A Paddle with a Twist: Making a Feathered Kayak Paddle

061130-28

The main problem homebuilders face when trying to build a feathered kayak paddle is how to make the feather. Most builders either buy an adjustable ferrule that allows several different angles of feathering for the paddle or they build a scarfing jig that allows them to cut the shaft at an angle to give the proper feather and later they glue the two pieces together. The third method, which is the one that I like, involves twisting a multiple laminates to the feathered angle and holding them in place on a building form while the glue dries. This article describes the third method.

Choosing Materials

    Tools Needed:
  • 12 to 18 Clamps
  • Jigsaw
  • Screw Gun
  • Drill
  • Hammer
  • Materials Needed:

  • 2 – 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ x 8′ WRC
  • 1 – 1/4″ x 1 1/2″ x 8′ ash or other hardwood
  • 1 – Bottle of PU Glue or epoxy and wood flour
  • 1 – 2″ x 8″ x 8′ for strongback or a building strongback
  • 6 – 12″ x 6″ x 3/4″ plywood for forms
  • 6 – 1″ x 1″ X 6″ blocks for fastening forms to strongback
  • 2 handfuls – 1 1/2″ screws

The laminates for this project should be selected from good quality wood. I suggest using a softwood and hardwood combo. You’ll save weight with the softwood and add stiffness with the hard wood. Western Red Cedar is perfect softwood for this project, and Ash the perfect hardwood. Using this combo for a 215 cm paddle, you’ll have a shaft that weighs around 1 pound 8 ounces after rounding the shaft and shaping the blade attachment area, but before adding blades.

When you’re looking for the cedar, try to find a clear 2″ x 4″ with straight grain to cut your 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ laminates from. The entire 2″ x 4″ need not be clear if you can cut, at least, the two clear 1/2″ slabs from the board. For the hardwood, I like to use ash. On the example shaft shown in this article, I use two 4′ pieces of 1/4″ x 1 1/2″ ash and butt jointed them in the center of the shaft. This may result in a slight weakness at the center of the paddle, so when you’re looking for wood, try to find a full 8′ hardwood piece.

Regardless of woods you use, you’ll need to have two slabs of softwood that measure 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ x 8′ and one 1/4″ x 1 1/2″ X 8′ piece of hardwood. When laminated together, this will yield a shaft blank of 1 1/2″ by 1 1/4″. The 1 1/2″ side will run perpendicular to the blades and the 1 1/4″ will be parallel to the blades. Make sure to sand the surface of all your laminates to provide a smooth gluing face before you join them in the jig.

Set-Up

After the wood is selected, cut, and prepared the next step is to build the mold and forms for the shaft. This is done in two steps: 1. Building the forms, and 2. Mounting the forms to the strongback.

Making the Shaft Forms

First, cut forms out of 3/4″ plywood. These should measure 12″x6″. On these forms, you’ll cut the opening for the shaft to slide through for gluing. Draw a line 3″ from the long side of each form parallel to the long side as a centerline. Then draw a second line perpendicular to this 8″ from the bottom of the form. The intersection of these two lines will become the center of the paddle shaft. On three of these, draw a rectangle with sides parallel to these lines with the top 1.5″ long and the vertical sides 1.25″ wide. Center these rectangles on the intersection point.

On the next three forms, you’ll need to draw opening that are offset to the degree of feathering that you want. I recommend 60 degrees as a good feather if you don’t know what your preference is. You also will need to account for possible springback, which is the tendency of the wood to want to return to its natural shape, when you take your shaft off of the forms. I’ve experienced about 5 degrees of springback on my cedar/ash shaft. With a protractor, measure 65 degrees off of the centerline and at the intersection point of the two lines you’ve previously drawn, and then draw a new line running from the intersection point to the 65 degree mark. The 5 extra degrees added to the 60-degree feather will, hopefully, account for any springback.

Next, draw a line perpendicular to your 65-degree line and draw a 1.5″ x 1.25″ box around these lines with the top and sides parallel to the new lines.

Cut these rectangles out with an eye to accuracy. You’ll want to test each on to make sure that your shaft blank will slide through each hole. The better they are now, the easier it will be later.

Mounting to the Strongback

After the forms are built it is time to mount the forms to the strongback. I use a straight and flat 2″x8″x8′ screwed to two leveled sawhorses for my strongback. If you have a strongback that you use to build canoes or kayaks, it will work just as well as a 2″x8″. First, snap a centerline down the middle of your strongback. You’ll align the center of the forms to this line. Next, find the center of the strongback and draw a line across it.

Before, you can start adding the blocks to mount forms to; you must determine the length of your grip when holding onto a paddle. Measure from thumb to thumb while gripping a paddle as you normally would. The twist must occur in a distance less than your thumb-to-thumb grip. I use a distance of 18″ for the twist, which should work for most paddlers. On each side of the centerline, measure half of your thumb-to-thumb distance minus two inches from the centerline and draw a line across the strongback. This will be where you mount your center-most forms. So, my first two forms are mounted 9″ away from the centerline. For the rest of the forms, measure and draw lines 15″ apart.

After you have the form locations drawn, you’ll need to add mounting blocks. Mounting blocks are 1″x1″x6″ and are screwed to the strongback on the opposite side of the form location line from the centerline. Your forms will screw into these blocks.

Now comes the hard part. First, mount all the forms to the strongback using screws or clamps so that the centerlines are lined up with the centerlines of the strongback and so that the centerlines are also plumb vertically. Make sure the two end forms furthest from the center of the strongback are aligned and plumb and then screw those in.

After this initial lineup is finished, you should check alignment with a string-line. To do this, first mount several pieces of wood across the openings of the end forms, so that the string can sit in the center of the opening in the form. Run the string through each of the forms and check alignment of the center of the openings in each of the forms. To make sure each form is aligned correctly, check the string-line, check plumb, check alignment of the form on the strongback, and finally, if you step back and look down the forms, you should be able to see all the form’s centerlines lined up visually.

After all the forms are aligned, screw them all in and add alignment marks to the three that are cut to the 65 degrees. You will use these alignment marks to remount the forms during the gluing process. Go ahead and remove the 65-degree forms, but leave the screws in them.

A last part of the form prep is to tape the inside edges of the forms with masking tape to prevent the glue from sticking to the forms.

Gluing up the Shaft

After the forms are mounted it’s time to glue up the shaft. First, mark the center of all the boards. As you glue up the laminates and slide them into the forms, you must make sure that the centers are lined up, and you must make sure that the center of the laminates aligns with the center of the form.

Before you glue, set out a box of between 12 and 18 clamps. Get your screw gun ready, so that you can quickly remount the forms after they are on the shaft, and then set to gluing.

When gluing make sure to follow the directions for the type of glue you’re using whether that is epoxy glue or PU glue. Make sure you wear gloves and take all necessary safety precautions for hazardous materials. When you’re ready, coat each surface of your laminates liberally with glue, put them together, and align the center lines, then align one end and clamp it tightly.

Getting the shaft onto the Forms

Most glue has very limited working time, so after you apply the glue, you must work quickly. It doesn’t hurt to have help during this step. First, slide the glued shaft through the three forms that are still mounted to the form. Any excess glue that leaks from the shaft will help work as lubrication. If the shaft is hard to get through the forms, use a hammer to pound it through. When the centerlines align, slide the forms that you unscrewed from the strongback onto the shaft.

Once all these are on the shaft, twist them and the shaft until the forms align with the marks you made earlier. Then screw the forms back into place. Quickly check alignment by sighting down the centerlines, and then start clamping. While you’re clamping, take time to align all the laminates to each other between the forms. Try to get, at least, three clamps between each form. Note that PU glue requires tight clamping, but epoxy gluing should be slightly looser.

Pull the Shaft

After the glue is dried – follow the directions – it’s time to pull the shaft off of the forms. The easiest way is to remove all the forms from the strongback and then take off each form one at a time. The shaft will probably need some slight planning and sanding to remove glue leaks.

Mark the Shaft

The next step is to layout your shaft. First, cut the shaft to the length of paddle that you want. You MUST measure from the center our in order to keep the twist where it needs to be. Then you can mark out the blade location. Draw lines around the shaft at the distance from the end of the shaft to the throat of the paddle. When you’re rounding the shaft, make sure not to go past this line. After that, redraw the centerline, and then draw lines for rounding.

For rounding, I like to draw lines a 1/4″ from each corner and then plane down to those line, then round from there. You may notice some difficultly in the center of the paddle as you plane down the twist, go slowly, and think about what you’re doing.

Making the Blades

You have several options for making blades: carbon fiber, fiberglass, wood, or a combination of each. Nick Schade’s book, The Strip-Built Sea Kayak: Three Rugged, Beautiful Boats You Can Build, describes an easy way to make wood blades. (If you don’t own Nick Schade’s book, you should! Buy it at Amazon.com. Read my review.) An other book that describes paddle building is Graham Warren and David Gidmark’s Canoe Paddles: A Complete Guide to Making Your Own. Warren and Gidmark’s book mainly discusses canoe paddle building, but it does have an excellent chapter on kayak paddles. And Duane Strosaker describes a way to make carbon fiber blades on his website . Fiberglass blades can be made the same way as Duane makes carbon fiber blades, but use six layers of glass in the initial lay-up and two the three when attaching the blades to the shaft. You can also dye the blades a nice color to avoid the ugly white of fiberglass.

Finishing the Shaft

After the blades are attached, do any final shaping of the shaft to blend the shaft into the blades and then sand the shaft with 80-grit first and make your way to 220-grit sandpaper. An epoxy coating will result in a smooth shaft and oiling will result in a shaft with more texture. I like to oil the shaft, let the oil soak in, sand, soak, sand, and soak. In my opinion, an oiled shaft give a better grip when the shaft is wet or when you have neoprene gloves on.

Making Drip Rings

One disadvantage of a one piece paddle like you’ve just completed is that there is no easy way to attach drip rings, but you can make your own. The easiest way to make some is to wrap twine around the shaft wherever you like your drip rings, build up the twine, tie it off, and then glue it is place with epoxy or varnish.

Conclusion

By following these directions, you will end up with a moderately stiff to stiff feathered one-piece paddle. And if you made carbon fiber or fiberglass blades, the final paddle should weigh around 32 to 40 ounces. A tough light homemade feathered euro paddle is hard to beat.


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6 Comments

  1. C
    Posted December 30, 2009 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    A hollow shaft can be created with laminates using this method:
    http://www.duckworksmagazine.com/03/r/articles/birdsmouth/mast.htm

  2. Posted December 30, 2009 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Nice article. I knew about the method, but didn’t find that it would produce the same type of paddle with a 60 feather as I did with this method.

  3. C
    Posted December 30, 2009 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    We did make a feathered paddle using the spar method. Two of the sides of the octagon were elongated to provide the ‘oval’ shape. We twisted it and clamped the whole thing down to a bench. It was rather malleable before the epoxy set. Kind of like playing pool with spaghetti. There was an article online that we based it on, but it’s been a few years and I can’t find it. We only made the one… more of an experiment than anything.

  4. Posted January 2, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Nice. I ended up making two paddles using the method I outlined here. For the second, I modified the method and it was much easier. But, like you, it was more of an experiment than anything.

  5. Rob
    Posted July 2, 2010 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this article. I used some lumber leftover from a strip kayak to make a paddle as you described. It turned out very well, shaped and feathered exactly to my liking and a perfect match for the kayak.

    • Posted July 2, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      Sweet. I’m glad it worked out for you. If you have a picture, I’d love to post it here.