Making a canoe paddle

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I started carving a single piece Eastern Red Cedar canoe paddle a few days ago and it’s about 75% done. This is my first attempt at a paddle and so far it looks decent. It’s not a thing of beauty, but I think it will work well and look fairly nice when it’s finished.
Has anyone else tried paddle making?

(Dennis Lanigan) #2

My best friend made an ash paddle in a class at Traditional Ways gathering in Ashland, WI. It was insanely perfect. She’s amazing. I recommend that gathering if you’re in the area.

Anyway, I’m more focused on bows and arrows right now, so that’s what I’m working on. Next I want to make a crooked knife to make more wood projects like paddles and spoons, etc… Check this out:


I’ve made a few canoe paddles over the years. My wood of choice was yellow cedar from the west coast.


This is a case of using what is available. I walked out, found a dead standing red cedar pretty close to the size I wanted and cut out a section.

Next I’ll probably try ash or walnut for the same reasons. Easy to work with and I have it available.


Yeah that’s the way to do it.
I had access to lot of old growth cedar at the time.

What are you using to make it?
Solid wood or veneered?


Solid wood. I’m carving it out of a trunk section.


I applied a beeswax paste to the paddle a couple days ago and have started heating and polishing it. An actual paddle maker would probably throw it away, but I’m looking forward to testing it in the canoe.


We got out and used the canoe today for a few hours, just paddling and poling around on the creek. The new paddle is much heavier and less efficient than my purchased one, but I expected that. It’s a first effort and I’m quite happy that it works and fits me pretty well.


Further thoughts: the blade is too long and narrow for efficient use in water as shallow as our creek usually is, but the heaviness and thickness is nice for pushing off and getting around rocks.

Next I think I’ll make something like a beavertail design with as wide and short a blade as I can manage carving down a solid piece of tree trunk. Maybe I’ll cut a piece of tulip poplar or sassafras next time I’m up at my other place.


I’ve started a tulip poplar paddle. It’s going pretty well so far. I think a crooked knife would make some of the smoothing and closer trimming less risky than the drawknife.


I noticed that almost everyone is making laminated paddles now. There is someone at a museum in Ontario who was carving solid ones.
It makes sense, given that most people can’t just go cut an appropriate tree, split and carve it.


The blade is close to done. I’m roughing out part of the handle and thinking about the final blade shape.