From cradle to grave, wood is an extraordinary material. I appreciate the beauty of a mighty tree standing solid in the ground with leaves so green or covered in glistening snow. And I appreciate its value as part of the carbon cycle as well as building material or carbon neutral fuel.
On this page, you can find information on the making of a Gram Kajak paddle. Every single paddle is made individually and with the use of simple hand tools. That makes every paddle unique.
I do build, however, all of my paddles based on the same traditional Greenlandic methods. The differences between the individual paddles exists in the small variations found in the pattern, which gives each paddle its own character.
The selection of wood
I primarily use Red Cedar (WRC) and Yellow Cedar from Alaska (YAC). For the edges, I use hardwood – primarily ash, larch and oak. Red Cedar excels at being light and pleasing to the eye. Yellow Cedar is strong and tough. As a bonus, both types of wood smell incredibly during processing, and together they always remind me of cigar boxes, pencils and lemon fruits.
When I receive the lumber from the sawmill, I let it dry for a couple of months. That way, the lumber is allowed to dry until it has acquired the correct humidity levels, just as it gives me a chance to weed out any skewed pieces of wood.
Shaping the wood
When the lumber is ready, I can begin the process of shaping the wood. I use a saw and a plane to mark out the design of what is to become the paddle before I let the wood dry for another couple of months. This allows me to closely follow each piece of wood during the drying process and carefully select the pieces that will be put together to form a paddle.
Not until the wood has obtained the correct humidity levels do I begin to glue the pieces of wood together and finish the shaping process. When a Gram Kajak paddle is ready for use, it consists of 13 to 19 pieces of wood altogether.
Paddle surface treatment
I reinforce most of my paddles with edges as this greatly reduces wear and adds an aesthetic detail to the paddles. The blades are reinforced with hardwood along the edges and on the tip. This also allows you to polish or scrape the edges if your paddle gets rough use and scars.
I treat all my paddles approximately 10 times with 3 different mixtures of oil, which I make myself. The mixtures are made from linseed oil and carnauba wax. I find that the formula not only excels in displacing water and increasing adhesion between hand and paddle shaft, it also adds a warm colored finish to the paddles that highlight the wood.
The paddles surface treatment will fade over time because of contact with hard surfaces. When needed, you can simply rub some linseed oil on your paddle. This works best if you gently warm the oil at 50-60 degrees Celsius as the oil better penetrates the wood at these temperatures.
Please be aware, that any rags used with linseed oil should either be stored in a closed metal container with a properly sealed lid or burned immediately following use. Otherwise, the oil can easily become hot enough to make the rags spontaneously combust.