|I’m Chuck Smith, the owner of Aluu Paddles, and I’ve been making Greenland style kayak paddles for about 10 years. I’ve carved many by hand, and I’ve run several classes to teach people how to make these amazing “sticks”. Over the past few years, people have been asking for far more paddles than I can build. I either had to tell people I had a looooong waiting list, raise my prices significantly, or find a way to make them more quickly. I didn’t feel right about raising my prices, so I chose the latter.
I’ve been using the CNC router at TechShop Detroit for 2 years. I knew nothing about computer controlled equipment, the software, or the process when I started- it’s been a steep learning curve. TechShop is a business incubator, and I outgrew their capabilities quickly. It was time to build my own CNC machine!
I’ve spent the past 15 months, maybe 1500 hours, building a custom CNC machine. I can computer model a paddle, then have the machine make it for me. Final shaping and finishing is done by hand. My paddles have a serial number, so if you try one you like, I can make you another (almost) exactly like it. Why almost? No two pieces of wood will ever be alike. Each paddle has its own personality.
I build mostly from Western Red Cedar. I think it has a great mix of light weight, sufficient strength, and rot resistance. Tung oil is my preferred finish. It’s Earth friendly, very easy to maintain, and most importantly, it’s not slippery in use. Pretty much everything is domestically sourced.
Like kayaks, paddles should be sized for the paddler, the kayak, and their intended use. I prefer a much different paddle if I’m going 30 miles than I do if I’m playing in surf. My cruising paddle is long, skinny, sharp edged, and svelte. My surf paddle is not. They are different tools for different purposes. I’ve made paddles for smaller people, adaptive paddlers, and huge body builder types.
I’m a presently a one person shop. I’ve put all my efforts into getting my machine running. I’ve not put any time into developing my website, FaceBook page, or marketing materials. Those things are next and will likely be as big of a project as building the machine.
I couldn’t come close to listing all the people and organizations that have helped me. It’s important to me to carry on the tradition of the equipment and skills, but it’s also important to me to give something back to this community that has given so much to me. About 10% (sometimes more) of my sales go to supporting something in the paddling community. Chicago Adventure Therapy is a favorite.