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Paddle woods

Discussion in 'Paddles and Paddle Making' started by pklonowski, Nov 25, 2006.

  1. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    I normally avoid tropical hardwoods, but came into ownership of a piece of African Mahogany (Kyala sp?), leftover from someone else's project long ago. I could get at least 2, probably 4, maybe 6 nice paddle shafts out of it, but am wondering how this wood holds up? I know people make paddles from cedar, and you can use basswood, but you get a high-maintenance stick from these woods. Anybody have any experience with the various mahoganies?

    At the very least, the ribbon figure will provide some nice blade parts, bookmatched.
  2. Douglas Ingram

    Douglas Ingram Red River Canoe & Paddle

    Paul, any photos of the piece? What dimensions? I don't have any direct experience with it for paddles, but could probably offer a few ideas with a better sense of the piece you've got. With ribbon figure I'd want to show it of, rather than minimize it on a shaft. Not much to show there.
  3. OP

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    Here's a pic of one of the cutoffs, bookmatched, not finished. Not all of it has as much contrast between lighter & darker ribbons as this shows.

    I agree with using the ribbon figure in a mode that shows it off -- it'll make great blade parts. But any idea how visible the figure might be in a shaft? This is very different than quarter sawn oaks, or curly anything, in that the figure seems to have more dimension (?) than the others. Maybe I'll cut out a short piece, round it out, & take a look.

    Also I'm wondering about how this wood will hold up as a shaft, how it will feel -- flex, durability, etc. Can't find any info in my library on this wood.

    It's really pretty stuff -- I made a Shaker-style wall clock with it, and the decks of my solo stripper. With a good glossy finish, the figure really stands out, and even with the less glossy oil finish on the canoe, it looks great.

    Attached Files:

  4. Douglas Ingram

    Douglas Ingram Red River Canoe & Paddle

    You won't get the grain to show on the shaft, the pattern is in the wrong orientation. The ribbon pattern is in line with the grain lines, as opposed to the perpindicular grain pattern displayed in curly maple. A paddle shaft is only 1" wide, and the pattern in the ribbon pattern is wider than that.

    Still, I'd use it for a shaft so that pieces you use for the blade have continuity of pattern. Depending upon the dimensions, you can use either a solid piece shaft or a laminated one.

    I don't know about its durability, but it should be fine as is for quiet water low stress applications. If you want a tougher paddle, some very light glass overlay will do the trick.
  5. OP

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    I rounded over (3/4") one corner of the slab, and you're right, the figure does get kind of lost. I'll use it for blades, and other small projects -- hate to see it go to waste.
  6. gate9797

    gate9797 Guest


    Mahogany is a relatively heavy wood for a paddle.
    Strong and light is desireable in a paddle.
  7. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Hmm, I guess that depends on your cultural perspective. I have several paddles from the Amazon region. They are "leaf" shaped (almost round), made of some very heavy, hard tropical wood, which is naturally oily enough that there is no other finish applied. I doubt they would split for a long time, but the maker didn't seem concerned about the weight.
  8. gate9797

    gate9797 Guest

    Yes, absolutely. The desired weight has everything to do with the paddling purpose and context. Someone who wants a spare paddle on a motorboat might be happy with a heavy paddle that is extremely strong and will last forever. For more general use with traditional cedar strip canoes a heavy paddle could be a problem on long canoe trips where it is necessary to paddle continuously for many hours a day. It would also not be suited to solo style paddle or freestyle where quick and agile movements are required. A log and very strong heavy paddle might be well adapted to ruddering a huge canoe with 6 paddlers. Of course, if you make a paddle of mahogany that has a thin blade you could minimize its weight. There are quite a few relatively heavy paddles out there. Not everyone wants a light paddle. Good luck with the project.
  9. OP

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist


    The little bit of almost solid info I can find on the net says that this wood is lighter than red oak -- no real numbers RE: density, but if that's true, then it's quite a bit less dense than hard maple, which does get used for paddles. So it should actually be within range of other common paddle woods, like ash, cherry or walnut, no?

    But since the figure gets lost in the rounding over process, I think I'll use this for thwarts, seats, decks, paddle blades, and other projects where it will be seen.
  10. Denis M. Kallery

    Denis M. Kallery Passed Away July 3, 2012 In Memoriam

    If you go on line and get the address of the U.S.F.S.Wood Products Lab in Madison WI, they may be able to give you the properties of this wood. They have been very helpful whenever I have asked for information. Good luck, Denis
  11. Ric Altfather

    Ric Altfather WCHA #4035

    Try this site for specific data:

  12. OP

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    khaya sp.

    That's a great resource, thanks! It gives the density (specific gravity) of Khaya species as 0.43, which is lighter than black cherry.


    A woodworker friend lent me a copy of Bruce Hoadley's book "Identifying Wood," where Khaya spp is listed as having a density of 0.63 -- equivalent to sugar maple. So the plot thickens.

    I suppose I could rummage through my scrap piles, and cut equal-sized cubes of walnut, cherry, maple, red oak, and this wood, and weigh them at work... Oh, Why not, it beats doing what I'm supposed to be doing there. :)
  13. Ric Altfather

    Ric Altfather WCHA #4035

    Stop the insanity!

    Me thinks that you are trying to make too much of this?

    I made three paddles this weekend as Christmas gifts, one out of basswood and two out of cherry. The basswood is obviously lighter and more fragile and the cherry is heavier but beautiful. Choices, choices, choices...your choice. Sassafrass is a great choice if you can find it.Two pieces of 1 X 4 cedar, glued together from Home Depot makes a good paddle. Black walnut makes a great paddle, more fragile and heavier but so's your paddle and your arms that will feel it if your on an extended trip. If you are paddling locally for a couple of hours at a time, who cares if you are using a club? Paddles are used and abused...if you break one, make another ( great winter projects) plus you cannot have enough paddles, but if you find one that suits you, hang onto it, duplicate it and try different woods.

    All the best in your paddle quest,

    Ric Altfather
  14. OP

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist


    ..But the insanity never stops!

    I'm going to determine the relative masses to satisfy my own curiosity. I work in science & engineering, so resolving discrepancies & solving problems is just what I do all the time. I'm not obsessive/compulsive, just curious!
  15. Dan Lindberg

    Dan Lindberg Ex Wood Hoarder

    I suspect you will just be playing games,

    as the variability in density between different pieces of the same species can often be more then the difference between the species themselfs.

    Some thoughts,
    get many samples, how many? don't know, 100, 200, 1000?
    and from where in the tree are the samples to come?
    and what age tree, and with how many rings?

    and on and on.

    I suspect you'd be better off just researching existing data, and comparing that instead of trying to generate new data. Some of the sources given seem to be good places to start.

  16. OP

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist


    Yet it was the discrepancy between the two sources piqued my curiosity. This exercise was nothing more than satisfying that curiosity... it may have killed the cat, but it hasn't gotten me... yet...

    Yes, there are many uncontrolled factors in this effort. My method is undoubtedly more crude than theirs. I have exactly n = 1 of each piece of wood; I have no idea which particular species these pieces represent, within the assumed genus. Looking at the growth rings (end view), I can say that none of these pieces came from anywhere near the center of the trees that produced them. Lacking a moisture meter, I have no idea what the moisture content of each piece is; they may all be different. All of these pieces have been in my heated (but not humidity controlled) garage for somewhere between one year and 8 years; weather lately has been damp, rainy, and foggy.

    That said, the maple and red oak registered specific gravities of around 0.70, while the walnut and Khaya came in around 0.60. So I should be able to make a paddle from the Khaya that doesn't weigh much differently than the predominantly walnut one I just finished.

    And like I said, it sure beats doing what I'm supposed to be doing at work... :D This provided a nice low-stress break!

    This thread drifted far from its origin... my original question was whether anybody had any experience using the various mahoganies? I don't need any more high-maintenance projects here at my house... I'm rough enough on equipment :)
  17. Dan Lindberg

    Dan Lindberg Ex Wood Hoarder

    That's right, is was about mahogany.

    I haven't used African but have used both Hunduras (real) and Philipian(sp) (fake).

    I've "read" that Hunduras and African are "close" and sometimes used interchangably. They will both be stronger and harder then P m, which isn't a true mahogany. H is often used for outer rails on W/C. P m can be very soft/light to medium hard/heavy, with the strength ranging similarly.

    I've used both H and P for outer rails on projects (and in some paddle building), the H is better suited but the P cheeper and easier to get (here).

  18. F Harvey Bowley

    F Harvey Bowley Builder 3rd generation

    Ash,Maple,Spruce are woods of choice
    I do have a couple of Basswood paddles made by the late Pepper Martin of Old Town light but not strong great for flatwater paddle Pepper was a true craftsman
  19. Max Peterson

    Max Peterson LOVES Wooden Canoes


    There are varieties of African Mahogany (Meliaceae family), the most popular being Khaya ivorensis. Khaya ivorensis has a weight of 32 - 34 lbs. per cubic foot. Other related species can be much heavier. Khaya grandifoliola and Khaya senegalensis are two popular African Mahoganies that weigh 42 to 50 lbs. per cubic foot. Source:
  20. OP

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    Thanks for that info! I didn't know that site existed, and I expect I'll be going back before long...:)

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