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Too cold to paint, so...

Oct 29, 2019
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southeast PA
Too cold to paint my w/c project, so I'll make the first paddle with the new (1952 vintage- same as me) bandsaw added to the shop.
I'm making a curly Maple, single board paddle. My own grip and blade design. I usually use another paddle as a starting point and then alter to suit my curiosity.

Grip shape:

blade corner radii:
overall shape sawn out:
grip throat reduction:
blade shaping; I band sawed some material off the blade first, then it's bench planing. In the last picture the figure of the curly maple begins to really show!
Very interesting. Thanks for documenting the process in detail. The curly maple should look very nice when finished, but I wonder what its weight will be. How long a paddle are you making?
Can't wait to watch your paddle unfold the rest of the way. Other than one paddle I made in a class years ago, I've only made laminated paddles. I've thought about doing what you are in the past. I just need the guts to go ahead and realize it's only wood. If I screw up, it can always become BTUs in my wood stove.

That's all for now. Take care and until next time...be well.

The curly maple should look very nice when finished, but I wonder what its weight will be. How long a paddle are you making?
I have never had a truly lightweight paddle, so I don't really obsess over weight. That said, various maple species are similar in weight to cherry, and I have several cherry paddles with which I am content. This paddle will be 60"which seems to be right for me. I made a 58" paddle and I constantly have the sense that it's short.

I just need the guts to go ahead and realize it's only wood.
Yes, I have had this concern when working with expensive wood in my contracting business. With expensive wood I tend to only buy exactly what the job requires, then that makes me terribly cautious about not making an error. Sometimes you just have to plunge in. Using primarily hand tools for the work other than the rough shaping avoids making disastrous errors! Besides, the lovely plane shavings make one feel like a craftsman!

"There's gotta be a canoe paddle in here somewhere, if only I could get the 'not-paddle' wood out of the way".
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Wow, two members making paddles on the same day! I posted mine in the DIY section.

Looks like a really nice blank, I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product. Great looking old Delta bandsaw too. I'm running a late 1990's 18" Jet Bandsaw.
I posted mine in the DIY section.

I moved this thread to the DIY forum and edited the description of that forum to specifically include making paddles. I believe most paddle making threads in the past have gone into DIY, and I'll move any strays into DIY if I encounter them. The Boat Builds, Restoration and Repair forum should only apply to boats.
Not making a paddle per se but I used to teach a lot of spoon carving classes and always encouraged my students to bring a zip-loc baggie to class. After we were finished they'd collect those wonderful shavings and put them away for future use as fire starters. I still do that today when carving spoons or working with my draw knife making handles

That's all for now. Take care and until next time...be well.

The curly maple should look very nice when finished, but I wonder what its weight will be.

I have never had a truly lightweight paddle

Me either, I have had some laminated paddles, (nothing expensive) but they never lasted. I have used ash beavertails so long I wouldn’t feel comfortable with modern lightweight wood or plastic canoe paddles.

Very nice work Patrick, looks like that Curley maple will turn out a beautiful canoe paddle.
I made some laminated paddles in the 1990s out of white ash, mahogany, and walnut. They have held up well even though I paddle a lot of rocky rivers. Not the lightest paddles, but the strongest. I am very attached to them.
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Update: I finished the paddle; my first curly maple. I'm very happy with the weight and feel, though undecided about the grip. I usually like a grip which has a 'notch' for my thumb to curl into and this grip is a bit simpler. Time will tell...

I am very fortunate to have a friend who has been a life-long furniture builder and restorer. High-end furniture fabricated by the same methods with which 18th century craftsmen would have used. Lots of hand tools and talent and patience. It was he who taught me to sharpen and use a card scraper which I used on nearly every surface but the very top of the grip of this paddle. It's very effective at finishing highly figured hardwoods to avoid grain tear out.

In the previous pictures you may have noticed the Stanley Bailey #5 plane I used to remove the stock from the blade. It created the piles of shavings strewn about the work space. I recently reconditioned it after having sat unused in my barn. However, the rear handle, or tote, was not only split but also was missing the top curl into which one nestles the web between thumb and index finger when pushing. Also the front screw was missing at the base of the tote. Turns out Stanley used a "no longer available" 12-20 x 1/2" screw. I had to order one from an eBay seller for 8 bucks, but it made a huge difference in control. I decided to make a new tote and downloaded a schematic from Lee Valley Tools which allowed me to make the new tote seen here https://assets.leevalley.com/Original/10090/56664-stanley-number-5-and-up-plane-tote-c-06-e.pdf. I made it from a saved scrap of black walnut countertop removed some years ago when I was renovating an old 18th century estate here in Chester County, PA.


Now for the fun stuff:

Having finished the paddle carving I wanted to put on a finish which would really make the maple figure "pop". I called my friend and asked him if he would give me a tutorial on his curly maple finish technique which I had seen and admired several times. Here's the result.

First, a brush on of dilute nitric acid (sorry I don't recall the strength of the solution), followed by applying heat to oxidize the acid on the wood. Apparently the heat converts the nitric acid NO2 to nitrous oxide NO3, and in the process creates color without a stain.


After a light sanding to reduce the raised grain, a wipe with denatured alcohol removes the sanding dust and gives a preview of the color once oiled.


And finally, the first coat of Tung Oil; before:

And, after:

I will provide daylight pictures on the next sunny day! Thanks for following along...
Beautiful work on the paddle and also on restoring the Stanley plane. Well done! Earlier in the thread when I saw you building with curly maple I wondered if you'd use an acid stain. There's nothing quite like it in my opinion to "pop" the curl in maple. I'm curious as to your source of stain. I've tried commercial products in the past, not been completely happy, and now make my own. I'm still on the steep part of the learning curve in that endeavor, however.
Thanks everyone for following and commenting.

Rick, I must admit this is my first exposure to the process. There is no stain involved. Simply the application of the nitric acid solution, application of heat to oxidize the acid, light sanding, wipe with denatured alcohol then oil. I watched the process, then took the paddle home and applied the oil. I’m somewhat mystified!
A beautiful looking paddle, Patrick, and it was interesting to learn about nitric acid finishing. Does that work just on maple or can it be used to "pop" other woods?

I'm also curious as to what your theory is about the small corner radii and flat bottom on the paddle. Most animal tail and feather paddles have larger corner radii and rounder bottoms. Yours is shaped on the bottom like a classic voyageur paddle, but the sloped shoulders are not like sharp pointed shoulders of a voyageur at all. Are you after some sort of performance characteristics with this blade shape or is the design mainly personal aesthetics?
Glenn, my friend suggests that the nitric acid process works well on cherry and walnut also. After seeing his process I find that Pennsylvania long gun makers use a similar process for curly maple which apparently is favored for gunstocks. However, the process used there includes the dissolution of steel wool or cast iron bits into the solution resulting in a much darker finish. I have found little online of the process my friend used without steel.

Paddle theory? I confess there is little science or logic in my design process. Really just curiosity. I just try to do something a little different with each paddle to see what works and what doesn't. So far my favored paddles for deep water paddling are the narrow blades with sharply rounded bottoms. I often use an in-water recovery and these paddles seem to 'knife' through the water with the least resistance. I reserve the squared off or beaver tail shapes for shallow water and boggy spots where I may have to push gently. Those shapes put a few more square inches of blade in the water when there's not enough to submerge the entire blade. None of my paddles are for white water; though I did a lot of that in my youth, I'm now a strictly flat water paddler (well, I lied.... I have done the Allagash several times but that's so bony in places that a rented, plastic paddle is appropriate!!)
Patrick, my experience with acid stain has only been with the traditional combination of water, nitric acid and iron. I’ve used it on both plain and highly figured maple (stocks on flint and percussion long rifles). I’ve also heard that it works well on other woods. My understanding of the process is that the acid stain solution is the vehicle to get iron “into” the wood. The iron changes color when oxidized by heat.

One of the challenges of using a traditional acid stain is there’s no certainty of achieving a particular color result without a lot of testing on scrap pieces and adjusting the solution. Furthermore, a given acid stain will produce different colors on wood from different trees of the same species. Apparently the chemistry of maple trees, for example, is not uniform. This will drive you crazy if you have a particular color vision as a goal. I like the uncertainty and adventure of it all however. My current practice is to apply multiple coats of dilute stain until I get the shade I like. I accept whatever color/tone the wood gives me.

Nitric acid stain can be purchased online. I’ve only tried one and it was far too dark for my taste. Making your own from nitric acid, water and iron is possible, but may not be the most advisable home science project. I’ve read that combining ferric nitrate and water produces an identical chemical result and that’s what I do. It’s safer, easier and readily customizable.IMG_1965.jpeg
I’ve dissolved steel wool in white household vinegar, then painted the liquid on mahogany and it turns it black as ebony. I never knew about the heat treatment. I had a couple customers with mahogany runabouts and the deck sheer plank is almost always dyed black as a contrast. It is surprisingly lightfast.