making a carbon Greenland paddle.. part 1: the plug

I had planned to present this all in one go, but it’s quite involved and time consuming so I decided to break it down into stages instead… gives me something to write about :-)

This project is something I’ve been meaning to get around to for over a year, using my traditional wooden Greenland paddle with my carbon Greenland boat doesn’t feel quite right but the only commercially available carbon version I know of costs around US$500 plus the cost of shipping across the Atlantic… I was never going to fork out that much for something I could make myself.. I just needed the time…

There are a few basic ways of making such a thing.. the quickest and easiest is to carve a foam core and simply vacuum bag a carbon (or carbon/kevlar) ‘sock’ onto it.. perhaps with some additional unidirectional carbon under the skin to modify the stiffness characteristics Job done. A variation on that would be to cut a wooden stringer and laminate foam or balsa around that, carve it and vacuum bag as before.. this way would make it easier to carve a symmetrical paddle with the stringer acting as a guide. The third way which is also the most time consuming is to make a plug, take a mould from that and then use that to mould the blades in carbon. This last way makes for a very symmetrical paddle as each blade half comes from the same mould but the downside of that is that there are longituduinal seams in the final paddle that need reinforcement. There is a less obvious advantage I think in that the natural joint in the centre of the shaft opens up the possibility of making a two piece paddle quite easily. Of course once I have made the mould I can churn out multiple copies too… I may be able to sell a few.. but that is not my primary motivation. Yet.

I chose the third way.. not because I like making life hard for myself but because I gain a great deal of satisfaction from working with wood (to make the plug) and the design for a two piece Greenland paddle is something I definitely want to play about with once I’ve made myself a couple of one piece blades to use.

The basis for my paddle pattern is the West Greenland style described by Chuck Holst here. In my case I’m making an 86″ long paddle with a maximum width of 3.5″.

The plug is made from a slab of 4″ x 1″ x 60″ pine I found after some rummaging around at my local builders merchants for a piece free of knots.. this is important. I envisaged making two moulds, one for each half of a blade . or for each quarter of the paddle if you like. I could have done the job making just one mould for a half blade but in this case the plug would need to be perfectly symmetrical to guarantee a perfect join once each blade half is mated to its opposite number.. so rather than faff about with fraction of a millimetre accuracy I cut two blanks and spot glued them together for shaping. This way I could carve a complete blade/paddle half and then split the plug down the middle and create two moulds, one for each side of the blade.

The most tedious part of the fabrication is cutting the basic taper into the blanks, longitudinally with the grain.. it’s necessary to use a fine toothed saw to avoid tearing the wood and take care to keep the blade perpendicular through the blank.

cutting the longitudinal taper for one blade half
a small surform worked well for cleaning up the saw cut to a smooth taper

Once that was done for each blade half I glued them together and cut the basic blade plan-form, again using a fine tooth saw.

The basic blank was then marked up with guidelines for the various bevels and tapers before I set to with a spokeshave.. with a sharp blade this is possibly my favourite tool, I can feel the blade cutting the wood through my fingertips, feel the texture of the wood.. it is most satisfying to gently peel away the layers of timber to reveal the 3 dimensional shape of the paddle..

beginning to carve the 3-dimensional shape

Final finishing was done by eye with 60 grit and then 100 grit sandpaper.

coarse grit sandpaper wrapped around a long block for finishing the tapers
finished blade halves ready for an epoxy coating, polishing and then creating the moulds

The next stage is to glue each blank to a flat baseboard and lay on a coat of epoxy, cutting back for a perfect finish.. and then I’ll make my moulds. Stay tuned…

yes I know the grass needs a cut… nice log pile though eh?

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