Canoe Paddles: A Complete Guide to Making Your Own
Canoe Paddles: A Complete Guide to Making Your Own

* Book Type:

Publisher: Firefly Books

Author Statement: by Graham Warren and David Gidmark
Audience: Trade
Specs: 40 color photos, black and white line drawings, plans and photographs throughout, glossary, sidebars, further reading, resources
Pages: 176
Trim Size: 8 1/2" x 11" x 7/16"
Language code 1: eng
Publication Date: 20010303
Price: Select Below


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Canoe Paddles: A Complete Guide to Making Your Own

A complete guide to making, caring for, decorating, and using, canoe paddles. Illustrated throughout with photos and line drawings, it is ideal for the beginner woodworker as well as the skilled wanting to experiment with desing and technique.

This book combines practical woodworking technique with practical canoe use experience... [It] covers every single aspect of canoe paddle building.
-- Sawdust and Shavings

Despite the growing interest in making paddles and canoes, it can be difficult to find reliable information on that craft -- except for this book. First published more than a decade ago and having sold 35,000 copies, Canoe Paddles: A Complete Guide to Making Your Own is the ultimate modern guide to the traditional craft for both the how-to beginner and the skilled woodworker.

In Canoe Paddles: A Complete Guide to Making Your Own, longtime canoeist and woodworker Graham Warren provides detailed information and guidance to make a canoe paddle that will be used with confidence and cherished for generations.

The book is thoroughly illustrated with photographs, line drawings and plans with measurements for:

  • How to make a paddle having a single blade, a bent shaft, or double blades
  • How to protect a paddle with oil or varnish
  • What to look for when test-driving a paddle
  • How to decorate a paddle
  • How to care for and repair a paddle.

The authors include an appreciation of the evolution of the paddle plus a special chapter by renowned canoe-buuilding teacher David Gidmark which celebrates paddle-making in the native tradition.


Graham Warren has been building wood-canvas canoes and paddles since 1991. His articles on canoeing have appeared in many journals.

David Gidmark teaches canoe building in Wisconsin, New York, Tahiti and Quebec. His previous books include Building a Birchbark Canoe and Birchbark Canoe: Living Among the Algonquin. Gidmark and his wife live in Maniwaki, Quebec.


Introduction: Make your own paddles!

With the right instruction, even the very young can learn how to make their own paddles

Interest in paddle and canoemaking is today perhaps at an all-time high. Canoeists are fast rediscovering the intense satisfaction to be gained by creating their own equipment rather than merely adopting the often rather soulless stuff to be found down at the canoe store.

Fashioning a paddle is a small enough project that it will not cost the earth or devour all your spare time. On the other hand, the subject is sufficiently deep that it will provide a lifetime opportunity to develop your woodworking skills, to experiment with various designs or to research the rich historical context of the craft. When you make your own paddles, you are immediately connected with the roots of canoeing, roots that stretch back hundreds, even thousands of years. Indeed, in the past, probably few canoeists did not also build their own boats as well as paddles.

Taking the time to learn paddlemaking skills will ensure that you get exactly the paddle you want -- a perfect fit, the blade area that you need, created with a wood that you particularly like -- and all at a fraction of the price you pay for a store-bought paddle. And once you have mastered the basic skills, there are many directions you can take. You might want to progress to power tools and synthetic materials in the quest for the lightest or most efficient paddle. Or you might want to go in the opposite direction and recreate the native skills of paddlemaking with an ax and crooked knife, using wood that you have harvested yourself. Why not go on to make a range of paddles to suit all moods and water conditions or build a collection of native paddles, authentically decorated, to form a beautiful and unique display?

At first glance, a professionally made paddle might seem like the kind of thing that only a master craftsperson could produce -- and then only after years of practice. This is simply not the case. Even with modest woodworking skills, you should be able to get good results first time out. In a short while, you will gain a very different perspective on most commercial paddles: Why don't they balance properly? Why is the finish so poor? Why are hardwood paddles nearly always warped?

Creating something beautiful in wood evokes real satisfaction. If you have previously practiced home woodworking limited within the confines of the straight line and right angle, you are in for a liberating experience. Although you may initially find the move away from the security of the ruler and set square a bit scary -- like a first trip into the wilderness without a guide -- it will ultimately become a delight. You will soon find yourself navigating through the wood freely, guided by touch and light.

Making a beautiful paddle is not that difficult. Forming its graceful curves is a technique, not an art. In fact, with quite straightforward methods, you can get your tools to cut intricate curves as surely as any basic geometrical shape. You just need to be aware of the capabilities of your tools, learn to break down the complex paddle shape into a series of simpler ones and work not haphazardly but to a system.

Anyone can make a good paddle, and Canoe Paddles will show you the way.


Make your own paddles!
Chapter One

    Diversity: Evolution of the canoe paddle
    Prehistoric paddles
    The evolution of North American paddles
    Tribal variation and adaptation
    Fur trade (voyageur) paddles
    Identifying native North American single-blade paddles
    Paddles from other cultures

Chapter Two

    Design: The inner workings of a canoe paddle

Chapter Three

    Woods and Adhesives: A guide to choosing your materials
    Grain direction
    Choice of species

Chapter Four

    Tools: Select your level of technology
    Tools for marking out
    Clamps and holding things steady
    Tools for carving
    Tools for finishing
    Power tools
    Homemade tools and jigs

Chapter Five

    Paddle making Basics: Making a single-blade paddle
    Preparing a one-piece blank
    Making a laminated blank
    Bandsaw and thickness planer
    Laminating checklist
    Marking out
    Designing your own blade
    Cutting out the blank
    Adding carving guidelines
    Making flexible templates
    The keys to paddlemaking
    Carving a single-blade paddle
    Using a spokeshave
    Critical sighting points

Chapter Six

    Adding Power: The bent-shaft paddle

Chapter Seven

    Twinning Up: Double-blade paddles

Chapter Eight

    When Wood Meets Water: Oil or varnish protection for your paddle
    Looking Good: Decorating your paddle

Chapter Nine

    Care and Repair: Welcome to the real world
    Performances Characteristics

Chapter Ten

    Origins: Paddlemaking in the native tradition
    Text and Photos © David Gidmark
    Paddle woods
    Making a paddle
    The crooked knife

Chapter Eleven

    Paddle Plans
    Key paddle dimensions
    Traditional beavertail
    Sugar Island
    Whitewater paddle
    Sugar Islet- bent-shaft paddle
    Double-blade paddle
    Child's beavertail
    Paddles for children
    Patterns for grip templates
    Scalloped guide grip
    Tip and throat templates

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Further Information

Author Events   Firefly Books Spring 2020 Catalog PDF