A while ago I was kindly given some planks from a Cedar of Lebanon tree in Kent. This very old tree had come down many years ago in a storm, and had been milled and the seasoned planks had been gathering dust. They were thick enough and long enough for canoe paddles, so I decided to go ahead and give it a go. The grain was fairly straight down the plank, but there were a fair number of knots, so avoiding them in crucial places wasn’t easy. It is best to position them out of the shaft and away from the edges of the blade – those in the centre of the blade can be filled and just add figure.

It is also a good idea to use the straightest grain in the shaft – avoid, if it is possible, grain lines that run out of the side of the shaft – especially at the throat, where the shaft meets the blade.

The greatest unknown was the wood. Although you might know of cedar as a very good – and popular – wood for canoe paddles, this is almost always Western red cedar (thuja plicata), which is not a true cedar, unlike Cedar of Lebanon (cedrus libani). I could find nothing online about using cedrus libani for canoe paddles.

This is the plank laid out with a paper pattern of an ottertail design. The design is pinned to the plank, and moved around to find the best spot.SAMSUNG


The shape I cut out with a jig saw – my one concession to power tools.SAMSUNG


Use a plane and draw knife (or surform) to get down to your precise outline shape, and ensure that your edges are dead square to the faces of the paddle. Then it is important to give yourself very accurate centre lines on both faces of the paddle, and running around the edge. Then you can begin to mark lines to create an edge profile. I think I initially marked 1/2″ at the edge of the blade, which I would then thin down along the length of the blade to a tip of 1/4″; intially I planned an oval shaft one inch across and and inch and 1/8 deep, but it became rounded out as I worked.SAMSUNG

This is a jig I rigged with a square level and some tape and a pencil to run a centre line, and then offsets from that centre. It did the job, just about. Wing dividers would be better.


Once you have your offsets from the centre, you can bring in angled lines to form the profile. Another, simpler way to do this, is to make the width at the throat (where shaft meets blade) and then at the tip, and draw straight lines between.SAMSUNG

Once you have these lines, you can carefully saw stop-cuts down to close to these lines, and then using a very sharp axe or chisel, chip out these sections. It is best to do all this while leaving the edges completely square if you can.



This will shape the profile from shaft to tip of your blade, then you need to shape from the spine of the blade out to the edges, making the edges thin enough that they’ll slice the water, but not so thin they’ll chip easily.

The shaft should be shaped by knocking the corners off from square to octagon, then knocking those corners off, to try and keep the reference points of the corners. Then you can task a rasp to the remaining corners.Leave plenty of wood at the throat, where the most stress goes through the paddle. Once it is nearly oval it can be ‘shoe-shined’ with coarse sandpaper to finish the shape. The shape of the grip is entirely up to you.SAMSUNG

Unfortunately, I then forgot to take more photos, until this one of a paddle nearly finished shaping. This still needs some weight taking off the wings of the blade, but gives an idea of the shape.

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Once you have got the shape sand up through the different grits of sandpaper. This is the really fun part as everything smooths out and the wood starts to really show up. It is worth going for a very smooth finish, especially if you are oiling the paddle. After your last sand, damp the wood to bring up the grain, then sand again.

Finishes are argued about by paddle-makers, it seems! But for my tuppence worth, unless you’re using a wood with good natural water resistance (elm, Western red cedar, black walnut), I would varnish the blade with several coats of good spar varnish, since it will be in the water the most. But for comfort, I prefer oiled wood from the throat up, since it is much nicer to grip, even when wet. So boiled linseed oil, or similar is what I advise. I used some masking tape to get a clear straight line between varnish and oiled shaft.

When you oil the shaft, drive the oil in to the wood by heating with a hairdryer. You can also use very fine (400 grit) sandpaper to create a fine sawdust-oil slurry that will also penetrate the pores, in the same you do with water stones when sharpening knives. Wait for it to dry, and repeat. The result is a completely smooth waterproof shaft, without the slight tacky feel in the hand of varnish.






Here is the paddle drying from a coat of varnish, suspended by the grip. The figure in wood is really brought out by the finish.



And here is a photo of the finished paddle (paddles aren’t easy to photograph!). finished-paddle



Here is an incomplete, but hopefully useful, photo walkthrough of a simple round basket.

Creating the slath with 8 sticks. In the close up you can see the first thin ends inserted to start pairing around the slath.

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This is after a few rounds of pairing. You can certainly get a tighter base than this!

Then building up the base with a plain weave – an extra spoke has been added in the south-west corner of the picture to make an odd number (17) of spokes so that the plain weave works. This was, I think, my first basket, so there are some glaring mistakes in this base! 2015-01-18-19-33-16

New stakes are added alongside each spoke, and the spokes cut off flush with the base; the basket can then be staked up. A rim is creating by taking each stake to the left, beneath the next two adjacent stakes before bending up. Coming to the last two stakes, they will need to be taken to the left, and threaded through the rim as if they were going under the next two – the first two stakes you bent up. Once this rim has been made, a three-rod wale is woven, which keeps the stakes in place.

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We can now start to build up the sides using French randing. Placing a the end of a weaver behind an upright stake; take the weaver over the next stake to the left, behind the next one, and then our again. Working to the right, add weavers all the way around the basket (the last two will need to be added underneath the first weavers laid in). Then, starting with any weaver, a basic weave can be started: taking any weaver, weave it in and out once, then take the next to the right and work around the basket. When you return to the beginning, weave the lower of the pairs of weavers that are sitting together first, and you will be back to your starting point.    2015-02-03-12-04-02

Once the sides are high enough, use three thick rods to weave a three-rod wale to lock down the basket sides.

Then you can weave a rim. Make sure the upright stakes are still wet enough to bend down or they will crack at this point. A simple rim pattern is to bend each stake down to the right, behind two stakes, in front of the third, behind the fourth, then out to the front. Continue around to the right, weaving the last stakes in the same pattern through the rim.

Here is a completed basket, with a rod from a lime sucker inserted to make a hooped handle.


The rod is bent over and inserted down into the weave – sharpen the end before doing this.


Then the handle can be wound with willow, normally working with two sets, one wound from each side. These three ohotos show the first set of 5 willow rods being wound around, and then under the rim; the tips are then bent up. 2015-02-07-17-03-41 2015-02-07-17-03-49 2015-02-07-17-08-18

The second set are wound starting from the opposite side to the first set. The tips are then tied up against the handle using a thin weaver inserted first down into the basket weave.


Tadpole spoon

My favourite recent spoon, a small round bowled spoon in cherry. The shape wasn’t planned until I split the small piece (only just large enough for this spoon) and saw the slight wave in the grain towards one end. The handle follows and slightly exaggerates the curve. I still have the other half, so it may be possible to make a matching, or mirrored, pair. cherry-tadpole-spoon