Wandering Around Out There With A Canoe On My Head

I Think I May Have A New Paddle

by Preston
December 5, 2010

Great Outdoors Show

I had a great time at the Great Outdoors and DIY show last weekend at the International Centre. I got to see a few neat new gadgets, see Kevin Callan’s presentations (wish I was there for this though), try out some products and of course speak with some of the best people out there: fellow paddlers. The highlight of the event though, was my visit to the Bruce Smith’s paddles.

When we passed the booth we were immediately struck by the beauty of the paddles on display. We had to stop for a look, because a friend of mine was interested in getting himself a good paddle. We began talking about them with a very nice lady – who as it turns out was Bruce’s sister Carol. When I picked one up I was very impressed. They were light but clearly solid, very well crafted and smooth. It was a very comfortable paddle, something you could definitely use all day, with the grip and shaft fitting my hand perfectly. These paddles were clearly made with an expert hand and an enthusiasts touch. Carol insisted we speak with the craftsman.

The Paddle Maker

A teacher for 30 years, Bruce has been an outdoorsman and wood crafter for longer than that. Also known for building and restoring beautiful canoes, his signature is a carved secondary grip which makes for a very unique look. Like all good functional art, this grip assists in one-handed and quick changing maneuvers, assisting solo paddling and prys (e.g. standing and running).  Bruce gave us a short demonstration, then talked to us about wood, his shop and how he builds his paddles. The reason the paddles felt so smooth is because of the oil he uses, as opposed to varnish. Equally as impressive was the extra thickness at the tip of the blade which allows for durability. You’d have a hard time cracking these paddles poking at things with the bottom of you paddle (not that we ever do that, of course). The way they’re carved though, you wouldn’t even notice without really examining the bottom of the paddle.

The paddles come in all shapes and sizes. Paddle shapes include all the standards (Beavertail, Ottertail etc.) as well as what’s called the “Bruce Smith Classic” – a style that combines the length of the Ottertail but wider and more rounded from the shaft. He also combines wood for some really pretty designs, though cherry is his preferred and base wood because of it’s strength and light weight.

Bruce is actually a pretty funny guy. As we spoke, the subject changed from his paddles to canoeing and tripping, exchanging portage stories. I got the impression he wasn’t really selling his paddles after a while. Carol eventually came over so he could speak with a couple more potential customers, so we had to let him get back to work.

Do I need a paddle?

We didn’t wind up buying a paddle. As much as I wanted one, I was a little torn about getting a new paddle. Like many paddlers, I may rent canoes but I  rarely use rented paddles, taking my own. I’ve used mine for a while now, going on several trips over the years. They’re getting some wear on them, with the wood getting exposed, so I think it might be time to retire them. In fact, these two paddles were my late father-in-law’s, and I’d really like to keep them as decoration because of the sentimental value – before they get ruined.

Then I found out about one of a few paddle making courses Bruce teaches at his shop in the Elora area (Ariss, Ontario). Perfect. I signed up immediately. I think I can get behind retiring my current paddles with ones I craft myself. I just hope Bruce can guide me well enough to make something close to the ones I saw on display. I’ll let you guys know how it goes of course.

It’s a small World Wide Web

Incidentally, one of the fellow paddling bloggers I follow is Reflections on the Outdoors Naturally. Turns out he’s a buddy of Bruce, and was even working at the show with him. I wish I knew that (or put 2 and 2 together) because I would have liked to meet him. You can find his write up on the event here.

Bruce Smith Paddles

More info on Bruce Smith Paddles

W. Bruce Smith Paddles


  • […] As I wrote about in an earlier post, last year walking around at the Great Outdoors and DIY Weekend, friends and I walked past a paddle maker’s booth and were absolutely stopped in our tracks. These were some really beautiful paddles, made by Bruce W. Smith, and we found out that he offered a paddle making course. For $100 and a day’s work, we could walk away with a custom paddle, styled and sized as we choose. As you can imagine, me and my paddling buddies could not pass this up. We enthusiastically signed up and spent the next few months talking about how cool this was going to be, and discussing which blade styles we’d all choose, like the giddy little paddling nerds we were. (There’s a change it may have only been me.) […]

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