Thursday, June 12, 2014

Greenland Paddle Building/4 Router Hits Wood

Greenland paddle making
Above we see Dee Hall getting down to work with her router (a Porter-Cable, one of many manufacturers of high quality power woodworking tools). You will note that the rough cut paddle blank Dee made is firmly encased within the channel jig she meticulously designed.

How Dee's channel jig works should be clear now: the peaks and angles of the wooden bridges mimic the shape and taper of a Greenland paddle's blades and shaft.

Dee sets the router bit to an appropriate depth, so that it won't cut deeper than the bridges allow, then turns on the router just before she places the router onto two adjacent bridges. The router assumes the correct angles for carving by virtue of the router's base plate gliding smoothly up and down the bridges.

By working slowly and carefully, and being sure to wear safety glasses, Dee lets the router glide up and down slopes of the bridges. The router cuts all the while. The chips fly fast and kick up a fair amount of dust. It's very noisy work, machine-shop level, so Dee is sure to wear hearing protection, as did the photographer.

Greenland paddle making
Another paddle-maker, Brian Nystrom, points out that cedar dust, like most wood dusts, is mildly toxic. Wear a dust mask, or a VOC respirator if your intolerance to dust is high. Similarly, if your plans include mass production, the Greenland paddle builder would be wise to work in a well-ventilated shop. Ratios of fresh air exchange per square foot of shop space are readily available on the internet.

The two photos show two distinct processes. In the top photo, you'll note that the router lies nearly flat on the flatter bridges at the paddle blade's thinner, flatter ends and tips. (Move your curser over the photos and right-click to enlarge them.)

Dee calculated these tapered angles, from flat to steep, on graph paper, then glued the graph-paper templates to plywood, whereupon she cut the plywood templates with a bandsaw. This method is closely-related to the process Nick Schade currently or in the past used to provide form stations for his strip-built designs.

Greenland paddle makingAbove: Where it all began. Members of a recent expedition to Greenland pose on the top eighth of an iceberg. The Inuit built their paddles from driftwood.

In the lower photo you'll note that the router is angled steeply uphill. And by looking carefully at either photo, you'll notice that the bridge rails change, progressively, from bottom left of the photos to top center, from quite steep to much flatter. This is where a paddle-maker using Dee's method needs to exercise the greatest care. Routers are heavy, and if yours slips too fast downhill, it could fall off the jig and onto your leg.

There are a number of tools scattered on the table: leather work gloves, a pair of hammers, numerous clamps, a sanding block. All get put to good use: the hammers for removing and replacing the dowelled bridge jigs, the clamps for securing the jig and paddle to one another and to the workbench, the sanding block for later refining the router cuts, the gloves for avoiding splinters.

Above: three Greenland strokes: the sliding stroke; vertical racing stroke; horizontal cruising stroke.

Several readers have written to ask whether Dee can make plans available for her jig. The short answer is maybe. The long answer is that she needs to find time to boot up some CAD software to reproduce the measurements and angles she intuited first time around. Many other readers have made comments that relate to refining the technique to make it more efficient. One writer suggested replacing the wooden bridges with steel rails; another posited the use of a power planer instead of a router. I encourage everyone to post their similar comments on the blog so we can all read them.
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
The jig

copyright 2008/North American Kayak Fishing


Anonymous said...

Hi Adam, thanks for documenting and sharing this process! I'm about to churn out paddles for a group of people, and have been thinking about ways to do this in a rational way. This method is certainly interesting, but there's one thing that's not clear to me: When the first face of a blade is shaped, the back side if lying flat on the bench/jig. But when the second blade face is shaped, the back is no longer flat. Can you still shape it with the router in the same way, or is it with wedges or something similar, to provide support?

Best regards,


Adam Bolonsky said...

Hi Magnus,
if when you first route the blades you leave the shaft un-routed, the shaft will remain flat and square.

The flat and square shaft will then hold the paddle blank square and at a right angle to the worktable/channel jig. Then all you need to do is support the tip of the blade you have turned over, so that the blade won't wobble while you route the other side.

Also, because the routed side of the blade (now facing down) has a high spot on it, from tip to shoulder, that will help hold the blank square while you route side number two.

Hope this helps. If not, post another comment here, at and we can hash it out.

Bryan Hansel said...

Great sets of posts.

I just noticed that the rss feed won't pull in the full article into my rss reader anymore. It makes me come here to see the full article. Is this a setting that you recently changed?

It makes it hard to keep the site in the rss reader, because I have to open a browser to see the full article. Hopefully, this isn't a change on purpose, because I've typically just stopped reading blogs that do that...??? :(

Adam Bolonsky said...

Hi Brian,
thanks for having a look.

The rss feed is an issue. I've recently switched over to Feedburner, and until they include ads in rss feeds, I need readers to come to the site to read my stuff.

Sorry if it's an inconvenience....

Nice pics on your site!