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  • Alick Burt

A Paddle Making Course for One Man and his Dog!

Hello Folks

Although I come from two generations of them! I am not a teacher by profession so I am a little apprehensive whenever I do a paddle making course for people. So far every time I have done it my fears are unfounded and things go fine and that turned out to be the case this time as well.

This time Robbie was my only student. I advertised the course but once again I failed to attract more takers. I don't mind this as it gives me the time to make another paddle alongside which I can sell and the students like it as they get full on one to one tuition.

Robbie pointed out to me that I should make more of the fabulous location of the workshop even though for those who are used to full on camp sites the camping facilities are minimal and he was right as we are near the river Nene and the views are lovely and there are other activities to enjoy within easy reach such as the Nene Valley Railway and the sky diving at Sibson airfield.

To illustrate the point here is the view as I settled down for a cuppa whilst waiting for Robbie to arrive on Friday evening.

Robbie arrived and as usual he had his furry companion Bromley with him. We had a chat about the design of paddle he would like to make and he chose one of the many designs from Graham Warren's book of 100 Paddle designs for which I am eternally grateful. This book is a fabulous piece of work that I would recommend to anyone contemplating making their own paddle in addition to Graham's other books on the subject.

I showed Robbie around the workshop and as the light faded we turned in ready for a weekend of paddle making fun.

In the morning we set to making templates and I planed up a couple of blanks.Robbie had a piece of American Cherry and was going to make a Voyageur paddle from the 1860's. This is a lovely slim deep water paddle.

I had decided to go with something more unusual as I just love to be different and had selected an assymetrical design from Graham's book called an Anula (from Australia) that looks more akin to a table knife than a paddle! Rather than leave the grip as a straight pole I decided to mix things up by giving it a grip from one of the other designs and I selected a plank of Yew to make it from.

With our templates made we marked out our planks I took pictures of Robbie as we worked.

Next we cut out the profiles and began shaping the edge down to the line. Bromley wanted to help Robbie with the spokeshave.

Once that was complete the next stage is to shape the blade.This is where quite a lot of material has to be removed to begin with so if used with care a power planer can be handy.

Further shaping continues with hand plane and spokeshave and I was pleased that Robbie was able to grasp the techniques I was showing him.

Bromley was content to sleep in his bed as long as he could see Robbie working.

Wherever a bit more finesse is required the scraper is used. On my Yew paddle this was also needed to deal with the curly grain of the timber.

Robbie had brought his other paddles with him and asked me about stripping off the varnish to change it for oil so I set him up with a paint stripping gun whilst I caught up with the work on my paddle so we could do the finishing stages at the same time.

By the end of the first day Robbie was beginning to shape the grip with a rasp and spokeshave.

and then we returned to our tent and van and had food before turning in again. We were both suitably tired from our enjoyable but physical activity.

Next day with the grip shaped and sanded we were able to begin shaping the shaft from square to octagonal section.

From octagonal we proceeded to remove the corners again.As Robbie used to be maths teacher and maths was never my strong point I asked him what a sixteen sided shape would be called. He was unsure and we both agreed google may have the answer and yes it does! It is called a hexadecagon sometimes called a hexaidecagon or 16-gon so there you go, you learn something new every day.

From our hexadecagon we can move to sanding to remove the final corners and shape the shaft to a nice smoothly rounded section.

Once that was done the paddle was given another sand all over with a finer grit abrasive before finally taking the sharp edges off the blade and sanding once again but this time with an even finer grit. It was at this point that Robbie remarked that he was surprised at how long these final stages took. This is no surprise to me as most folks (apart from the readers of my blog) are blissfully unaware of how long it takes to create items of quality from wood.

With the sanding completed we were able to give our paddles a coat of 50/50 boiled linseed and white spirit applying it again and again saturating them each time they dried out. Robbie was also able to give his freshly stripped beaver tail a coat too.

Pic 13

With that done as we cleared up we reflected on our fun weekend. The paddles will of course require more coats of oil put on with less oil each time and eventually they will develop a lovely patina.

Robbie went away with a bonus as he had a paddle he had made and one well on the way to refinishing and I was happy as I have a new interesting paddle to try out. If I like the way it works I can always keep it for myself. If it doesn't work well I can always use it to put marmalade on my toast in the morning!

Thanks for reading.



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