Design for good, simple oars for recreational rowing?

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by el_guapo, Jan 13, 2014.

  1. el_guapo
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    el_guapo Junior Member

    Not sure if I'm posting in the right place, but anyone out there know of a design for some good, simple oars? I want some decent oars, but I don't want to pay through the nose or spend a week of my life whittling a solid block of wood into an oar.

    Ask someone over at the woodenboat forum and the replies generally indicate that wooden oars carved out of a solid block of wood are the only way to go. They'll also tell you that the wooden oars were shaped by generations of fisherman and our forefathers were not idiots, etc.

    I believe that, but I also believe carving an oar out of a solid block of wood is a royal PITA. I also know that the old timers making wooden oars did not have the benefit of modern materials like aluminum tubing and plywood.

    These are for a skiff with a 4ft beam.
  2. hoytedow
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    hoytedow Carbon Based Life Form

  3. el_guapo
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    el_guapo Junior Member

  4. Richard Woods
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    Richard Woods Woods Designs

    Oar design is actually more complicated than one might think

    The first question to answer is "Are you rowing on the sea (in wave) or inland (flat water)?"

    The next "do you have a sliding seat or a fixed bench?"

    Richard Woods
  5. el_guapo
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    el_guapo Junior Member

    Hi Richard,

    Fixed seat, rowing on bays and estuaries, often with waves. Not on the open ocean. I'm not an experienced rower fyi.

    Recommended oar length seem to be in the 7' to 7.5' range.

    What about something like 1.5 inch 0.625 wall tubing with dowel epoxied into either end? On the blade end the dowel could be sculpted and slotted to accept a plywood blade. On the handle end a longer piece of hardwood extending into the aluminum could be used to add mass for balance. The 1.5 inch 6061 T6 tube is only about $20 for 20 ft.

    The other option I was mulling is to just buy some plastic/aluminum oars like Caviness BOS, $35 for 7ft. Would need a weight for balance?
  6. messabout
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    messabout Senior Member

    El-G. Yes you can make a functioning oar with aluminum tubing and a slab of plywood for blades. There is a pair just like that, lying in state in my back yard. They work but they are miserable substitutes for a decent pair of oars. That's why the ones I built, years ago, are rotting out back.

    Do yourself a favor. Either build or buy a good quality pair of wooden oars. Good ones are a joy to use. Klunky ones are an annoyance.
  7. Petros
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    Petros Senior Member

    use good quality wood for the shaft, it will cost less than aluminum and feel much nicer in the hand, and your hands will stay warm. Aluminum oars or paddles are not pleasent to use.

    If you want simple, use a wood dowel shaft, cut a flat at the end and screw/epoxy on a plywood blade cut to an appropriate profile. Not very efficient but you can make it in about 15 min. I have made similar "quick" kayak paddles, efficiency would improve is you tapered the end of the shaft as it approached the end of the blade, and round it off with plane or belt sander.

    I would not cut a slot in the end of the shaft, it is actually not as strong as just forming a flat on one side, and much more work.

    find free plans here:

  8. el_guapo
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    el_guapo Junior Member

    Ok, ok, wood it is. I'm just going to suck it up and build some Peter Culler type oars.

    FYI for anyone who later comes across this thread, the simplest balanced wood oar plans I have run across are Jim Michalak's 7 foot oars. They require much less planing and shaping than most Culler type oars. They are also very economical in materials, needing just one 5.5" x 0.75" x 8ft plank to get one oar that has a thickness of 2x2 near the handle.

    Plans are about 2/3 the way down:


    Here's a set someone made with minimal shaping:


    And another with aggressive shaping:


    The glue up:

  9. lewisboats
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    lewisboats Obsessed Member

  10. alan white
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    alan white Senior Member

    Really, you don't spends days making solid wood oars. The process takes a few hours. What matters is that you have the right tools to do the job in a reasonable time and that you have the ability to use the tools efficiently.
    Lacking tools like a power plane and a bandsaw or electric jig saw, it will take longer although you need those tools to speed up any type of construction in any case.
    making the oars from assembling a blade to a shaft is simpler, for sure, but as has been mentioned, a solid one piece oars is preferable. That gradual widening of the shaft to become a blade is very strong.
    A table saw can rip most of the cuts alongside each shaft and then a spoke shave can 8-side, 16 side, and finish the shafts. A grinding wheel on a 9" grinder/polisher or a hand plane can taper the blades if you don't own a power plane.
    The two-part assembled oars can make use of a 1 1/2" fir closet pole so that saves rounding off a square shaft, and a 1/4" plywood blade is pretty ideal if you seal it well with enough paint or epoxy (the plywood blade will not last unless it's well sealed around the edges).
    I like making oars. They can cost $240.00 for a good set from Shaw and Tenny and you can make identical ones or even better at home in a few hours so it's a very worthwhile thing to do.
  11. el_guapo
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    el_guapo Junior Member

    Unfortunately suitable wood of sufficient thickness for one piece oars is prohibitively expensive around here. There are no one man lumber mills selling wholesale lumber like there are in rural areas of the north east.

    E.g. to get 2 7.5ft oars that are 2.25" thick at the loom you would need to buy 6" x10ft of 12/4 lumber.

    Ash is $4.50 per board foot in that size and would run $67.50 for two oars

    Basswood is $5.90 per board foot in that size and would run $88.50 for two oars

    I'm going to have to laminate the wood up from 3/4" stock after cutting the profile, so that will add a substantial amount of time. I'm going to use 0.75" old growth vertical grain fir on hand because I have some laying around. If I had to go out and buy material I would use 0.75" pine for cost reasons.

    I do have a 4' belt sander, band saw, table saw, and grinder, but no power plane.
  12. alan white
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    alan white Senior Member

    You don't need to have 2 1/2" looms. The reason they are made thicker at the handle end is to provide weight to balance the oars at the pivot point. However, you can also build strong enough oars that work very well that have only 1 1/2" handle ends. They will be lighter than the balanced version and you can add weight anyway in the form of a wrapping of lead sheeting just below the handle.
    Some also drill the end of the handles and insert lead in the hole but it's only a bit more elegant than wrapping lead on the outside and not nearly as easy to do.
    You can buy 1 1/2" stock in the form of 2 x 6s (spruce, etc.) anywhere practically for very cheap. Choose clear stock------ you have to go through the pile but they are in there. Maybe $4.50 each for 8 footers.
    Lastly, if you do insist on 2 1/2" dimensions at the upper end, just glue 1/2" thick wood to the upper faces.
    You should have no problem with the power tools you mentioned owning.
    I have a set of Shaw and Tenny oars and they are made from spruce framing stock (2 x 6 spruce) and that is how most oars are made by them. They work fine despite having 1 1/2" looms rather than e.g. 2 1/2" looms. Perfect balance isn't that necessary for 99% of the rowers out there.
  13. SukiSolo
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    SukiSolo Senior Member

    I concur with the dimension of the hand grip (shown in drg), it should be from 25mm (1") to 28mm (1 1/8th") diameter for maximum comfort for most people unless you have really big hands. That's for short blades with little power, I don't like going much over around 35mm (1 5/16th") on grips generally (when you have more power) but ovalling them can help too if you are after transferring a lot of power over distance.

    Also agree that timber is a much better thermal insulator than aluminium so much nicer and warmer as well as cooler in cold or hot weather. Even on high tech craft it is nice to have a more human material at the control end!.
    Half decent timber works pretty fast even with good hand tools and it is a material that accomodates small customising features aiding comfort well. In practice this means fine tuning the grip shape slightly, whether by size or slight shape alteration. Best tip is find a pair of oars where the grip feels really good and copy it or close to. Keep that shape as a reference for any further blade grips.
  14. PAR
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    An aluminum tube with wooden slugs at the grip end.

  15. Mr Efficiency
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    Mr Efficiency Senior Member

    Or ? Ore ? Awe ? Oar ? Is there another word with as many alternative ways to spell, but only one pronunciation ? Aww.....I dunno.
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