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Greenland Forum

Carbon fiber Aleutian paddle
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Well spoken Brian.   Defining 'authentic' is the has always been the purview of a power elite and has mostly served to value early and ancient artifact in their own collected coffers (museum and collections) while devaluing current production by the culture, often defined to just souvenir status maintaining economic positioning by said culture.

This is an important critique (postcolonial) that has been in discussion and debate among museums for the past thirty years, numerous books written, resulting in the deaccessing and return of many objects to the original culture of the makers.  There is also a recontextualization by historians of many of the narratives of the past.

I think it is important to realize, as we make these objects, as we have the benefit of many advantages that access provides, and our understanding of what is authentic is limited at best.


On 9/15/2020 10:13 PM, Brian Nystrom ( wrote:
The people who invented the kayak weren't dogmatic about it, they just used what they had available. When they got access to mast hoops, they adopted them for cockpit coamings. There are examples of kayaks built using all kinds of "non-traditional" materials. When dimensional lumber became available, they used that. Rifles replaced harpoons. They're pragmatic, which is pretty much a necessity in a subsistence culture.

Also, keep in mind that they probably weren't making paddles from wood as soft as western red cedar and yet they still reinforced tips and edges with bone, again, because it's what they had available. I wonder how many of them still do that today?

When you think about it, it's pretty bizarre for Americans to have a "purist" attitude toward Greenland kayaks and paddles, when Greenlanders don't. It's great that they're preserving their heritage and traditional skills, but WE have no right whatsoever to opine about what's traditional or not.
I use pure oil, nothing else.

If the people that invented kayaks didn’t need epoxy and varnish, I’m sure I don’t
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John, what about using (died?) epoxy for the tips only?Heike

I have had good results tipping my Inuit and Aleut style paddles with epoxy. In addition, I apply several coats of good marine spar varnish (with UV protection) over the epoxied tips.
I remember seeing some of the glassed paddles that Gabriel (shown as "Rita" below) made. IIRC, he used .75 ounce glass that looked like pantyhose material and completely disappeared once the epoxy was applied. It makes the paddle both stiffer and more durable. It also wasn't slick, as you might expect. I haven't tried it, but it's an interesting approach.

I prefer to use a 50:50 blend of pure tung oil and natural resin spar varnish on my paddles. It's more durable than linseed or tung oil alone, but retains the same look and feel. Prior to applying the finish, I coat the tips with white-tinted epoxy thickened with fumed silica, as a sacrificial layer that looks somewhat like bone, as least once you sand the shine off.

John, are you using 100% tung oil or one of the "tung oil finish" products? The latter are typically wiping varnishes that actually contain little or no tung oil. They also vary from a satin finish to a high gloss.
I put on maple tips to help with wear on my new paddle. I’m a traditionalist and really just don’t want to use epoxy and fiberglass on a traditional paddle. If the Inuits didn’t need it for a few thousand years I’m pretty sure I can get away without it too.
I used my first paddle all season, didn’t do anything special to it and it held up fine.
I’m good with letting someone smarter then me lead.
John, what about using (died?) epoxy for the tips only?

I'm just using a tung oil finish, I tried poly once and hated the feel. Stripped it down and oiled it.
Just ending my first summer with a traditional wood paddle, the oil finish has held up surprisingly well, some minor scuffs on the blades here and there.
I think a traditional painted finish might add some durability, looking into that.
Over all an impressive test run. It wasn't really hard to make with basic hand tools. In use I find it incredibly natural to use, observers have noted a distinct difference in the way my paddling looks using a traditional paddle, much smoother, comfortable flow.

Excellent advice.  In my experience, here in New Jersey, there is a wood supplier that deals exclusively with outdoor structural wood, pressure treated, redwood and cedar for everything from pergolas, porches for contractors through playsets (swings, slides, etc).  I had brought them a paddle I carved which they found very entertaining (considering the projects they generally dealt with) and usually helped my find good redwood for carved (Greenland styled) storm and full length paddles.

I also coated them with  a very light fiberglass and epoxy + UV inhibiting varnish.

On 9/14/2020 4:19 PM, John Henry ( wrote:
Get friendly with the pro staff, let them know what your looking for, but more important, why.
I'm a carpenter so I deal with all the local yards, and when you show them a picture of a traditional paddle. they don't have an issue with letting you pick through the piles or pulling a nice piece for you when they see one.
I have found some really nice stuff at the local lowes
Trees in Greenland? Are you talking about driftwood? 

...wish some of that wonderful driftwood, logs, scraps, whole trees - anything - could find its way to my local big box hardware store (sigh). Sometimes we're starving for decent lumber. :-)
Sure, but my point was that they had access to trees, not just scraps.
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While the "stone and bone tools" part is correct, the Aleut people lived primarily in Alaska, where trees are abundant.

Actually that's not quite correct. Alaska is a big state. Typically, most Inuits live in Western AK where trees are very limited. The Aleuts were predominantly located in the Aleutian Chain, think Unalaska and West. There aren't many trees and what trees that are there are tiny, stunted, and twisted. The trees that they used had to come from driftwood from other parts of AK and the Siberian mainland.
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Remember, these were made with scraps of driftwood on a beach with stone and bone tools.

While the "stone and bone tools" part is correct, the Aleut people lived primarily in Alaska, where trees are abundant.

There's common misconception that Greenlanders only had small driftwood, when the truth is that they had LOGS that drifted ashore.
It has to be done with 3 different size gouges if you want two ridges on each blade. 

Sent from my iPhone

On Sep 13, 2020, at 1:55 PM, Dan Hunter ( <> wrote:

Do not know where to get the router bit you are looking for.

I have made wood Aleutian paddles by choosing a center strip of spruce (strong and flexible) and two outer strips of lighter weight wood, glued onto each side of the center be(one on each side)

Sent from my iPhone

That is a very good statement, I never thought of that:) 

Remember, these were made with scraps of driftwood on a beach with stone and bone tools. The biggest "aha" moment was when I realized that. When it feels right, it's right. I use a string for a tape measure, a couple of planes and a chisel. This is the ultimate keep it simple project you'll find.
Crooked knife if you want to go old school...
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