Wood for kayak paddles.

I love the characteristics and performance of the Western Red Cedar I used to build my first kayak paddle. But for my next one I’d like to laminate it up with some other color woods for the looks. I’m trying for a light colored wood with properties that match closely the benefits of WRC (light weight, bouyancy, strength, water and rot resistance).

I’m considering Sitka Spruce, Alaskan Yellow Cedar and Poplar. Which of these light colored woods comes closest to what I seek for paddle building?


If not allowed to say HD foam then I
would use balsa … : )

Forced on opinion aside … I would say check out paulownia.

I know nothing about making paddles
but the paddlemaker suggested basswood instead of cedar, when I wanted a dark-stained GP. another one he made for me has a contrasting laminate of ash down the center of the cedar.

Sitka spruce has everything except rot
resistance. Too bad, because it has a very high strength to weight ratio.

You mean he stained the basswood
dark? I have basswood keyboards in a harpsichord and a clavichord, and the color is cream when shellacked.

Basswood is a predictable filler wood for paddles, usually having no hidden faults, but not contributing any special stiffness or toughness.

using a “Jacobean” stain to get a brown-black color; without stain it is indeed a cream color. he compared the strength & light weight to cedar but it is harder to ding/scratch than my cedar one.

here’s a pic of it



I’ve used basswood as filler.
But it’s not suitable for the blades, as it can be dinged much to easily. It’s basically quite soft.

I should have been clearer about my intent. I have a spine of good Western Red Cedar that will run the full length of my next Aleut paddle. I seek a blond wood that has similar strength and isn’t too soft for the blades, which will be laminated onto the spine.

I did consider basswood for this part, but think it’s too risky, too soft. I will use it to lam up the thickness of the WRC spine on the loom; then lam over that a harder wood for looks and durability, so that the outer surface of my loom will take abuse. The blades may need to take even more abuse. So basswood is out.

I can tell you that

– Last Updated: Dec-02-11 12:24 AM EST –

I had some concerns about it too but have been pleased with its durability, and the wood is harder than I thought it would be; still shows no dings, whereas my cedar one has a few, and the basswood one has seen more use.

I have pics of the ash stripe on the cedar if you want to see what that looks like.

White pine
Clear white pine works great in combination with cedar. It’s a little heavier and stiffer, but used in moderation, it won’t result in an overly heavy or stiff paddle.

Sure. Show me pix.

You mean ordinary “white wood”?
The SPF as they call it from the lumber store?

Woods for paddles
I have used WRC for a number of Aleut and Greenland paddles

An Aleut with a solid sitka core is quite strong and therefore more trustworthy than an all WRC for longer trips/harder use. With a sitika core, I’ve used WRC, yellow cedar and redwood for the blade portion. The redwood looks great but I have doubts about durability-haven’t used it enough to be sure. The yellow cedar blades look quite good and have held up in the limited use I’ve given them. My Aleutian paddle with a sitka core and red cedar blades has been used, abused, refinished and repaired a few times. The latest Aleutians I have made are all red cedar and are holding up so far.

The 12-15 GPs I’ve made are usually solid cedar.

I have made a few hollow shaft GPs and did a class building 15 of them with ConnYak members. They were made of laminations of red cedar, oriented in differing positions, using Gorilla glue as the adhesive. The construction of this paddle requires 11 glue lines- not as tedious as it sounds, as multiple glue lines are clamped at the same time. I strongly recommended sealing finished laminated blades with epoxy. Even if all WRC, the strips may have different expansion and contraction characteristics. The only lamination issue so far in 18 hollow shaft paddles, with 11 laminations in each paddle, came from a second owner removing the epoxy coating at the paddle tip, exposing the laminations to water- crack repaired with epoxy/sawdust and super glue.

After years of making wood paddles and using a few of them very frequently for 6-8 years, I’m now far less concerned with appearance. If you use a wood paddle, it will earn its share of scars and bruises no matter how careful the user is. Take pride in the mottled appearance telling how much its being used. Solid WRC paddles shouldn’t be sealed with epoxy-oil or no finish is sufficient and much easier to refinish/sand.

Think where and how the paddle will be used. Surf, multi-day trips and rock gardening subject the paddle to far more stress than the casual paddling most of us do. If you are more into those hard core uses, consider a thin spline of hardwood in the core of a laminated red cedar paddle. For the rest of us, solid red cedar is fine. Don’t fixate on appearance, as with frequent use it will inevitably developed the patina of a veteran paddle.


You suggested pix.
I’d really love to see them.

So if I read you correctly, you’re really satisfied with basswood for the blades, right?

My desires re appearance are purely aesthetic. I like the look of different colored woods.

My one and only DIY Aleut paddle of WRC is pretty much a perfectly functional paddle, just not as pretty as I’d like to make my next one. But I also want my next one to function at least as well as my first one.

BTW, I don’t intend to do rock gardens nor WW. This is purely for flat and mild bay/ocean use.

you should have email
from me this morning with pics?

dunno if there are different types of basswood but I was pleasantly surprised; whatever kind he used is nice and tough.

I’m looking forward to it.
Nothing in the email as yet, but the day is early…

wood exoperience

– Last Updated: Dec-03-11 12:22 PM EST –

I make lots of canoe paddles (and a couple kayak paddles) and have used some of those woods - not the poplar.

Straight grained Sitka spruce makes a great paddle. Not as durable as a hardwood, but it is tough enough, pretty light and easy to work and has a nice spring to it.

Alaskan yellow cedar is exceptionally easy to carve - my favorite with a plane or spokeshave. It makes a light paddle, but dents quite easily in use.

I would also recommend alder, if you can get a piece that is straight grained. some call it poor man's cherry.

Cherry is also nice. becomes deep red-brown (in time) with a linseed oil finish. ends up with a beautiful color.

Birch if you need a white hardwood. 1/4 sawn ash works pretty well. Plain-sawn ash is hard to work with hand tools because of grain pulls (you'll end up sanding alot).

SPF? Yes and No
For use in paddles, I typically go to a local lumber yard and buy “C-Select” white pine. It may be possible to find a good SPF board, but you’re likely to have to sort through a lot of wood, if you can find one at all. HD and Lowes both sell good grade pine, but it’s usually near the hardwood section, not in the construction lumber area.

woods for use in paddles
For the one greenland paddle I made with a hardwood spline in the center I used Alder wood. The choice was based on what my friend had in sufficient length in his scrap pile and weight, not profound study.

Shaw & Tenney paddle makers in Orono ME make a few double blade paddles every year using Sassafras wood. Makes a light and strong paddle. Not very good looking wood-has a course grain with a dark color as they use it. I don’t know it thats from stain, their finish, or how the wood usually looks.

Yellow cedar is soft, as stated above and tends to dent easily, but it finishes with a delightful golden color.

For anyone just starting in making a GP, Brian Nystrom’s book is excellent.

****Be sure to use a dusk mask when machining or sanding all woods and especially cedars. I’m mildly allergic to red cedar dust from days spent in wood canoe shops in the 80’s and by religiously using a mask , the allergy hasn’t gotten worse.