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Sanborn Paddle Quality

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Just wondering if anyone has noticed a decline in Sanborn’s attention to detail. I just bought a Nessmuk cedar paddle at Canoecopia. I’ve been wanting one, and the price was right. However, I am not impressed with the quality of the finish on it - and I did ransack through the ones of the length I needed, to try to find the best-looking one. I’ve read about how nice the Sanborn paddles are, and am wondering if a) quality is slipping, or b) they cranked out a pile of paddles for the show really quickly, and this isn’t representative of their usual product. Or c) they brought a bunch of seconds. Or d) they’ve always been like this, and I shouldn’t be so picky.

The paddle itself seems very nice, it’s just the uneven, blotchy finish and slightly rough texture on the blade. And the carbon side isn’t evenly or fully coated - should that be smooth, or should I be able to feel the weave? Maybe an attempt to keep the weight down resulting in an uneven finish? It is 12.6 oz on my kitchen scale. I bought it because the price was better than I could order one and have it shipped for, and I could sand it and put another coat of finish on it myself if need be. I can‘t imagine it will cause any paddling issues. It just isn’t as pretty overall as I had hoped, and the wood underneath clearly is. 😢
 
I'm not familiar with Sanborn and was having difficulty picturing what is wood and what is carbon on your paddle, JCH_Ski. I assume it is the Ultralight Nessmuk, which is shown as this on the Sanborn site for $169:

Sanborn Nessmuk Ultra Light.jpg

I can only say that I'd expect the wood finish on any paddle to be even and smooth. As to the carbon, the all-carbon blades on my two ZRE paddles and my two Wenonah Black Lite paddles have smooth and even finishes. I'd call what you are describing as a blem. That doesn't mean, however, that it won't be perfectly functional.

As an aside, I'm not familiar with carbon paddle fabrication, but I wonder if a couple of coats of varnish would fill the weave of the carbon. @Alasgun has made carbon paddles, so maybe he would have an opinion if he sees this thread.
 
Yes - that’s basically the one (there are two versions, but they look the same).

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Hard to get photos that show it well. On the wood face, it’s less visible unless the light is just right. Definitely feels like the surface is sort of gritty or something. Some of the other paddles looked blotchier.
Your analysis matches my analysis. I was just wondering if it was their normal quality. The shaft is nice and smooth, by the way. It’s just like they skipped a sanding step and a final coat on the blade. I just wish I had a clearer memory of the one I looked at last summer, before Midwest Mountaineering closed. Not that it matters - I spent the money. It may end up weighing a bit more, eventually, if it bugs me too much.
 
...
As an aside, I'm not familiar with carbon paddle fabrication, but I wonder if a couple of coats of varnish would fill the weave of the carbon. ...

I hate to be a gram weenie, but a couple coats of varnish on a carbon blade might add an ounce to the paddle. That's a lot for a stick that weighs less than a pound. When one of my carbon paddles needs nourishment I use a regular laminating epoxy, and as sparingly as I can.
 
I bought a Sanborn Clearwater a couple of years ago, and my paddle's finish resembles yours—I can feel the texture of the fiberglass weave on the blade (not sure I'd describe it as gritty, but it looks just like your photo), and there's a spot or two that it looks like the builder missed varnishing. However, I'm not well qualified to say whether that level of finish is normal, as the Clearwater is my first and only Sanborn paddle and my first and only paddle with a fiberglass reinforced blade.

FWIW, I did/do feel a little disappointed with the Clearwater's build quality, but because of its shaping rather than the quality of the finish. The blade is very flat—it has no camber!—and has a rather thick edge that feels beveled (rather than smooth/rounded). Maybe that's a personal preference issue rather than a quality one, though.
 
I bought a Sanborn Clearwater a couple of years ago, and my paddle's finish resembles yours—I can feel the texture of the fiberglass weave on the blade (not sure I'd describe it as gritty, but it looks just like your photo), and there's a spot or two that it looks like the builder missed varnishing. However, I'm not well qualified to say whether that level of finish is normal, as the Clearwater is my first and only Sanborn paddle and my first and only paddle with a fiberglass reinforced blade.

FWIW, I did/do feel a little disappointed with the Clearwater's build quality, but because of its shaping rather than the quality of the finish. The blade is very flat—it has no camber!—and has a rather thick edge that feels beveled (rather than smooth/rounded). Maybe that's a personal preference issue rather than a quality one, though.
I say “gritty” for lack of a better word. It’s not exactly that. On that side it doesn’t feel like it’s the weave of the fabric, though. More like if you sanded it and then put another coat of finish on without thoroughly removing the dust/debris? Or maybe it’s tiny fibers from the fabric? Like you, this is my first Sanborn paddle.
 
Looks to me that they opted to skip fill coats to save weight. That is a light paddle. If you gave it a light sanding with 150 grit and rolled on a couple of coats of varnish it would probably improve the look.
 
I'll preface my comments by saying that my son and my nephew started the Sanborn paddle company but about 5 years ago my sons sideline of also making baseball bats exploded so he sold his share of Sanborn to their 1st employee. I used to be in the shop a lot but only rarely now and I don't know most of the employees anymore. Can't really comment on their change in quality but I will say you have to remember you are buying a hand made paddle from them vs a CNC/machine made paddle from BB. I will pass this thread on to my nephew though. That said, I do love my Sanborn Nessmuk paddle - it was the original prototype and didn't have carbon on it. I do miss the days of being handed a paddle with the comment - hey Dad, here's something new we're making, test it for us. On the other hand I do have some pretty cool baseball bats!
 
Hmmm.. I have 2 ultralights from Sanborn a Gunflint and a Sam Special. Some nicks from use now but to be honest I don’t really see the issues raised. Some of my favourite paddles.



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I have bought some really good paddles at the Sawyer Factory near my brother's house in Oregon.
But paddles I value most and use often are the ones I made 40 years ago.
 
I have attended the show since the early 1980’s and have worked at it 4 times in the past 10-12 years. It has been my feeling the some of the gear sold at the show may not be top quality - not exactly seconds but not first quality. One year my brother bought a Wenonah canoe in clear coat. When he saw the canoe presented to him in the back lot he rejected it due to the look of the fabric (frayed) where it wrapped around the bow. The display model on the show floor was finished off much more neatly. He inspected several of the canoes before he found one he would accept. He worked for many years in auto body repair and is very detail oriented.
 
I say “gritty” for lack of a better word. It’s not exactly that. On that side it doesn’t feel like it’s the weave of the fabric, though. More like if you sanded it and then put another coat of finish on without thoroughly removing the dust/debris? Or maybe it’s tiny fibers from the fabric? Like you, this is my first Sanborn paddle.
In that case, I don't think that yours sounds like mine, actually, but not being experienced at varnishing myself, I can't say for sure. The closest analogue I can think of for the texture on mine would be leatherette or spatter paint—it has just a hint of bumpiness (seemingly due to the fiberglass weave), and the bumps are smooth/soft/gentle. It's not the most luxurious finish ever, but I think it looks and feels reasonably nice? The way you describe yours, I'm imagining it feels closer to sandpaper, and if that's accurate, that does sound disappointing.

you have to remember you are buying a hand made paddle from them vs a CNC/machine made paddle from BB
Knowing that the paddle was handmade contributed to my slight disappointment with the shaping of the blade—I had assumed that a relatively expensive, handmade paddle would have a cambered blade with a very thin edge (based partly on comments/reviews I read online about various makers' paddles and partly on my experience of owning and/or borrowing handmade paddles by FoxWorx, Bruce Smith, etc.). But I can't say I ever read anything to suggest that Sanborn in particular claimed to make paddles with cambered, thin blades, and you know what they say when you assume—the fault may be in my having had that expectation, not in the paddle maker's work.

I do like the Clearwater, FWIW: it's quite pretty, it seems very durable, and functionally, it's pretty much exactly what I wanted (or thought I wanted) when I bought it. I've had fun using it! And in many ways, it's clear that care was put into making it—the wood is book matched and seems to be of good quality, and the shaping of the blade, shaft, and grip is very symmetrical and even. But it was more expensive than my other paddles, and speaking comparatively, I don't feel that the higher cost bought me higher quality in ways that are meaningful to me.
 
In that case, I don't think that yours sounds like mine, actually, but not being experienced at varnishing myself, I can't say for sure. The closest analogue I can think of for the texture on mine would be leatherette or spatter paint—it has just a hint of bumpiness (seemingly due to the fiberglass weave), and the bumps are smooth/soft/gentle. It's not the most luxurious finish ever, but I think it looks and feels reasonably nice? The way you describe yours, I'm imagining it feels closer to sandpaper, and if that's accurate, that does sound disappointing.


Knowing that the paddle was handmade contributed to my slight disappointment with the shaping of the blade—I had assumed that a relatively expensive, handmade paddle would have a cambered blade with a very thin edge (based partly on comments/reviews I read online about various makers' paddles and partly on my experience of owning and/or borrowing handmade paddles by FoxWorx, Bruce Smith, etc.). But I can't say I ever read anything to suggest that Sanborn in particular claimed to make paddles with cambered, thin blades, and you know what they say when you assume—the fault may be in my having had that expectation, not in the paddle maker's work.

I do like the Clearwater, FWIW: it's quite pretty, it seems very durable, and functionally, it's pretty much exactly what I wanted (or thought I wanted) when I bought it. I've had fun using it! And in many ways, it's clear that care was put into making it—the wood is book matched and seems to be of good quality, and the shaping of the blade, shaft, and grip is very symmetrical and even. But it was more expensive than my other paddles, and speaking comparatively, I don't feel that the higher cost bought me higher quality in ways that are meaningful to me.
Not exactly sandpaper - more like the texture after the I’ve put the first coat of polyurethane on a piece of trim in my house, before the steel wool and final coat. Not smooth but not scratchy like sandpaper. More like raised grain, but this is where the wood is covered. So maybe tiny fiberglass fibers sticking up? I don’t know. I keep wanting to hit it lightly with some 0000 steel wool, but I’d just make it dull, and need to put something over that. But yours does sound different. It will work just the same, and like the scratches I will put in it right away, it doesn’t really matter.
I must say, now that I have two coats of tung oil on the grip, it sure is pretty! Kind of wish I could strip it and oil the whole thing. But fiberglass on one face. And carbon on the other. So I could only do the shaft, which is nice anyway. The blade is super thin.
 
but I will say you have to remember you are buying a hand made paddle from them vs a CNC/machine made paddle from BB.
It is certainly prettier than a BB. My Java is pretty, but in a cookie-cutter, mass-production, sold in every paddling shop and big box store kind of way. I picture them being spit out of a big machine.
 
Sanborn now makes and sells all sorts of stuff besides paddles: canoes, kayaks, accessories, home items, apparel, camp gear, art, books, etc. Maybe their focus is being spread.


The paddles, which are expensive, may be hand made and not cut by CNC machines, but that has nothing to do with the quality of the finish. Bruce Smith, for example, will sand and hand rub up to 12 coats of various oils and/or varnish depending on the wood and its grain.
 
OP, I was poking around and found this post that might interest you (in case of confusion: it's post #12 in the thread):


That poster's comments would seem to corroborate memaquay's:

Looks to me that they opted to skip fill coats to save weight. That is a light paddle. If you gave it a light sanding with 150 grit and rolled on a couple of coats of varnish it would probably improve the look.

As stated previously, I don't have the experience to have a good idea about what a reasonable expectation is, but the above makes it sound to me like your paddle's finish quality is probably acceptable (albeit perhaps not what you personally would prefer).
 
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I have two Sanborns, which I compared to an old Mitchell and a BB Catalyst, my other paddles with glassed blades. The BB is completely smooth, but the Mitchell and Sanborns are similar, with the weave of the cloth both visible and apparent to the touch. I wonder if thicker glass fabric is used - my Mitchell is made for WW and the BB has a much thicker blade, and seems to perhaps have a thinner glass cloth (hard to say, maybe it's just buried under more varnish). Maybe Sanborn has thicker glass to strengthen the thin (compared to a BB) blade?

However, in the pic of @JCH_Ski 's paddle it does seem a little blotchy at the edges - the varnish looks pretty uniform on mine. As others suggested, maybe a rush job ahead of Canoecopia, or just the nature of hand-crafting. I have a Bruce Smith paddle with visible varnish runs, a bit surprising based on his prices and reputation as well. But we're all humans, and I know the issue is only a cosmetic issue one needs to search for to see. Likewise it looks like your Nessmuk is fully functional.

I must say I've used my Sanborn ottertail a fair bit and have been pleased - tho the blade is flat, it's much thinner than the BB's, and I find it slices well on underwater recoveries, more so that the BB. I like the Sanborn's thin blade but epoxied tip and glassed blade for tripping where I may encounter rocks unexpectedly but want a deepwater, underwater-recovery paddle. Paddles like the Bruce Smith are strictly deep water - usually just used on my quick dawn outings at the local pond where I know where all the rocks and stumps are.
 
When you glass (or carbon, kevlar, etc.) a paddle, there are a couple things to consider.

There is the weave finish and how much epoxy is used to bury the weave .... the consensus here, so far, more or less suggests that the paddle surface needs to be smooth, in fact the smoother the better. Everyone knows this and it is considered common knowledge and I think I would challenge that paradigm. I know J. Winters suggested that a rougher glass surface on a paddle may actually increase it's performance and although I am not aware of any testing to support that, it does have some logic that increases turbulence at the paddles surface would increase the "push".
We also know that the actual strength of the fiberglass/epoxy layer is almost exclusively from the first layer. So in a performance paddle, by not burying the weave, there may be potential weight saving and paddle performance to be gained (from the rougher finish).

Now the protective finish does need to uniformly cover the composite, so a blotchy finish there would concern me and would suggest that the coating has issues.
 
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