Homemade 8ft Oars

Main features of my oars

  • Looms were made of radiata pine shaped with an electric planer
  • Planing the oars looms creates a huge amount of shavings and takes about 40 minutes per oar
  • Oars are 8ft long
  • Oars have long narrow laminated plywood blades
  • The oar ends have iron rod weights to help the balance
  • I have now attached leathers with stitching, which works very well
  • The loom diameter is a compromise between a tight fit giving a smooth motion and a loose fit which allows the oar to be depressed
  • Effort expended making the handgrips small diameter and smooth surface was very worthwhile

Pictures of my oars, made of radiata pine (at $6.25 apiece) loom and plywood blades. Yes they need a recoat of epoxy, both pairs are approximately 8ft long. The newer pair has a narrower blade (14cm vs 15cm) and a larger loom diameter. I suspect that ideal loom diameter is somewhere in between the sizes of these pairs of oars. The larger loom has a smoother feel but resists digging deep in water due to resistance in the rowlock (tight fit). Solution may be plane the loom back a couple of millimetres, or have the rowlocks inclined outwards at 10 degrees or so.

Yes the leathers are stapled to the loom as a temporary measure. The leather is working well. In time I will stitch the leathers properly and add buttons. Leather is really, really good for covering oar looms!! If you look carefully you can see iron rod inside the loom near the handgrips. It is definitely worth the effort to add weight to the oars ends. The best way of doing it I am not sure. This method of adding weights has worked well, it did cost me $23 for the drill bit to drill the holes in the first place. I got the iron rod for free from a blacksmith friend. I have heard of weights being added externally just above the handgrip.

Having the handgrips small makes a big difference. This involves lots of rasping and sanding, but it is worth it for the huge improvement in ease of use. My rowlocks were cheap ones at $13 a pair. Rowlock fittings are just 16mm metal tubing. I would like to upgrade to higher quality brass rowlocks in time. The oars blades are made of two layers of 4mm plywood laminated together. This gives a curved shape, and is easy to do. Basically make a small jig of a baseplate and 4 timbers at right angles, add your two sheets of ply with glue in-between, add weights on top, clamp the edges and leave overnight!

Update, more recent improvements

I have now improved my first pair of oars. I have increased the loom diameter in the appropriate area by laminating on many small sticks (paddle pop sticks). Then I added a layer of fibreglass and finally added leather held in place with stiches rather than staples

The paddle pop sticks were held in place with rubber bands whilst the epoxy set

The advantage of these changes is that the oars now have a smoother motion due to the closer fit between the oar and the rowlock. Additionally by having the larger diameter loom confined to a small section I was able to make the leather slightly longer. This means that the leather tapers on the oar allowing the oar to slide into the rowlock easily.

News after the event

Just a couple quick pointers should anyone read this. I now realise it would have been easier to add the balancing weights extenally, and just below the hnadgrips. Weights could have been as easy as attaching a couple of pieces of heavy steel either side of the loom and using through bolts. I now see that oars histortically have very thick looms inside of the rowlock. The idea of these very thick looms is to balance the weight of the oars.

Other Points

  • I now use lard to lubricate and preserve the leather, works very well
  • The more open water rowing I do, the more I want the oar blades narrower, I might cut them back to 12cm wide.
  • The orginal design with 20cm wide oar blades by Michael Storer was a joke
  • The stitching I used with bricklayers string worked well, in retrospect I should have used more stitches, but smaller and closer together
  • In the links page of this website there are a number of links that deal exclusively with oars
  • I would prefer nicely rounded cast bronze rowlocks, the galvanised Iron ones work OK though
  • The worst thing about galvanized steel rowlocks, is that the edge digs in and damages the leather.
  • Cast bronze rowlocks are expensive, but if you have the money spare to get them, I recommend doing so