This is a step-by-step article on how to build your own hand paddles. You’ll need minimal equipment and skill, and you should be able to do this at home very easily. Hand paddling is a good alternative to spice up your easy, familiar runs and will create good water awareness too. It’s also a good skill to have and some people like to carry hand paddles on certain rivers as backups as they’re very light. Whatever your reason, it’s simply fun to build them so get cracking.

The design is based mainly on the Power Pawz, which are no longer manufactured. My hand paddles are a little smaller as many people noted that the Power Pawz are too big, however the templates I’ve provided for you are of the original size. It’s simply a matter of sanding them smaller which is very quick and easy to do. Note that the plastic I used was from some old Fluid kayaks which the factory had cut up. Whilst I had some yellow plastic that was perfectly flat I wanted a red pair and mine had a small part of the edge of the kayak on it, so I had to straighten it by heating it up and flattening it under some planks of wood (weighted) and allowed to cool. Mine are about 5.5mm thick, which is probably why the boats were scrapped - you can use plastic a bit thinner than this. If you don’t have access to any scrap boats then speak to a dealer who sells plastics. They will advise you and be able to sell you sheets in whatever thick you desire – I wouldn’t go thinner than 3mm. Right, here follows the process!

First and foremost, you’ll need to download my two templates. One is for the outline of the hand paddles themselves as well as the position of the slots, the other is for the wooden jig I built to create the curve. You can use a sand box to create that curve too but more on that later. I’ve supplied them in *.dwg (AutoCAD) and saved them as 2000/LT so you should be able to open them. They are drawn scale 1:1 so print them 1:1, obviously. A3 paper size. The other format is normal PDF for those without a CAD program. I put them on there 1:1 too so printing them 1:1 should be accurate, I hope. Let me know if the PDF’s don’t work for you, but they should. As a guide to see if you’re on the right path, the curve template should measure 287mm from one end of the curve, to the other. And for the hand paddle template itself, the width as shown in the vertical plane should be 254mm to the extents. If you measure this on your printed paper, you’re on the right path. Download here: (if there is a stuff up somewhere with this uploading thing then mail me on my e-mail below and I’ll send you the files – they’re tiny)

Right, moving on…

Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_010_E1_CR copy

For clarity, let me show you the tools you will need. In case you call a jigsaw something else… This is a jigsaw. Be careful, don’t cut your fingers off. It will cut them off quicker than you think :-)Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_011_E1_CR copy

An angle grinder fitted with a paper disk. This will deal with all the ugly edges and can RAPIDLY down size your hand paddles so be careful. Always wear ear protection and safety glasses. Grinders are the most dangerous tool in the workshop. I’ve seen some bad accidents.Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_012_E1_CR copyA heat gun. BTW, this brand is rubbish. But for a heat gun I thought the cost was justified.

Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_020_E1_CR copyA Stanley knife is useful for marking out, or a thin permanent marker. A small hammer and a chisel. Either a paring or firmer chisel will do. I used a 3/8” (10mm) bevel edged chisel and it worked perfectly.

Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_019_E1_CR copyA closer look at the Stanley (16-149) 3/8” 10mm bevel edged chisel.

brain6-300x300A brain will also be required, and a few other items. But we’ll get into that now. Let’s begin!

Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_004_E1_CR copy

Once you’ve printed out your template, cut it out. You can either use it as is, or you can put it on some Vitrace paper. Your local sewing shop will stock this, they use it for tracing patterns. I used it because once you put it on, you can draw with a permanent marker onto the paper and because it is quite porous the marker goes right through and onto the plastic, you’ll see that in a few photos time. That is useful for marking out the slot positions.Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_006_E1 copy

Cut out your first hand paddle, repeat with the other side. Here you can see how my plastic was bent. Some heat and a few tricks and I got it straight before the proper bend. Hold on tight and watch your fingers. And no, I have never cut myself with a jigsaw.Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_008_E1 copy

Your edges will look rough. Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_009_E1 copySand them with the paper disk on the angle grinder and like magic it’s good to go. A light blowing with the heat gun afterwards will also smooth out any small irregularities but putting them in the oven later will do that anyway.

Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_016_E1_CR copyMagic – two hand paddles ready for the next phase – marking out the slot position.

Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_026_E1_CR copy

Here is where the Vitrace paper really comes into play. I marked out their position (you have these from the template) and the marker goes through to the plastic, see next photo. Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_027_E1_CR copy

I marked only the start and end points and it can easily be seen through. Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_028_E1_CR copyRemove the paper and join the dots.

Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_032_E1 copy

I used a sharpened nail (no idea where my centre punch disappeared to…) to mark out the end positions of the slots. Remember, the webbing is 25mm wide, so I made the slots 27mm long. Use a ruler, don’t guess.Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_033_E1 copy

I then drilled out the end positions with a 2.5mm drill bit.  Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_035_E1_CR copy

I took the nail again and marked out a few more spots where I would drill, BUT with a smaller drill bit. Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_036_E1_CR copy

I used a 2mm drill bit for the 4 middle holes. Just make sure you drill smaller holes in the middle than the two outer ones. This makes chiselling the waste material out a lot easier. It also means you’ll have a neater slot.  Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_037_E1 copyNow you have a lot of holes, and the hard work begins…

Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_038_E1_CR copy

Carefully with your chisel, hammer it down on one side as you can see on the left. Remember, the angled part of the chisel blade towards the inside of the slot. Do this for the opposite side too, for all the slots. And only on one side of the hand paddle blade. Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_041_E1 copy

They’ll all look like this. In this photo you have only driven the chisel through on one side.  Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_042_E1 copy

On the other side, if you’ve hit the chisel nicely, it will look like this. If your plastic was thinner than mine you might have knocked them through already. Remember to work on a surface that can take that punishment – ie. something wooden, to protect the sharp edge of the chisel.  Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_043_E1 copy It’s easy to get the waste material out. Chisel briefly from the other side (as in the above photo) and the material comes out. Use the Stanley knife to give the edges on the slot a slight bevel. This will protect the webbing too.

Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_046_E1 copyOnce you’ve got both hand paddles done, put them on top of each other and thread some webbing randomly through all the holes so that they align nicely. Then take the angle grinder and get them perfect, because cutting them with the jigsaw would not have resulted in identical hand paddles. If you have the luxury, or the money, take the CAD drawings to someone with a CNC router and they can cut you two 100% perfect hand paddles…

Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_048_E1 copy

Right, next up I built a wooden jig to create the perfect curve, consistently. Deon Breytenbach gave me the good idea of using a sandbox to get the curve. This will be quicker and easier but then you best know what curve you’re after, and if you don’t know what curve you want, it may be hard. It might also be tricky to get the same curve for both hand paddles. But if you go the sand method then proceed as follows. Get a box and fill it with sand (make the sand a bit wet so that is forms a fairly solid foundation), just big enough for the paddle, and deep enough. Get the arch you want, like a small hill. You can place the paddle in the oven first to get it evenly warm, don’t use more than 120 degrees C, and watch it the entire time, they melt FAST!!! Then place the paddle over the sand and use a heat gun to get it even hotter so that it becomes soft enough to fall into the shape you’ve created. Once you’ve got that, place more sand on top, some weight, and allow to cool. I prefer the wooden jig method as shown here, there is less risk of melting the plastic and once you’ve built the jig it’s quick and easy. The jig is simple and cheap to create too. Print out the template I’ve provided – download link at the top of this article. Place it on a piece of wood and mark out as above. Using the jigsaw, cut out two pieces, see below.  Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_049_E1 copy

Now you have two pieces to the jig, mark which piece goes with which to ensure a good fit. Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_050_E1 copy

Nail the two bottom pieces to a plank of wood, and do the same with those two pieces at the top. Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_051_E1 copyVoila, a jig is born. This shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes to construct.

Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_055_E1 copy

Using some foil, place your plastic on top. The oven should be preheated. Around 105 to 120 degrees C will do it. Be VERY careful at this stage. The edges will melt quite quickly. Grab a chair and stare at the plastic. It’s about as fun as watching paint dry, but you’ll be glad you did. If any corners begin to change colour and are showing signs of melting, open the door and remove. The key is simple: Safe, rather than sorry. (I melted a pair because I checked my e-mail while doing this… And in fact, it was this pair (before this photo) and the reason why I made mine smaller, but like life, it all worked out better in the end) Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_057_E1 copy

Place it on the jig and use the heat gun to apply more heat to the middle. You’ll notice a quick colour change as you apply heat. Wave the gun around and get it hot enough so you cannot touch it. But even heat, that’s important. Then place the top half of the jig on, and weight it. I used two lead weights. Let it cool. Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_058_E1_CR copy

The hand paddles in the jig, cooling off.  Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_060_E1 copyOnce cool, the curve is permanent. You’re almost there!!!

Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_063_E1_CR copy

For the final stages you’ll need some 25mm webbing, a buckle thing (it’s a Fixlock 325, just Google it. The exact product code is: 41I CB-325 BLK, it’s for 1” webbing ie. 25mm – click HERE) and the thing on the bottom left, I forget the name, but places that sell webbing, buckles and the like will have them. The short piece of red 25mm webbing is just an extra touch I used for the tag end of the setup.Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_064_E1_CR copy Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_065_E1_CR copy Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_066_E1_CR copy Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_067_E1_CR copy

Loop the webbing as the photos show, putting in the ‘thing’… Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_068_E1_CR copy

From the bottom is looks like this. This is the power face. Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_071_E1_CR copyFinish the threading of the webbing and now you’re ready to begin sewing. And in this photo, I will explain where what goes: This is for the right hand by the way. See the part I’m holding with my left hand, that is the side you sew the Fixlock cam buckle to. The bottom part which is heading out of the picture, that is the part that receives the little red piece of webbing. That’s the part you pull for adjustment.

Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_073_E1_CR copy

Sew away. I may be bald but I can sew – this is a public service announcement to any future wives out there. Oh, and it’s my own sewing machine I might add – racks up brownie points. Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_074_E1_CR copy

Done. Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_075_E1_CR copy

You only need to sew on two things. The little red piece of webbing which is at my hand (and even that is optional really), and the Fixlock cam buckle. That’s it. Very easy, very quick. Use a very thick needle and sew slowly, don’t overload the poor machine. And watch you, you can break a machine if you’re not careful, and ask any woman, sewing machines are damn expensive. So if in doubt, take it to someone with a strong machine. Better still, an industrial sewing machine. Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_076_E1_CR copy Hand_paddles_07_September_2010_077_E1 copyBeautiful hand paddles. Again, in this bottom photo you can see the slight line at the top of the blade. I used plastic which wasn’t perfect but I wanted a red pair! And there we go. Finished.


Luke Longridge bravely running a very retentive drop on the Blyde River with the Power Pawz. DSC_0892Deon Breytenbach from Extreme Limpopo also styling the Blyde River through the maw.

AK47 Festival pics 2010 059Luke Longridge again with the hand paddles. Photo by Andrew Kellett – courtesy Deon Breytenbach.

And there you go. If anything is unclear, read it again and look at the pictures… Or mail me. adriantregoningAThotmailDOTcom. I hope you found it useful. Happy paddling!

White Fluid Name deep etched with white inside copy_250





Photography by: Adrian Tregoning. Unless otherwise stated.
Words by: Adrian Tregoning.