Prolong the Life of Your Wood Paddle

January 11, 2017

Prolong the Life of Your Wood Paddle

In a perfect world nobody would be homeless, everyone would have enough to eat, and our canoe paddles would last forever. While the first two dilemmas may be solved in the distant future, I suspect that as long as people paddle outrigger canoes, they will find some object on which to hit their paddles.  The following write up will explain in detail how to prolong the life of your wood paddle. 


If you think repairing your canoe paddle is beyond your capability, think again. About the only requirement for maintenance and repair of your paddle is the ability to read the instructions on a can of varnish.

The mortal enemy of all wood products is water. If you can keep water from penetrating into the fibers of the wood, you will be doing a lot to prolong the life of your paddle. Once water penetrates into the wood via a fracture in the finish, the process of a slow and painful death begins.

Dabbing an exterior grade varnish or polyurethane on the bare wood can cover small dings in your paddle. Be sure to let the water in the wood dry out before applying the finish. Larger abrasions may require sanding to obtain a smooth surface. A sequence of 80 grit sandpaper followed by 150 grit sandpaper will usually take care of most minor to medium nicks. If you have rubbed the edge of the blade raw and the wood is fuzzy you might have to start with 40 grit paper and reshape the edge. Don't get overly worried about the outline shape of the blade; paddle design is extremely tolerant of "new" shapes. The important factor is symmetry of the shape (that both sides are equal). Frequent touch ups of your paddle will save you the stress of major repairs and significantly increase the life of your paddle.

Broken pieces and stress cracks are more problematic and may require power tools to do the job easily. If you should happen to nick a chunk out of your paddle, the first rule of repair is to find the missing piece. If you can find the broken piece it is a simple matter of gluing it back in place. I have found that epoxy glues work best for these types of repairs. Epoxy has excellent gap filling properties and does not require high clamping pressure. Simple clamps can be devised using masking tape, bands of rubber, or any other method you can think of to hold the piece in place until the glue dries. Small missing chunks up to about Y4 inch in size can be filled with epoxy if you can't find the piece. Fitting in a piece of new wood, which is sanded to dimension and then refinished, can repair larger dings.

Stress cracks in the shaft of the paddle are a sign of eminent doom. You can prolong the life of the shaft in a number of ways, but failure will surely happen ten yards from the finish line when your crew is in first place. The easiest treatment for this type of problem is to wrap the shaft with carbon fiber or fiberglass cloth. Sand the damaged area until you get to bare wood.

Undersize the shaft as you will be adding material, which will increase the diameter of the shaft. Use epoxy resin to saturate the cloth, which is lower in viscosity than epoxy glue. Two or three layers are usually enough but I would relegate the paddle to practice status to be on the safe side. Carbon fiber is much stiffer than fiberglass, weights being equal, but is three to four times as expensive. Be sure to wear gloves, epoxy is nasty stuff.

As I mentioned before paddle repair is not rocket science. It takes time and easily acquired knowledge of a few basic products. The library is filled with books on basic woodworking, which can be applied to any paddle repair problem. Have confidence! And remember, even if the repair doesn't look pretty, it will most likely work.


• DO wash your paddle with fresh water after every use

• DO store your paddle in a cool, dry environment when possible

• DO refinish all bare wood as soon as possible

• DO fully submerge your blade on the catch before you pull. This is especially important on the starts.

• DO make sure your power phase is in sync with the rest of your crew so that the resistance of the canoe is distributed equally.

• If you do break your paddle, find the missing piece.

• DON'T stab your paddle into the sand.

• DON'T leave your paddle in your car on a hot day.

• DON'T drum the side of the canoe with your paddle.

• DON'T expect your paddle to last forever. Paddles are like running shoes. The more you nm the faster they run out.

• REMEMBER, one super hard stroke won't win the race but it might snap your paddle.

by: Dave Chun

Also in TalkStory