Questions about canoe paddles

Discussion in 'Paddling' started by conquerordie, Sep 12, 2019.

  1. conquerordie

    conquerordie Scout

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    I have a question that hopefully someone could shed some light on. So for a project during the winter months, I'm going to try my hand at canoe paddles. Traditional one piece Northeastern woodland type of paddles. So I look at original examples from 19th and first decades of the 20th century, and they are all much longer than what is recommended for modern paddlers today. Why is that? Average is 62 to 72 inches long. The older birch bark, or newer wood and canvas canoes did seem like they were that different shape from my OT Tripper. I could see if they were to be used if the paddlers was standing, but either everyone was standing and paddling or maybe they paddled differently than we do today. I use a 60 inch Bending Branches that I choke up on when on when in shallow water, I can not imagine a longer paddle for sitting or kneeling in a canoe. I will make the paddle in whatever length I choose, but why the longer length in these older classic paddles? Look forward to your thoughts.
    Greg
     
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  2. RobbieinME

    RobbieinME Scout

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    I suspect the blade portion was longer and narrower.
     
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  3. Bad Little Falls

    Bad Little Falls Guide

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    Maybe these original examples were not used as much and they survived the battle or lack there of. All the short ones got used up. Probably not what you wanted to hear.
     
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  4. conquerordie

    conquerordie Scout

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    Bad Little Falls,
    Possibly. Looking at paddlemaking.blogspot.com
    You can see what I mean. Scrolling through the posts you'll see these longer paddle in actual use as well. I don't have anything that I want to hear, completely open to others interpretation. Maybe then I can piece together an answer.
     
  5. Haggis

    Haggis Bushmaster

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    Longer means more leverage, I’m quite certain that’s part of the explanation.

    Fad and fancy explain much of it too, past and present. Most generally folk want to “fit in”, so they use what their neighbors and contemporaries use.

    It might make a difference as to where a canoe is being paddled as well... Here, in Northeastern Minnesota, lakes make up the bulk of the paddling experience,,, the current fad is the bent paddle,,, Friend of mine uses a bent paddle or carbon fiber, and it weighs nigh nothing.

    I’ve used about every sort, and I prefer a chin high, to me, traditional beavertail paddle.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2019
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  6. Scotchmon

    Scotchmon Supporter Supporter

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    Just a guess but I would suspect the examples may have been used for large Voyager canoes which probably had substantially more freeboard.
    Personally I’d stay away from any paddle that would put my top hand above the plane of my shoulder. Besides tiring, I believe that high top hand also opens one’s shoulder to injury. YMMV.
     
  7. rbinhood

    rbinhood Scout

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    Paddling efficiency is about getting the most forward progress for each stroke. Each stroke requires you to put the paddle in the water, push the canoe forward, and lift the paddle out to begin the process all over. The lighter the paddle, the less work done from start to finish in each stroke. A longer paddle weighs more, so you are lifting more on each stroke, which expends more energy. Removing the paddle from the water at the end of the stroke requires you to lift the paddle clear of the water as it comes forward. Ideally, the edge of the paddle should just skim the water surface. A longer paddle has to be tipped more to clear the water when sitting, again requiring more effort. Lastly, you want the paddle to enter the water and be as close to perpendicular in all planes when you are at the power portion of your stroke, which is when the paddle is next to your body. Generally, short, choppy strokes are more efficient than long strokes where the paddle reaches way out in front and comes out way out in back, where at the beginning and end of each stroke the paddle is not perpendicular to the water surface. On the front end, you are pushing down on the water, and at the rear, you are lifting, neither of which contribute much to forward movement, but expend energy.
    I think the longer paddles were made for standing, or as others have suggested, a canoe with a high seat and a lot of free board.
     
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  8. FreeMe

    FreeMe Guide

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    The simple fact is that it was easier to carve a narrow blade. Easier to find and process a smaller tree; easier to carve that tree flat. Laminated blades are a relatively modern development. A narrower blade has to be longer to get the surface area needed to propel a canoe. The earliest "paddles" were actually just poles. From there, the natural progression was what we know as the ottertail or variations of same.

    There are reasons for using an ottertail even now. One was already stated. A long blade allows the use of the same paddle when standing. The long blade also gives the reach and leverage to better handle a tandem size canoe when solo. The narrow blade lends better to in-water recoveries that are quieter and less visible (think "Indian stroke") and suitable for approaching game. And lastly, if you're carving your first paddle, it's easier to get an even camber on the narrower blade. ;)

    BTW, unless you have the arms and torso of a pro basketball player, a 60" paddle with modern short blade is excessively long. My longest ottertail is 63" long, but almost 28" of that is blade. A typical modern straight shaft paddle blade is about 18", and would give me an overall length of about 53".

    Also BTW - bent paddles are not a fad. They've been around a long time, and there are physical reasons for some paddlers to use them.
     
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  9. FreeMe

    FreeMe Guide

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    A 72" "northwoods" paddle allows effective paddling from standing, while its variable grip also works for sitting and using the "northwoods" stroke. A lot of people (including myself) find this stroke to be quite restful and endurable. The paddle of the same name can well serve the trippr in a large canoe as an "only" paddle. Here is a link to a link showing the paddle and the stroke. The paddle at the top of the page shows the grip design I'm referring to.....

    https://paddlemaking.blogspot.com/2012/03/becky-mason-northwoods-stroke.html

    BTW, Murat's blog is worth spending a lot of time in, especially if you are interested in carving traditional paddles.

    Edit: Here....this one is better...



    With the elongated flat of the northwoods style grip on the very long OAL paddle, the paddler holds the grip from the side while sitting. When standing, that part is just part of the long shaft while the grip hand goes at the palm fitting top.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2019
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  10. conquerordie

    conquerordie Scout

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    Oh I'm loving the blog, so much info. I see the elongated flat grip and it's usage. I will be making one in the future. Kinda like how I have to choke up on my current paddle, I'd have a paddle that was designed to be choked up on depending on your paddling position or even depth of the water I guess.
    FreeMe, I agree the paddle length is not the best. I am 6'3" and 230lbs, so I'm not far from a basketball sized person. It works, using a shorter paddle seemed uncomfortable. But as my paddling has changed, I find something else will work better. I have a feeling I'm gonna have a collection of paddles in inch increments until I get it right! The Bending Branches size was what their direction said I should use, so that's what I purchased.
     
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  11. FreeMe

    FreeMe Guide

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    Yeah, @conquerordie , it's real easy to end up with an assortment of paddle styles and lengths. Especially if you're making your own. I always have at least one spare, and it's usually something different than whatever else I'm expecting to use most.
     
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  12. Scotchmon

    Scotchmon Supporter Supporter

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    Nothing wrong with a quiver of paddles...... or so I tell myself!
     
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  13. conquerordie

    conquerordie Scout

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    To add to our discussion I also asked Murat's opinion, since I've been studying his blog posts and he is very knowledgeable about this topic. To sum up a very long but information filled email, the longer paddles stem from the way Native American paddled their canoes. Long story short, they used their paddles more out to the side like a oar, than up and down like we do today. Sitting on the floor of their canoes since they had no seats, this paddle technique evolved into a comfortable way that we see as strange today. Plus they could be used standing up as well.
    So I still think I'm going to make a shorter canoe paddle to start, since I am one of those guys that sit on a seat in my OT Tripper. But I do go to the floor sometimes, and a longer paddle with a new technique will be fun come spring!
     
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  14. Bad Little Falls

    Bad Little Falls Guide

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    Tim Smith promotes a longer paddle.
     
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  15. conquerordie

    conquerordie Scout

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    Nice vid. Gonna be trying this out next spring.
     
  16. FreeMe

    FreeMe Guide

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    Murat would know, I think.

    I wonder how that worked when they paddled solo - or did they even? It's interesting though, that many of us do use these long blades with a more vertical power phase in the stroke. Once you spend some time maneuvering a large canoe with a well-made ottertail and mostly in-water recoveries, you'll probably want to never be without one.

    Good luck with carving whatever design you choose though. It took me a long time to get after it myself, but when I finally did, I really enjoyed it - and was very pleased with the results. I'll do another this winter, just for fun.
     
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  17. Bad Little Falls

    Bad Little Falls Guide

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    I'm going to try to make up a new paddle of this design, soon. I'm attending one of Jack Mountains short courses this coming October, canoe poling and I figured I might as well also have a paddle that fits too. Just a stick of spruce.
     
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