Today I took the plane to my old #5 GP, my battered utility stick, to shave down the edges and give it a much lower profile. I had just finished my latest stick, #7, which has the best blades I’ve made, beautifully shaped, sharp and true. Regrettably I became so determined to work out the transition between the elliptical axes of the blades and the loom and ended up with a loom that is too skinny and feels a bit vulnerable. Rolls like a dream but an unnerving fragility to it.
|My trusty number 5, now with new added edgefulness|
Grinding away at my old #5 made me think about all the mistakes I had made in the sticks. There are enough blogs and videos about carving GPs in the world so instead I’ll talk about what I have learned along the way. This are just my personal reflections and given the general underwhelmingness of my carpentry skills, no doubt better heads and hands would come to other conclusions.
I also lack the gear and space to laminate so all my GPs are carved from a single bit of wood.
1. Forget western red cedar. I ordered a piece for #2, because it had to be clear, and I found the resultant paddle too expensive, too weak, too soft and too easily furred. This baby cracked at the hip with not a lot of force in a brace, and you only had to look at it too hard for it to get a ding. The wood of fools. So far I’ve stuck to the other cedar, much cheaper and harder while still being buoyant and easy to work.
2. Measure over and over again. The symmetry of a blade is important and you can only get that by taking care to re-mark your axes when they get cut, carved or sanded away so you don’t go off-piste. Use a big soft black pencil too, I use a 4B so I can see the lines against the grain.
|During the carve. I redraw centrelines on both the flat and edge faces every time they get removed.|
|Every step of the way, check and measure.|
3. Be very careful cutting the loom. I use a jigsaw and apart from the time I broke the blade and stitched a nice pattern of deep holes across the blade, it’s very easy to cut too much or to get too great a variation between the front and back faces.
|The loom jigsawed out. Different again. Damn.|
4. Oil is for dipping bread into, epoxy is for paddles. First three blades I made I used a marine teak oil, but I found the blade furred very swiftly around the loom and the edges of the blades due to the friction of my hands and I had to re-oil way too often. Couple of coats of epoxy and you’re set for months, with the advantage that it’s hard as glass and has a lovely finish if you sand it down from a gloss. I’m sure purists would revile the approach, but it works for me.
5. Steel wool is a disaster. I slavishly followed some instructions to use carpenter’s steel wool after the final sanding to get an ultrasmooth surface. Of course the fine steel wool leaves a zillion tiny fragments in the wood, which turn to rust in a heartbeat when exposed to salt water, which is really kinda the point. One of my blades now looks like it has a nasty skin condition thanks to the steel wool treatment. Don’t know what to do with all the steel wool now but it’s going nowhere near my blades.
6. Don’t let the looms get too thin. It’s tricky with a piece of 4x2 to get the 90 degree change between the blade axis and the loom axis without making the loom too small and weak( see blade #7, above) so it’s better to be content with a bigger, rounder loom.
|#5 on the left, bombproof. Neanderthal. #7 on right, gracile.|
|Sad consequence of a gracile loom. See next post.|
Sharp edges are OK. I made #5 and #6 with relatively rounded edges and even though I’ve paddled scores of kilometres with #5 it is clear a sharper edge gives a better flow of water and generates more lift. A bit harder on the hands in slide stroke but worth it.
8. Epoxy is not polyester. I’ve got a bit of experience with making boats and doing repairs in polyester resin so it came as a surprise that epoxy is quite a different beast. It’s very sensitive to resin/hardener ratios and can take forever to go off. I use a marine epoxy and it’s pretty thin, so it tends to pool on the undersides of blades when I’m coating them. I try to use thin coats, usually two, and I’ve never had a problem with the coat cracking as the blade flexes. As I bang it into a rock, yes, but not as it flexes.
9. Wet and Dry is the go with epoxy. Using dry paper means there’s a lot of toxic epoxy dust released and it clogs not only your lungs but also the paper. Decent sloppy wet sanding and there’s no problem. Once you get the blade smooth ( normally a matter of taking off the bumps where the resin has pooled) a finish with a fine wet and dry turns I to a beautiful satin finish that give a good grip and looks fine.
10. Take your time. The carving now takes about four hours from a standing start but that’s just the beginning of the journey, there’s all the hand sanding, wetting down, maybe applying fibreglass reo to the tips, the epoxy and several sands in between, so the partly-made blade hangs around for a long time. You can actually use it in between just about any stage. Just remember to wash the thing.