Make Your Own Oars

Pat Mahon of Great Lakes Boat Building School talking about how to make your own oars.

Today, at the last day of the WoodenBoat Show at Mystic Seaport, I attended a so called Expert Skills Demonstration at the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard. Close to noon, Pat Mahon of the Great Lakes Boat Building School (GLBB), located in Les Cheneaux Islands of the Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan, was giving a demonstration on how to make oars.

Boat builders’ math it not really the same kind of math they taught us at school.

Lines drawn on the loom indicating what you need to shave off to eventually making the oar round. This wood for this oar is yellow cedar.

The kind of oars they are making at GLBB are not the oars used for racing shells, they are more the type you use in a skiff and a dinghy. Good wood for this oar is for example ash, fir, spruce or yellow cedar. Pat, who is a good teacher, explained how to ‘measure’ out the different parts of the oar: the handle, the loom (where the closes part to the handle can be square as that’s the counterpart which balance the oar), neck, shoulder, blade and tip. The boat builders in the olden days – and I am now talking about builders more than 1,000 years ago –  knew that the important part in oar making is to figure out the proportions, not the exact measurements; the most important tool you use in making an oar is your eyes.

Make sure that the oar is fasten when you are working with the tools as you will be needing both hands.

To cut out the piece that will be your oar, you need a band saw. After that, you only need a few tools like a pencil, ruler, drawknife, plane, spokeshave and a patternmaker rasp. Pat showed how easy it was to use these tools – or, should I say, it looked so easy when he did it.

The tools that you need to make your oars: from the bottom, drawknife, plane, spokeshave, ruler and rasp.

I appreciate a good craftman’s work. Pat taught me a good lesson during the one hour session that will save me both time and money. As much as I wish I had the skill and knowledge, and maybe the guts, to make my own oars for my little 10-foot dinghy, alas, I now understand that I do not posses these skills – I just have to buy the bloody oars.

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