Thursday, June 12, 2014

Greenland Paddle Building:/6:Final Smoothing and Shaping

Greenland paddle making
Here Dee removes from the still-rough paddle the bridge forms which guided the router along the paddle's various contours: flat and thin at the paddle's tip; higher, thicker, and more rounded towards the shoulder of the blade and the shaft.

It's at this step, removing the bridges, that the utility of doweled bridge forms becomes obvious. Not only do dowels and moorings make the bridge forms easy to remove by hand or with a hammer, they also allow the builder to use the same jig and forms for as many paddles as he or she has time, interest, or energy to build.

Moreover, by carefully controlling the depth of the router bit, a shaper can roughcut a paddle to the extent one chooses: chunkier and less refined for custom shaping later with hand tools, or as close to spec as you like if you are certain the jig holds your perfect paddle's shape.

Greenland paddle making
Factory-made paddles are designed and cut according to broad generalities around length, torque, angle. But build your own paddle and you can customize it to your particular needs around shaft thickness, blade thickness, etc.

Once Dee has removed the bridge forms that guide the router through its cuts, it's time to work and shape the paddle by hand with a variety of handtools: rasps, files, block planes, a SurForm tool. To speed matters up, Dee will use a random orbital sander and 80 grit discs to remove excess wood. Doing so will smooth the blank for better laminar flow but also smooth the paddle shaft so that it won't cause blisters.

making a Greenland paddle

the tip sanded smooth as a baby's bottom using sandpaper grits progressing from 80 grit to 200 grit. Note the wood's open grain. Tung oil will seal the grain and close it.
Brian Nystrom photo.

In the bottom photo, see Dee making her initial passes with a SureForm tool to bring down the ridges and high spots left behind by the rapid cutting with the router. The router chops in the paddle's fundamental shape: rounder and flatter near the blade, more peaked, etc., towards the shoulder.

Note the wood chips on either side of the jig. Note, too, that the blank is firmly clamped to the jig and to the table, so Dee gets plenty of purchase to pull her hand tools against.

At this point Dee is working by eye, checking to be sure that her SurForm cutting is even and symmetrical. She needs to be sure that the SureForm's cutting screen is sharp, and its gutter clear, so she won't tear the wood. After about an hour's sanding through progressively smoother grits from 80 to as high as 220 or higher, the paddle will be ready for first use.

making a Greenland paddle

Above: the freshly-sanded tip brought down to 220 grit smoothness with sandpaper and coated with its first layer of tung oil. Cedar is porous and really soaks up the tung oil. Apply subsequent coasts on successive days.
Brian Nystrom photo.

Once Dee has tested the paddle in the local lake, she'll bring it back to the workshop to rinse and dry. She'll then coat it with numerous layers of tung oil wiped on with a rag. Perhaps she'll mask off the bottom six inches of the blades to prevent tung oil from entering the grain there. This allows her the option of epoxying the paddle tips for added strength, or of dabbing on fiberglass cloth after adding, if she wants, colored tint to the epoxy.

Above: Silbs, in a skin-on-frame, slips from the bullrushes, propelled by a laminated Greenland paddle from Mitchell. Hardcore Greenland style aficionados can be a prickly bunch. While they often insist on such historical authenticity as throwing sticks, etc., they also tend to eschew such modern-day safety basics as decklines.
(Greg Fojtik photo.)

Dee is a source-hunter if ever there was one; likely she'll add to the epoxy at the blade tips either a light reflective compound for night paddling or day-glo paint for better daytime visibility. While color additives may put a Greenland purist's knickers in a twist (many of the type eschew such accepted standards as decklines and watertight bulkheads), warning colors on a paddle's tips are nice to have on those hot summer afternoons when Dee leads a pod from her local paddling club through a busy harbor.
copyright 2008/North American Kayak Fishing


Silbs said...

I'll consider it a compliment that you chose a pic of me launching my new SOF here in Wisconsin a few years back. Good looking paddles.

Silbs said...

Hey, Adam. My rushed commentary the other day probably left some folks thinking I was angry about the pic. Not so. It was a flawed attempt about poking fun at the original label that had the brand of paddle wrong. Actually, I look marvelous :)

wideblueyonder said...

Awesome series of posts - really inspired to have a go a making one! Thanks for the detailed posts.