Laminating shaft strips and sandwiching the blade between layers of fiberglass and epoxy allows for considerable license in building paddles.
In fact, just about any wood will work. Fiberglass and laminating provide a strong backup to everything they are used upon, including non-traditional woods that may not have any history in the boating or water world, like reclaimed barn board (mostly pine) or osage orange or walnut and basswood, the last two of which can be seen in the image.
With laminating and fiberglass in my tool kit, that has increasingly allowed me to feel comfortable using ‘strange’ materials and on occasion shapes. While there’s a first time for everything, so far experimenting with different wood types has been an enjoyable part of designing and building paddles.
My most enjoyable find?
Hands down, using old reclaimed barn board. I’m never really quite sure exactly what it is I am using, my guess is that most often I am building with 500 year old white pine, given that I am in Wisconsin and the original farmers most likely used the trees they cut down to make the fields in the lumber they used to build their barns. There were no roads or trucks or big box stores back then. It was all ‘use what you had’ if you wanted to build something.
Old barn board is a honey or amber color. It’s light and dry. On occasion, there is a knot or some sort of inclusion. Rarely, there is an old nail that has left behind some interesting iron stains in the wood surrounding the nailhole. All of which I find fascinating, and I happily include it in the paddle.
At the end of the day, this is a paddle I use in my leisure time (unless I sell it). I love that each paddle I build has a story attached to it from the wood I used to build it.
So let your inner creative out. Building a paddle is a great chance to exercise your design and art skills. Paddles can certainly be western red cedar or another traditional wood, each of which work well. But techniques and composite materials like fiberglass, give each builder license to stray far off the beaten path and use strange or unheard of wood in paddle building.
And the results can be quite pleasing.