shaft and throat area.

A few suggestions

– Last Updated: Jan-12-07 8:14 AM EST –

A block plane is a good first purchase, as it works great for paddle making many other woodworking projects.

Spokeshaves are great tools, but require a bit more skill than a block plane. Still, I'd recommend buying a flat-soled spokeshave.

I'd skip the drawknife until you have some woodworking experience. While they are great tools in skilled hands, you can do a lot of damage with one in a hurry if you're not careful. I use one occasionally, but prefer tools that provide greater control. Drawknives can also be difficult to sharpen.

Pick up a four-way "shoemakers" rasp. It's a very versatile tool and it'll cost you all of ten bucks.

I second the recommendation of buying used tools, if you know what you're looking for. One of my favorite planes is a Bailey #4 that I found in a pawn shop for $10. Expect to spend several hours reconditioning/sharpening most used tools, as that's the trade-off for the low price. A quick search will turn up all kinds of information on used tools and reconditioning them.

I also agree that sharpening equipment is a mandatory purchase. While it's possible to put a serviceable edge on a tool with sandpaper glued to plate glass, there is no substitute for waterstones for final honing. You can find 1000/4000 grit double-sided stones are very reasonable prices. You'll also want a sharpening guide of some sort. Lee Valley ( makes some good ones.

Yup, wat they said…
an’ MicroPlanes comes in a’mighty handy too.


I appreciate all the posts. While I don’t know how much luck I’m going to have finding used tools in my area, I will make an attempt.

Can anyone recommend some new tools? Maybe from Amazon (I have a lot of gift certificates), or from big places like Lowes etc, so I could look at them before I buy them… and they would actually be in my area.

I have a neighbor who is an excellent woodworker. But due to lack of time during the week at a reasonable hour, I usually only see him on the weekends. I’m going to talk to him and see what tools he has (hoping for a bandsaw!) and where he gets his wood etc…

And as far as knife sharpening goes, a guide like this:,43072

Would that work with plane and spokeshave blades?


Yeah, you don’t need anything too
fancy. I don’t have a planer so I just use a belt sander and then hand sand down to the finishing thickness. I use either cedar or redwood for the blade and cherry for the shaft. The soft wood sands down easily to the correct thickness. I fiberglass the blade for strength. I’ve been using my paddles for a few years now on tough trips and they hold up great. I do put a bead of epoxy on the bottom of the blade to give it extra protection from abrasions.

Laminated easier
The tool recommendations are spot on. If you can find a small band asw that is a great addition.

I have made both single piece and laminsated paddles, and in my experience the laminated are easier. You do have to be careful about grain direction when you do your inital glue up though.

block plane

I bought one of the Stanley “Contractor grade” block planes as my first plane. The sole and the cap iron needed to be honed flat, which I did with sandpaper and a thick piece of plate glass. Once I did that and put a decent edge on the blade it worked nicely.

I’ve made more than my fair share of paddles, and everything I truly need to make a paddle can fit on the front passenger seat of my car.

I’ll second the block plane as the first tool to get. While I prefer good tools, a cheap contractor grade Stanley from Lowes will do the trick. It’s an inexpensive, poorly made imitation of the tools that helped make them famous, but it’ll do.

You can get great deals on older tools, but only if you really know a bit about them first. And we’re talking older tools. A ten year old Stanley is just as dreadful as the ones from today. Find someone who knows and can help, or check out some woodworking forums, such as to get an idea. Neanderthal Haven is the place to start.

Drawknives and spokeshaves both have learning curves that may get you in a heap of trouble on a first paddle. Play with them first.

Just don’t expect any edged tool to be sharp when you first get it. Scary Sharp will work if you are on a budget. You’ll need to go to a good auto finishing supply place though, to get the higher grits of sandpaper.

An inexpensive honing guide for sharpening:,43072,43078&ap=1

A much better honing guide:,43072,43078&ap=1

Veritas also makes a mid-priced version of the Mk.II at Lee Valley.

A decent sanding block ($4) will do in place of an electric sander, and the 4-in-1 rasp ($7-$10) mentioned earlier is handy, as well as a shureform tool ($8?) from Lowes. It’s sort of a cross between a rasp and a hand plane.

You’ll need a few other tools of course, but don’t forget to budget for a good straight edge.

What’s the one tool I wouldn’t want to do without…? It may sound silly, but it’s a battery operated pencil sharpener. A good sharp pencil is almost as important as a sharp blade.

It’s also handy to have a neighbor across the street with a shop full of tools if you are lucky enough… : )



Tools for Paddle Carving
It would be possible to spend more than the $100 budget you’ve allowed yourself just on sharpening materials and supplies alone. Your tool budget isn’t in line with what tools cost these days, as least new. Sorry to say… but that’s the way it is.

Finding all the tools you’ll need in the used market will take quite some time. While it is possible to locate many of the tools you’ll need used you should expect to “pay” the cost difference with your time spent locating them. It comes down to time or money. Forget the flee market approach, that’s a waste of time these days. All that stuff ends up on e-bay these days. Flee markets and road-side antique marts are all but dead as a practical source for good woodworking tools. Check e-bay for some deals, otherwise save yourself the time and hassle by buying new as money allows. Bit by bit a shop is grown…

The “axe and drawknife” approach to paddle carving assumes that you’ll be working from a log rather than a sawn board. That’s fine, but be sure to include in your list of tools a froe for riving. Also be prepared to season your rived lumber for some months before proceeding on to shaping.

If you’ll be working with sawn and dried lumber as most do you’ll want to work with more appropriate edge tools after you’ve planed to thickness with a planer and cut to profile with a band saw (jobs the axe and drawknife could do in cruder work). Personally I find a thickness planer and a band saw very important when I begin making a paddle. You could use an axe and drawknife for these shaping operations, but that is a very time consuming way to go and the results are crude. You could also do the shaping with a crook knife like David Gidmark does in his sophomoric chapter in the Warren book, but again the results tend to be crude. You’d be ahead to borrow the use of someone else’s planer and band saw than to hack out a paddle with an axe, drawknife (and or crook knife). Woodworking is a major hobby these days, lots of people have this machinery and there are local cabinet shops that might do this step for a small fee. After planing and profiling I turn off the power and use only hand tools.

You asked for some tool recommendations, here are some tools I’d suggest:

A scrub plane,41182 This is an expensive plane, but will save you countless hours over the years. I wouldn’t be without a scrub plane.

A smoothing plane

This is the Bailey (Stanley) model. Not the world’s best or most expensive, but fairly good and a lot better than the cheaper Stanley Contractor model.

A low angle block plane The link shows the Stanley #60 1/2 low-angle model. There are more expensive models, this one is fine. Reasonably priced.

Spokeshaves, three different styles

I find the two Stanley spokeshave very useful. The flat is used more than the round sole, but both are handy too have on hand. Again, there are more expensive makes and models, but these will work fine and last a lifetime. Another spokeshave worth having is the Veritas: This tool is expensive, but worth it. Does not replace the Stanley shaves already listed, but is used for finer cuts with great control. NICE tool!

Microplanes, flat and round blade profiles, available course and fine – get all This is loosely based on the old Stanley “Surform” tools, but much cleaner cutting with great control. The Microplanes are particularly valuable for fine grip carving and easing in the shaft at the grip and the throat.

Scrapers The French curve scraper is invaluable. A common handled “paint” scraper is also helpful, available cheap at paint stores.

A ¼ sheet vibrating sander (palm sander) is helpful, but really all sanding can be done by hand if needed. Random Orbit sanders are generally too aggressive (especially on edges). Belt sanders are especially inappropriate for paddle carving; they leave things all lumpy and nasty - very crude. When things go bad they go bad very quickly with a belt sander.

That’s my two cents worth. Opinions expressed are just mine… - Randall

Lee Valley, uh oh
Once you start getting their catalogs, you’ll be hooked for life. You’ll look at things you’ve never seen and exlaim, “What a GREAT idea!” It’s not just tools, though they have more of those than I ever could have dreamt of. It’s the other goodies that’ll gitcha.

Home Depot and hardware stores can’t even come close.

Paddle making tools
If you have a woodworking buddy, his scraps are your gain. To make a canoe paddle, a long, thin rip for the shaft would be great. Two pieces glued together would be better so you start with about a 1 inch square, long shaft. Glue contrasting shorter pieces for the blade to the shaft. Some 24 inch long by 1 to 2 inches wide glued to each side of the shaft (mirror image) till the blade is about 6 to 7 inches wide will work nicely. If you want a T-handle, glue a couple or 2 to 3 inch pieces on the top of the shaft. Now sketch the patten you want for the blade and the t-handle and have your friend use his band saw or a jig saw to the line. You would use a spokeshave to round or oval-ize the shaft and a block plane to taper the blade thinner. A power sander will be helpful here also. Use varnish for the blade, but I only use oil for the upper shaft and handle. Very pretty, very nice and awfully cheap. Do a photo search on google for canoe paddles and chose the design you want. A great experience. It gets a bit more complicated for a kayak paddle with an offset if that is what you want…

Ah’s also has de Lee Valley monkey on me back. It only takes once ta succumb ta de LV addiction.


all the primitive hand tools listed, you guys are either purists or you must have tons of extra time.

For me its;

  • handheld power planer (3-1/2" blade)
  • powered jigsaw
  • powered palm sander
  • 6" block plane
  • shureform tool

    Not the cheapest way to go, but I can whip out a paddle in about 3hrs (not including finish coating)

If you’re just knocking out a basic paddle and you don’t mind a crude look then your 3 hour paddle is good enough for you I’m sure. However some people are into taking their time and carving something a bit more challenging with more finesse. In that case working with edge tools is the way to go. In throwing out dismissive words like “purist” and calling hand tools “primitive” you make it clear that in your opinion craftsmanship is a waste of time. I’m baffled that someone who won’t spend more than the bare minimum amount of time and effort making a paddle would even bother to make one at all. I see no reason to put down others who enjoy the process just because you don’t know how and/or don’t care to learn.

For many working in a craftsman like manner is its own reward, even when making something as simple as a canoe paddle. In my opinion craftsmanship enriches the soul. – Randall

Just a note on sharpening for the budget minded person. Don’t forget the local hardware store who mostlikely has someone who picks up tools to sharpen for a small price. Check out price verses buying all the sharpening equipment and then your time to sharpen. Buy a second blade to swap out as the other gets sharpened. Yes eventually you will need the sharpening tools yourself, if not for saving time in wating for pick up of your newly sharpeded blade. Buying good quality tools is more important though than sharpening supplies.

By your message it sounds like you are not going for the kill and wanting to make 20 paddles a week but for the enjoyment of paddle making. If that’s the case go basic: Hand copping saw, hand rasp, palm-sander, block plane and clamps.

My family has been building canoes & paddles for over 35 years, don’t do it for the end result but for the enjoyment of the journey!


– Last Updated: Jan-13-07 2:24 PM EST –

What is it with some folks here??

arkay, I do not think refering to those who use traditional methods as "purists" is dismissive, nor do I believe that referring to tools that have barely changed design for generations as "primitive", is dismissive either.

As an example; just because I would choose to use a nail gun over a claw hammer to build a house does not mean that the end result would be any less desirable. But I'm sure most would consider the individual using the claw hammer - when a pneumatic nail gun is so readily available - to be a "purist"

I do however believe that the "crude look" "basic paddle" "a bit more challenging" "waste of time" comments in your reply are not only dismissive, but insulting.

The only one "putting people down" here is you.
Perhaps you could find a better use for your time than misinterpreting & insulting other peoples contributions, whether you agree with them or not.

Posted by: arkay on Jan-13-07 8:02 AM (EST)
If you’re just knocking out a basic paddle and you don’t mind a crude look then your 3 hour paddle is good enough for you I’m sure. However some people are into taking their time and carving something a bit more challenging with more finesse. In that case working with edge tools is the way to go. In throwing out dismissive words like “purist” and calling hand tools “primitive” you make it clear that in your opinion craftsmanship is a waste of time. I’m baffled that someone who won’t spend more than the bare minimum amount of time and effort making a paddle would even bother to make one at all. I see no reason to put down others who enjoy the process just because you don’t know how and/or don’t care to learn."

is basically the tools that I use to sort of hack out wood Greenland paddles. Mostly power used with control and restraint and ever the eye on the end result.

Good luck and

Best Wishes