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What Are the Different Types of Wooden Boat Paddles?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 23, 2024
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There are many types of wooden boat paddles, from the common canoe paddle to the long wooden row-boat oar. Whether used for propulsion or steering, wooden boat paddles use a common design theme, with flat bottom ends affixed to long, smooth handles. Many boating enthusiasts prefer wooden boat paddles over aluminum, carbon fiber or fiberglass units due to the heft and feel they offer the user. A major distinguishing characteristic between common wooden boat paddles and performance design paddles is in the angle at which the paddle blade extends from the handle. The common wood paddle design has a straight blade; however, the performance paddle will have the blade attached to the handle at a given angle the user has determined to aid him in propelling the craft through the water at the greatest speed.

Some of the earliest paddles used to propel a boat through the water were made of wood. While a wide variety of wood has been used to fashion paddles, hardwoods like ash and maple are often used for their durability as well as ease of woodworking and crafting. Wood oars are commonly used by a person sitting backward in the vessel and pulling the oars toward his body in a rowing motion. Therefore, the wood oar uses a rounded grip at the end of a long handle for greater leverage and features a long, flat blade to slice through great amounts of water with ease.

Canoe paddles are usually shorter than oars and include a wide, fat handle that fits the user's palm comfortably. Wooden boat paddles of this style utilize wide and short blades that can operate in shallow water while providing lots of water contact area to create propulsion through the water. Designed to operate in tight confines such as narrow streams, canoes require wooden boat paddles that can be used close to the canoe and in frequently rocky and rough waters. By manufacturing short handles, these paddles take advantage of the user's body strength and leverage to control the boat's direction.

Kayakers use another style of wooden boat paddles to navigate in shallow as well as deep water. The typical wooden kayak paddle is short with a wide blade on each end of a thick common handle. When creating these forms of wooden boat paddles, the blades are turned to slight angles from each other to account for the natural sweep of the human body's shoulder movements while powering the vessel.

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Discussion Comments
By chivebasil — On Jan 22, 2012

I have a friend who is an incredible woodworker and he has made custom wooden paddles on several occasions. They are carved from the finest woods and often feature beautiful ornamental features.

I have a set the he made for me but I have never put them on my boat. I think they look better on the wall than they would in the water. Maybe one day I will use them but I am content to let my cheap old wooden paddles get busted up before I start using these works of art.

By jonrss — On Jan 21, 2012

I think the biggest things to consider when buying a wooden boat paddle are size, strength and weight.

You have to think about how big a paddle you want and what kind of storage space you have to keep it in. The bigger the paddle the faster you will be able to paddle but the more room it will take up.

You also want to get a paddle that won't break easily. If you get a cheap and thin wooden paddle it can snap right in half. Make sure you buy a paddle that can withstand the pressure you are gong to put on it.

Finally, think about the weight. The heavier the paddle the more weight you will carry on board and the more exhausted you will get while paddling.

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