Old Paddle ID?

Todd Bradshaw

This one is quite old and seems to be maple. Somebody stained it brown along the way. I got about half of it off, but haven't attacked it aggressively yet. I did put a couple coats of varnish on it for the time being a few years ago, so that I could use it.

Length is 66", maximum blade width about 6.5". The long grip, up top, has a bit of a bulb at the top end, but is mostly carved into eight flat panels with the corners eased a bit. As you get to the bottom of the grip, the panels have tapered and come together forming an octagonal cross-section (like 8-siding a spar). The top of the shaft, where it meets the 8-siding of the grip, is 1" diameter and perfectly round. It stays that width all the way to the blade, but gradually ovals in thickness as you approach the lower grip/throat area where it is 1" wide by 1.25" thick and distinctly very oval, not just a cylinder that's been made wider in one direction. On the top half of the blade, the oval of the shaft morphs into a V-shaped ridge down the middle of the blade which then tapers out. The lower half of the blade has a nearly flat face which has been thinned out to 3/16"-1/4" with a bit of a bulb thickening-up the tip for rock bashing (heaven forbid).

This paddle is light, balances perfectly on your lower hand and the shaping is very precisely done. It's an absolute joy to use. I don't know what person or what machine built it, but it's very well carved. Any ideas about it's origin? Anybody got a big pantograph machine so that we can make more of them just like it?


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That's a beautiful-looking paddle. Looks like maple to me, also. Old maple. Style looks like Maine or New Brunswick, except perhaps that the bulge of the grip looks a bit smaller than usual.

I doubt that a machine was involved in making this one; the octagonal panels suggest hand-carving. Carving/planing with eight flat panels is a traditional method of fairing by eye only - the carver can tell his lines are straight by observing the width of each panel - much easier to visually compare straight lines than to compare curved surfaces. If you wanted to carve straight and round (for examples - a setting pole, paddle shaft, double-bit axe helve) each panel would be of equal width, and this would be easy to adjust by eye, without having to use any other measuring device. I learned this technique many years ago when my grandfather gave me an antique axe with an octagonal maple helve. When I remarked that the octagon pattern was decorative, he explained the practical reason for carving with eight panels. (He had carved the helve himself.) The octagon method applies to curved implements also - for example, visually ensuring that the sides of a curved object are symmetrical, and it's possible elegantly to finish compound curves using this method. On the paddle in the pictures, that's the reason for the distinct straight ridge that extends from the shaft into the blade - the carver uses the ridges to gauge that he's taking equal amounts of wood off each side of the blade - both laterally and longitudinally. In essence, the carver completes the paddle by imagining its form as eight curved planar surfaces, with the edges rounded off as a finishing touch.

The three similar paddles whose images I posted on northwoods paddle design here -


were all carved by eye, without measuring instruments except for starting with a string, using the octagon method - you can clearly see the "panels" in the two Presque Isle paddles - I use the same morphing effect of rounding the edges of the octagon as the shaft approaches the blade. It's harder to see the straight ridges extending into the blade, but they're there. (The initials painted on the older paddle are those of my grandfather who explained the octagon method to me.)

If my guess about the hand-carved origin of your paddle is correct, it's no coincidence that the paddle feels light and balanced. The carver adjusted the flex and balance as he worked - no machine could produce such a result.
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I agree with Mike, it looks like maple (with a hint of curly grain?), and would seem to be hand carved by someone who has carved more than a couple of paddles. I've taught many people how to make paddles, and you can tell a beginners paddle right away! Mike is also correct in regard to the advantages of 8 siding. While it can be decorative, its also very practical.

More than that, its hard to say.