Completed five-paddle hanger

Since little wood is required, why not use the finest hardwoods found in the off-cut pile? The backboard and the hanger bracket can even be made from contrasting woods. An elliptical bow in the front of the hanger bracket displays the paddles, overlapping them for efficient storage.

If you don’t have five paddles to hang, remove the back pair of paddle slots from the sample version to create a three-paddle hanger. The bowed front will have a smaller radius accordingly. Simply position the slot for the center paddle 5/8” closer to the front so it can overlap the blades of the two rear paddles. A paddle hanger that holds six or more paddles can be made in the same fashion, but the curved display gives way to a staggered linear formation, again, with a 5/8” separation in depth front to back.

Hanger Components

The backboard – which attaches to the wall – provides room for creative licence. I cut the backboard in the shape of a canoe, but carvers might want to leave it rectangular and work a suitable scene into it.

However, the true beauty of this hanger lies in its layered-paddle presentation. A gentle bow in the front of the paddle support creates the depth required to store three rows of paddles – two in the back, two in the middle and one in the front.

Hardwood stock for the paddle hanger and backboard

Getting Started

Measure and cut all stock to ¾” x 5”. The paddle support is 18” long, but the backboard may need to be longer to allow for the curving of the canoe ends (if you opt to go with that design).

Creating 3/8" x 3/4" joinery groove that runs the length of the backboard.

Joinery First

Complete all joinery while you still have full edges for reference. A 3/8" x 3/4" groove running the length of the backboard (beginning about 3/8” up from the bottom edge) provides the strongest connection, but you’ll need a table saw with a dado blade or a router with a straight bit to accomplish this. Another approach is to cut a 3/4"-wide, 1/8"- deep rebate along the bottom edge. An easy way to do this is to set an ordinary table saw blade to a 3/4" cutting height and run the backboard vertically against the fence. Alternatively, you can use a router or hand plane. Drill from the back through the joint for #8 x 1 3/4" countersunk screws. Three should hold it securely.

Tip: If you lack the capacity to cut grooves and rebates in your shop, a butt joint attached from the back using two or three screws will suffice. Pre-drill the holes (these will need to be countersunk so that the backboard sits flat against the wall) before shaping the part.

Tracing the shape of the backboard onto the stock

Shaping the Backboard

You can trace a side-view photo of a favorite canoe after enlarging it (using a photocopier) to approximately the size of your backboard. An outline drawn freehand also suffices. If you’d like to simplify the process further, fold a sheet of paper and draw half of the canoe along the fold. Cut out the shape. When you unfold the paper, you will have a perfectly symmetrical canoe. Transfer the pencil outline or glue the pattern directly onto your stock.

Cutting out the backboard on a bandsaw

Cut just outside of the line using a band saw, scroll saw or coping saw. Finish the material to the line using a spoke shave, scraper or sandpaper. At this point, consider how the paddle rack will be fastened to the wall. Five hardwood paddles can be heavy, so I recommend counterboring and screwing the rack into wall studs. The screw heads can be hidden with wooden plugs. Alternatively, attach the hanger using flush-set countersunk screws through the backboard (your hung paddles will hide the screws). Either way, be sure to drill the holes before assembly.

Marking the paddle support layout

Paddle Support Layout

The same layout process can be done on either the paddle support itself or on a template for pattern routing.

Draw three lines parallel to the back edge spaced 1 3/4”, 3 1/4” and 3 3/4”. On the first line closest to the back, mark centers 2” from each end. On the second line, mark two centers 5 1/2” from each end. On the top line, mark one center in the middle of the support. If drilling 1 1/4” round holes, these marks will be the centers. If an oval hole is required, the center of the two 1 1/8” holes forming the paddle holes should be marked 1/4" on either side of this mark along the length of the line.

Tracing the paddle support curve

To trace a fair curve on the front of the support, use a drawing bow or a thin batten that has been arched using a piece of twine. The curve must touch both endpoints of the first parallel line (1 3/4” from bottom), while touching the front edge of the board in the center of its length. Three rows of paddles will hang within the depth of this curve, allowing the paddle blades to overlap.

Cutting out the paddle support and boring the support holes with a Forstner bit

Making the Paddle Support

Cut around the outline of the paddle support with a band saw, scroll saw or coping saw. Bore the 1 1/4” round-paddle holes or drill two 1 1/8” overlapping holes with a Forstner bit to make them slightly oval. This will keep the paddle aligned for the best blade presentation. Remember to back up the stock with a piece of scrap to minimize tear-out.

Cutting out the paddle exit slots with a bandsaw

Cut the exit slots for the paddle shafts 1 1/8” wide. The holes and exit slots can be cut out together using a coping saw. Relieve the upper edges of the holes with a round file, sandpaper or a trim router.

Gluing paddle support to backboard and installing screws to secure the joint


Glue and clamp the paddle support to the backboard. Install the screws to secure the joint.

Sanding and smoothing paddle hanger with padded sanding block

Finishing Schedule

Load a padded sanding block with 80-grit paper and smooth the entire project. Various soft foam backing shapes allow for some shaping and fairing of the curves. The edges should all be rounded in order to coddle the paddle shafts. Stay with #80 paper until you are satisfied with the shape. Then, work your way through 120- and 220-grit papers to produce a smooth finish with an even scratch pattern.

Finishing paddle hanger with polymerized tung oil

Because paddles are sometimes put away when they are wet, your finishing choices are limited to waterproof options. I used polymerized tung oil because it’s simple to apply, easily renewable and builds to a soft gloss after approximately three coats. Wipe on a generous coating, wait 15 minutes and then wipe off the excess using a new rag. Set it aside to dry. Apply the next two coats using 0000 steel wool to refine the finish, wiping and drying as before. Dispose of rags and steel wool safely, as drying oils like tung oil are prone to spontaneous combustion.

Completed paddle hanger

Enjoy your new paddle rack.

Graham Collins

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