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Paddle making for $$??

Discussion in 'Paddles and Paddle Making' started by Norm Hein, Aug 29, 2019.

  1. Norm Hein

    Norm Hein Canoe Codger

    My plan is to "retire" to my shop in a couple of years. I figure I will build and or repair a couple of canoes a year and do some other projects for a bit of extra cash. Paddles keep coming to mind. They are not to involved, you don't have to invest a lot of money in materials and they would be enjoyable to make. So the question is: can any money be made making and selling paddles? I personally enjoy the traditional solid wood paddle but it looks like most of the wood paddles on the market are laminated. Does one seem to sell better than the other?
    I have made and sold furniture on the side for over 30 years so I understand it not a big money maker but it has supported my hobbies over the years and that's what I hope to do with more canoe/outdoors related items. Any input would be most appreciated.
  2. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    If your plan is to make paddles that people will use with canoes then it will probably be difficult to make much money. Paddles that get hung on the wall as art might be more profitable. However, these will need to be have interesting designs: laminated, painted, incised, carved, or burned on them to be distinguished from ordinary paddles. See and for some examples. I am looking for a nice Penobscot, Maliseet, or Passamaquoddy style one. Good luck,

    Last edited: Aug 29, 2019
  3. monkitoucher

    monkitoucher Canoe Curious

    I've been thinking a lot about this too. The problem (as I see it) is that if you want to compete with and expensive maker like Shaw & Tenny you'll need to mechanize the process a fair amount. Like incorporating CNC routers big dip tanks, massive drum sander, etc..

    All this for a client base of DIY folks that take pleasure/pride in making their own stuff. I think the key to this would be to diversify into a hot paddling segment of non-DIY folks. That would be the SUP and possibly kayak, rafters, and even kevlar canoe folks.

    The other approach would be what Benson suggests and become an artisan. Building such a reputation would be the key.
  4. OP
    Norm Hein

    Norm Hein Canoe Codger

    Benson, Monki,
    Good information. I really like the one man operation, low production, high quality products. I am fortunate to know some sporting goods stores owners and Canoe/kayak rental/sales businesses that would be glad to display my wares. Diversity is going to be key I agree. Diversity in product and users.
  5. monkitoucher

    monkitoucher Canoe Curious

    These guys are making a go of it. The video gives you a good idea of what's involved in their operation. They are going after a hipster outdoorsman type client. Which is a thing that WCHA might start looking at? I really don't know if there is a there, there. But it's an interesting burgeoning market.
    Rob Stevens likes this.
  6. OP
    Norm Hein

    Norm Hein Canoe Codger

    Yeah I have been watching these guys for a number of years. My family got me two of their paddles for my birthday. Top notch work. Promoting themselves properly is what made them successful.
    monkitoucher likes this.
  7. ppine

    ppine Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Hard to compete with big makers like Sawyer or Grey Owl. I think you need to add something no one else has like solid birds eye maple, trad paint, oil finish, Voyageur designs, etc. Then people will pay a premium. A friend of mine used to give me glued up paddle blanks made with mahogany, walnut and white ash and ponderosa pine.
    Norm Hein likes this.
  8. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    A friend of mine bought a Sanborn a year ago. On her first trip out with it, varnish started peeling on the blade. On her way home, she stopped at the store, they called Sanborn (on a Sunday, yet), who said to give her a new one. They stand behind their product, which is important in any commercial enterprise, but even more so in a niche market lke the one they're in. Obviously they're a good outfit.
    Norm Hein likes this.
  9. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I have carved about 100. My first paddle was carved from a 2x8 picked up at a construction site. I got into laminating; for strength, weight containment and contrast/decorative, then went back to more traditional solid wood. I have also experimented with a variety of end/tip protective treatments (fibreglass sheath, transverse spline, epoxy).

    It's a "labour of love". I call it, "supporting my habit".

    Many are gifts. Sales tend to be charitable (eg. WCHA Assembly auction, YMCA) and
    special interest/ceremonial; wedding and retirement presents, commemorative (events), etc.

    Here in Ontario, the market is saturated with paddle-makers.
    Several companies seem to have come and gone for a variety of reasons.
    Turtle Paddleworks, WhiskeyJack Paddles, Holz Canoe Paddles,..
    Ray Kettlewell retired and passed along the business to the younger generation;
    Fishell (formerly Kettlewell) Paddles;

    Larger commercial producers;
    Grey Owl;
    Redtail Paddles;

    Smaller, artisanal producers;
    Badger Paddles have acquired a CNC duplicator, and use "eco-friendly" hempseed oil finish;

    Adanac Paddles specializes in traditional greenland style paddles aka "skinny sticks" (as well as kayaks and harpoons!);

    Some new entries are innovating new designs, materials, etc.;
    XYZ produces handcrafted, modern laminated designs;

    Brian Cook (Cook Craft), resurrected a long forgotten canoe building shop, and also carves rough textured coloured paddles from oak (!);

    Roger Foster (Carlisle Canoe Company) runs a viable business (25 yrs+) offering canoe building and paddle carving workshops;

    If you are not already familiar with Murat Vardar's paddle-making oddysey, check out the photos here;

    And his blog, "Paddlemaking (and other canoe stuff)" here;

    Murat has done a lot of research into historical paddle designs and decoration.
    He used to have a "rolling" photo archive of his paddles, but I am not sure how to view that.

    Some artists specialize in decorating paddles;
    Dot Bonnenfant, Heritage Paddle Designs;
    Jo Mann Artist - Custom Paddles;

    Also, for a selection of photos of "modern" wooden paddles, check out , for example, Pinterest;
    or Flickr; (search"paddle")
  10. OP
    Norm Hein

    Norm Hein Canoe Codger

    Wow! Thanks for all the information. I'll have to do some studying. My goal is about the same as you mentioned, it's mostly to support my habit and stay connected to the craft and the canoeing/outdoor world.

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