It’s a question I hear often when paddling with my well-loved Okume and Sitka spruce stick: “Did you make your Greenland paddle?” Oh yes, I tell my admirer, I crafted it with my own hands. Only here’s the thing: I didn’t.

Sure, I sanded a few rough edges and slapped on five coats of tung oil before taking to the water with my paddle. But it was my friends—and far more expert woodworkers—Torfin and James who laminated the woods, traced the shape, and drew forth from a chunk of lumber the graceful paddle for which I’ve shamelessly taken credit.

No more. After actually building a wooden kayak two years ago, I’ve felt a growing guilt about my handcrafted-but-not-by-me paddle. And, aside from my self-reproach, I was also curious. What exactly does it take to transform board into blade?

Feel the difference of a handcrafted Greenland paddle

I called up Tom Froese, owner and craftsman at T and J Paddles, a custom paddle maker tucked amongst the fertile vineyards, rolling escarpment and winding rivers of Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. Froese is a third-generation woodworker who fell in love with the simple elegance and efficiency of traditional Greenland-style boats and paddles. His one-of-a-kind Greenland and Aleut paddles and paddle-making workshops have made him a familiar face in the trad kayaking community. Still, after nearly a decade shaping paddles, he remains humble.

“I don’t consider myself a ‘master builder,’” Froese laughs. “It’s just pretty cool that I’ve built probably a thousand paddles, and I can help my students make their own paddles look as good as the ones I build myself.”

Tom Froese helps us build a working work-of-art. | Feature photo: Virginia Marshall

The custom-fitted and artfully decorated paddles Froese shapes have been shipped to buyers far and wide, but many elect to join his one-day clinics culminating in high-quality, water-ready DIY paddles. His students have ranged from experienced builders to chronic butterfingers. I fall somewhere in between. I know what a spoke shave is, but I’ve never used one to transform a square block into an organic, feels-just-right loom.

A personal make your own Greenland paddle workshop

On a damp, late fall day I drive down to Froese’s woodshop, a tidy, brightly lit space in the garage of his home. Hanging on the wall behind a workbench are the traditional—many even antique—hand tools that I will use to shape my traditional paddle. There’s a trio of block planes—their wooden grips rounded into soft, organic shapes by a century of callused hands—and a razor-sharp draw knife passed down from Froese’s grandfather, who used its perfectly honed edge to build barrels for a local winery.

Resting on another workbench in the center of the space is the carefully selected piece of quarter-sawn, A-grade Western red cedar that will be my paddle. Froese shows me the perfectly straight grain running down the face and ends of the board, indicators of the wood’s strength and stability.

Over the next four hours, I carve away the wood between Froese’s chalk lines, shaping first the blades and then the loom. Under his expert guidance, it’s surprising how quickly my paddle emerges from the rough lumber. The dry cedar yields to the sharp tools in fragrant, honey-colored curls. After sanding every surface perfectly smooth, he helps me burn my initials into one of the blades. This time, I’ve earned it.

On the drive home, my paddle reclines on the seat beside me, catching my eye like a particularly charming passenger. It will be much later, when the spring thaw arrives at last, that a fellow paddler will finally ask, “That’s a beautiful Greenland paddle, did you make it?”

cover of Adventure Kayak Magazine, Spring 2017 issueThis article was first published in the Spring 2017 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Tom Froese helps us build a working work-of-art. | Feature photo: Virginia Marshall



  1. You are not located were I now how do I make my Greenland paddle or purchase one of yours.? Can I purchase 2 slabs of wood from you with instruction to make my own.both rota cuffs are shot but still leading kayaks for Sierra club with an Aqua bond 25 oz paddle.


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