Making Ping Pong Paddles

You might already know that I like to make ping pong paddles. When I was home in Arcata over the winter, I made some more.

This is how I do it.

First I cut some blanks out of 1/8th-inch, three-ply Baltic Birch plywood. These form the core of the blade. Really flat, really clean plywood works best.

Then I set a fence in the bandsaw to cut a void into the blanks.

Then I cut pieces of 1/8 balsa to go on the inside of the void. I was looking for a head-light balance, with perimeter weighting, and the lighter wood in the core achieved that goal.

The balsa bits went into the voids. I give each one a number, which goes on the blank and on a bit of paper that goes with the paddle during the production process. The OK triangle helps me line up the balsa while I glue it into the core.

Waterproof wood glue between the joints, and 2 sheets of wax paper in between each blank, with calls on either side. I’m obsessive about clamping, clearly.

On some of the paddles, I used contact cement to glue paper-backed Cherry veneer to both sides of the paddle. I will never do this again. Contact cement is good for some veneer applications, but not for ping-pong paddles. The veneer also leaves the paddle feeling relatively dead, especially in the balsa-core areas. It’s just not stiff enough to give a good rebound. A better option is 1/32 birch plywood on both sides, affixed with proper wood glue.

On one of the paddles, I used fiberglass to further stiffen the core. Using polyester epoxy and biaxial fiberglass, I laid up two layers on each side of the paddle, one running at 90° and the other at 45°. Polyster epoxy is nasty, nasty stuff. Follow the ventilation instructions. Seriously.

I used the Cherry veneer on the Fiberglass paddle, which seems to be working out OK so far. The stiffness of the fiberglass overcomes the floppiness of the veneer.

Once all my cores were dry, with veneers and/or plywood applied to each side, I set into the handles.

You can see in the above the basic progression from start to finish. First, I slice a jointed, square piece of wood (6, second from the right) into two pieces (7, farthest right). The jointed sides go on the INSIDE. That’s important! If you don’t have the glued element absolutely flat, the handle will pull away from the paddle and you’ll be pissed.

Then, I shape the handle ends with a bandsaw, followed by a belt sander, followed by hand finishing. Do this BEFORE you glue. You won’t have a chance to finish the topmost part of the handle once you glue it on, and…you’ll be pissed. You can see this stage on Paddle 2, second from the left.

Then I bandsaw the thing into a general “paddle” shape, and gradually get more specific. I try to go as slowly as possible when shaping the paddles, because I only get one chance to cut. It’s pretty hard to fill in a huge gash in a paddle, so take it easy, chief.

Then, I sand the paddles into their final overall shape using a sanding drum and a drill press. I recommend clamping a shop vac near the sander to simplify your cleanup. Note the cutest kid ever in the background of the above shot. That’s me.

Then, each handle gets a bit of doweling. Saw the excess off by hand.

There you have it! Paddles.

Questions? Ask’em in the comments.

Comments

13 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Don,

    Nice post. As I mentioned before, the your handiwork looks very good, and I’m completely envious of the workspace you have occasional access to.

  2. love the paddles….do you sell them? i understand via twitter you are moving out this way (NYC)…i need a wicked paddle to beat my buddy who keeps barely edging me out. i’m convinced it will make all the difference!

    beautiful work btw…

  3. jro balian,

    Nice post I like the paddle. I love ping pong too. How your feeling with yours compare to the comercial ones. I want to try at home, any further tips?

  4. Clay Parker Jones,

    Thanks, y’all. The workspace, Don, is so completely awesome I can’t even describe it. My Dad’s proud of it!

    Harris – Let’s get together sometime soon and play.

    Jro – I like to think they’re better than what you can get commercially, and they’re definitely prettier. And 100% custom.

  5. Bill Naylor,

    Wow, those paddles look amazing. I’ve always wanted a custom paddle and have never been able to find someone who makes them. How much do you charge? I am very interested.

    Thanks,
    Bill

  6. Stephen Wu,

    You did a wonderful job, and I will try to make one for fun. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

  7. Drea,

    I would LOVE to purchase one of these for my boyfriend. He plays. I was wondering if there’s anyway we could get a name printed on it? Please let me know what your price is :) Thanks

  8. Leslie-Marie Opper,

    Wow! Amazing work!!! Absolutely incredible! How would I go about ordering a paddle? What are the prices and could there be a name engraved?

  9. sdfgjf,

    were doing a project in woodshop not being creeps :)

  10. Bob,

    Be sure to save some wood glue for the rubber so you can put some spin on the ball!

  11. mark,

    I’ve been wanting to make a few custom paddles for myself and some friends. Once the wood form is complete, what do you do for the paddle (foam, grip tape, etc.)?

  12. clay i want to make a paddle myself. i made 4 two from birch ply wood 3/16 thick oversize 6-3/16 wide also 1 blade bald cypress and one out of red cedar 3/8 thick and 6-1/4 wide now iwant to make a balsa but ican only find 3/16th birch which is to thick the balsa i have is 1/8 thick. so im stumped

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