Making Oars from Scratch

Jim Michalak inspired me to try making a set of oars from scratch.  See Jim’s web page for instructions and dimensions.  Jim’s ideas seem to be based a lot on those from R.D. “Pete” Culler’s book, Boats, Oars, and Rowing.  It is out-of-print, but very helpful if you can locate a copy.  I incorporated some ideas from Dynamite Payson’s web site.  Also helpful in picking the correct size oar were tow articles I found on the web.  One is by John Welsford, “Calculating the Length of Your Oars.”  The second was “Information relating to oars” written by Jim Chamberlain and uploaded to the Bolger Yahoo Group.  Along the way I learned how to make an 8-siding taper jig and got to use a draw-knife to turn a rectangular hunk of wood into a long, tapered, round loom.  Very satisfying, and surprisingly quick and easy to do.

I first layed out a pattern for the oar profile on ¼ inch plywood.

I then sandwiched three 1 x 5 boards and glued them up with epoxy.

The plywood pattern was used to draw the oar profile on the board sandwich.  I used a band saw to rough-cut the profile, and then used a plane and a orbital sander to smooth it to shape.

I built and used a taper gauge to mark out lines for turning the 4-sided rectangular sandwich into an 8-sided octagon in cross section.

I used a draw-knife to cut the rectangular cross-section into an octagon.

This turned out to be lots of fun.  After putting 8 sides on the loom, I  used the draw-knife on each edge, creating 16 sides.  At this point the loom was so close to round I just sanded it the rest of the way with a random orbit sander.

I used Min-Wax Red Mahogany stain and 6 coats of Helmsman High Gloss Spar Varnish to finish the oars.

To protect the loom from the oar lock, I made “oar leathers” by wrapping the loom with 1/8 inch braided Dacron line, using small brads to hold in place the start and end of the wrap.  The wrap was then coated with epoxy, fixing it in place and providing more protection.

The final result---ridiculously satisfying!


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