What finish do you use on paddles?
Most of my paddles are sanded to a very smooth surface and then finished with Danish oil, which is a combination of oils to make it look good and some polyurethane added for toughness. I give all paddles at least three finish coats, with some receiving several more to enhance their look and feel. Some paddles are also given a wax coat depending on the timber.
I occasionally use pure tung oil as a finish, which is a slow drying but relatively hard oil finish, which gives a matt finish.
A small number of paddles have received a polyurethane varnish finish, but consensus is varnish doesn't look quite as attractive as an oil finish, and most people consider the added protection provided by varnish as unnecessary for a paddle. (Canes are a different story. Nearly all of my canes are finished with polyurethane varnish.) Having said all that, if you like a very glossy look to your paddle then varnish is the way to go.
Overall, oil finishes look better and are easier to touch up and repair than varnish, but varnishes are harder, and provide greater protection against scratches and stains.
What finish do you use on canes?
The majority of my canes are fine sanded and then finished with multiple coats of polyurethane varnish to provide a durable and protective finish to the cane. I use both satin and gloss to provide a range of 'looks'. Functionally satin and gloss are identical. Gloss coated canes tend to look like they have more finish applied than satin canes.
My coloured canes are stained rattan finished with polyurethane varnish. The colour will not rub off.
I make a small number of canes that I soak in linseed oil to increase their weight (by up to 100%). These are either sealed with varnish or left with their linseed oil finish for a more textured and natural feel. Canes finished solely with linseed oil remain unsealed and very porous and will stain easily and cannot be cleaned like varnished canes. I would recommend unsealed canes only for use on one person.
What is rattan?
Rattan is a generic term for around 700 species of palms that can be found in Asia, Africa, and Australia. with the majority growing in Indonesia. The 600 species are grouped into 13 genera, with about two thirds of them belonging to the Calamus genus, including the one I use for cane making. Rattan is a reed rather than a tree, and its physical properties differ substantially from timber.
Rattan cane up to about 15-20mm in diameter is generally sold by weight and packaged in bundled lengths of up to 5m when purchased in commercial volumes. Larger poles are normally sold per piece and in shorter lengths of around 3m. Being a natural product there is a significant wastage rate from harvesting to end product due to natural imperfections and damage during processing and packaging.
Do canes dry out over time?
Rattan cane dries out after being cut down, in the same way timber does, although it dries out much faster than timber. By the time rattan has been processed, shipped to Australia and turned into a finished product it will have reached its equilibrium moisture content which will vary depending on the humidity of the local climate but it typically around 10%. Rattan will continue to absorb and dissipate moisture over time with changes in humidity, but other than the initial drying out phase in the weeks after being cut down it doesn't continue to dry out with age. The varnish finish on a cane greatly slows down the rate of absorption and dissipation of moisture by providing a physical barrier between the cane and the atmosphere.
It is possible to soak canes in water to make them temporarily heavier and much more stingy. If you wish to soak a varnished cane in water you need to sand the varnish off the tip with a piece of sandpaper, emery board or similar, and then stand the cane in a jar of water for a few hours. The water will travel up the cane by capillary action. For a faster result fully submerge the cane in water. Don’t leave cane in water for extended periods as it will start to go mouldy.
(Why) do canes break?
Canes are not indestructible. The two most common causes of breakage are overbending, and hitting a solid object such as the edge of a table.
Whilst some people may be described as having buns of steel, they are no match for a solid table top, A-frame or other such piece of furniture that may inadvertently get in the way of a good swing.
If you clip something solid with a cane with any degree of force the chances are it’s either going to break straight away or put a significant dent in the shaft that may cause it to break later on when you’re least expecting it.
If you put a significant dent in a cane the safest thing to do is to cut off the cane at that point with a fine toothed saw or very sharp knife for thinner canes, round off the tip with sandpaper, revarnish the end, and start enjoying your new shorter cane. If you dent one of my canes I am happy to do this for you free of charge.
If you bend a cane far enough it will break. The thicker the cane the less it can be bent before starting to break (and the harder it is to bend.) Bending a cane compresses the fibres on the inside of the curve and stretches those on the outside. It is the stretching that does the damage.
Cane (and timber) can be compressed to a high degree without catastrophic failure, but it has much less capacity to be stretched. Waving a cane back and forth in the air without hitting a target is not actually good for the cane, as it can result in the cane overbending and splitting. The longer the cane the more likely it is you will do it damage by waving it back and forth.
The other common way canes get overbent is by not standing perpendicular to your target, and following through too far on your swing and overbending the cane just above your hand.
What timbers do you use to make paddles and cane handles?
I use as many different types of timber as I can get hold of! To date I have made paddles and canes in about 60 different timbers, half of which are Australian and half exotic.
What is the heaviest timber?
The heaviest known timber is generally considered to be waddywood (Acacia peuce), a desert hardwood which grows in central Australia, and has a density of 1.4 (or 1.4x heavier than water). Unfortunately for those thinking of commissioning the world’s heaviest wooden paddle, waddywood is listed as a vulnerable species and it is illegal to cut the trees down. Waddywood timber availability is therefore virtually zero, save for the occasional finished product advertised for sale.
Lignum vitae (Guaiacum officinale), which translates as tree of life Latin, grows in Central America and the Caribbean and is generally regarded as the heaviest available timber, albeit its sale is also heavily restricted. It has a density of about 1.3, which means it sinks in water. It’s also often referred to as the hardest timber, scoring 4500 on the Janka hardness scale. Lignum vitae has been used to make bearings for ships and submarines due to its hardness and natural resins which give it an oily feel and make it self lubricating. It is also an excellent material for woodworkers’ mallets due to its weight and hardness, and was once used to make truncheons for English police officers. It’s other notable characteristic is its extremely high cost.
I have made a small number of paddles and canes from Lignum vitae and the physically similar but botanically unrelated Argentine lignum vitae (Bulnesia sarmientoi) including a completely over the top 1.2 kilogram monster which is nearly double the weight of most of my other heavy paddles. Given its density and hardness lignum vitae is a surprisingly easy timber to work with.
Can I buy your paddles and canes in shops?
A small number of my creations were available in Europe for a brief period in 2013. After meeting the owners of Hamburg’s Inner Sanctum and The Hague’s The Funhouse whilst attending the German Fetish Fair in Berlin in 2013 both shops made a small number of my creations available in their respective shops, but these have long since been sold.
Who took the product photos on your website?
I did, using a Canon 24-105 F4L lens on a 5D Mark IV or 450D body for most of the photos. Lighting is courtesy of Paul C Buff Einstein flash units.