W is for wavetrain

April 27, 2015

In my memory, Hancock was a Main Salmon rapid that was mainly a nice long set of big standing waves. A wavetrain. Back in the day when I was guiding this drop was memorable because you had to do very little. Get on the tongue at the top, centered and straight and enjoy the ride. Up and down, up and down. Over and over. It was great in a raft. Maybe even better in a paddle boat, possibly superb in an inflatable kayak. Here is one of the shots I still have from running Hancock. That’s me in the white turban, a guest on the floor up front, knocked down by a wave as she tried to ride the front tube. My Dad was on the gear pile behind, with the then precious fragile and NOT waterproof old school SLR film camera.


V is for vertical shaft while paddling

April 26, 2015

My number one paddleboarding paddle tip: While paddling keep your paddle shaft vertical. This keeps your blade closer in to the center line of the board. This translates into more of the force you generate moving the boat in a straight line. I see it as being lopsided. The more your shaft angles the more lopsided your SUP is. As your paddle shaft gets more toward vertical, the force gets closer to the center line and becomes less lopsided. Hard to visualize I know, but next time you’re out paddling, focus on the shaft being vertical and watch the effect it has on your board moving in a straight line.

USPS Shipping

April 26, 2015

Just a quick shout out to the US Post Office. While many are quick to malign this Federal entity, I think they do every bit as good of a job at package delivery as anyone else. I’m happy to use their services and find they can compete at everything right along with UPS and FedEx. Plus I really like our mail guy. He and his wife both do the route we are on. They’re part of the neighborhood. The UPS guy is too, but the USPS is a bit more flexible for the shipping I need to do.

T is for Taper

April 25, 2015

This has to do with how you choose to shape the lower ends of each of the shaft strips. The first shaft strip is joined with the blades. No worries there. The second shaft strip I usually make several inches shorter than the first strip, so it ends about halfway down the blade. Where it ends (the overall length) itself is a maker decision. I like how it looks with the end being about in the middle of the shaft.

The shaft strip pieces are sent with simple, square, full-thickness ends. They’re ugly. How to finish the lower end off such that it looks good as part of the lower end of the shaft, largely below the bend and largely at the upper end of the blade is the largest design decision in making your paddle. It comes down to a point. Do you want a long taper ending in a sharp point? Do you want something short, ending in a rounded shape? I’ve done tapers both ways, and basically have yet to find a shape I did not like.

Specifics. I think running the full length and full thickness of the shaft strips through the bend is a good thing. That said, you have about eight inches to work with below the bend. The fifth (top) piece is the shortest. This piece may just barely extend into the bend area, depending on how you position this top piece.

The tapered point of each piece will likely be close to the pieces above and below. You can work the pieces into a smooth continuous shape or you can have a series of step backs with the pieces. There’s no right or wrong.

I do caution against excessive thinning over an excessive length. The lower end of the shaft does add strength and stiffness to the blade. Removing too much of the wood from the shaft strips will effectively allow more flex in the blade. Fiberglassing both sides of the blade does wonders for the overall stiffness, nonetheless I am still aware of leaving enough wood on each strip that it contributes to the blade stiffness.

This is one reason I opt to continue packaging enough wood for two paddles in each kit. Unless you have done it before, it is very hard to know what you like in a paddle until you have made the first one. The making of the first vastly informs the second. Likewise, using the first one will also inform you of likes and dislikes which can then be used on the second.

S is for Scraper

April 22, 2015

I was fairly late to the game with scrapers, for which I often kick myself. These simple little pieces of metal with edges that have a “hook” or a “burr” as it is commonly called, don’t really even feel sharp, but they do a phenomenal job of putting a smooth surface on a piece of wood.

for paddle making, the scraper is one of my top three tools. Of course paddle making does not require many tools. Regardless of that a scraper is one of those tools I would deem essential in every paddle maker’s toolbox.

Scrapers compete with sandpaper. Scrapers produce a thin shaving by cutting the surface of the wood. Sandpaper produces dust by ripping the surface of the wood and breaking free chunk of wood from the grooves created by the grains that are embedded in the paper.

Have a look at Youtube and see what others do with a scraper. Adding one to your tool kit offers a whole new way to achieve a smooth finish on just about any type of wood or surface. A great little piece of humble metal that does great work.

R is for resin

April 22, 2015

Resin is the other half of the epoxy (along with hardener) that makes such a fabulous dance partner for the soft limp cloth that is fiberglass cloth when dry.

It’s industrial. It is chemical. It sticks stuff together even better than glue. I use West Systems GFlex for the paddle shaft and MAS epoxy for the blade. Both are quite good for the purposes in which I apply them.

So the next time you’re out and about and notice something light and strong and non-metallic, odds are it could be epoxy in some way, shape, or form. Amazing stuff.

The humble quarter inch

April 20, 2015

Four of them together make up one single small inch. Individually, a quarter inch piece of wood is easily bent and can be used for very little. Put four of those thing pieces together though and you transform individually weak pieces into a strong untied single piece.

I find one quarter inch to be a perfect thickness for bending wood. The epoxy can hold the bend, the wood accepts the bend, and the tools can handle any stress introduced from bending.

Five strips together plus the minimal amount added by four layers of epoxy makes up a very nice thickness for a paddle shaft from which a custom shaft can be shaped to expressly fit the hand of the builder or the new owner.

Laminates provide some choice in dimension of a paddle shaft and they make it considerably easier to work with wood.

P is for Purpleheart

April 18, 2015

Truthfully but unimaginatively named, purpleheart is indeed purple. It is heavy and dense but still fairly soft. I believe it is a South American wood, not African. It seems brittle and when it break it is quite jagged, but yet it takes a bend quite well and has formed many an edge on many a paddle blade. Beautiful wood.

O is for Old Growth

April 18, 2015

Old growth is an advanced state of forest. Really the bulk of it is dead. In any tree only the outer inch or so of the tree is ferrying the nutrients around, the remaining inner portion is….still and old, contributing strength but not much vitality. Importantly, a ton (or more literally) of nutrients are locked up in this old growth tree. Crashing to the ground in a storm delivers all those organics back to the soil. Cutting it down and hauling it away deprives the soils of sorely needed organics, but it gives us lumber right?

Old growth is dark and gloomy and quiet. Overstory blocks out the sun so the young trees have little of the sunlight they need to grow. It’s quiet because there’s not much there. The youngish forage that tends to be in reach of browsers and other eaters of vegetation needs sunlight. When there’s little light hitting the forest floor, there’s little forage in reach and therefore few eaters. They all go where there is food. Edges, meadows, and places with enough sunlight to grow.

So, like clearcutting, old growth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Old growth is mostly dead and quiet. Nothing lives there hardly, except maybe a few species of birds like the spotted owl that need the old growth for nesting. Most of life moves on to other parts of the ecosystem where there is more food.

That said, old growth is a stunning place. You are small. The trees are big. You have the quiet to contemplate your spot in this primeval nature. It is an experience well worth seeking out.

N is for New

April 17, 2015

Of course wood is part of every paddle, but there are a few different types of wood. New wood, to me, is straight from a plain old tree, cut down in a plain old timber sale and cut for standard use. Clear vertical grain western red cedar, even though it is special, rare and expensive fits this category.

Old wood I think of as salvaged wood. Here in the midwest, the typical old wood (if there can be a typical) is salvaged mostly from old barns. I love this thought and the wood is pretty awesome too. I like the thought of wood, possibly cut from the barn site and then used as part of the barn. A hundred or even 150 years later, the barn comes down. In lieu of burning it, which still happens on occasion, there is a thriving off the radar industry that pays farmers for their old barns and then comes out and deconstructs the barn and saves as much of the old barn wood as possible. I love that thought and have on occasion bought some amazing lumber from these wood salvage outfits. Wide, mostly quarter sawn, not clear, but very good. Wide boards, small tight knots. I can only imagine what the forest must have looked like when this was a tree.

Wood is good, especially for paddles. I use it as responsibly as I can and respect the past and the history that some of this wood represents. I think preserving it as part of a paddle is a great way to honor a time and place that none of us will ever see again.