• Happy Eddie Arcaro Wins 2nd Triple Crown (Citation, 1948)! 👑👑👑👑👑👑

Paddle making extravaganza

Feb 1, 2013
Reaction score
Geraldton, Ontario
I started using all the wood Gamma brought me on his Steel River trip. So far, I have cut out four one piece paddles, and still have enough wood left for at least three more. he had told me the sassafras had a unique smell, and I can testify to the truth of that. The entire shop has a peppery smell to it right now, a very strange smell for a wood.

All four paddles came from Gidmark's book, there is a voyageur, and algonkian, an ottertail and a beavertail. The beavertail is made from sassafras, but I may have to remake it, as once it was cut, there were some worm holes right where the shaft meets the blade. I'll know more once I start working it. Should keep me busy for a while!
Nice variety of blade shapes there. I wonder, will you be band sawing the excess off the blades prior to finer shaping? I didn't have the experience, or nerve, to freehand the bulk of the blade waste on the band saw!
I tried that a few times, it never worked out good. I'll just be hand planing, then a belt sander probably. Maybe try to find my old power planer, lol.
Four sassafras paddles—I'm jealous. And a very interesting variety of historical shapes.

I've never paddled with a voyageur shape blade and never understood the hydrodynamic purpose of the pointed wings high up on the blade. It would seem to raise the center of pressure higher up on the blade, which might be preferable for short, high cadence strokes. Maybe someone here knows more. That short beavertail would probably end up too blade heavy for my balance preferences.

Looking forward to following this project.
My guess about the voyageur blade is that it's not about the pointed wings, but the curve above them. It looks to me that it is shaped like the chine area of the hull allowing the blade to be a little closer to the centerline of the boat when stroked. You can do the same with a beavertail but will have to sink the blade deeper.
I asked someone that had those points on the blade and they are drip points so water doesn’t run down the shaft. That paddle in question was a double blade however.
Apparently you can get a good stream of water off the points on the voyageur paddle to have a drink, if you hold it up in the air.

Glenn...four of those paddles are cherry, only one sassafras at the moment.
I'll kill for that much sassafrass. I got ahold of a few chunks of it, but nothing that wide. I'm glad that stuff got into the right hands!
Hand planing sassafras is definitely an aromatic and olfactory experience. The grain looks good too.

However, as suspected, I ran into the remnants of some busy worms, and in the worst possible spot.

The question now is should I continue with this paddle and try to effect some kind of worm salvage repair job, or grab the other piece of sassafras and try again? What do you fine wood workers say?

The grain is pretty flat which is not the best. Finish this paddle and then you will be ready to work on a fancier piece of wood.

I really like the process of shaping paddles. You are right about the smell of the wood and all of that sawdust and wood shavings. It is an aesthetic experience. Then you get to hold the paddle in your hand all day. Everything about it is positive. I use my hardwood paddle as a cutting board in my lap when making dinner. The paddle now has plenty of knife cuts in it. It does not bother me one bit.
I'm probably not going to finish this one, cause I'm pretty sure the shaft is going to snap at the worm holes the first time I seriously dig into the water.
I think it'd be the perfect candidate for an experimental take-down beavertail.
Lol, I'll keep that in mind. I was also thinking of filling the holes with thickened epoxy and then doing a wrap of fiberglass around that section. First, I'm going to bring in that other piece of sassafras tomorrow and check it for worm holes.
I was also thinking of filling the holes with thickened epoxy and then doing a wrap of fiberglass around that section.

That was my initial thought when I read about the problem, rather than giving up on such a nice piece of wood.

Which brings me to some physics, which I know more about than paddle making. A wormhole (Einstein-Rosen bridge) can take you into a different part of the universe or even into another universe. If the wormhole then breaks, you could be stuck in that other universe for eternity.

Wait . . . that's not the physics I meant.

I was actually wondering about how strong a filled hole paddle is compared to an . . . uh . . . unholey paddle. As an experiment, if you drilled a hole through a paddle shaft above the throat, that would certainly weaken the shaft there. However, if you filled that hole with wood dowel, a metal dowel, or a slurry of epoxy and filler, would any or all of those repairs be as strong as an original paddle shaft. I don't know. That would seem to be any easy problem to test by simple lab experiments.
I'm in the camp of wrap it with fiberglass and give it a shot at life.

Feather it into the naked shaft and wet sand it for a great grip and it will hardly be noticeable.

Well, that sucks. Hope you can save that one and the other was not eaten up. If I make it to Marshall Lake in 2024, you'll have to give me a shopping list & we'll try again
I'd love to make it back to Marshall for some great pickerel fishing, and maybe pick up some more white cedar in Thunder Bay on the way home like in 2015.
Would need Robins canoe cart though...