Kayak paddles

Image via Boy’s Life

A paddle is an essential part of kayaking, and no one would want to try navigating down a river without one. Many people might assume that all kayaking paddles are the same but choosing the right one can improve your kayaking adventure.

We will explain how to make your own kayak paddle, give some pointers about how to ensure that a paddle fits properly, and a few other helpful tips to consider when using your kayak paddle.

Does The Size Of Your Paddle Really Matter?

Before we jump right to the DIY instructions on how to make a kayak paddle, let’s talk a bit about the importance of making sure your paddle fits. If you’re a newcomer to the world of kayaking, you may still be learning the basics of kayaking and not all that concerned about the size of your paddle.

A properly fitting kayak paddle is just as crucial to your performance and enjoyment on the water like a proper posture and holding the paddle correctly. Learning how to navigate a kayak may be a little challenging as is but if you have the wrong size paddle, you may have less control and have a higher risk of tipping or having a preventable accident.

Figuring Out The Right Paddle Size

As you browse around, shopping for a kayak, you may be surprised to find that a paddle isn’t typically included with a kayak. A paddle is generally sold separately because much like the length and size of the kayak, the paddle should “fit” the kayaker.

You may want to avoid purchasing a kayak that has an included paddle since it probably won’t be the right fit; an adjustable paddle may be an exception.

If you’re interested in making a kayak paddle, it’s essential that you have all the right measurements before you buy any of the materials for the paddle.

Measuring For A Paddle That Fits

Paddle length

Image via Red Paddle Co.

When considering the size paddle that you need, it’s important to think about the length of your torso. While you and your kayaking partner may be the same height, you may benefit from a slightly longer or shorter paddle than your partner. Why? You may have a longer or shorter torso.

The best way to measure your torso height is by sitting up straight on a flat-seat and flat-backed chair. You should measure from the tip of your nose straight down to between your legs (near the crotch). The approximate measurements are as follows:

Torso Height and Paddle Length

  • 22” and 180 cm
  • 24” and 180-200 cm
  • 26” and 190-200 cm
  • 28” and 200-220 cm
  • 30” and 210-230 cm
  • 32” and 220-240 cm
  • 34” and 230-250 cm
  • 36” and 240-250 cm

Keep in mind that the length of your paddle may not fall into the above categories, and if you consult other resources, you may get different measurements. You may need a longer or shorter paddle, depending on the high or low angle style of the paddle.

One of the best ways to find a paddle that fits and to figure out your correct measurements is to shop around in person and get help from a professional. Even if you’re making your own paddle, there’s no harm to browsing and collecting some information.

Choosing The Right Material For Your Paddle

wooden kayak paddles

Image via Canoe and Kayak

Kayak paddles should be sturdy but also lightweight and easy to maneuver. When considering your paddle, you may have a hard time deciding what type of material to use. A kayak paddle may be made from five different materials: aluminum, plastic, wood, carbon fiber, and fiberglass.

While aluminum is a relatively lightweight material, it also makes the heaviest paddle. As you browse inexpensive kayak paddles, you may notice that the majority of them are aluminum. These types of paddles are often considered “starter” paddles, but some kayakers love them; it’s all about personal preference.

Plastic is also relatively lightweight, but much like aluminum, it’s a bit heavier than some prefer. Kayak paddles made from plastic are usually inexpensive and are a popular choice for recreational kayakers. Most plastic is durable, so it’s a viable option for a variety of kayaking enthusiasts.


A fiberglass paddle is an excellent option for kayakers that are likely to hit their paddle on rocks and other hard objects while in the water. Lightweight, relatively inexpensive, and tough, a fiberglass paddle is often a go-to option for some kayakers.


A kayak paddle is unique because it’s typically not the most common type of paddle you see on the river. Wood is durable and lightweight, much like fiberglass.

Carbon Fiber

Unless you’re a hardcore kayaker and are willing to pay a high price for a kayak paddle, you probably won’t need or want a carbon fiber paddle. A carbon fiber paddle is the lightest you will find and can be a great asset, mainly if you’re going on a long kayaking tour.

When making your own kayak paddle, you will most likely either make a wooden paddle or a paddle that has a combination of materials.

Making Your Own Wooden Paddle

If you want a kayak paddle that is truly unique and may even “wow” your friends, learning how to make a wooden kayak paddle may be just the DIY project you’ve wanted to try.

Since learning how to make a kayak paddle (especially a wooden one) takes some skills, it’s best only to consider the wooden paddle if you have some carpentry skills. Don’t know how? Ask a friend to give you a hand.

What You Need For a Wooden Kayak Paddle

To make a paddle, you will need 2 or 3 one-inch thick (or less) hardwood planks and one 10-ft long two by two-inch piece of ash, hickory, or another hardwood.

You will also need a sabre saw, power sander, and a planer. Wood glue, oil wood stain, Marine varnish, and furniture clamps are also required for this project. As with all carpentry projects, it’s a good idea to have a pair of safety goggles on at all times.

  1. Measure and cut the 2×2 into the length of your paddle. Don’t forget to measure more than once to ensure accuracy!
  2. Round the shaft of your paddle within about 2 1/2 feet of the end, leaving the ends squared off for attaching the paddle blade.
  3. Measure and cut the planks to create the appropriate size blade.
  4. Check out this diagram to see how to arrange your planks. Using a strong wood glue or epoxy, glue the seams and clamp them together, letting them dry overnight. Repeat the same steps for the other blade.
  5. Once the blade is completely dry, use your saw to cut the shape of the blade. Use a planer and sandpaper to smooth the paddle and the blades.
  6. Stain the paddle with an oil stain and wait for it to dry completely before adding a clear coat. You should plan on applying at least three layers of Marine varnish or a clear coating. After each coat dries, rub the surface with steel wool before applying another coating. When you’re done applying varnish, polish your paddle.

Making A Paddle With Aluminum and Plastic

If you still want to know how to make a kayak paddle, but a wooden one is not your best option right now, you can make your own out of aluminum and plastic. While you might want to do your own additional research and even check out a few YouTube videos, we will give you the basics of building one.

Keep in mind that this paddle may not work as well as a wooden one and is likely to be more of a short-lived option.

What You’ll Need To Make A Paddle

One this particular paddle design, large heavy-duty tote lids were used for the paddle blades. You can browse your hardware or big box store for heavy duty plastic that is inexpensive and easy to cut; the lids are inexpensive, flexible, durable, and easy to cut.

You will also need seven feet of nylon rope (zip ties may work well, too), duct tape, and 10 feet of aluminum conduit with 3/4” OD or aluminum tubing. You also need a utility knife, scissors, and a flat head screwdriver.

The length of your shaft may vary depending on whether or not you want your blade supported by the shaft. Supporting the blades will keep them stronger and may be a good idea when using flexible plastic.

  1. After you determine the length of your shaft (paddle handle), you will use a pipe cutter or hacksaw to cut the conduit or tubing to the right length. Don’t have the tool? See if the hardware store will cut it for you.
  1. Once you draw the shape of the blade on your plastic, you can cut it out and punch holes in the plastic so you can tie the blade to the shaft. Refer to the design for specific measurements and visual steps.
  2. After you have secured the blade to the shaft, you may want to offer a little extra strength and security with duct tape.
  3. The next step is to test out your paddle and see if any adjustments need to be made. The nice thing about this design is that the materials are inexpensive and if you need to remake the blades, it is easy enough to make new ones.