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  • Writer's pictureCliff Jacobson


Updated: Apr 26, 2021

By Cliff Jacobson

Cliff: RioGrande River, Texas. Bell Wildfire carbon/Kevlar solo canoe and Zaveral carbon straight-shaft paddle.

Once you’ve used a carbon-fiber paddle, you’ll need real determination to return to wood. Admittedly, there’s a warmth and beauty to wood that is unmatched by synthetics. But a good carbon paddle weighs about half as much as a wood one; it’s better balanced (much better balanced!) and it is quieter in the water. That quietness is due to a knife-thin blade tip that can gouge or fracture. Hit a rock with a delicate carbon blade and tiny chunks of carbon may break off the edge which, in time, will cause it to look like a hack-saw blade. Once these tiny teeth develop they provide a "break-point" and pathway to greater destruction. If, for example, the edge strikes a rock hard at a deep tooth point, the blade may fracture along the fault line. What to do?

Before we address maintenance and repair, be aware that despite their obvious “thinness,” carbon blades are much tougher than they look. Unless you’re a rock bashing whitewater junkie, a good carbon stick will probably last a life time with normal use—that is, if you maintain the blade and don't knick the shaft (which can produce a break point). Here’s how:

Note butter-smooth edge of the blade and the barely perceptible line that borders the edge. The edge is solid material to the line (about half-an-inch) and can be sanded. Do not sand beyond the line!

Occasionally, visually inspect the edge for damage. Tiny teeth are no problem as long as you don’t run your fingers across them—doing so can produce a nasty cut! Later, at home, smooth the edge with medium-grit sandpaper: wear gloves and safety glasses—you don’t want to get carbon fibers in your eyes or skin! Most carbon blades have a fair amount of solid material on the edge, so it’s doubtful you’ll ever sand off enough stuff to reach the foam core.

Finish to silky smoothness with 000 steel wool or wet-dry sandpaper. The final act is to apply 303® Protectant to the entire paddle. The 303 will hide scratches, brighten the finish and provide an ultraviolet barrier that will help prevent deterioration of your paddle.

A gripping thought: Use 400 grit wet sandpaper to smooth out rough imperfections on the grip or shaft. Polish silky-smooth with polishing compound or jewelers rouge. Finally, apply 303 Protectant.


*My flagship book, CANOEING WILD RIVERS, 5th Edition, contains a wealth of advice on paddles and paddle selection."

*My teen book, "Justin Cody's Race to Survival" mixes a fictional wilderness survival tale with practical outdoor tips everyone should know--a first for books of this type. Essentially, it's a "How to Camp and Canoe" book deguised as a novel. My hope is that the survival story will keep their interest while the "how to" stuff will teach them right. Adults love it too!


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