Monday, May 21, 2012

How To Make A Pvc Canoe Paddle. Or A Boat Paddle.

OK, we now had a boat.  Now it required testing.  But first things first.  Just in case in actually floated when we dropped it in the water, it was going to need some form of motorvating..  Some type of propulsion.  Some way to make it go.

I know.  How about a big block Chevy?  Or an airplane motor?  Or a jet drive.  Wouldn't that be really cool?

Yes it would be cool.  But I didn't happen to have those sort of things lying around at this exact moment.  Besides that, a big block Chevy would take up too much room.  There wouldn't be anywhere left to fish from.  We would need something different.

Something simple would be nice.

After I thought about it for a little while I had my answer.  Tarzan.

Huh? Tarzan?  The jungle dweller?  Is he going to come and push your boat around, you're probably wondering.

No sir. Not him.  The natives.

What the hell are you talking about, you may be wondering.

Remember on Tarzan, the episode where he saves the nuns or something like that?  At the end they are in a long dugout canoe with a couple of dozen natives paddling down the river singing Michael row the boat ashore?  Then they reach the dock at last, let the nuns out onto the shore so they can go into the village and save people and then they all live happily ever after?  Remember that one?

Well I do.  And the answer is the natives.

OK.  So you're going to get a couple dozen natives to paddle your boat around.  Is that what you're telling me?

No.  That's not what I'm saying.  In this area we are experiencing a shortage of natives at the moment and there are few available.  Besides that, I think all the natives the world over have gone high tech.  They now have fuel injected outboards.  Now instead of paddling, they can play on their iPod or cell phone as the motor pushes them along.

Aha. So a fuel injected outboard is the answer?  Well, in most situations, yes.  But not this one.  We're going to take a lesson from the natives and use paddles.  And we're going to make them.

What?  Make a paddle?  Who ever heard of such a thing?  Wal-Mart has them for sale.  Go get one.

I didn't want to get one.  I wanted to make one.

OK then.  How is it done?  Are you going to serve as an apprentice to a world class paddle carver for years and years in order to learn this lost art?  Are you going to go high tech, using only the latest super duper chemicals, carbon fiber, titanium and scandium and run it through a CNC machine to produce one?  Are you going to resort to magic and wizardry?

Well, no.  I'm going to use PVC pipe.  And plywood.

How might this be done?

Well first you procure some PVC pipe.  Make sure that you get the schedule 40 stuff. It is stronger. Get whatever size you desire, whatever diameter fits your hand the best.

As you can see, we have a small assortment of different sizes.  Some of it we used, some of it we didn't.  Some of what we used is not shown in this picture.

We picked out a couple of pieces, I believe they were ¾ inch diameter.  We made one of them shorter than the other because one of my nephews is shorter than the other.  Then you must decide what type of blade you're going to use and cut a slot into one end of the PVC pipe that will fit your blade.  We used pieces of plywood that were left over from the boat build.  The plywood is 3/8 inch thick so that is roughly what the size of these slots are.  I think my nephew used a table saw to cut these.  As you can see, the cut is not terribly precise but it will work for what we wanted to do.

And here is one of the pieces of plywood we're going to use for a paddle blade.  I guess you could use a different thickness of wood, plastic, metal or whatever you wish for a blade.  Use your imagination.

Then we simply put the wood into the slot and drilled three holes all the way through.  Then we removed
The plywood, coated it heavily with Thompson's Water Seal and let it dry.  We then reinstalled the wood, putting two screws all the way through in one direction then flipped it over and put another one all the way through in the opposite direction.  The tip of the screw was sticking out so we cut them off flush.  Probably wasn't needed but we then used Gorilla Glue along the joint where the PVC meets the wood.  And it seemed to work.  So we added a T fitting to the other end of the PVC pipe.  Presto.  One canoe paddle.

Here are the makings of the shorter paddle.  Instead of a T fitting for one end of the PVC pipe, we made our own out of a slightly larger piece of PVC.  We simply cut off a short piece of it, used a hacksaw to cut a large V half way through it, then used a file to enlarge it so that it would fit over the pipe.  It certainly is not a perfect fit and is a bit crude but it works.  And you can make these out of basically scrap.

Here is nephew drilling three holes through the shorter paddle

Here is nephew holding up the PVC pipe and the shorter piece that we are using for a T fitting.  It did not fit snugly so we used a lot of glue on it.

And here is the finished product.  We made another one by simply taking a 2 foot long piece of one by two lumber and gluing it on to a piece of plywood to serve as the blade.  Very crude but I want to see how strong this glue actually is.  I want to see how long it will last.

That is one way to make a paddle.  It is simple.  Effective.  Cheap.

And we also made a pair of boat oars.  Out of PVC pipe.  And we did it basically the same way.  Here's what we did.

Here once again is our assortment of PVC material.  See that square piece in the middle?  That's what we used for the blades.  It is actually a vinyl fence post and I think it is 4 inches.

All we did was cut it in half.  Then we put each piece into a pan of boiling water until it softened up and became pliable.  Then we took it out of the boiling water, placed it on to the floor and put a heavy object on top of it to flatten it out.  In our case, we used my nephew as the heavy object.  He stood on each piece for three or 4 minutes.  I wanted the paddle blades to be longer but then they would not have fit into our pan of boiling water.

If you do decide to do this, then do it in a well ventilated area.  Preferably outside.  Supposedly PVC gives off fumes when you heat it up and it is dangerous to breathe them.  We did it in our kitchen with the window open and nobody died.  But you may have different results.  Better safe than sorry.

Here they are, pretty much flat as can be.  Close enough for gov't work, anyway.

Once again the PVC pipe had a slot cut into it and we merely slid the flat piece into the slot, put one screw in from this direction and two from the other direction and that was that.  We also used Gorilla glue.

And here they are.  Having no experience with boat oars, I had no idea what length to make them so we left them a little bit long in case we want to cut them off some.  And I know that most boat oars have blades that are thinner than this.  I figured that they would need to be trimmed down some but we were going to try them like this just to see how it worked.  They could always be cut down later.  And you know what?

We ended up not even using these.  I had thought that we would put oar locks on our little boat but my nephew didn't want to.  We still might do it in the future but for now, it will be paddled.


  1. Thank you for sharing. Simple and practical.

  2. You're welcome. I might add that 3/8ths inch plywood does flex, perhaps a little bit more than you would like for a paddle. Half-inch might be better.

  3. I love design blogs that also encourage people to work with what they have! Thank you .
    pvc pipe slotting