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Thread: A Simple Pair of Seven-Foot Oars

  1. #1

    A Simple Pair of Seven-Foot Oars

    These are for the wedding-gift sailboat to the oldest son, so the family consensus is that store-bought oars or my cruder, painted workboat oars won’t do…I’ll have to bite the bullet and finish something in…ugh…brightwork. The yacht-finish masochists among you should be pleased.



    I pick a couple weathered 8/4 X 6 old growth Western Red Cedar planks off their stack. Tight grained and clear stock I milled from a sunken log I salvaged 4 years ago. These rift-sawn planks were milled to be door stock for the new house…but I can spare a couple for a good cause.

    Why cedar? I have it on hand, and mast-grade Sitka Spruce, Port Orford or Yellow Cedar…all much stronger and more appropriate than WRC…are 8 bucks a BF. I have some good Doug Fir…but it is ugly finished bright, IMO….and doesn’t plane as crisply as the others. I can do some things to the cedar that will make it adequately hard and strong for this application.



    Well…after planing off the weathering…the chalk line shows I picked one wrong plank. A butt log board I couldn’t overcome the taper in…and if I rip it straight there is a pin knot in the way and insufficient stock remaining for the blade. Fine for a door panel or an oar blade…but no good at all for an oar loom. I can go back out in the rain and muscle around a few thousand pounds of planks to find a better one, or I can make do. I decide to make do. An edge joined blade will take longer to do but will be stronger, eh? A joined oar also gives me the option of orienting the stronger edge grain to the moment of effort in the loom…like in a baseball bat…while using the face grain pieces on either side of the loom to minimize the chances of the blade splitting. That option is useful when making an exceptionally light oar…which these are not, and I don’t use it, as I want these oars to have some spring during use.



    The first step in laying up the oars is to joint the fence edge and rip my looms from the straighter 8/4 plank…and there is zero movement after the rip, which tells me the stock is perfectly seasoned. If it were otherwise, I’d have to go find other stock. I rip a 16th oversize and joint all the faying surfaces on the jointer for a good layup.



    I rehearse my glueup…



    …glue up using Elmer’s Poly and leave it overnight. Why poly and not epoxy? Well, in the old days, we woulda used Plastic Resin Glue, which in edge joining…a joint not hard on glue…is also more than adequately strong. Even with perfectly jointed edges, it will take a bunch of clamping pressure to bring 8/4 stock into a good joint…poly loves high clamping pressure while using epoxy under those circumstances may starve the joint of glue. The soft cedar soaks up glue, so I use a lot of glue on all mating surfaces, and let it soak in a while before clamping, keeping a wet surface.



    This next step looks silly, but works. Because of the softness of the cedar, I’ll epoxy in a Purpleheart spline into the oarblade tip. It’s a crossgrain glue joint, but cedar is exceptionally stable and epoxy exceptionally flexible. In the process, I’ll use the heat gun to thin unthickened epoxy, flowing it deep into the end grain of the blade tip….as much as the wood will take…followed by thickened epoxy and the splines, which are cleaned with acetone first, as Purpleheart is oily.



    And the resulting assembly is allowed to cure.



    Now I’m ready to mark my centerlines, stapling my face pattern to one of the glueups and cut it out. I like the pattern found for ash and spruce oars in Woodenboat Issue # 127 (Nov ’95) and modify it for weaker cedar by increasing the scantling size a bit. My looms will be sided 2” X 1 7/8” tapering to 1 ¾” X 1 ¼”…with a 5 inch blade width. For easy storage, I make patterns in two pieces on a long table and line them on the stock with a straightedge.

    Continued…
    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  2. #2


    After cutting out with the saber saw, I square and fair the edges with hand planes and spoke shave. You’ll always see two planes in my pics…the #3 is set coarser than the #4, which is set for a very fine shaving and is used in finishing. A #5 is used ILO the #3 for longer oars. Oars are best cut on a band saw, but you don’t really need one…just remember that the least precise your saw, the farther you should cut outside your lines…especially on curves…to be finished square to the line with hand tools with no unpleasant surprises when you turn the stock over and discover where your blade wandered.



    I then use the cut and faired stock as a pattern for its mate.



    The side profile or taper pattern is applied and marked on both sides of each rough oar…



    …and the power jointer set up to machine the tapers. Set the unplugged jointer to take a 16th, then index the oar against the cutter head where the penciled taper first shows a 16th on the blade side of the loom. Make a tick mark on each oar indexed against the edge of the jointer fence as your starting point.



    Turn the jointer on, open the guard using a push block held in your right hand and align the tick mark on the oar with the fence edge using your left. Then lower the oar face onto the cutter head gently with a forward motion, and push it through bearing down with the push block in your right hand.



    Repeat using that 16th distance between pencil line and oar face each time, and you can taper the faces in about 8 passes per face so cleanly that they need no further work with the hand plane. Do a few dry runs, first, of course…. as machines can’t hear you cry.



    I make an 8-Siding Gage (http://media5.hypernet.com/ubb/ultim...c;f=1;t=009685) , lay out my tapered, square looms into octagons for planing….



    …and rough out all the bevels with draw knife before finishing them with the plane and spoke shave. Very fast and efficient…but practice both using the drawknife in all 4 of its modes and reading grain before committing expensive stock to it. (http://media5.hypernet.com/cgi-bin/U...=1&t=009003&p=)

    Continued…
    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  3. #3


    I finish the beveling with planes and spoke shave. I prefer to face plane the blades first to their penciled tapers, followed by spokeshaving the transition to its lines…



    …leaving the looms for last. My final planing is a light swipe with the #4 to remove any remaining pencil lines. The oar button and leather will be 30 inches from the end of the handle, and I make an abrupt transition there from 8 sides to 16 sides and finally to an oval using spokeshave alone all the way to the transition. I prefer my loom ends to remain 8-sided…I wouldn’t want my oars confused with something done in a factory.



    I’m careful to stay on the outside edge of my lines when beveling…and the end result is a more pleasing (and stronger) 5-7-5 ratio than a true octagon. The left oar has been drawknived but not planed…note that I rough out the handles beforehand so a slip won’t take too large a chunk in that critical area. The right oar has been planed fair and clean.



    Then I finish the handles with rasps and 60-grit paper, and then sand the oars with 60-grit on a sanding block…careful not to round over any edges.



    After the rough sanding, I wet the wood to raise the grain using a damp towel, also raising any scratches and dents…and finish sand with 120-grit, easing all edges gently so they hold finish better. Raising grain between grits minimizes scratching, and removes all the fuzz that can telegraph through your finish the first time the oar gets wet.



    WRC is a bit soft and splintery for use as an oar, so I encapsulate the finished oars in epoxy prior to spar urethane varnish. I simply brush on unthickened epoxy heated to 110 degrees with a heat gun and allow the wood to soak up all it will take of it. Messy, and downright ugly to sand afterwards, as the wood usually off gasses some, making bubbles tedious to sand out….but a rock hard and strong surface to varnish over. It doesn’t turn cedar into spruce, but these oars will likely serve a long time.



    And after a couple coats of urethane on their way to 6 or so…they are reasonably straight, fair and suitable for service.

    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
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    Laguna Beach , Ca.
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    Great work and great explination!
    "All great work starts with love .... then it is no longer work"

  5. #5

    Thumbs up

    Great Job ! nice gift
    good details on how you did it.
    Jim

  6. #6
    WOW, that is awesome! Just to make a couple of sticks to paddle a boat

    Very nice article and VERY nice craftsmanship. Let's get this moved to the Woodworking Articles and Reviews section shall we?

    I'm sure he will appreciate it. I know I would.

  7. #7
    Facinating explanation - great project.

    Thanks

    Ian
    Last edited by Ian Barley; 06-19-2004 at 4:12 AM.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
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    Facinating and a job well done!! Thanks for sharing!!

    Dan
    A flute without holes, is not a flute. A donut without a hole, is a Danish.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Long Island,N.Y.
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    269

    out standing

    I love the oars as someone that has paddled a few summers away. But the explanation on how you made them was out standing. I almost sweated while reading your process.

  10. #10
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    Bob, I would consider the description and final results anything but "simple"! Outstanding, beautiful or superb craftsmanship, yes. "Simple"? No! Great job, Bob!
    Cheers,
    John K. Miliunas

    Cannot find REALITY.SYS. Universe halted.
    60 grit is a turning tool, ain't it?
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  11. #11
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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    Beautiful oars, and a great illustrated description of their construction.

    Thanks for taking the extra time to document this project so well.

  12. #12
    Here's the finished product along with the boat hook for when something sturdier is required:





    I like soft cotton on delicate hands doing heavy work, so I whip the handles in pure cotton twine soaked in water like the leather. Leathers are baseball-stitched and the skived button mounted with brass box-hardware tacks, making the buttons removable if required by some oarlocks.

    They'll dry out and shrink up a couple days in the sun, then I'll douse the leather in Bee Oil followed by Westco's beeswax boot treatment. The oversize oarlocks will also be leather lined to minimize denting of the oars.
    “Perhaps then, you will say, ‘But where can one have a boat like that built today?’ And I will tell you that there are still some honest men who can sharpen a saw, plane, or adze...men (who) live and work in out of the way places, but that is lucky, for they can acquire materials for one third of city prices. Best, some of these gentlemen’s boatshops are in places where nothing but the occasional honk of a wild goose will distract them from their work.” -- L Francis Herreshoff

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Seattle
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    672
    Hi Bob, You sure know how to have fun! You exhibit great skills along with your scientific knowledge of wood selection and engineering principles of designing and building the oars. Beautiful stuff. I live in Edmonds-- do you ever do woodworking clinics?? I'm just a short ferry ride away.
    I saw your post on the Madrona saga-- I salvaged a Madrona stump for a master turner relative in Spokane and he produced some beautiful stuff from it. I'd like to get him more and was wondering if you have any more Madrones in your sights and if you find many other unigue turning quality "chunks" over on the Penninsula(maple, alder burls etc.) I'd be interested in getting ahold of any or even any info on other sources. I'm not a turner so I'm not sure if that info is akin to claim jumping, but would appreciate any help. Thanks for sharing you great talent with us. John

  14. #14
    Moving to Boat Building Forum...
    Glenn Clabo
    Michigan

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    Jupiter, Florida
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    47

    Smile Making Oars

    Hi Bob,

    That was a fascinating tutorial on how to make a pair of oars. Since I will probably be making a set of oars for the boat that I am presently building, I have a few questions. Where did you get the patterns for cutting out the shape of the oar? Since the oars that I would be making will be eight feet long, are there any changes in the construction method that you outlined? Great information and many thanks for the fine job on explaining how to make them. Wish I lived closer to where you are.

    Larry

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