As mentioned already - the finish could be a little better. Mine has one slightly noticeable run. But this paddle is not furniture and is meant to be used - and you will eventually have to touch up the finish anyway. I doubt that many will ever match the original quality of the finish in their touch-up or re-finish.
My only complaint is that I would prefer the grip to be oiled instead of varnished - but I can always do that myself.
BTW - Ray is very helpful with sizing and delivery was quicker than advertised. His price is more than fair, considering the quality of wood and craftsmanship.
Ray beautifully hand carves these paddles from a single piece of straight grained cherry wood. The edges are thin and uniformly tapered. The shaft is slightly oval. The overall feel of the shaft and grip is smooth and uniform, although it felt slightly small to my large hands. However, this smaller diameter is an acceptable compromise, as a fatter shaft would be heavier and too stiff, diminishing the lively feel of this paddle in the water.
Why not a 9 or 10? The finish on the handle was slightly blemished where it sat in the drying rack. A light sanding with fine paper smoothed off these spots, but left cloudy areas.
This paddle is an excellent value. I've tried hand carved paddles at twice the cost that had half the feel in the water. When pushed hard through the water the paddle exhibited no flutter, although it did have a very faint buzz on some rapid underwater slices.
On the first few outings with this paddle, I also took along two other paddles (including a light carbon fibre paddle and a custom paddle that I carved). On the most recent outting I never picked up the other two paddles during the 6 mile afternoon. That is when I knew that Ray Kettlewell had created a real gem for me. We talked by phone about my paddling style and goals. He listened carefully and asked thougthful questions before he recommended this design, and carved this paddle. Thanks Ray, well done!