Last year I reviewed a number of different Greenland style paddles, and it was my publication of these reviews that caused Bill Bremer of Lumpy Paddles to contact me to see if I would review one of his. Previously, in August 2011, I got my hands on the first piece of wood that Bill Bremer loved into submission for me (I also have several of Bill’s Stumpy Lumpy transition paddles). It was a rolling stick; some would call it a norsaq, elegantly crafted from a single piece of western red cedar. I chose the phrase “Loved into submission” deliberately. Bill is an artisan who practices the art and craft of paddling making, while using only the finest of timber and with the gentlest of touches. Many paddle makers mass-produce their “products”. They cut corners to save time. Some literally squeeze them out with power tools at such a rate they barely have time to sand them and wipe them down with oil. With Bill, things are different.
Buying a paddle from Bill is a rare treat, a holistic experience. The buying experience starts with a fascinating conversation. You will discuss the many possible dimensions and shapes that, combined with Bill’s craftsmanship, create your paddle. There is no simple order placing with Bill. He understands the importance of customizing every paddle’s size to the individual paddler’s body, kayak and paddling technique. Few people have handmade as many paddles as Bill has. His depth of knowledge and understanding of the implications of each design decision distinguishes him amongst his peer group. Not only does Bill possess this knowledge, but he also has the ability to share that knowledge with his customers in such a way that he ensures they get the paddle that they need, and want. Even after you have spoken with Bill you can expect to wait a while, Bill is a craftsman who does not beat the timber into submission. Instead Bill loves it into submission. Delicately forming the characteristic Greenland style paddle shape from a single two by four, Bill’s techniques create a paddle so smooth it feels buttery to touch. It is no wonder there is a waiting list for Bill’s paddles.
Bill has access to some very high quality timber. We had a lengthy discussion of my paddling style and preferences; I like shoulder-less paddles, especially narrow shoulder-less paddles. I also like to paddle with a relatively high cadence. Using this information Bill chose a high density old growth western red cedar that would allow him to create the narrow blade and loom I was looking for yet still provide the strength and flexibility necessary to create a robust expedition worthy paddle. Bill’s primary focus is on getting the measurements right for the individual, and he uses his extensive personal paddling experience to ensure that result. To quote Bill “I’m not simply an order taker who will make you a paddle. I’m a paddler and coach first who happens to love his accidental day job as a paddle maker.”
I measured the number of grains per inch at a number of points in the paddle and came to an average of 55 per inch. Contrast this to my other cedar paddle which has an average grain density of 22 per inch. Consequently the Lumpy Paddle feels a great deal stronger, and a little stiffer.
The blade shape is very interesting. The tip has a classic foil section, and keeps this cross-section until it rounds off at the last half inch. The edges are sharp, but not to the point where they would hurt your hands. The blade width I chose is three and an eighth inches, a relatively narrow blade, especially for a shoulder-less paddle. Bill kept this width for the first six and a half inches of the blade to ensure there was enough wetted surface to create a powerful stroke. My initial Betsie Bay paddle embodied this same parallel edge concept. The Lumpy Paddle then tapers down to the loom where there is just the faintest hint of shoulders. It is inevitable that there is a slight shoulder on a paddle as the shape transitions from the blade to the loom cross-section. Bill leaves a hint of a shoulder to give a more distinct “home” spot for the hand. The blades near the loom have a flattened diamond shape, creating angular planes that allow the paddle to be naturally canted by your fingers. The loom is oval, the long axis being perpendicular to the blades, designed to fit comfortably between thumb and forefinger.
As mentioned earlier, the paddle’s finish is silky smooth, aided by the hours of careful finishing Bill lovingly applied. The final result is obtained using pure Tung oil which helps preserve the wood’s natural beauty, and protect it from the ravages of sunlight and water. It also creates a wonderful smell that brings a smile to my face as it instantly reminds me of paddling. As an aside, many people have asked me where I get my Tung oil. I use 100% Tung oil; none of the mineral spirits diluted stuff you can get at big box hardware giants. I get mine online from The Real Milk Paint Company.
This weekend I will be using the paddle for the first time and look forward to reporting back on how it performs in use.
You can reach Bill through his website http://LumpyPaddles.com