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July 14, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
As I approached Charlie Lockwood’s woodshop, I heard the buzz of a power tool, so I knocked unusually hard, and he yelled over the noise for me to come in. His shop smelled of wood and fresh sawdust from the bamboo paddle he was making, coupled with the underlying smell of varnish emanating from the back of the shop. As I entered, he continued working with the same care and intensity I imagined he used when I wasn’t there. Once he finished, we started talking, and he handed me the paddle. I expected it to be heavy but found it felt barely heavier than my cellphone.
“It weighs about 18 ounces,” Lockwood says. “And to be honest, you could beat off a pack of wild dogs without breaking it.”Related Articles
A canoeing enthusiast, Lockwood, 64, picked up the hobby of making wooden canoes and paddles about 35 years ago. The time-intensive process of making a wood-strip canoe like Lockwood’s starts by laying flexible wood strips over a canoe or kayak form, which looks like the ribs of a whale. The inside and outside of the boat are then sanded and covered with fiberglass cloth and three coats of resin, which waterproofs the wood. Lockwood primarily uses red cedar for canoes, and he likes to use bamboo for paddle blades.
Lockwood sells his paddles online for $135 to $145, through his website, thetispaddles.com. He uses his canoes for a season then sells them to his friends for about $300. A brand-new wood-strip boat typically costs at least $2,000, so Lockwood clearly isn’t in it for the money. He does it because he enjoys the hobby, and it gives him a reason to go canoeing.
In 1977, Lockwood was living in upstate New York when he and a friend borrowed a canoe and entered a 70-mile race. It was their first time paddling, and they weren’t prepared for the strenuous trek. He says the race “almost killed them” physically, but he was hooked on the sport immediately. At the time, having a young family and making mortgage payments didn’t allow him to buy a fancy boat, so he learned to make one from a man he met at a craft show. Since then, Lockwood has made seven canoes, one out of carbon fiber, which is lighter than wood, but more fragile.
Lockwood loves making wood-strip canoes because it is a learned technique, and he produces something he can use. For him, being able to create something with his hands is an invaluable skill, one that he feels is lost today.
He says the cost of materials to make a canoe is about $500; this includes making the forms, which can be used multiple times. “The material costs up front really aren’t that much, but it’s your time that’s important,” Lockwood says.
It takes Lockwood 40 hours to make one canoe, and he typically works on canoes or paddles seven hours per week. Paddles only take about two hours to make, and Lockwood says he has crafted hundreds of them.
Bryan Hopkins, an avid watercraft racer and paddling friend of Lockwood’s, used to build wooden canoes and kayaks. The two met on an informal paddling trip on the Missouri River and found they both had a passion for building wood-strip boats.
“There is a certain beauty and warmth from a wooden boat as opposed to fiberglass and plastic,” Hopkins says. “The key to building a boat is to enjoy the process of building it as much as using the boat.”
Hopkins only uses wood for his boats, but he says he admires Lockwood’s interest in other materials and boat types.
“(Charlie) experiments in a lot of different styles of boats,” Hopkins says. “He tries something different and something new, which is really cool.”
Although Lockwood enjoyed making his carbon-fiber boat, he has a clear preference. “If I can’t be first, I might as well be the best looking one on the river, so I’ll go with wood all the time.”
A wooden canoe is not only beautiful, but also strong, as fellow paddler and friend Jodi Pfefferkorn attests. She says, compared to store-bought paddles, Lockwood’s are tougher. “It’s a pretty rock-solid paddle.”
Pfefferkorn and Lockwood frequently canoe together. Once, Pfefferkorn was using a paddle made by Lockwood, and he thought she would be able to canoe better if it was shorter. Afterward, Lockwood shortened the paddle shaft by half an inch, a change that Pfefferkorn called “a minute difference,” but that is the care Lockwood puts into his work.
Lockwood says his paddles are “basically guaranteed for life.” If they break, he will gladly repair them. But he says, “You would have to really abuse them to break them.”
When not in his workshop or on the water, Lockwood works full time as the owner of Lockwood Furniture Restorations in Columbia and part time as an instructor in the business school at William Woods University. Once he retires, Lockwood says he would like to turn his hobby of making canoes and paddles into his third career, and he might even explore building kayaks.