Thursday, February 7, 2008

Laminated Greenland Kayak Paddle

I've been on a couple kayaking day trips which have been great, but I'm much happier kneeling in a canoe with a single blade paddle controlling all the movement. The sitting position in a kayak wreaks havoc on my back. Put me in a canoe on the other hand, and I can kneel on my heels for hours without discomfort. Given the popularity of kayaking over canoeing in recent times, I guess I'm in the minority. In addition, I've always found that the feathered, euro blade, plastic paddles used in modern kayak touring seem designed just to scoop as much water as possible to power you through the water. They've always been too cumbersome for underwater recoveries and finesse strokes to propel the watercraft. The simplistic but graceful lines of the Greenland Inuit kayak paddle on the other hand, seems much more ergonomic and suited to the task of long distance paddling and given my new found woodworking confidence with the single blades, I thought I would give a shot at making one.

There are plenty of sources on the net to guide the newbie. The two I relied on included Chuck Holst's guide on the Greenland Paddle and Matt Johnson's Video on the topic. Most sources recommend carving out of 2x4 cedar obtained at a home building store, but I wanted to dive into making laminated paddles and figured this would be relatively easy since the blade shapes are quite narrow (under 3.5 inches) and simple in shape.

I started off with a trip to Century Mill for some new stock. I ended up getting some maple, poplar, and walnut pieces jointed and planed into 1 1/8th strips. I chose this dimension because this is also the size for my canoe paddle shafts and wanted to have some for intended laminated canoe paddles down the road. I also scored some very affordable walnut and maple pieces by rummaging through their "shorts" pile...discarded pieces cut from other stock. In many cases, these were perfectly suited to rip into strips to form blade or grip areas. At up to a 70% discout these were great deals on otherwise "discarded" wood.

After getting the strips home, I selected the best one (a 90 inch Yellow Poplar strip) for the core and begun measuring & using the walnut strips for the blade sections.

There a many debates about the best adhesives with most people siding with epoxy. But given that this was my first attempt, I didn't want to get jugs of the mixing formulas in case the experience was a bust. Also, epoxy cures so hard that it can blunt hand tools quickly so I opted for a waterproof polyurethane glue (Gorilla Glue) that seemed appropriate for water-based application like a paddle.

After measuring the strips, I clamped each side of the paddle by vertically stacking them and applying clamps to the flat surface of the granite tabletop on the balcony (covered in wax paper to prevent any drips from supergluing to the table). After the 24 full cure time, I clamped the other side in the same fashion. Within 2 days I had finished the laminating process and begun to cut the rough shape of the blades with the trust hand saw and the blank was ready for shaping.

Shaping the blade was a breeze after working on the larger, irregular shaped canoe paddles. A simple cambering process and general tapering of the blade resulted in a paddle I was quite happy with. Carving the shaft (loom) of the paddle followed the same logic as a canoe paddle, except I used a rasp to slightly angle where the walnut blades met the poplar core, resulting in tiny "shoulders" where one grips the paddle during use.Most sources also mention rounding the tip into a semicircle shape, but I felt that the whole angular and linear shape of the paddle would be broken by this, so I left the edges straight.

On my 2007 Arctic Trip, we sea kayaked twice...once quickly spotting a solitary ringed seal and then a second time visiting an Arctic Tern rookery on tiny offshore that was amazing! The terns are one of the most graceful and acrobatic birds I've ever seen. They "nest" on the island by simply laying well camouflaged eggs on the bare rocks. Eventually, they hatch into even more camouflaged chicks and we had to literately watch each step on the island for fear of stepping on them by mistake, all the while their protective parents would dive bomb and miss striking our heads by mere inches. I decided to decorate my inuit style paddle with an Arctic Tern burning on one blade and an Inukshuk symbol on the other to comemmorate my trip to Nunavut.

The completed paddle sanded down

Arctic Tern burning on one blade

Inukshuk burning on the other blade

Decorating the wall before varnishing and test run in the spring

May 5/08 UPDATE: This paddle has now been varnished. View it here.


Lee said...

excellent stuff man.Love your paddles.I recently just jumped into the world of making greenland paddles myself.One complete!Was looking on google to find how to make a laminate paddle and found your site.

Beautiful paddle man.


Murat said...

Many thanks. In retrospect, I should have rounded the edges like an authentic Greenland paddle. The squared tips are quite splashy and noisy when paddling. Maybe something to consider in case you want to replicate this one.


Lee said...

yeah for sure.Was interested in the process of lamination.Seems pretty strait forward.Will make for a lot less work cutting and shaping with the loom pretty well alreday cut out.


HikingStick said...

Question for you: how durable has the Gorilla Glue proved to be? Is it something you'd recommend?

Murat said...

Yes. I've found it is easy to use and clean up as well as work down with hand tools without dulling blades. The catch is that the edges have to be perfectly planed to work and the paddle would need to be varnished if you plan on heavy use. I've oiled laminated paddles before but they only occasionally see the water.

photographeratlarge said...

Thanks for this article. Using it and the links I made my first Greenland paddle this spring (2019). It was so great and led to another 2 for my parents for Christmas. The shipping from Regina, SK to Huntsville, ON was more $ than all the materials! I made them out of cedar so the idea of bone protecting the tips of the blades was really interesting. After some experimenting, I melted down #2 HDPE plastic bottles and made "bone" tips. A summer of jamming them into sand and rocks proved they take the abuse! Thanks again for the inspiration and the great blog!

Rob Vida
Regina, SK

Post a Comment

Newer Posts Older Posts Home Page