Bending Branches’ Quality Assurance Process

Ensuring that our canoe, kayak and kayak fishing paddles are of the highest quality is our top priority here at Bending Branches. Our definition of “quality” includes durability, light weight and cosmetic appeal.

building a Bending Branches wood canoe paddle
It’s vitally important that we don’t let our customers down, whether the customer is an individual paddler or one of the retailers that sell our paddles to their own customers. Having a high quality standard means our end users knows their paddle will hold up to make memories with and enjoy for years.

Ensuring the Quality of Our Wood Paddles

The day-to-day quality assurance for our wood paddles is focused on the materials we use.

Testing the Glue Quality

Every glue we use in our wood paddles has gone through several different kinds of tests to be sure it’s strong enough, that it’s thoroughly waterproof. We’re sure it’ll hold up for the rigors of paddling.

Sometimes we try out a new glue. For example, during recent supply chain issues, one of our manufacturers let us know a certain glue wasn’t available. They were confident their recommended substitute would stand up to our requirements, but we ran it through our own testing regiment to verify it.

Testing the Wood Quality

Our woods are selected based on three criteria:

  • Strength: Will it hold up to many years of use in the field?
  • Weight: Durability is important, but so is light weight. The woods we use have high strength and low density, so they’re light enough for our paddles.
  • Cosmetic appeal: We want to offer our customers a beautiful paddle.

canoe paddles ready for the next step

Production Manager, Cory Novinska, explained, “We tailor a specific model of paddle based on those three criteria. Sometimes we go more for the light weight and look, sometimes more for the durability and strength. Our customer will have a very durable, very pretty paddle no matter which direction they go. But they can choose what they want based on what they’re most interested in.”

We sometimes push the envelope on strength in order to reduce the weight. With other paddles we’re less concerned about weight and more focused on durability. At all times, we’re very conscious of both.

Product Development and Marketing Manager, Andrew Stern, added, “The woods we select are an ideal combination of durability, lighter weight and flexibility. They’re tough enough for uncertain and rough paddling conditions, they’re lighter than some of the more dense woods, and they’re also springy and do a nice job absorbing the rigors of canoeing.”

Combined with these durable and lightweight woods are our fiberglass, varnish and Rockgard® processes. All our wood paddles have our proprietary Rockgard® edge-protection. Each paddle blade has layers of fiberglass for extra durability. Every paddle is then dipped into marine-grade varnish, a process that’s both safer and more eco-friendly than applying it in other ways. These all combine to craft a superior product.

New Product Quality Assurance

“Anytime we develop new product we have a very regimented process we go through to make sure any new paddle we come up with is adequate to stand up to the strength requirement in the field,” said Cory.

An example is the Catalyst canoe paddle. Creating a paddle from wood remnants to promote sustainability was a great idea…but how to do this without compromising strength became the key question.

We went back to the drawing board more than once over a 6-month period while testing…

  • Various layouts of the woods to be sure it would meet durability standards
  • The processes for structural integrity before the fiberglass was applied
  • The thickness and type of the fiberglass we applied

Ensuring the Quality of Our Composite Paddles

While all our wood paddles are made from start to finish in our shop, our recreational and economy kayak paddles and kayak fishing paddles have parts that come to us from local manufacturers. We’ve given those manufacturers our strength requirements, which they regularly test to be sure they’re meeting them.

man holding a molded carbon paddle blade

Once those parts come to our building, we have more processes and quality checks in place for them as well.

For our high-end paddle shafts and blades that we craft in-house, the quality assurance plan begins with the product’s initial design.

We have a continuing loop that looks like this:

  • We constantly ask for and receive customer feedback about what they like and don’t like, what’s working and what’s not working for a specific paddle.
  • That feedback goes to our Design Team, who works it into the product.
  • The product goes through an extremely thorough testing process—will it perform well? Are all the components completely waterproof? Is it abrasion-resistant?
  • We produce and sell the paddle, then listen to customer feedback again, and continue on the loop. The color, the durability, the performance—it all goes back to the end user and how satisfied they are.

All the listening, innovating and testing that then loops back into another cycle of listening, innovating and testing means we know we can stand behind the products we launch.

Our Employees are Key to Our Quality Assurance Process

Here at Bending Branches we have what Cory calls “tribal knowledge.” He said, “We have a ton of tribal knowledge and we try to share that everywhere.”

All our employees, whether they’re a multi-decade veteran or are brand new, are encouraged to ask questions if something doesn’t look or feel right. Maybe a little discoloration in the wood will trigger the memory of a strength issue we had several years ago. Or maybe the ovalization of a shaft doesn’t feel quite right in the hands. Those questions are all taken seriously and verified.

bending branches smiling employee

We consider every employee a professional who’s critically important—no matter what department they’re in—to our end customer getting the product and experience they’re looking for.

What paddle questions can we help you with today? Get in touch with our Wisconsin-based Customer Service Team: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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