Plans for Northwoods Paddle

Morley Pinsent

canoeist & canoe nut

I am about to attempt making a Northwoods (Maine Guide, Maliseet) style paddle or two -- just to keep warm until the weather changes a bit! I have a copy of Rick Waters excellent article on the paddles from the WCHA files. Problem is that I cannot get a good enough copy to read the measurements and numbers on the plan diagram. Trying to increase the size on the computer screen and/or printing them is of no help. Even a magnifying glass doesn't help these ageing eyes.

Can anyone send me in the right direction to find readable numbers, or fax me a copy, or???


Morley Pinsent, waiting for the water to get softer.
Canoe Paddles by Graham Warren and David Gidmark

has a number of plans for traditional paddles. You may be able to find it in a local library. Also good suggestions for layout and carving that work well.
Northwoods Canoe has them

Hi Morley,

Rollin Thurlow has copies of the plans for a Northwoods paddle for sale, which you can find at Northwoods Canoe in the online builders catalog. Look under his "plans and kits" section.

north woods paddle

since rick waters had this article (very good) on the WCHA site maybe the administrator could give us ricks e-mail address or in-lu-there-of possibly they might contact rick waters and ask him to repost the plans with ledgible dimensions.I had planed to attempt a north woods paddle myself but couldn't make them out either.darn good article though and probably enough there to craft a useable paddle- the plans just give you a better idea of what it should look like when its done. i think the big end is supposed to get wet somehow :confused: :D can webmaster/administrator/extodinaire help?thanx.lee.^....
Thanks Charlie,

I ordered the brochure from Northwoods today -- and also got them to fax me a copy of the plans that are coming by mail, shaved a few days off the waiting time. They have all the measurements on them in a highly legible state. In fact, I laid out the paddle today on a fine piece of ash, and have it cut out already.

Looks like it will be fun to make. I may have to hack through some ice soon to try it out when I get it finished. Wonnerful, wonnerful

What a great place for info. Also ordered the brochure on the Northwoods stroke from Rollin. Just may make it through to the grass again!

Cheers, in anticipation.

Morley :D
Rollin's brochure showing Garrett and Alexandra Conover doing the Northwoods stroke is good. You might also want to look at Bill Mason's Path of the Paddle, where he has two pages with demonstration photos on what he calls the Canadian stroke, which seems quite similar to the Northwoods stroke. And also look at Lynn Franklin's "Paddling Like an Ancient" in WoodenBoat magazine no. 55 (November/December 1983), about Alexandra Conover teaching Franklin the stroke.

This past summer I was trying to teach myself the stroke after reading all these materials, with limited success. It is hard to unlearn years of habitual J-stroking.
The Canadian, once mastered, is a thing of beauty and finesse. It is also surprisingly powerful. True, the J can be hard to unlearn. But once you get in the habit of sweeping the paddle up and forward you'll rarely be tempted to use those crudest of strokes, the rudder and pry
For whatever encouragement it’s worth, like many others I consciously tried to learn the Canadian or north woods stroke for quite a while. And just couldn’t get it. Finally after many years of a lot of solo paddling, I found my stroke just evolving into it until one day I realized I was doing this stroke. This was confirmed for me when I was out paddling with a group that included a guy who had just come back from a week paddling with the Conovers and he said, “I see you’ve got down the north woods stroke down pat.” Once you’ve got it, the C/pitch/north woods is the perfect forward power stroke. Its fast, its efficient, its easy on the arms and body. It’s a subtle combination of lifting, angling and slicing the blade forward through the water, at the moment of recovery that’s the trick. Now it’s as natural as breathing. So I suspect the way to learn it is to paddle a lot and let your muscle memory teach it to you, without engaging your conscious brain too much

What I find when doing it is that I keep my top hand low, not high. Mine is not often any higher than the plane of my belly button, so the shaft of the paddle is almost parallel to the surface of the water, more like a rowboat oar. The track of the paddle through the water should be in the shape of a gentle S.
It's been many years since I unlearned the J, but I recall that having a shorter paddle helped in the process.
Good point and one I was going to mention. I’ve made about eight paddles: two northwoods ala Conover, one long stern and one shorter bow paddle. But my favorite now is a relatively short cherry conventional beavertail that I made and it fits me, the canoe, and the stroke like a glove. I made an ottertail from the same piece of cherry and, although it’s a bit longer, also works well.
The Northwoods stroke IS almost the same as the "Canadian Stroke". Both are subtle, and I've had lots of fun trying to teach it over the years. People either "get it" right away, or it takes a lot of work to teach them. Properly done, its very hard for the uninitiated to see that the paddler is doing ANYTHING at all!

If you're looking for plans, I have full size patterns available. This is my first time attaching a photo file, I hope that it works. This grip also looks fabulous with a Voyageur blade, rather than the classic Beavertwith which it is usually associated.

If you are working from the plans that Alexandra Conover has prepared, keep in mind that the Beavertail blade identified as the "stern" is a HUGE blade, suitable only for the well conditoned paddler. The "bow" blade is far more suited for regular use by mere mortals. It may not look very big, but it is still a very powerful blade.


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Thanks Doug,

I have finished my first Northwoods paddle and I made it according to the "stern" pattern, so guess I had better work harder on the winter set of exercises I use to stay in paddling shape! Usually manage to get in about 50 days of paddling per year, so hopefully can handle it. I also plan to make a Northwoods bow paddle for my partner, can always "steal" it on the days she stays home.

Your handles look great! They have a bit more curve on the top than I put on mine, will think about altering it. Also, the handle does look fine with a voyageur blade. I am presently working on a voyageur paddle but have used a pattern I took off a Nashwaak ottertail for the handle. It has been my absolute favorite paddle for a number of years. Perhaps will try one soon with a Northwoods handle.

With regards to the Northwoods stroke, think I am pretty close already as I learned what Omer Stringer refers to as an "Inside draw turn" a few years ago. Seems to have many of the same characteristics as the Northwoods stroke, so hopefully the knowledge is transferable. It is a great stroke, especially solo in a wind. So, the days lengthen, some melting is starting to happen, there will be open water to try it all out soon!


Morley Pinsent

The Naswaak blade shape is actually very close to a Malecite/Passamaquoddy pattern. Jeff patterned his paddles very closely on one made by Omer, I know because he showed it to me.

Now if you want a really cool grip to play with, try the one Adney documented as the Passamquoddy 1849 paddle. I'm including a photos of the grip made as documented, and as I make it.

I'm not sure if an inside draw turn would be the same. The Northwoods/Canadian stroke uses the principle of a push-away scull on the forward motion of the recovery phase of your stroke. The paddle is set low, not vertical, and the forward, leading, edge angles down just enough to set up a scull like action, deflecting water out to the side. The speed of the paddle through the water dramatically increases its effectivness.

Holding the paddle with a grip like the Northwoods grip, helps by letting you wrist move throught its normal movement. Using torso rotation and natrual wrist motion, you almost don't need to do anything else. You hardly need even to bend your elbows. Locking your elbows and keeping your arms straigh is a great way to teach yourself the dynamics of this stroke. As you "get it" start letting your elbows relace in order to regain some sense of elegance and self dignity.


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Amen to comments on size of stern North Woods. Its so big that I've levered my canoe right out of the water a few times with it.
I find you don't need a "huge" blade with the Canadian stroke. In fact, for the reasons noted above, it's probably an impediment. Properly executed the stroke delivers great power even with a modestly sized blade (say a Peter Hitchock or a Grey Owl ottertail). In the last several years, I've put about 500 miles in the Quetico on two of Doug Ingram's high shoulder Voyageur blades and they're great for the Canadian.
Right you are Robert.

With this stroke, the blade acts more like a foil. Like a wing, as it slices through the water.

I'm glad that you're getting some good use out of those paddles!
Oh, forgot to add, that those big blades, like the stern beavertail, are well suited to static braces, and such. When in Whitewater, its comforting to have that surface area to repy on.

Its been a while, but the ice is leaving fast, and I got four coats of varnish on the Northwoods paddle, and... it was a calm fine morning -- so dog and I hied with my new Northwoods paddle and renovated OT 1919 Charles River to the nearby river to play amongst the ice flows. Life doesn't get much better than that

It is a great paddle design, and man, it is big! A workout. Worked on the Northwoods stroke and by god, I think I've got it! The Northwoods grip makes it a very ergonomic way to keep the canoe going straight. Lots of work yet to get it perfected. Thanks all for the excellent advice on paddle making and stroking. Am going to make a smaller bow Northwoods design, but right now, open water calls -- this coming winter perhaps!

Cheers, back on the river. :D

Hey Moe, you gonna send in some photos?

You'll find that the smaller beavertail much more satisfactory. Its amazingly powerful for something that looks so small.

When in doubt for a new pattern, if you stay within the 6" x 27" limits, you'll get a good blade.
Paddle pics

Hi Doug,

Thanks for all the help and advice. Have posted a few pics of the three paddles I made this winter.




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