Our previous article originated in 2004, and since then technology has moved on and we can now offer a very simple and elegant way to make your own beautiful and functional oars.
The shafts are made using Western Red Cedar, and the blades are made from Paulownia veneers, both selected for their light weight, good strength, and water resistance. A pair of elegant and light weight oars 2.9 m (9’6”) long weigh only 1.7 – 1.8kg each, which makes rowing a great pleasure as well as ideal exercise.
To make the shafts we rely on the excellent method devised by John Murray (Australian Amateur Boatbuilder 77, p50, 2012), which we modify only by laminating the shafts from two planks of timber instead of cutting from one solid piece. This is important for preventing any weakness which can be caused by grain variations deviating from side to side of the shaft. Western Red Cedar gives excellent strength with light weight, clear grain Hoop Pine offers greater strength although it is rather heavier. Use 25mm thick sawn planks, not dressed ones which will only be 20mm thick. Dress one face only, removing only the minimum timber to get an even surface, coarse sand those faces for a good gluing key, then glue them together with Bote-Cote Epoxy slightly thickened with Glue Filler. This will give you a single plank almost 50mm thick.
Lay out and cut the shafts according to Murray’s description, then cut a taper 300mm long on the end of the shaft to receive the blade, curving as much as possible to match the shape of your blade. The taper should be cut on the wider side of the shaft for maximum strength during the rowing stroke. The narrower side of the shaft should face forward when rowing.
Blades are made by laminating three layers of Paulownia timber 2mm thick. This material is usually used for building timber laminated surfboards, and is available from BoatCraft Pacific (Sunshine Coast) tel 0405 385 194 who make curved blades laminated on a suitable mould. A user can easily make flat blades by gluing the veneers together and clamping them onto a rigid base such as 16 or 19mm MDF laminate board. Curved blades cost $50 per pair, and veneers ready to laminate flat blades cost only $20 per pair (plus GST and postage).
Next, you must select a rowlock pad for your oar. Commercial rubber ones are quick to fit (on a round shaft), but are absolutely awful to row with. The best pad is a leather band which can be stitched, glued, or tacked to the shaft. Cut a piece of stiffish leather 200mm long and wide enough to fit around the shaft. Trim the edges until they fit together exactly. An easy method is to cut the leather oversize, wrap it with an overlap around the shaft between two marks 100mm above and below the rowlock position and bind it tightly with packaging tape. Then use a very sharp knife and ruler to cut through both layers of leather at once. Gluing the pad into place is easiest. Cover the leather with a waterproof glue such as BoatCraft’s Purbond, and fit it. Hold it firmly in position while you wind packaging tape tightly around it. After the glue has set, remove the tape and clean up any glue and tape adhesive.
To stop the oar from sliding about in the rowlock, don’t make a stopper on the shaft. The most elegant and practical method is to tie a lanyard (such as VB cord) around the oar shaft below the leather (a bowline please!) so that it is tight just below the leather but will slide down the taper to enable you to ship the oar. Tie another bowline in the other end around the rowlock shank, so that the lanyard retains the oar nicely in the rowlock around the mid point of the leather. (I’m indebted to WBAQ colleague David Eagles for showing me this wonderful system).
There’s also the question of rowlocks. Boat shops sell cheap but really awful galvanised ones, to be avoided at all costs, while their nylon ones are slightly better. Far preferable ones are ‘Gaco’ brand snap on rowlocks available for only $32.99 per pair from all Whitworths marine stores. Of course rowlocks such as are used in proper rowing sculls are available, they’ll only cost you about $63.00 each.
So there you have a pair of very elegant and light weight oars to enjoy your rowing which will excite the envy of all beholders.