Many thanks to VOLKSKAYAK designer Gerry Gladwin for allowing me to share his idea and the diagram with others who want to do it for themselves.
I hope the instructions below will be helpful in making a simple, light, cheap sea kayak paddle that’s very serviceable. We’ve been using three of these for several seasons now, and apart from some cosmetic damage, have had no problems with them. The cost is under $25 per paddle. I can get one done to the “finished with the epoxy work” stage with about a day’s work. Our paddles weigh a little under a kilogram; mine’s 950gms., while the one my wife made for herself is 970 gms..
The paddle shaft is made from a square piece of spruce. The recommended thickness is 1.5” to 1.75″., with a usual length of eight feet. A standard 2×4 is actually 1 5/8″ in thickness, which fits nicely. Local sawmills are a great source of full 2″x2″ blanks; they’ll sometimes keep an eye open for good shaft blanks if you ask nicely and offer a small bonus per stick.
If there are no sawmills near you, hit your local lumberyard, and start picking thru the 2×2, 2×4, 2×6, etc.. Look for a piece that will let you rip a 2×2 blank out of the lumber. The section you’ll use must be knot free, with straight grain and no serious warps. Various hardwoods can also be used, but they’ll be heavier and many are much harder to work.
Before starting any whittling on the shaft, you’ll have to make some decisions; whether you want a straight or feathered paddle, and if feathered, whether you use right or left hand control, and blade length. I use right hand control – that is, I grip the shaft and ‘spin’ it with the right hand, and allow it to rotate freely in the left. The attached diagram shows the blade seat locations for a right hand control paddle with a 90 degree offset.
Next, determine how long you’ll want the blade to be – mine, which are relatively slender, are about 22-23″ long. (The attached diagram shows the layout for a 20″ blade). Mark this length clearly on the shaft blank where the blades will be seated – you want as much surface area here as you can get. I usually cross-hatch it with a pencil, so I don’t accidentally stray into the section where the paddle will be seated while planing down the shaft blank.
TRIMMING THE SHAFT
Now you can start trimming the shaft. Use a marking gauge set to about 3/8″ to draw lines along both sides of the four corners – eight lines in all. Be careful not to disturb the blade seat area – again, I mark ‘em with pencil cross hatches. Use a small block plane, or a spokeshave, to take the corners down to these lines – now it’s eight-sided – working by hand and eye, make it 16, 32, etc. – the idea is to make it ever rounder without cutting significantly into the shaft thickness. Test for strength and flex occasionally by placing the shaft end on the floor, and leaning on it. You can then do the rough sandpaper, medium paper, fine paper, finer paper thing until the desired smoothness is reached. While working, you can rest the shaft against a wall, or use a wall bracket to support one end. I’ve also clamped it in two vices, one each end – whatever works, I guess.
TRIMMING THE BLADE SEAT AREA
To start cutting out the blade seat area, the first cut is a long taper on each end, on the back side(opposite the blade seat as it faces you). Start it at the inboard end of your blade length, and continue it down to the outboard end of the shaft, leaving about 3/8″ to 1/2″ of wood at the tip. You can use a jigsaw, or plane it down.
Curved vs. straight blade
Again, your choice. If you like ‘em curved, pick a curve you like, and mark it on the wood. Make sure the marked curve touches the outer end of the shaft’s front side (facing you) where the blade seat will be cut, so that the whole curve is cut into the blade seat area, and the blade’s outer tip will be in a straight line with the shaft itself. Draw your curve, and then draw another parallel to it about 1/2 to 3/8 of an inch behind it.
Then cut the marked curve you want into the front face of the blade seat area, using a jigsaw. Starting at the outer end, cut the front side curve back into the shaft’s blade seat area, curving back up to the shaft’s front surface the same length in from the shaft end as your blade length. Repeat on the other end. The backside curve can then be faired to it’s line with a spokeshave or plane.
Now for the blades – shape can be whatever you want. Mine are an elongated teardrop, about 22″ long with maximum width of about 5 1/4″ measured about 8″ back from the tip. My wife’s blade is the same length, much ’rounder’ shape, with a maximum width of about 8 Ë” halfway along its length. I usually just take a blade whose shape I like, clamp it flat to the ply, and trace it…
You can use any material, but I find marine ply is far the best – I’ve used both 3mm and 4mm with good results. The 3mm produces a wonderfully light paddle; the 4mm is slightly heavier but more durable. You can also use Meranti but it is much heavier, and, I suspect, not as durable.
Once you have your blade shape pattern marked on a piece of ply, screw another piece to it, then cut both out at once. Keep ‘em screwed together while you trim and finish the blades’ edges. Separate them, then carefully sand the edges as round as you can get ‘em – this really helps prevent splintering and chipping over the years. I usually take a template from the finished blade, using scrap ‘junk’ sheet material, for future use.
JOINING SHAFT AND BLADES
Stinks and bangs time – I use EAST epoxy, thickened with silica powder to a peanut butter consistency, to join blades and shaft. If there’s no silica available, I’ve used baby powder (talc) or wood flour (fine sanding dust) with good results. Dry fit the blades first – lay ‘em along the blade seat, then drive several short screws thru the blade face into the shaft seat. Mark the back of the blade where it rests against the shaft, so you easily get the alignment right when you’re ready to mix your epoxy and do the final joining. (You can also test-paddle at this stage – be sure to let the shaft and blades dry before you mate ‘em!)
Remove the blades, slip on drip rings if desired, then coat the shaft seats and the marked area on the back of the blades with the epoxy mix – screw the blades to their respective shaft ends, then remove excess epoxy mix from the rear, leaving a nice fillet of epoxy along the joint. Allow to cure. Remove the screws, and plug the holes with thickened epoxy. Then coat the blades with 2-3 coats of epoxy resin. You can add 6 oz. glass cloth to the forward face of the blade if you wish – it does add some weight, but protects the blade against rocks, etc.
I like to leave the shaft unvarnished – love the warm feel of wood and the good grip it provides. I use a linseed oil/turpentine mix, applying several coats with a wipedown between each. This is touched up really easily each spring – just a light sanding, and a few oil/turps coats. The blades are painted. Antirust metal paints (Tremclad, Home Hardware, etc.), which are relatively cheap, readily available oil-based enamel paints, work just fine. The design and patterns can be whatever you want – I go for lots of bright colours, on the theory that even the drunkest of SeaDooers can’t miss seeing ‘em :-^))
And that’s about it – if you have any questions, e-mail me anytime. Hope you’ll try a paddle or two (or four or five or….). I really enjoy making ours, and using ‘em.